In JNS, Miriam Assor, a member of the Portuguese Jewish community in Lisbon, highlighted B'nai B'rith's involvement in the creation of the Oporto Holocaust Museum – the city's first Holocaust museum.
(April 11, 2021 / JNS) The new Oporto Holocaust Museum, the only one in the Iberian Peninsula, has already been referred to by Timeout magazine as the best museum in the city. Oporto is one of Europe’s oldest and most popular tourist destinations, and before the COVID-19 pandemic, it received hundreds of thousands of European tourists every year.
As a daughter of the rabbi who led the Jewish community of Lisbon for 50 years, born in a country where Jews were expelled five centuries ago—and living in a Europe where more and more people hate Jews, Judaism and Israel—I am infused with a sense of security from the museum. It is a reminder that the phrase “Never again”—about the savage murder of six million Jews in a genocide designed down to the last millimeter—cannot and must not be reduced to an epigraph.
I have read the works of Elie Wiesel, Samuel Pisar, Primo Levy and Anne Frank. I was privileged to be friends with someone who breached the Warsaw Ghetto wall. I have interviewed survivors. I met Imre Kertész.
I have visited the Nazi extermination camps, where the air smells of corpses and remnants of dead Jews were on display: stacks of suitcases, shoes, artificial limbs, glasses, crutches, human hair used for fabrics. I have been to Yad Vashem and Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot in Israel, and many other Holocaust museums elsewhere in the world, viewing photos of so many tattooed arms with deadly numbers. I have pored over archives and scoured libraries, examining blood-stained documents.
To be remembered, the Shoah needs to be known and deeply understood. Understanding is perhaps the only way not to allow the crime to be repeated. “Never again” translates into solidifying the truth with justice, with the strength that does not come from weapons, but from actions such as the building of the Holocaust museum, run by Oporto’s Jewish community, whose parents, grandparents and other family members were direct victims of that tragedy: enslaved, gassed, shot, buried in mass graves, forced to play the violin in Theresienstadt, subject to Mengele’s experiments, escaping Treblinka in the middle of the night.
Built by complementary teams of experts in areas as diverse as history, design, architecture, civil construction and carpentry, under the direction of the board and local rabbinate, the Oporto Holocaust Museum was erected in just two months. In cooperation with B’nai B’rith International and Holocaust museums around the world, it portrays Jewish life before the Holocaust; Nazism and Nazi expansion in Europe; the ghettos, refugees, concentration, labor and extermination camps; liberation; the Jewish population in the post-war period; the foundation of the State of Israel; and the Righteous Among the Nations.
Visitors will have the opportunity to see a reproduction of the Auschwitz dormitories, a room of names, a memorial flame, a study center and, in the image of the Washington Holocaust Museum, photographs and video footage of the period before, during and after the tragedy.
The museum also contains archives relating to refugees who passed through the city of Oporto, including official documents, testimonies, letters and hundreds of individual files. Two Torah scrolls offered to the synagogue in Oporto by refugees who had arrived in the city after the war are also on display.
The new museum is part of a strategy of the local Jewish community to combat anti-Semitism—a strategy that also includes school visits to the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue; four films about the history of Jews in Portugal (as part of an interfaith project with the Diocese of Oporto); pedagogical training programs for secondary-school teachers and other civil servants on themes related to Judaism, the history of the Jews and the Holocaust; and visits to the city’s Jewish Museum to observe the historic and cultural importance of the Jews in Portugal and of Portuguese Jews worldwide, with particular emphasis on the Jewish community in Oporto, which is older than the foundation of Portugal.
The board of directors of the Jewish community of Oporto has it right when it says, “Jews are off the political agenda in many countries, as they are seen as plutocrats of an obscurantist religion and culture with their own state in Israel. Jews don’t count, and the Holocaust itself has been instrumentalized mainly to combat discrimination in general, although nine out of 10 victims were Jewish. Nazism also persecuted other minorities, but it just feared the Jewish culture that was 3,000 years old and present on all continents. The Jews were considered as the greatest threat to the ‘Master Race.’ Hatred of Jews extended far beyond the territories occupied by Germany. The Holocaust aimed to exterminate the Jewish people!”
Rebecca Rose, Associate Director of Development & Special Projects at B'nai B'rith International, and Josh Sushan, board member for B'nai B'rith Connect joined Wake Up with Cheddar (on Cheddar TV) to discuss our virtual "Unto Every Person There Is A Name" event on Clubhouse commemorating Yom HaShoah and the six million Jewish people murdered in the Holocaust.
Israel Hayom quoted B'nai B'rith International President Charles Kaufman in its coverage of the Holocaust Museum of Oporto (Porto) opening its doors, something B'nai B'rith has been encouraging for several years.
The Holocaust Museum of Oporto (Porto) opened its doors to the public on April 5th, the first day after Portugal eased lockdown measures and allowed cultural institutions to reopen, all the while adhering to coronavirus restrictions.
Within two days, 500 visitors made it to the museum, among them young people, senior citizens, Jews, and members of other religions. This is the first time a museum dedicated to the Holocaust is inaugurated in Portugal.
The museum portrays Jewish life spanning decades, from before the Holocaust, during the Nazi era, including life in ghettos, labor and concentration camps, the Final Solution, the death marches, and the liberation, all the way to the establishment of the State of Israel.
The museum has reproductions of Auschwitz barracks, a name room, a flame memorial, a study center, and photographs and screens showing actual footage of before, during, and after the genocide.
It also exhibits archives relating to refugees who passed through Oporto, including official documents, testimonies, letters, and hundreds of individual files.
Moreover, the museum has signed a cooperation protocol with Oporto's Jewish Museum to combat antisemitism in Europe.
"These museums in Oporto should serve as a beacon of light to the rest of Europe, a land darkened today by resurgent antisemitism," President of B'nai B'rith International Charles Kaufman said.
"For the growing Jewish community of Portugal, we urge you to teach future generations the glory of our past and the Holocaust as they repel attempts to disparage us in the future," he said.
The Jerusalem Post covered the upcoming dedication of a symbolic synagogue at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) near Kyiv, which will be broadcast live. Along with two other leaders, B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin will participate in a panel discussion on the significance of the synagogue dedication and the dangers of rising anti-Semitism eighty years after Babyn Yar.
Thursday, April 8th, marks the confluence of two significant events – the observance of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day throughout the Jewish world, and the dedication of a symbolic synagogue at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center near Kyiv, where 33,771 Jews were murdered in a two-day period in late September 1941.
The inauguration of the symbolic synagogue and prayer space at Babyn Yar will be part of the special broadcast on the Jerusalem Post website and Facebook page and the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center Facebook page on Thursday, Yom HaShoah.
On Yom HaShoah, April 8th (7 PM EST), Natan Sharansky, former Prisoner of Zion and Chair of the supervisory board at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, will participate in a panel discussion with Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Euro-Asian Jewry, and Dan S. Mariaschin, chief executive officer of B’nai B’rith International. The three leaders will discuss the significance of the synagogue dedication, the Ukrainian government’s support for the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, and the dangers of resurgent antisemitism eighty years after Babyn Yar.
Sharansky, who was born in 1948, recalled that as a boy, he and his friends were aware that something tragic had occurred in Ukraine but were never informed as to what had happened. “I was born in Ukraine a few years after the Holocaust,” he said. “Most of my Jewish friends had no grandfathers and grandmothers. We had very few uncles and aunts. It was clear that some awful tragedy had happened only a few years before we were born. We knew practically nothing.” The awful crimes of the Nazis, he said, were followed by those of the Communist regime, who attempted to erase the memory of what had occurred from the Jewish identity of the Jews of the Soviet Union. “For me,” Sharansky related, “the Babyn Yar Memorial is like the closing of a huge circle – of bringing back the memory of the world of our people and making it part of our history and our future.”
The importance of the support given to the project by President Zelensky and the Ukrainian government, he says, cannot be overestimated – not only for the Jewish people but for anyone who values the desire to live in a free world.
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Euro-Asian Jewry, echoed Sharansky’s words and stated that the dedication of the synagogue and the museum itself is a significant point not just in Jewish history but in the history of Ukraine and for the continent of Europe as a whole.
The Jerusalem Post previewed B'nai B'rith International and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael's (KKL-JNF) 20th annual joint ceremony to commemorate Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day – Yom HaShoah.
Approaching Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah,) the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) have announced that they will be holding a joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony.
This year will be the 20th consecutive year that the unique event is held in this format.
It is the only event surrounding Yom HaShoah dedicated annually to honoring and commemorating Jewish individuals who made efforts to save fellow Jews during the Holocaust.
The ceremony will take place on Thursday, April 8, at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest. Due to coronavirus restrictions, the ceremony will be attended by fewer people and will broadcast live on YouTube.
The B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest is the result of a comprehensive joint project by B’nai B’rith and KKL-JNF. With an astounding six million trees planted in the Jerusalem mountains, the project attempts to commemorate the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
At the center of the forest stands the “Scroll of Fire,” a state created by renowned sculptor Nathan Rapoport. The statue is meant to reflect the plight of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and their salvation in Israel.
The ceremony will include personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors and rescuers.
According to B’nai B’rith and KKL-JNF, this year's ceremony will honor Wilhelm Filderman and Itschak Artzi (Romania), José Aboulker (Algiers) and 10 other rescuers who operated in Poland, France and Belgium. Moreover, for the first time since the ceremony has been taking place, two rescuers from Mandatory Palestine – paratrooper Hannah Szenes and WZO official Moshe Shapiro – will be recognized with the Jewish Rescuers Citation.
The Jerusalem Post covered our virtual joint event with the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) honoring the late Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who helped thousands of Jews escape the horrors of the Holocaust.
Chiune Sugihara, known affectionately as the "Japanese Schindler," was honored today at a digital ceremony on Monday ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The reception, sponsored by the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) and B'nai B'rith International, focused on the efforts of Sugihara, who defied his own government’s orders by issuing travel visas to more than 6,000 Lithuanian Jews to escape the horrors of the Holocaust.
“At great risk to himself and his family, Sugihara dared to do what was right to save lives. He stood up when the world was largely silent," said CEO of B'nai B'rith International Dan Mariaschin. Like all rescuers her never saw his actions as remarkable. As Sugihara’s actions teach, one person’s actions can make a difference.
”Sugihara was stationed as a diplomat in Lithuania up until all foreign diplomats were requested to leave in the summer of 1940. In the haste to return to Japan, and the impending Holocaust, Sugihara issued visas to the Jewish refugees and it is thought that tens of thousands of Jews are alive today because of his quick action.
“It is estimated that 40,000 people are living today because of Sugihara. I am also a survivor. Another kind of survivor. I am alive today because my grandparents were saved during the Holocaust and I am alive today because of people who stood up to the darkness," said Executive Director of CAM Sacha Roytman Dratwa. "What we learned today is that it is possible to stand up. The heroes of the past must teach us how to be better people.”
The Jewish refugees were then transported to a Dutch colony Curacao, under the permissions of Sugihara who defied Japanese government orders to ensure the safety of thousands.
One of the survivors, Nathan Lewin, who was saved by Sugihara as a child, recalled his family's story at the reception.
Sugihara “opened the door for thousands of refugees to be able to find a free haven in countries across the world.” Lewin said. “It is both an honor and a blessing for me to be here today to share my admiration and thanks for an individual who embodied the role that our rabbis specified, saying you should not do a good deed with the expectation that you will be rewarded, but for the good deed itself. That is what Chiune Sugihara did.”
His daughter Alyza Lewin added "There are many people like me, descendants of the lucky ones, who experienced Sugihara’s humanity.
"Thanks to his moral compass, we deeply appreciate that living life is a blessing," she continued. “Today, Jews are being targeted on the basis of our ethnicity. The Jewish homeland, the Jewish nation state of Israel is the only nation state today targeted as illegitimate. This is today’s contemporary form of antisemitism and we must unite to combat it.”
The Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations, who gave the keynote address laid down call to remember those who perished in the Holocaust and the heroic actions of few who saved many.
“By the grace of Sugihara’s pen, thousands of lives were saved," said ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane. “We must remember the Holocaust to honor those who perished and to achieve a better society. We know that no country is immune from the forces of racism and fascism. So, we have to do the right thing when necessary. Chiune Sugihara is one of those who did the right thing in the most difficult hour.”
JNS covered our virtual joint event with the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) honoring the late Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who helped thousands of Jews escape the horrors of the Holocaust.
(January 26, 2021 / JNS) Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, a virtual event on Monday honored a hero often referred to as the “Japanese Schindler” for helping to save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust.
Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania, defied his own government’s orders by issuing handwritten transit visas in 1940 to more than 6,000 Lithuanian Jews, enabling them to escape Nazi-occupied Europe. He continued to do so for over a month until the Japanese consulate was closed. More than 40,000 descendants of those Jews are believed to be alive today because of his courageous actions.
Sugihara died in 1986 at the age of 86.
The online event highlighted Sugihara’s heroic deeds and the lessons we can learn from him in battling contemporary anti-Semitism. The reception was hosted by the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement and B’nai B’rith International.
Sacha Roytman Dratwa, executive director of the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement, told JNS, “While Sugihara has gotten more attention in recent decades, particularly after Yad Vashem gave him the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ title in the 1980s, most people, including Jews, are still unaware of his heroic deeds. So, it is important that we honor those, such as Sugihara, who came to the aid of the Jewish people in the darkest hour of their history.”
“With fewer and fewer survivors of the Holocaust alive to tell their stories, it is vital that its lessons continue to be shared,” he continued. “The Sugihara lesson is about what one person can do in the face of evil—which, with anti-Semitism on the rise around the world, is as relevant as ever.”
The well-known attorney Nathan Lewin, 84, recalled his family’s personal story of how they were saved by Sugihara. He was born in Lodz, Poland, and in September 1939, when Adolf Hitler invaded, he and his family, including his maternal grandmother and uncle, smuggled across the border and made their way to Vilnius, Lithuania. Lewin was 3 years old at the time.
They hoped to travel even farther away from Hitler’s grasps but were unable to get travel documents. Lewin’s mother then went to Sugihara at the Japanese consulate and received the first handwritten “Sugihara visa” given to Jews. Sugihara’s transit visa allowed Lewin’s entire family to travel to Curaçao and Suriname via Japan.
However, Lewin and his family did not go to Suriname or Curacao but traveled to Japan and came to the United States as refugees when he was 5.
He said at the event, “It is both an honor and a blessing for me to be here today to share my admiration and thanks for an individual who embodied the role that our rabbis specified, saying you should not do a good deed with the expectation that you will be rewarded, but for the good deed itself. That is what Chiune Sugihara did.”
Lewin told JNS, “It’s necessary and important to honor those people who took personal efforts and really jeopardized their own professional status to help people who were fleeing from the Holocaust. And Mr. Sugihara did just that.”
‘He gave them hope and life’
Lewin’s daughter, Alyza Lewin, also an attorney, discussed the relevance of Sugihara’s story to combating modern-day anti-Semitism.
President of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, she told JNS: “The lesson we learn from Chiune Sugihara is that we must recognize that even if we come from different backgrounds, different faiths, different cultures, different races, different genders, different ethnicities, we are all human beings deserving of respect and fairness, entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
She further praised Sugihara, saying “at a time when Jews were being stigmatized and marginalized, he treated them as human beings. He gave them hope and life when others sought to rob them of their dignity.”
She added that Jews are again being stigmatized and marginalized today, but this time because of their ethnicity.
“Jews who take pride in our sense of Jewish peoplehood and in the Jews’ deep, religious, ethnic, cultural, and ancestral connection to the Land of Israel, are being pressured to shed that ethnic pride,” she said. “The Jewish homeland, the Jewish nation-state of Israel—where all races, religions, ethnicities and genders are equal under the law—is the only nation-state today that is targeted as illegitimate. It is the only country that some say has no right to exist. This is today’s contemporary form of anti-Semitism, and we must unite to combat it. Because anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem. It is a cancer that rots away at and ultimately destroys societies that fail to curb it.”
Another Holocaust survivor, Ada Winsten, whose family also obtained transit visas from Sugihara, paid tribute to the man she called “the Japanese Schindler,” saying “if not for him, I would not be here. I would not have my children [or] my grandchildren. If not for Sugihara, we would not even have this story to tell.”
The event’s keynote speaker was Ambassador Kanji Yamanouchi, Consul General of Japan in New York, who said that “by the grace of Sugihara’s pen, thousands of lives were saved.”
He added, “We must remember the Holocaust to honor those who perished and to achieve a better society. We know that no country is immune from the forces of racism and fascism. So, we have to do the right thing when necessary. Chiune Sugihara is one of those who did the right thing in the most difficult hour.”
The Jerusalem Post cited the B’nai Brith World Center-Jerusalem posthumously awarding Joseph Bau its Jewish Rescuers Citation in its coverage of the Joseph Bau House Museum in Tel Aviv struggling to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.
If there are any Hollywood moguls out there looking for a real-life character to serve as the central character in a superhero-type blockbuster, they could do a lot worse than to read up on Joseph Bau.
There is no need to engage in hyperbole or florid epithets when sketching a profile of Bau, who died in 2002 at the age of 81. In fact, he was fortunate to make it past his mid-20s, surviving several ghettos, a concentration camp and all manner of other horrific tests of his mettle along the way.
Some of that is today commemorated, nay, celebrated, at Joseph Bau House Museum, an independent boutique museum in downtown Tel Aviv that tells the extraordinary life story of an extraordinary person. The repository – which is run by Bau’s daughters Hadassah and Clilah Bau – has somehow managed to survive over the years on a shoestring budget, but is now running out of funds and may be forced to close down. The Baus have instigated a Headstart drive (headstart.co.il/project/60369) that is aiming to raise NIS 100,000 to keep the museum afloat, and to continue to enlighten the public about their father’s incredible journey on terra firma.
Bau was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1920 and died in Tel Aviv in 2002. Between those two temporal goalposts, he managed to wriggle his way out of numerous life-threatening situations, and even found love en route.
I first encountered Bau’s name, and learned of some of his amazing achievements, 20 years ago when I met his daughters at his studio on Berdichevsky Street off Rothschild Boulevard. It felt like stepping into an Aladdin’s cave. The cozily proportioned premises were stuffed to the rafters with specimens of Bau’s wide-ranging graphic work, including posters he crafted for early Israeli movies, such as the iconic 1964 dark comedy about aliyah and absorption Sallah Shabati, starring Haim Topol. There were also examples of his animation work, paintings, caricatures, graphics, copies of the nine books he has put out over the years, and evidence of his immersive research into the Hebrew language.
For Bau the latter was a labor of love, which helped him bond with the country and culture he had dreamed about almost all his life.
“Reaching Israel was the fulfillment of an ambition he had since the age of 13,” says Clilah. “He talks about that in his book Shnot Tarzach.” Typically, the title of the book is a play on words. By slightly altering the punctuation you get tirzach, which translates as “you shall murder,” while as an abbreviation, the four letters in Hebrew spell out the year 5698, which equates to 1938-39 in the Gregorian calendar and possibly references the outbreak of World War Two. The tome contains Bau’s recollections of the Holocaust and his life in Israel, and is liberally seasoned with comical word play, and dark and sometimes raucous humor. It has been translated into seven languages, including English, Arabic and Chinese.
I met Bau in his apartment after visiting the studio with his daughters. He was a slight, gentle-looking, well-groomed character, with a full head of snow-white hair, but he had lost his power of speech following the death of his wife, Rivka (née Tennenbaum), three years earlier. Rivka was the love of his life who, in fact, saved his life by giving him her place at Oskar Schindler’s factory in Krakow, which employed hundreds of Jews, and saved around 1,200. Happily, Rivka subsequently survived Auschwitz and was reunited with her husband in Krakow, where they lived until they made aliyah in 1950.
They met in Plaszów concentration camp near Krakow. It was love at first sight and, incredibly, the couple contrived to get married there, after Bau snuck into the women’s quarters, with the other female inmates standing guard. The nuptials were immortalized in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar Award-winning epic Schindler’s List, which Joseph and Rivka went to see, notwithstanding their daughters’ remonstrations.
“WE DIDN’T want our parents to see the movie, but they said it was their duty, toward all those who were murdered,” Hadassah recalls. “We were very concerned and sat on either side of them [in the cinema]. During the movie, when they showed something terrible, we asked dad, ‘Was it like that?’ and he replied, ‘It was 10 times worse!’ Dad also said that the movie was a work of genius, and that if Spielberg had shown all the horrors, no one would have gone to see it.”
One of the more remarkable aspects of Bau’s unimaginable life odyssey is the fact that he not only got by in Hebrew, he mastered it to such an extent that he was able to sculpt it, and mine its nuances and vagaries to a level achieved by few born into the language. That comes across succinctly in, for example, his 1987 book, Brit Mila, again a play of words that can reference the Jewish circumcision ceremony for male babies or translate as Covenant of a Word.
As a trained graphic artist who studied German Gothic lettering before the Holocaust – a skill that also helped him to survive by providing that service to German officers in Krakow Ghetto and later at Plaszów – he was also, naturally, drawn to its aesthetics. He also used his graphic skills to save the lives of many Jews by forging papers for them. Those heroic efforts were recently recognized by the B’nai Brith World Center in Jerusalem when it posthumously awarded Bau its Jewish Rescuers Citation.
He created a number of Hebrew fonts that found their way into the country’s earliest animation works and commercials. As he was there at the very inception of the field in the young State of Israel, he had to start from scratch. That included crafting the lighting, cameras and other requisite equipment out of old X-ray apparatus and refitting all kinds of machinery to get the job done.
Although Hadassah and Clilah say their parents were not coy about their Holocaust experiences, Bau kept one aspect of his work to himself. It was only several years after his death that the Bau daughters learned of their father’s espionage work for the Mossad.
“His work included forging papers for spies,” says Clilah. “That included documents for [Israeli spy in Syria] Eli Cohen and the whole team that went [to Argentina] to capture [Adolf] Eichmann.
”Bau might have had an easier life in the States, but opted to stay here.
“Our father’s dream was to make animated films, but there was no awareness of cartoons in Israel then, so he worked in graphics and creating fonts for movies,” Hadassah explains. “His brother wanted him to come to New York to work as an animator, but he didn’t want to leave Israel, which was everything to him.”
His expertise in that field was also put to good use by the Israeli security forces.
“We discovered he made classified animated films for the IDF and Mossad, but they are not willing to show us the movies.
”Our chat is interspersed by lots of laughing, and the daughters say there was plenty of merriment at home.
“He taught me to write songs, all with humor, and he taught Clilah to tell jokes,” Hadassah notes with yet another peal of laughter.
Now the Baus just want to keep the memory of their parents’ amazing life, and their father’s invaluable work, alive. Prior to the pandemic, tours of the studio included theatrical enactments of some of Bau’s experiences.
“Dad said we should turn the studio into a theater. Today it is a museum/theater where we perform and tell the story of the place and the wonderful life story of our parents, illustrated by his paintings and drawings of the Hebrew language.
”The idea is also to convey some much-needed positive vibes, particularly in these trying times.
“Our father always wanted to make people happy,” says Clilah. “He always said, ‘If we were happy in the darkest of times, everyone can learn the meaning of happiness and love from us.’ That’s what we do.”
Swissinfo.ch (SWI) shared an op-ed by B'nai B'rith International Geneva Representative Anita Winter about remembering Kristallnacht and her family's personal history during the Holocaust.
Kristallnacht - what a creation of a word. Broken windows become sparkling stones that glitter in the night. Reichskristallnacht. What a masterpiece of propaganda. In the collective memory of the National Socialists, the night of November 9, 1938, was to be associated with something beautiful, something to be celebrated.
My father was a witness
In fact, many people were in an exuberant mood at the time. When my father walked alone through the streets of Berlin on the morning of November 10, 1938, he saw not only the destruction of the previous night, but also how the SA soldiers (from the Nazi paramilitary wing), women and men, young people and children continued to rage happily. No one intervened.
My father was 16 years old when he understood that being a Jew meant that he had to leave Germany as soon as possible. Because the broken glass scattered everywhere could only be a harbinger of much worse things to come.
How right he was – that night was the first step on the path to the Final Solution. What he had seen with his own eyes in Berlin had happened all over Germany. Everywhere the SA had destroyed and looted Jewish shops, burned down synagogues, abused Jews, murdered hundreds and deported thousands to concentration camps.
The last witnesses of the Shoah
My father, Walter Strauss, used to tell me, my siblings and his grandchildren, even at a very old age, again and again about that night, this orchestrated outbreak of violence. But he would also talk about the period that preceded it, when the Jews had been increasingly marginalised.
Even the Iron Cross, which his father had been awarded during the First World War, was of no help to the family. Jewish families were integrated in society but found themselves outside of it within a very short time.
Back then my father was still a pupil in Heilbronn but he was not allowed to study for the only reason that he was a Jew. And so he came alone to Berlin to do an apprenticeship with a tailor. Here, he witnessed the night of November 9, 1938 – alone, hidden behind a cupboard, filled with fear and horror. From here he fled alone via detours to Switzerland. Only because of this he escaped the Shoah.
After the Second World War, many believed that the Holocaust – the murder of six million Jews – would mean the end of anti-Semitism. My father was much more pessimistic. He did not believe that people had really learned from this break in civilization.
In his old age he witnessed anti-Semitism flaring up again. That is how he, my beloved father, Walter Strauss, died – warning us, the next generation. And that is also how the remaining witnesses of the Holocaust will die.
Memory against forgetting
Reichskristallnacht – the crystals stand for the cynical cold and the frosty ice in which the faces of all those who have participated or remained silent are reflected.
Reichskristallnacht – Reichspogromnacht, the Night of the Pogrom. What we ultimately call this night is irrelevant, as long as we understand what happened that night: that the broken glass was only the prelude to extermination. Today we know it and we can fight it, as long as we keep the memory of November 9 alive. It is about the importance of never forgetting, never remaining silent, and never being indifferent.
Neue Zürcher Zeitung shared an op-ed by B'nai B'rith International Geneva Representative Anita Winter about remembering Kristallnacht and her family's personal history during the Holocaust.
In dieser Nacht vom 9. auf den 10. November 1938 brennen in Deutschland die Synagogen, von Berlin bis Hamburg werden jüdische Geschäfte zerstört und geplündert, die Friedhöfe geschändet und die Juden zu Tausenden verschleppt – mindestens 400 Juden werden ermordet oder sterben an den Haftfolgen. Es ist keine «Kristallnacht», wie die Nationalsozialisten die Ereignisse fortan beschönigend nennen, sondern eine Pogromnacht.
«Stürmischer Beifall. Alles saust gleich an die Telefone. Nun wird das Volk handeln.» Diese Sätze, niedergeschrieben von Joseph Goebbels, belegen die organisierte Gewalt, die bei Polizei und Partei ihren Anfang nahm und die Bevölkerung mit einschloss. Es zeigte sich hier der sich anbahnende Zivilisationsbruch: Die Pogromnacht markiert den Übergang von der Diskriminierung der Juden zu ihrer systematischen Vernichtung. Der 9. November 1938 hat darum zu Recht eine besondere Bedeutung im kollektiven Gedächtnis: So wird in Deutschland und anderswo in jedem Jahr an diese Schreckensnacht erinnert. Zeitzeuginnen und Zeitzeugen bündeln noch einmal ihre Kräfte, treten an Veranstaltungen oder in Schulen auf, um nochmals Zeugnis abzulegen. Um den jungen Menschen zu berichten, wozu Menschen fähig sind, wenn die Saat von Intoleranz und Hass aufgeht.
Wo die Zeitzeugen verstummen
2020 ist alles anders. Es ist nicht allein die Corona-Pandemie, welche die Begegnung zwischen den betagten Opfern und der nächsten Generation verunmöglicht. Die Zeit lässt die Stimmen allmählich verstummen. Es werden immer weniger, die über die Reichspogromnacht und den Holocaust erzählen können.
Mit Walter Strauss ist einer dieser Zeitzeugen im letzten Jahr verstorben. «Wir wurden gedemütigt und gepeinigt: In Berlin wurde die antisemitische Hetze immer penetranter», hat sich Strauss wenige Monate vor seinem Tod in einem Gespräch mit der NZZ erinnert. Geboren wurde der Sohn eines Arztes 1922 im deutschen Heilbronn. Der Vater war im Ersten Weltkrieg mit dem Eisernen Kreuz ausgezeichnet worden, seine Mutter stammte aus dem aargauischen Baden, verlor aber bei der Heirat ihre Schweizer Staatsbürgerschaft. Nach Hitlers Machtergreifung im Jahre 1933 verschlechterten sich die Lebensumstände der jüdischen Familie rasch: Die Eltern flohen nach Liechtenstein, und Walter begann in Berlin eine Lehre als Schneider, weil ihm eine akademische Ausbildung verboten war.
Walter Strauss fuhr am Morgen des 10. Novembers allein als 16-jähriger Junge mit der Strassenbahn durch Berlin und beobachtete fassungslos das Ausmass der Zerstörung. An seinem Arbeitsplatz in der Nähe des Alexanderplatzes stand der Betrieb still. Fast alle Angestellten der jüdischen Textilfabrik waren geflohen oder von den Nazis verschleppt worden. «Während ein jüdisches Porzellangeschäft kurz und klein geschlagen wurde, herrschte eine geradezu ausgelassene und fröhliche Stimmung im Volk. Die Polizisten standen zwar herum, machten aber keine Anstalten einzuschreiten», erinnerte sich Strauss. In diesem Moment wurde es dem Jungen klar, dass er so rasch wie möglich das Land verlassen musste. Ihm gelang die Flucht in die Schweiz, und er konnte sich trotz bürokratischen Hürden dank seiner Familie in Baden niederlassen, wo er bis zu seinem Tod lebte.
Wohin Intoleranz führt
Europa erlebte nach dem Krieg eine Zeit der Sicherheit, aber sicher ist nichts, davon war Walter Strauss überzeugt. Kurz vor seinem Tod sagte er im Interview: «Ich glaube nicht, dass die Menschen aus der Geschichte lernen und gescheiter werden. Ich bin Realist. Der Weg von der Zivilisation zur Barbarei ist kurz.»
Wie gehen wir mit dieser Vergangenheit um? Die Schrecken der Pogromnacht sind dank den Berichten von Zeitzeugen dokumentiert. Aber damit ist es nicht getan. Ohne die direkte Begegnung mit den Menschen, die den Holocaust überlebt haben, braucht es neue Formen des Erzählens und Lehrens, um die Erinnerung an den Holocaust auch bei der nächsten Generation wachzuhalten. Wir müssen aufzeigen, wohin Intoleranz, Fremdenfeindlichkeit und Antisemitismus führen. Wir müssen aufzeigen, was Menschlichkeit bedeutet. Wir müssen beweisen, dass wir dem Hass etwas entgegenstellen können. Dies ist unsere Aufgabe, dies ist unsere Verpflichtung gegenüber den letzten Zeitzeugen. Dies muss unser Versprechen sein. Denn, wie Walter Strauss sich ausdrückte: «Wir müssen wachsam bleiben. So etwas darf nie mehr geschehen.»
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