The Jewish Broadcasting Service covered the announcement by B'nai B'rith World Center-Jerusalem that it would be awarding its Jewish Rescuers Citation to 18 individuals posthumously. Watch the video below.
Former B'nai B'rith International President Tommy Baer of Richmond, Virginia wrote this column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. To read more first-person accounts of Kristallnacht experiences, including Tommy Baer’s story, click this link.
Hannah Arendt called it the banality of evil. Author Martin Gilbert called it the collapse of morality, “an indication of what happens when a society falls victim to its baser instincts.” The name given to it was “Kristallnacht,” the Night of Broken Glass.
Today marks the 80th anniversary of the 24-hour rampage in 1938 Germany and Austria which some say was the beginning of the Holocaust. There was on that night, upon the direct orders of the Third Reich, a violent and systematic attack upon Jews and Jewish institutions perpetrated by German security forces, joined by a frenzied populace given free rein to terrorize and destroy, without interference by police or firefighters. On that night the German nation fell victim to its baser instincts.
Hundreds of synagogues were set ablaze and destroyed, Torah scrolls torn to pieces, prayer books desecrated. Thousands of Jewish shops, homes, hospitals, and schools were smashed and looted. Nearly 100 Jews were killed and 30,000 Jewish men, including my mother’s father, were arrested and sent to concentration camps, where they were brutalized.
On that night my mother heard the sounds of shattering glass from the window of her hospital room in Berlin where she was being treated for a serious breast infection. I was 3 months old.
The events of that night and the next day shattered not only glass, but the hopes of European Jews who believed that they would survive the tyrannical Nazi regime and its diabolical scheme to create a pure Aryan race. It was made clear beyond all doubt that the objective of the Nazis was to rid Germany and Europe of the Jewish people, thus eradicating the 1,000-year history of Jewish life and culture in Germany.
The genocide had begun. Never had mankind seen such evil on so grand a scale. The lives, hopes, aspirations, dreams, and contributions of 6 million Jews (1,500,000 children), one-third of world Jewry, were obliterated. Numbers so large and vast that they are difficult for the mind to process. Yet they must be processed if there is any hope that such madness will never again be allowed to occur.
Among Jews, and others, the question is often asked: Could it happen here? I always answered in the negative, not in this country. Our institutions are too strong, our law too settled, our sense of decency too great. While I remain optimistic, I am no longer so sanguine about our immunity from the exercise of our baser instincts.
A recent poll of millennials disclosed that 66 percent had never heard of Auschwitz. It is troubling that this place, this Nazi death camp where more than 1 million Jews were murdered, this hell on earth, could not be identified by so many of those upon whom the future of our nation depends.
Today’s expressions of intolerance and repression of free speech and assembly in public forums, on many college campuses, and in other venues is a worrisome development.
The alarming rise of anti-Semitism in our country, along with movements that deligitimize, not merely criticize, the State of Israel, is a cause of increasing concern.
Holocaust denial, a form of anti-Semitism and hate speech, is cause for anxiety.
The lingering specter of neo-Nazi mobs in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us,” evoking the Third Reich, and the most recent horrific mass murder of Jews by a crazed anti-Semite at a synagogue service in Pittsburgh while screaming “All Jews must die,” shock the conscience and remind Jews of a former time, causing apprehension and foreboding. We should have learned long ago that words and actions have consequences.
All of these, individually and in the aggregate, pose a clear and present danger to those precepts enshrined in our Constitution and regarded by most as inalienable.
But perhaps most of all, it is complacency that frightens me. If we cannot or will not identify evil and the purveyors of hatred in order to prevent their insidious spread to toxic levels, we shall be overcome and consumed by it. Though I am comforted by the posthumous message of Sen. John McCain, who reminded us that “We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil,” we have become a nation vulnerable to excesses — in our political discourse, in our civility to one another, and in the breakdown of values we once cherished. The resistance of these negative impulses will require a strong America, one in which our leadership must speak out with moral clarity.
So, Kristallnacht must be remembered to prevent the savage beast in man from prevailing. Not here, not anywhere. Into that abyss we must not descend. Memory allows us to assess our history and ourselves, to ensure that we learn its lessons, so that we do not succumb to our baser instincts.
The words from a memorial plaque to the murdered Jewish children at the former concentration camp at Neuengamme, Germany, come to mind. They read: “When you stand here, be silent. When you leave here, be not silent.”
So let us remember; for if hatred prevails, we are all at risk.
To read the original story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, click this link.
The Art Newspaper mentioned us in an article on the current legal battle the Metropolitan Museum of Art is facing over Pablo Picasso’s “The Actor.” It is believed that German Jewish collector Paul Leffmann sold the painting in order to escape from Italy after fleeing from Nazi Germany. B’nai B’rith signed onto the brief in support of the Leffmann estate in its efforts to have the property returned.
The legal battle over Picasso’s painting The Actor (around 1904-05), which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is not quite over. An appeal has been brought in federal court in New York by the estate of Alice Leffmann, challenging a lower court’s dismissal of its claim on the work, which it says was sold under duress during the Nazi era. The Met is opposing the appeal and stands by its ownership of the painting.
Now one of the most recognised works from Picasso’s “Rose period”, The Actor was once owned by the German Jewish collector Paul Leffmann, who sold it in Italy in 1938 for $13,200, allegedly far below market value, as he and his wife Alice sought to flee a fast-Nazifying Italy, having already escaped Germany. The painting later made its way to New York’s Knoedler Gallery, where it was bought in 1941 for $22,500 by the American collector Thelma Chrysler Foy, who gave it to the Met in 1952. The case is significant because of the potential impact on claimants who seek the restitution of works sold by Jewish families to raise cash to fund their escape from the Nazis.
In dismissing the lawsuit in February, US District Court Judge Loretta Preska said the estate had not met the legal test for duress under the law of either Italy or New York. While acknowledging a general “economic pressure during the undeniably horrific circumstances of the Nazi and Fascist regimes,” the judge said, the Leffmanns had time to review and negotiate other offers before agreeing to the $13,200, and had other—albeit vastly reduced—assets.
On appeal, the estate says the situation faced in 1938 by the fleeing Leffmanns in Florence, where Adolf Hitler was parading through the neighbourhood, was duress. “You either sell or face an unspeakable fate,” the estate says in its filing, calling the sale a “desperate act of survival during the most horrific of circumstances.” The estate adds that the lower court’s decision is inconsistent with US policy as shown by the recently passed Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act, which extends the time limit for claims on Nazi-era art cases, and which the court did not address. "As the appellate brief makes clear, the HEAR Act is a clear statement of US policy favouring the restitution of art lost as a result of persecution by the Nazis and its allies," says the estate's lawyer Ross Hirsch of Herrick, Feinstein. "As a technical legal matter, the HEAR Act is also relevant to, and dismissive of, the Museum’s statute of limitation and laches defenses. However, the district court did not reach those defenses in its decision."
The Met argues that the estate is asking the court to expand the law of duress, which would upset the rights of those who have bought art in good faith. The Leffmanns sold the painting on the open market in 1938 and brought no claim for it when they sought to recover other lost assets after the war, the museum says, adding that it has handled the claim with “appropriate sensitivity to the historical circumstances” and denied it only after voluminous research. “The Museum respectfully stands by its conclusion that it is the rightful owner of this painting, which was never in the hands of the Nazis and never sold or transferred in any unlawful way,” David Bowker, an attorney for the Met, says.
The case has attracted the attention of groups and individuals who have filed amicus briefs in support of the Leffmann estate, including the Holocaust Era Restitution Project, B’nai B’rith International, the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Human Rights and others. The court should take into account that the Nazis wove an “all-encompassing web” to extract all Jewish assets for the Reich, the Wiesenthal Center says, adding that sales under those circumstances should not be viewed as ordinary commercial transactions.
The Pitt News publicized the organization of a Holocaust Remembrance Day march at the University of Pittsburgh by B'nai B'rith International's partner organization Alpha Epsilon Pi.
A procession of Pitt community members dressed in black marched from from Trees Hall to the Bigelow Lawn Wednesday night. The mourning colors were worn not just to remember one death, but millions. Pitt’s historically Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, held its second annual Walk to Remember with B’nai B’rith International, a Jewish service organization, to honor those who died in the Holocaust and take a stand against rising anti-Semitism.
About 40 members of AEPi and the local community walked in silence Wednesday, followed by a 24-hour commemoration outside the William Pitt Union. AEPi members and anyone else who wanted to volunteer took turns reading the names of Holocaust victims and their places of origin and death from 6 p.m. Wednesday until 6 p.m. Thursday. The event occured in conjunction with Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah — colloquially known as Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day — which is held annually and lasted from sunset Wednesday to nightfall Thursday.
Gabriel Kaufman, a junior majoring in finance and marketing and member of AEPi, said the event is important not not only to the local Jewish community but to people of all faiths at Pitt. Kaufman was one of the readers at the event and vice president of the planning committee for it.
“Obviously, not everyone is Jewish, but it’s hard to wrap your head around the evil that existed in Europe between 1939 to 1945, and even before that,” he said. “We stand not only against anti-Semitism but against all atrocities that happen in the present or may happen in the future.”
As the years since the Holocaust increase, younger generations are forgetting about the significance of the atrocity and its lasting impacts more and more. A recent study by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that two-thirds of American millennials cannot identify Auschwitz — the largest Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Kaufman reinforced the relevance of remembrance today, even 73 years after the Holocaust. He said the march and name reading is to protest and bring awareness to anti-Semitism and to recognize the impact the Holocaust had on his and his fraternity brothers’ families.
“We’re standing against any future atrocity, any form of racism we’re standing against,” he said. “We realize that’s prevalent in the world and we want to bring a whole new meaning to the words ‘Never Again.’”
According to Aaron Chumsky, a sophomore math and economics major and the Jewish identity chair of AEPi, the frat began working on the event after Winter Break, planning dates and times and reaching out to organizations such as the Pitt police.
“I think it’s important that we celebrate our Jewish identity and that does involve honoring the many who perished during the Holocaust. And also showing that we stand against actions like that and actions of discrimination that are still going on today,” he said.
The gravity of the event and the meaning behind it was not lost on attendees and bystanders, such as Ryan Gill.
Gill, a first year majoring in pharmacy, didn’t go to the march on Wednesday but did attend part of the name reading of Thursday. He described the long time AEPi spent to read all the names as “eye-opening.”
“I was only here for maybe a half hour or so, but he was reading the list and it hit me hard. How many people really died and were killed,” he said.
While Holocaust Remembrance Day only comes once a year, organizers such as Kaufman hope that people take away some of the lessons from the event and think about the effect that it had on Jewish people everywhere.
“And all of our brothers come from different backgrounds, I know that a lot of people have Polish roots. A lot of people have Russian roots like myself — my Mom’s Russian,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. All Jewish people were affected by the Holocaust.”
JTA News covered the presentation by B'nai B'rith International and other organizations of the Never Again Education Act, which would provide funding for schools to include Holocaust education.
A bipartisan slate of House members is set to introduce a bill that would grant money to Holocaust education in schools.
The Never Again Education Act would establish the Holocaust Education Assistance Program Fund in the U.S. Treasury. A 12-member board would disburse the money to schools.
A draft of the bill, which is to be introduced Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives, says the fund would be privately funded.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., is the lead sponsor of the measure.
“Today, those who deny that the Holocaust occurred or distort the true nature of the Holocaust continue to find forums, especially online; this denial and distortion dishonors those who were persecuted, and murdered,” the draft of the bill says. “This makes it even more of a national imperative to educate students in the United States so that they may explore the lessons that the Holocaust provides for all people, sensitize communities to the circumstances that gave rise to the Holocaust, and help youth be less susceptible to the falsehood of Holocaust denial and distortion and to the destructive messages of hate that arise from Holocaust denial and distortion.”
The bill would also create a website that would include Holocaust education resources.
Maloney will launch the bill on Tuesday at the Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights in New York City, accompanied by representatives of Hadassah, B’nai B’rith International and the Association of Holocaust Organizations. The Anti-Defamation League endorsed the bill.
Also sponsoring the bill are Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill.; Ted Deutch, D-Fla.; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.; Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.; Kay Granger, R-Texas; Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.; and Dan Donovan, R-N.Y. Lowey and Granger are top House appropriators, which suggests the bill likely will pass.
The Times of Israel ran CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin’s op-ed on the 75th anniversary of the remarkable story of Bulgarians uniting during the Holocaust to save their Jewish population from deportation, and the special relationship Bulgaria held with its Jewish population.
In March 1943, Nazi Germany demanded of its Bulgarian allies that it deport the country’s 48,000 Jews. For months, the Nazis and their Bulgarian collaborators had discussed the means for the transfer of Bulgarian Jews to the death camps that already had taken the lives of millions of other European Jews. Two years before, the Sofia government adopted the anti-Semitic Law for the Defense of the Nation, which foreshadowed the ultimate decision to deport Bulgaria’s Jews.Indeed, there was even a Bulgarian Commissar for Jewish Affairs, Alexander Belev, who had been in place for precisely this kind of operation. The plans included the deportation of more than 11,000 Jews from Northern Greece and Yugoslavia, areas under Bulgarian military administration. Jews in both places were forced to wear the yellow star, and many young men in the Bulgarian community served in forced labor details.
For those Jews inside Bulgaria’s borders, the plans for their round-up and demise were thwarted by an unlikely coalition of leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, members of parliament, intellectuals and everyday citizens, whose sense of justice and revulsion over the notion of sending their neighbors to their deaths was unacceptable.
The reaction of the Church leadership set it apart from religious figures elsewhere in Europe, who either through indifference, self-interest or outright anti-Semitism turned away, or were complicit as Jewish community after community was destroyed.
Led by the metropolitans (prelates) of Sofia and Plovdiv, Stefan and Kyril, the church leadership – not all in agreement at the outset – came to the conclusion that it must deplore the deportation orders. First, they agreed on protecting the few hundred Jews in the country who had converted to Bulgarian Orthodoxy (many thinking it would save their lives), but that grew into a campaign to speak out for the entire endangered community.
In a letter to the government on May 4, 1943, the Holy Synod noted that “Our people, by its soul and conscience, but its mentality and conviction, cannot bear lawlessness, repression and atrocity against anyone. Our human, as well as our Christian conscience is embarrassed. Hence, the Holy Synod is asked spiritedly from many sides – by good and loyal Bulgarian public figures, by well-known people of culture and patriots, by Bulgarian mothers – to insist on justice and humane attitude for the Jewish minority in the country.” The Synod met with both King Boris III and with the prime minister to convey its opposition to the deportation orders.
Metropolitan Stefan of Sofia denounced Hitler from the pulpit, calling him “the miserable and insane Fuhrer.” Metropolitan Klement of Stara Zagora insisted “we cannot stay indifferent to the fate of the persecuted Jewish minority because we would be condemned by God…”
In the secular realm, the protests against the deportation orders were led by Dimitar Peshev, the deputy speaker of Bulgaria’s National Assembly. Peshev, who came from the small provincial city of Kyustendil, was moved by the deportation of Jews from Bulgarian-administered areas outside the country and by reports of Jews in his home town being told to gather their belongings in anticipation of round-ups by the authorities. His tenacity and persistence in pressing government leaders – the prime minister refused to meet with him – was a key element in arousing public opinion about the planned deportations.
On the people-to-people level, many Bulgarians had close relations with their Jewish neighbors. Fifteen years ago, I was in Kyustendil for the 60th anniversary commemoration of the rescue of Bulgarian Jewry. Following the program, which was held in the town square, an elderly woman ran up to the then-Bulgarian foreign minister, and quickly engaged him in animated conversation. She then did the same with an Israeli government representative, who had also participated in the program. Curious, I asked both what the conversation was all about. The woman, I was told, had Jewish classmates who had left for Israel after the war, and now, she wanted to know if anyone could help her track them down. For nearly 60 years she had no one to ask, and this commemoration, with its attendees from Israel, gave her the opportunity to find her friends.
The deportation orders were never carried out. The exasperated German Ambassador Adolf Beckerle, in a cable to Berlin, wrote: “The Bulgarian government, despite its efforts in relation to the final solution of the Jews, is attached to the mentality of the Bulgarian population…this one, does not find any drawbacks in the Jews, that would justify actions against them.”
The role of Bulgaria’s King Boris III in the deportation story has been subject to much speculation, but it is clear that the pressure to resist the demands from Berlin came from outside his circle.
Ironically, Belev, who was ultimately dismissed from his job near the end of the war, fled to Kyustendil, where he was captured and ultimately shot on the way to Sofia to be tried.
Peshev, whose friendship for the Jewish community eventually earned him the honor of being among the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, was tried by the post-war Communist government, charged with collaboration with the Germans. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and released after serving a brief time.
Tragically, for the Jews of Northern Greece and Yugoslavia, there was no similar rescue effort. Many actually had relatives in Bulgaria, who were powerless to save them. Most were deported across Bulgarian territory, to Auschwitz and Treblinka.
At a time when defiance in any form ran tremendous risks, those who helped the Jewish community – the Orthodox Church, Peshev and those who joined him and friends and neighbors who found it unconscionable that fellow Bulgarians would be sent to their deaths – stood their ground. In a demonstration of both conscience and justice, these courageous human beings stood apart in a continent bereft of moral principles.
In that, 75 years later, there is an object lesson for us today.
Below is a collection of articles publicizing the awarding of B'nai B'rith International's Jewish Rescuers' Citation to Enzo Cavaglion.
Times of Israel: Holocaust hero honored 75 years after dramatic rescue of fellow Jews from Nazis
Seventy-five years after he helped a group of over 1,000 Jews fleeing Italian-occupied France, 98-year-old Jewish-Italian Enzo Cavaglion was honored in his hometown of Cuneo on Sunday.
Cavaglion was presented with the Jewish Rescuers Citation by B’nai Brith World Center-Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust at his residence, surrounded by family and friends.
He still lives in the same village from which he helped organize the 1943 rescue effort.
“Enzo was really moved by the award,” said Alan Schneider, director of B’nai Brith World Center-Jerusalem, who attended the presentation.
“He’s 98 years old — frail in body, but his mind is sharp, and it was an opportunity for him to remember those awful days when he assisted these 1,000 Jews who escaped over the Maritime Alps from France into Italy,” Schneider said.
The Jewish Rescuers Citation was established in 2011 to help correct the common misconception that Jews didn’t significantly help rescue other Jews during the Holocaust.
To date, nearly 200 heroes who operated in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Holland, Italy, Ukraine, Latvia and Austria have been awarded the citation.
“For decades there’s been a focus on non-Jewish rescuers, such as the recognition as Righteous Among the Nations — an outstanding program spearheaded by Yad Vashem,” said Schneider.
“But there is also a huge focus on it by European countries who want to showcase their rescuers, and they often have a much broader expression of this than Yad Vashem,” he said. “All of this has helped to create a brand of righteous among the nations, and now all these decades later, we’re trying to play catch up and recognize Jews who went beyond the call of duty and put themselves in even greater danger in Germany and allied countries.”
Schneider says that thousands of Jews in France joined resistance groups that saved fellow Jews – particularly Jewish children, and that these groups were highly successful in helping preserve the future of French Jewry in the face of genocide.
Perhaps most famous among partisans dedicated to rescuing Jews are the group led by the four Bielski brothers, Tuvia, Zus, Asael, and Aron, who safeguarded 1,236 Jews in the forest inside present-day Belarus. The group is the subject of the 2008 Hollywood film “Defiance,” starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber.
Like the Bielski brothers, Cavaglion and his own brother Riccardo simultaneously fought the Nazis and worked to save Jewish lives, something Schneider says was unusual.
“In many cases you couldn’t do both — saving Jews and fighting Nazis, so a lot of resistance movements had to choose between fighting and rescue,” he said.
The Cavaglion brothers were founding members of the Italia Libera partisan group, which they established on September 12, 1943, the day that Cuneo was occupied by the German First SS Panzer division.
At the same time, more than 1,000 Jews living in the remote Italian-occupied French Alpine village of Saint-Martin-Vesubie fled to Cuneo across the Maritime Alps in the face of German invasion – only to find Nazis combing the area. About 300 of the group were captured and sent to Auschwitz.
The brothers helped the remaining 700 find shelter among a sympathetic peasant population in the surrounding mountain villages, and raided local municipal offices, stealing documents with which they forged paperwork for the fugitive Jews.
Cavaglion was awarded the Jewish Rescuers Citation for putting aside his own well-being as he and his family were also hunted by the Nazis, and helping the hundreds of fleeing Jews find asylum.
The Holocaust survivor was moved to tears when he was presented with the honor.
“This is the first recognition that he had from a Jewish organization for endangering himself,” said Schneider. “Beyond that he was already in danger for being a Jew in an area where the Nazis were roaming, he put himself in the line of fire and put himself in danger to rescue these Jews.”
Jerusalem Post: Grapevine: Morocco in Holocaust History
Different strokes for different folks. Not everyone marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the same way. Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, head of the European Union Delegation and his wife, Min-Ja Masson, invited friends and colleagues to their residence to watch the screening of selected scenes from the films Casablanca (USA, 1942) and Allied (USA, 2016), which illustrated some of the observations of Prof. Haim Sadoun, who delivered a talk on cinematic portrayals of the Holocaust and their influence on Holocaust denial.
Casablanca, best known for its star players Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, is beyond the plot itself a reminder that Morocco, in the early days of the Second World War, was a place of refugee where people fleeing from the Nazis could obtain false papers. Allied, starring Brad Pitt as a Canadian intelligence officer and Marion Cotillard as a French Resistance fighter and Nazi collaborator, also starts out in Casablanca, but although the time frame is the same as in the Bogart-Bergman movie, the plot is vastly different.
Needless to say, Sadoun is of North African background and an expert on North African Jewry before, during and after the war. He is the director of the Documentation Center of North African Jewry during World War II and has authored a book on the subject, on which he lectures and engages in research at the Ben-Zvi Institute and at the Open University.
For many years the Holocaust was regarded as the tragedy solely of European Jews. Few people were aware that North African Jews were among the victims, and when North African survivors told their stories, few in Israel or anywhere else in the Jewish world believed them, and they missed out on compensation payments that were allocated to European Jews. It is only in recent years that the record has been set straight.
For some years now, B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem has paid tribute to Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust years. In Italy this week, together with the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust, BBWCJ conferred the Jewish Rescuers Citation on 98-year-old Enzo Cavaglion, who saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish refugees in northern Italy during the German occupation.
Cavaglion was one of the 14 founding members of the partisan group Italia Libera (Free Italy), which was established on September 12, 1943 – the date on which the city of Cuneo, in Northern Italy, was occupied by the German First SS Panzer Division. The partisans ensconced themselves in the sanctuary of the Madonna del Colletto, some 18 kilometers to the west of Cuneo. Cavaglion and his younger brother, Riccardo Cavaglion, stayed with the group until October 1943, but left in order to help their own families escape arrest.
In addition to the resistance they waged against the Nazis and the Italian Fascists, the two brothers also helped Jews who sought refuge in villages around Cuneo. More than 1,000 Jews living in the remote Italian- occupied French Alpine village of Saint-Martin-Vesubie fled in the face of the German Army which invaded the area following the September 8, 1943, announcement of the armistice signed between Italy and the Allies.
A thousand men, women, children, the elderly and the disabled scaled the Maritime Alps and crossed the international border into Italy in a harrowing ordeal, only to find the Germans already taking charge in the area. Approximately 300 of these Jews were captured and sent to Auschwitz. The rest found refuge among the welcoming local peasant population. The Cavaglion brothers found hiding places for them, furnished them with false documents and hid them in the mountains in order to evade the Nazis. Survivor Harry Burger credited Enzo and Riccardo with saving his life and his mother’s life by warning them that the Nazis were hunting for them.
Since its establishment in 2011, the Jewish Rescuers Citation has been presented in an effort to correct the public misconception that Jews did not rescue fellow Jews during the Holocaust. To date, nearly 200 heroes have been honored for rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Holland and now Italy. Even at this late stage in his life, Enzo Cavaglion, surrounded by two generations of his family, was thrilled to have his wartime efforts recognized.
In New York this week, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which works toward the restitution of private property and Jewish communal property seized during the Holocaust in Europe (with the exception of Austria and Germany), announced that the critically acclaimed film 1945 and its director, Ferenc Török, will receive the first annual WJRO Justice Award for raising awareness about Jewish property confiscated during the Holocaust and for ensuring that this dark chapter in the history of humanity is not forgotten.
The disquieting black-and-white film grapples with the issue of Jewish property stolen during and after World War II, in this case, in a village in postwar Hungary. The return of two Jewish men to the rural town creates turmoil, as members of the community try to come to terms with the recent horrors they have experienced, perpetrated or just tolerated for personal gain.
The film was adapted from a short story by Gábor T. Szántó. The fictional drama focuses on a “period in Hungarian history that is not overly represented either in literature or in film,” Török said. “It was important for us to share this message about the crimes of those who stole property from Jews both during and after the Holocaust, particularly with Hungarian viewers who are confronting the past for the first time,” the director said, adding that he was honored to receive the inaugural WJRO award.
Although the narrative depicted in the film is fictional, the challenges of European property restitution are quite real, said Gideon Taylor, chairman of operations for WJRO, which actively pursues property restitution in Central and Eastern Europe. “Even at this late date, former Jewish property across Europe has not been fully restored to rightful owners and their families,” Taylor said. “The film 1945 brings a powerful story before the public.”
Jehuda Evron, a Holocaust survivor from Romania, said of 1945: “Many people do not know about the injustices that Jews faced after the Holocaust. Millions of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; now their families are [still] trying to recover what belongs to them.”
The WJRO Justice Award recognizes individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the fight for justice for Holocaust survivors and their families.
Honorees also must have demonstrated compassion, perseverance and courage in promoting the dignity and well-being of Holocaust survivors worldwide and in preserving the memory of the Shoah.
The film, partially funded by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, a member- organization of WJRO, received the Audience Award at the Berlin Jewish Film Festival and the Best Film Award at the Der Neu Heimatfilm Festival in Austria, and also captured both the Audience Award and the Critics Prize at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the oldest and largest such festival in North America.
Publishers of two of the Hebrew-language newspapers are frequently in the news themselves. One is Noni Mozes, the publisher of Yediot Aharonot, most particularly in relation to his conversations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the other is Amos Schocken, the publisher of Haaretz, which, due to financial constraints, has shrunk both in size and quality, even though the price of the paper keeps going up. Schocken is occasionally interviewed on this subject on radio, but more often about the controversial antiestablishment writers and their views that he allows to be published in the paper.
Schocken will be in Jerusalem on Wednesday, February 7, at a Beit Avi Chai event in which he will discuss Israel’s communications market, state institutions, relations between the media and its advertisers and content sponsors, as well as what’s happening with the Israeli Left. All this and more is intended to come out in conversation with Yoav Sorek, the editorin- chief of the Shiloach Journal for Policy and Thought.
Conversations rather than speeches have become the in thing over the past couple of years, but as interesting as they may be, they often frustrate audiences, whose members would like to ask a few questions themselves. When there is question time at such an event, the audience rarely gets a chance to ask more than three questions, and sometimes not even so few.
Time marches on. Yoram Taharlev, poet, lyricist and author, celebrated his 80th birthday this week. Literally scores of his songs have been set to music by Israeli composers, and he has made a significant imprint on Israeli culture. Over the past few years he has turned his attention to interpreting texts that are holy to Judaism, saying that he is reading holy texts with secular eyes. At the same time, he has been a somewhat different kind of stand-up comedian, drawing attention to the Bible and other sacred writings through humor.
One of his books, Simhat Torah (The Joy of Torah), is a humorous commentary on the Torah portions of the week. Relating to this book on his own Facebook page, Taharlev writes: “If religious and traditional books were conveyed to us in such way as to make us smile, we could find out much more about our roots, and we wouldn’t be so detached from them.”
Arutz Sheva: This Jewish Man Saved Hundreds of Jews from the Nazis
B'nai B'rith World Center-Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust conferred this week in Cuneo (Italy) a Jewish Rescuers Citation upon Enzo Cavaglion, 98, for saving the lives of hundreds Jewish refugees in northern Italy during the German occupation.
Enzo, who was moved to tears, said he is proud and excited to receive the Jewish Rescuers Citation.
Enzo Cavaglion was one of the 14 founding members of the partisan group “Italia Libera” (Free Italy), established on Sept. 12, 1943 — the same day that Cuneo was occupied by the German First SS Panzer Division. They ensconced themselves in the sanctuary of the Madonna del Colletto, 18 kilometers to the west of Cuneo. Enzo and his younger brother, Riccardo Cavaglion, stayed with the group until October 1943, when they had to leave to help their own families escape arrest in Cuneo.
In addition to the combat they waged against the Germans and Italian Fascists, Enzo and Riccardo also helped Jews who sought refuge in villages around Cuneo. More than 1,000 Jews living in the remote Italian-occupied French Alpine village of Saint-Martin-Vesubie fled in the face of the German army that invaded the area following the announcement on Sept. 8 1943 of the armistice signed between Italy and the Allies.
Men, women, children, the elderly and disabled scaled the Maritime Alps over the international border into Italy in a harrowing ordeal, only to find the Germans already roaming the area. About 300 people were captured and sent to Auschwitz. The remaining 700 found refuge among the welcoming local peasant population. Enzo and Riccardo found hiding places for them, furnished them with the necessary documents and hid them in the mountains in order to evade the Nazis. Survivor Harry Burger credited Enzo and Riccardo with saving his life and his mother’s life by warning them that the Nazis were hunting for them. Enzo performed all of these activities despite the additional danger he faced as a result.
Since its establishment in 2011, the Jewish Rescuers Citation has been presented in an effort to correct the public misconception that Jews did not rescue fellow Jews during the Holocaust. To date nearly 200 heroes have been honored for rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Holland and now Italy.
Moked: Cavaglion, partigiano coraggioso
Mettendo più volte in pericolo la propria vita, insieme al fratello Riccardo, si era prodigato affinché agli ebrei perseguitati che cercavano la fuga di passaggio nelle valli del Cuneese fossero forniti un rifugio, abiti e documenti falsi. Oltre alle informazioni più dettagliate sui rastrellamenti nazifascisti in corso, così da evitare la cattura.
Questa la motivazione che ha portato l’organizzazione ebraica B’nai Berith, nella figura del suo direttore mondiale Alan Schneider e in quella del presidente della sezione milanese Paolo Eliezer Foà, a conferire all’ex partigiano Enzo Cavaglion, 98 anni, la “Jewish Rescuers Citation”. E cioè il riconoscimento attribuito a quei cittadini ebrei che, al tempo delle persecuzioni, aiutarono con grave rischio personale dei correligionari braccati.
A ritirare l’onorificenza a nome del padre e dello zio, mancato cinque anni fa, lo studioso Alberto Cavaglion. Una cerimonia privata e dal forte significato simbolico, cui sono intervenuti tra gli altri anche il sindaco di Cuneo Federico Borgna e il presidente della Comunità ebraica torinese Dario Disegni.
YNet News: The Jew Who Saved Hundreds of Jews from the Nazis
At the age of 98, about 75 years after saving the lives of hundreds Jewish refugees in northern Italy during the German occupation, Enzo Cavaglion has been officially honored with the Jewish Rescuers Citation. The citation was presented to him last week in the country where he was born, lived all his life, fought the Nazis and saved fellow Jews.
Cavaglion helped more than 1,000 Jewish refugees who had sought refuge after fleeing the remote Italian-occupied French Alpine village of Saint-Martin-Vesubie in the face of the German army that invaded the area following the announcement of the armistice signed between Italy and the Allies.
The Jewish Rescuers Citation, which he received on January 21 from B'nai B'rith World Center-Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust, has been presented in an effort to correct the public misconception that Jews did not rescue fellow Jews during the Holocaust.
Cavaglion, who was in his 20s at the time, was one of the 14 founding members of partisan group “Italia Libera” (Free Italy), led by anti-Fascist lawyer Duccio Galimberti, which was established on September 12, 1943—the same day that Cuneo, Italy was occupied by the German First SS Panzer Division.
They group members ensconced themselves in the sanctuary of the Madonna del Colletto, 18 kilometers to the west of Cuneo. Enzo and his younger brother, Riccardo Cavaglion, stayed with the group until October 1943, when they had to leave to help their own families escape arrest in Cuneo.
In addition to the combat they waged against the Germans and Italian fascists, Enzo and Riccardo also helped Jews who sought refuge in villages around Cuneo, putting their own lives at risk.
Men, women, children, the elderly and disabled scaled the Maritime Alps over the international border into Italy in a harrowing ordeal, only to find the Germans already roaming the area. About 300 people were captured and sent to Auschwitz. The remaining 700 found refuge among the welcoming local peasant population. Enzo and Riccardo found hiding places for them, furnished them with the necessary documents and hid them in the mountains in order to evade the Nazis.
Holocaust Survivor Harry Burger credited Enzo and Riccardo with saving his life and his mother’s life by warning them that the Nazis were hunting for them.
Survivor Alfred Feldman wrote in his memoir, “One Step Ahead: A Jewish Fugitive in Hitler’s Europe,” that he witnessed a daring theft of identity cards by Enzo and Riccardo from the mayor’s office in Vignolo, Italy, that were then falsified and distributed to some of the refugees. Enzo performed all of these activities despite the additional danger he faced as a result.
Nearly 200 Jews Have Been Honored
The citation was presented to Cavaglion in his home, and the event was followed by a ceremony at the Cuneo synagogue. Speakers included Enzo’s son, Dr. Alberto Cavaglion, and B'nai B'rith World Center Director Alan Schneider.
“It’s a privilege to award you with the Jewish Rescuers Citation, continuing our 20-year effort to correct the historical narrative that Jews did not work to rescue other Jews during the Holocaust,” Schneider told Cavaglion.
Enzo said he was proud and excited to receive the citation. He had tears in his eyes as he remembered the Jews he had met and helped on the Italian side. After the war, Cavaglion remained in Italy, where he and his brother Riccardo owned a carpet store for many years.
Since its establishment in 2011, nearly 200 heroes have been honored with the Jewish Rescuers Citation for rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Holland and now Italy.
JBS (the Jewish Broadcasting Service) included B'nai B'rith International's response to the bill being proposed in Poland that would severely restrict free speech in regards to Poland's national role in the Holocaust. The segment begins at 1:24 of the video.
Jewish groups in the US and abroad lambasted the Polish Senate’s passage of the Holocaust complicity bill Thursday, calling on President Andrzej Duda to veto the legislation in various statements.
The bill, which would criminalize those accusing the Polish nation or state of complicity in the Holocaust, has been pilloried by Israel as a form of historical distortion.
The upper house of parliament voted 57-23, with two abstentions, to approve the bill, bringing the controversial proposal a step closer to becoming law. It must still be signed into law by Duda, who has expressed support for it.
The Anti-Defamation League expressed “profound disappointment” in the vote, with CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt calling it a “misguided attempt to silence certain forms of speech about the Holocaust.”
“Much work remains to be done in terms of Poland’s coming to grips with its history,” he added.
Supporters argue the legislation is fighting against phrases like “Polish death camps” to refer to concentration camps operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II.
“We understand and sympathize with Poland’s frustration at the use of the term ‘Polish Death Camps,’ but this law goes well beyond that issue,” Greenblatt argued, saying it “could silence the voices of survivors and their families.”
B’nai B’rith International had similar objections to the bill, asserting that “it is vital that every country confront the most painful and vexing episodes in its past in an open and honest way.”
“For Poland, this means acknowledging a history of anti-Semitism that preceded the Holocaust and has persisted to this day,” the group said.
The world’s oldest Jewish service organization called on the Polish authorities to “reverse this ill-conceived law,” adding that “openness and education are the keys to establishing a historical record based on truth rather than painful inaccuracies.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center said it acknowledged the suffering of Poles under Nazi occupation along with the efforts of locals who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
“We fully acknowledge the suffering of the Polish under a brutal Nazi occupation and the incredibly courageous efforts of Polish Righteous Among the Nations,” the anti-Semitism watchdog said. But “the Polish nation must not ignore the widespread complicity of other Poles in the annihilation of Polish Jewry.”
The group called on Duda to “take whatever steps are necessary to bury this ill-conceived bill and ensure the accuracy of the historical narrative of World War II and the Holocaust.”
Orthodox Union President Mark Bane said the legislation “is the wrong way to go about educating future generations about Poland’s role in the Holocaust.”
“Even though Nazi Germany obviously bears primary responsibility for the Shoah, the proposed law grossly minimizes the fact that Polish citizens did indeed commit heinous acts, on Polish soil, against the Jewish people and other victims during World War II,” he added.
Though the law specifically forbids blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes, it also leaves the door open to prosecute anyone who “grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes,” according to the text of the bill. Duda has 21 days to sign it into law.
Poland’s conservative ruling Law and Justice party authored the bill, which states: “Whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich… or other crimes against peace and humanity, or war crimes, or otherwise grossly diminishes the actual perpetrators thereof, shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.”
Israel, along with several international Holocaust organizations and many critics in Poland, argues that the law could have a chilling effect on debating history, harming freedom of expression and leading to a whitewashing of Poland’s wartime history.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized the law as “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”
On Wednesday, a US Congressional task force on combating anti-Semitism said it was “alarmed” by the legislation and called on Duda to veto it.
The lower house of the Polish parliament approved the bill on Friday, a day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, timing that has also been criticized as insensitive.
Duda on Sunday sought to defuse the crisis by promising “a careful analysis of the final shape of the act” focused on provisions that have alarmed Israel.
However, the next day Duda told public broadcaster TVP that he was “flabbergasted” by Israel’s “violent and very unfavorable reaction” to the bill.
“We absolutely can’t back down, we have the right to defend the historical truth,” he said.
The Times of Israel: How Artist Beat ‘Foolproof’ Nazi System to Forge Dutch ID Papers, Save 350 Lives
The Times of Israel cited the awarding of the "Jewish Rescuers' Citation" by B'nai B'rith International to Alice Cohn, a Jewish artist whose fake ID cards saved hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust.
During the years in which 102,000 Dutch Jews were murdered by the Nazis, a German-born Jewish artist helped rescue hundreds of children from the clutches of genocide.
As an expert forger of identity papers, Alice Cohn worked with a Utrecht-based resistance group while in hiding. Their production of so-called “wild papers,” including ID and ration cards, saved up to 350 Jewish children from the Nazis. During the war’s final year, Cohn’s handiwork helped prevent young Dutch men from being sent to Germany as forced laborers.
Cohn’s story and the saga of Dutch identity cards during World War II are currently on display at the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam. The temporary exhibit opened in October, and is based on items from the personal archive of Cohn, who died in 2000.
According to the museum, one motivation for highlighting Cohn’s efforts was to help correct the “prevailing, but incorrect, image that Dutch Jews had a passive role during the war.” During the Holocaust, 102,000 Dutch Jews — the majority of the community — were murdered at Nazi-built death camps and elsewhere in the Reich.
Born in Breslau in 1914, Cohn studied cabinet-making until the Nazis came to power in 1933. When Jewish students were banned from taking exams or submitting final projects, she moved to Berlin for a year of school in graphic arts. The situation for German Jews continued to deteriorate, so Cohn fled to the Netherlands in search of a secure future.
Settling in Amsterdam on a student visa, Cohn learned Dutch and received commissions to design cinema posters. On the eve of the war, she was creating children’s toys. Unbeknownst to the new Dutch citizen, the Nazis were about to catch up with her.
Of all the countries occupied by Germany during World War II, the Netherlands had the most robust pre-war population registry. The system’s success was attributed to Jacob Lentz, a Dutch official who created the so-called “fool-proof” personal identity card. During the Nazi occupation, Lentz refined his system to help authorities issue new cards throughout the country.
In addition to a high-tech design and use of the bearer’s fingerprints, Dutch identity cards were backed up in a central registry. This made it possible to confirm whether or not a suspicious-looking ID had been forged. At the exhibit on Alice Cohn’s life, she is contrasted with the population-counting expert Lentz. While Cohn used her artistic skills to help save lives, Lentz — conjuring “the banality of evil” — deployed his organizational skills to implement the Nazis’ agenda.
Beginning in 1941, all Dutch men and women were ordered to carry ID cards with them. For Jews, a large black “J,” for Jew, was stamped on both sides of the card. By the summer of 1942, authorities began using the registry to arrest and deport Jews from the Netherlands. Suddenly, the demand for altered or completely falsified identification exploded, including the need to crack Lentz’s “hermetic” system.
Before she went into hiding, Cohn found a position with Amsterdam’s Jewish Council as a doctor’s assistant. With the job providing her a nominal degree of freedom, she was able to smuggle a Jewish child — 3-year-old Lonnie Lesser — out of a building where Jews were incarcerated prior to deportation. After seeing the child safely into hiding, Cohn made her own way to a “safe” address in Utrecht, south of Amsterdam.
'The Utrecht Children's Committee'
During two years of hiding in an attic near Utrecht’s Wilhelmina Park, Cohn accomplished what had been deemed impossible: She forged identity cards able to withstand scrutiny.
The tools she used — test cards, knives, a notebook to practice signatures in — are on display at the National Holocaust Museum, along with head-shots and other artifacts used by the Dutch population registry.
According to the museum, Cohn and her group of co-resisters, called “The Utrecht Children’s Committee,” managed to save 350 children from deportation and murder. The group also forged ration coupons needed by “underground” people in hiding to obtain food. During the last year of the war, many new “wild papers” were needed to help young Dutch men evade forced labor in Germany.
After liberation, Cohn learned that all of her relatives from Breslau had been murdered, including her parents. Like other Jews among the Netherlands’ surviving remnant, she had to build a new life from scratch.
As fate had it, Cohn began obtaining fabrics from a Lichtenstein-based merchant named Rudolf Bermann. The materials he provided helped her create, for instance, puppets with grimacing faces and vibrant costumes, some of which are on display in the exhibit. What began as an exchange of fabrics blossomed into love, and, in 1947, Cohn left the Netherlands to join Bermann as his wife in Lichtenstein.
Two months ago, some 17 years after Cohn died at age 85 in Lichtenstein, she was posthumously awarded the “Jewish Rescuers’ Citation” for Jews who helped save fellow Jews during the Shoah. Cohn’s daughter and son, Evelyne Bermann and Michael Bermann, were presented with the honor during the Amsterdam opening of the exhibit on their mother’s life. So far, 171 women and men from eight countries have been honored by Jewish organization B’nai B’rith in this capacity.
“There are many people who were able to escape deportation through fake identity cards,” said exhibit curator Annemiek Gringold. “The people who had the skills and the courage to carry out this vital work remain largely unknown until today.”
Click here to learn more about our Jewish Rescuers' Citation.
The Times of Israel quoted Alan Schneider, Director of B'nai B'rith World Center-Jerusalem, in an article about Jewish rescuers of other Jews during Nazi-era Germany.
Schneider noted, "The stories of the Jewish rescuers during the Holocaust--people who endangered their lives and performed acts of extraordinary courage in attempts, many of them successful, to save the lives of endangered Jews--are a shining example of Jewish and human solidarity under the most dangerous conditions."
B'nai B'rith International has awarded 196 individuals with Jewish Rescuers' Citations in acknowledgment of their service saving Jews' lives during the Holocaust.
Following the bloody month-long Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943, a cable was sent from British Mandate Palestine to occupied Poland’s Jewish Fighting Organization members. It contained the Jewish settlement leaders’ instructions to the Jews of Poland, telling them to “exploit all ways to emigrate,” according to a 2014 article by Prof. Avihu Ronen of Tel Hai College.
This order, writes Ronen, was “construed at the time as an instruction to desist from uprisings.
By many in Nazi-occupied Poland, that order was a bitter to pill to swallow. There is notable historical evidence from an underground leader in the town of Będzin, where ahead of World War II Jews were the majority population, that the underground was dissatisfied with the Palestine-based leadership’s orders. After Germany occupied it in 1939, the Jews there were murdered, persecuted, and by 1942, forced into a ghetto.
After receiving the cable, the town’s Hashomer Hatzair leader, Chajka Klinger, wrote in her diary that the underground there “rejected trying to save themselves in abandonment of the community and of their ideals”; its members stayed but ceased to fight. By war’s end, as it was one of the last towns liquidated in occupied Poland in 1943, a relatively large number of the Będzin Jewish community survived.
The Będzin Jewish underground’s choice of solidarity over the rescue of individual members was just one expression of the dilemmas facing Jewish resistance during WWII. At a symposium at the Jerusalem-based Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center this week, international scholars discussed similarly complicated situations facing Jews in their quest for personal and communal survival.
“It’s clear that in this issue there are many stories of courage and bravery. At the same time, there are complex stories in which not all is black and white. There are a lot of gray areas, which is understandable during this era,” said Dr. David Silberklang, senior historian at Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research at the December 11 symposium.
During his brief lecture slot, Silberklang pointed to the all-too-human challenges facing Jews during World War II and the nuanced approach needed to examine them.
Speaking from a personal perspective, Silberklang said that unlike most other American-born Jews, he was exposed to the complexities behind the idea of Jews saving Jews early: His mother was one of the 1,236 Jews saved by the Jewish partisans led by Tuvia Bielski and his brothers. “I didn’t understand the significance behind it for years,” he said.
But there are lingering rumors about the mistreatment of several of the women in the group, said Silberklang. Additionally, there is evidence that the Bielskis killed Jews who didn’t agree with their leadership and attempted to incite against them.
In an essay about the brothers’ cousin Yehuda Bielski (Bell), his daughter Leslie writes, “The rules of the camp were made and strictly enforced by the three Bielski brothers. For those who broke them, there was a jail. Challenges to the leadership of the brothers were sometimes resolved through the end of the barrel of a gun.”
Nevertheless, the Bielskis are clearly Jewish heroes, said Silberklang.
How Does One Act on a Sinking Ship?
According to Dr. Iael Nidam Orvieto, director of the International Institute for Holocaust Research in Yad Vashem, the extreme situations encountered by most Jews during the Holocaust would seem to be sufficient cause for every Jew to dedicate himself to taking care of his own survival, and perhaps that of his immediate family.
“Because they needed to take care of themselves, the social norms of Jews — mutual assistance — would have been wiped out. But we see the opposite: In spite of what once would normally assume, we see many cases of mutual help and solidarity,” said Orvieto. And on top of that solidarity, “there is also a group of Jews who endangered their lives to help other Jews.”
Yad Vashem has been researching the phenomenon of Jews saving Jews since the 1960s, but more research is still needed in the field, said Orvieto.
The stories of these Jewish heroes are slowly becoming more prominent, in no small part due to the 2008 Hollywood film on the Bielskis, “Defiance.” The initially controversial idea of commemorating Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust has gained steam in the past two decades.
In 2000, B’nai B’rith founded the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust in an effort to research the stories of Jewish rescuers and bring them to audiences in Israel and abroad, according to Alan Schneider, director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem.
Schneider’s center holds an annual ceremony on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day for soldiers, students, rescuers and survivors, “dedicated to the heroism of Jewish rescuers.” It is jointly organized with the Jewish National Fund and has been held at the B’nai B’rith Martyrs Forest since 2002.
Along with the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust, since 2011, B’nai B’rith has awarded a Jewish Rescuers’ Citation to some 196 heroes who operated in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Holland, Italy, Ukraine, Latvia and Austria.
The preservation of these stories is essential, said B’nai B’rith’s Schneider.
“The stories of the Jewish rescuers during the Holocaust – people who endangered their lives and performed acts of extraordinary courage in attempts, many of them successful, to save the lives of endangered Jews – are a shining examples of Jewish and human solidarity under the most dangerous conditions,” said Schneider.
“These are true heroes whose legacy must be preserved for us and future generations, particularly at a time when the Jewish people and the people of Israel will be called upon to act with unity to counter today’s threats,” he said.
But current efforts are not enough, according to Holocaust survivor Haim Roet, a leading voice in encouraging the commemoration of Jewish rescuers who spoke on the issue last year at the United Nations and this week at Yad Vashem. Diaspora Jewry is barely aware of the Jewish rescuers’ bravery, said Roet.
20-20 Vision into a Pitch Black World
A few of the dilemmas facing the Jews at the beginning of the Nazi persecution are difficult to grasp with hindsight.
“To save a Jew, you need to know what they’re being saved from,” Silberklang said. “Several knew they were saving Jews from certain death, but many Jews didn’t know what the Nazis’ plan was. Some believed the propaganda” that said they were being taken for work or relocation alone.
Once it was established that the Nazis were pursuing the Final Solution, the total genocide of the Jewish people, Jews who were still in a position to act were faced with the dilemma of whom exactly to save — and whom to abandon.
When it comes to those Jews who participated in active resistance — armed or not — their activities could have caused collective punishment or murder, said Silberklang. “Even the attempt to save Jews could have caused collective murder; to try or not?” he asked.
In all of these impossible situations, said Orvieto, “For every one individual that was saved, there may have been another — or more — who were not.”
“With the saving, there was also desertion and betrayal,” said Orvieto.
In examining the Jews’ deeds — or misdeeds — it is important, said Silberklang, to remember the war-torn context alongside human frailty.
“We often call people heroes, but they’re not always angels,” said Silberklang.
Tablet discussed the history of B’nai B’rith International as well as its archives in a piece about German Jews who bore witness to the horror of Hitler’s ascension to power in letters to loved ones.
The article describes the formation of B’nai B’rith in Germany in 1882 as a response to the spike in national antipathy toward German Jews. It also includes detailed excerpts these letters from German Jews to loved ones. These documents are part of the B’nai B’rith Archives, now housed at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany on Jan. 30, 1933, he gained the authority to implement his racist ideology toward Germany’s Jews, who then numbered 535,000 out of a general population of 67 million. After the Reichstag (parliament) elections on March 5, the new German government removed the constraints on violence against Jews, and assaults and vicious beatings of Jews in the streets of major German cities by Nazi thugs became commonplace. Within months, the Nazi government issued numerous decrees and regulations that effectively removed Jews from German economic life and the professions, the goal being to force the Jews to leave Germany.
German Jews reacted to these developments with shock and disbelief. Diaries and memoirs record their distress and utter bewilderment. Another primary source is the private letters that German Jews sent to relatives living abroad. These letters express the reactions and emotions of men and women to the horrifying events unfolding around them daily. One rarely used such resource is the letters written by German B’nai B’rith (Sons of the Covenant) members to relatives in the United States. Many of these letters were forwarded to B’nai B’rith’s international headquarters in Cincinnati, where they remain part of the organization’s archives.
Jewish men established the German B’nai B’rith in Berlin 1882 to combat a rising tide of anti-Semitism among the populace and in fraternal organizations. From 1882 onward, most German B’nai B’rith members belonged to business, industry, and the legal and medical professions. In general, B’nai B’rith members represented the most influential element within European Jewish society, and many of the leading personalities in Jewish life were members. At the time of the Berlin lodge’s founding, the largest and wealthiest German Jewish elite lived in Berlin and occupied an important position in the city’s cultural and intellectual life. By 1925, Germany contained 107 B’nai B’rith lodges with over 15,000 members.
While all German Jews reacted to these events with alarm and incredulity, the elite of the community experienced an especially deep dismay, having assumed that their economic and social position and contributions to German life and culture would shield them from danger. B’nai B’rith members came from this class, and many of them wrote personal and emotional letters describing the nightmare they found themselves in to family members living in the United States. The letters movingly express the consternation and terror the writers felt as the world they knew collapsed.
A letter written in April 1933 by an elderly physician to his daughter living in the United States expresses the author’s anguish, disillusionment, and anger at what has befallen him and those in his profession.
Your dear mother owing to bad health is in danger of her life and this is the main reason why I left Berlin as fast as possible. Nothing had happened to me personally up till then … I myself face a complete breakdown of my nerves. I surely could not have managed to keep quiet in case of a controversy. What that would have meant, other doctors have found out with their lives. Now after a few days in Paris where people do not look at you with eyes of hatred, where they are friendly and human, I can breathe again, which I could not do lately at home.
And for that I had to lose my father in the war; for that I had to leave wife and children to risk my life as a volunteer during the war. I had to lose everything and build up after the war an existence so that my family would not suffer hunger. For that I was proud when I was 60 years old to have only few enemies and many friends and to enjoy reputation and esteem – to now end my life as a second-grade citizen. These methods are so much more cruel than anything in anti-Semitism up to now, because they did not kill in one day 13,000, after which the beast would calm down, but now in cold reasoning hundreds of thousands of Jews are being destroyed spiritually, physically, morally and now finally economically. And even if this present storm should subside, it will break out time and again as soon as economic difficulties make Hitler’s success impossible. You cannot allow a big party of untamed youth to shout continuously “perish Jews.” Then Jews simply have to perish. That is what these brutal elements now demand. I bespeak you to destroy this letter because I do not wish to contribute one iota lest Germany’s reputation should be damaged by me. Indeed thanks to my friends and my position, I have not received anything but good from Germany so that I now do not wish to seem ungrateful. But now unfortunately everything is dark. And in this spirit I just wanted to open my sick heart to you to relieve myself. But I ask you to please be careful so that not through you anything may become known. For every attack in foreign countries, reacts in Germany on its Jewish citizens. They alone have to suffer for what others sin. … Finally, be very careful when you write to us because after the inquiry at the American consulate every one of your letters has been opened.
The letter illustrates the extreme caution Jewish letter writers had to exercise when voicing criticism of the government because doing so could cost them their lives. The writer also reminds his daughter to exercise caution in what she writes to him because the Jews were under constant surveillance. He explains that her letters are being opened after he made inquiries at the American embassy. He also mentions the unpleasant truth that German Jews would pay a heavy price for every negative action against Germany instigated by Jews living abroad. This comment reflects the harsh reality that the German government blamed Germany’s Jews for the anti-German rallies and demonstrations undertaken by Jews in other countries. He purposely did not date or sign the letter, and he mailed it from Paris where he was on a trip with his wife because letters mailed outside Germany were not opened, scrutinized, or censored.
On April 2, 1933, the wife of another Berlin physician and B’nai B’rith member wrote to a relative in the United States movingly describing what she witnessed during the April 1 national boycott against Jews in Germany and her reaction and emotions regarding what she saw.
I will try to give you an idea of my experiences of yesterday—Saturday, April 1st….I have had many experiences in my life, but nothing I have ever gone thru can compare with this Nazi boycott in retaliation of “the atrocity propaganda” against Germans. No blood was shed, that is true, but the humiliation to the Jews—the absolute helplessness of their position—the cowardliness of these brutes in carrying out to the last vestage [sic], the most intimate details on orders from above (Goebbels and Goerring [sic])beggars description.
I wanted to see for myself just what was happening and so went down the Kurfurstendam [sic]–a street much like 5th Ave. in N.Y.—very long, block after block of both large and small exclusive shops interspersed by large coffee houses and movies. Here on a Sat. afternoon it is a sort of promenade and window-shopping, but the site that met one’s eyes yesterday! On the large windows of all shops bearing even the semblance of a Jewish name these brown shirts had pasted plain colored posters about 3 feet long bearing the words, “Deutsche Whart Euch—Kauft nicht bei Juden” (Germans beware do not buy from Jews). On office buildings where Jewish lawyers, notaries, or doctors have their small signs … they smeared over the signs of the Jews and pasted smaller placards. “Jews—geht nicht hier” (Jews—do not enter)….
These young devils like a lot of hungry wolves let loose … with buckets filled with red paint and with large paint brushes, rushed from one shop window to another and not satisfied with having put huge posters against the Jews thereon, printed in huge letters at the side of the posters JUDE [underlined in the original]. These were followed by other troops with white paint buckets who hastily painted a large Shield of David [underlined in the original] on the same windows. It was a concerted action, completely organized so that one atrocity followed upon the other. Up and down these devils flew, across the wide streets over to the opposite side while the crowds of people (there was scarcely a Jew to be seen on the streets, they were mostly at home, being afraid to venture out), looked on, some with serious faces—many (and mostly the bourgeois type, the kind of women one could imagine in France during the revolution) grinning and smiling approvingly as though it was a huge joke! Can you imagine my feeling? Large shops and small ones, shops that no one ever knew that they were owned by Jews… lace houses that have been in the same shops for 50 years—coffee houses and fine restaurants. Hundreds and hundreds of stores, delicatessen shops, the finest Berlin has, were all, without exception smeared up in this way. And what a sight! And what deep misery in the wake of this dastardly, cowardly outbreak. On some stores which from the name one would never think owned by Jews they had smeared “Geborener Jude” [born a Jew]. And on many, oh so many, in large white letters they printed “Ich bein Jude” [I am a Jew]… The ready-to-wear shops—and there are many—on the main street, Leipzigerstrasse, were all full of these signs. Well, my dears, my heart ached and bled and it was all I could do to keep the tears back. … Throughout the entire breath and length of this long, long, Kurfurstendam [sic] we never saw one single policeman [underlined in the original], not one officer of the law to protect any outrage that might have occurred. … Can you imagine a civilized land condoning such atrocities? Can you imagine in the twentieth century that troops of young snips should have the right to perpetuate such horrible deeds as the smearing of respectable shops with all these dirty epithets? Juda-Juda everywhere. Kauft nicht bei Juden-kauft nur bei Deutsche. (Don’t buy from Jews buy only from Germans).
Jews who fought and died for their Fatherland should not be looked upon as Germans? And then, when one thought they had finished with their dirty work—to see them wild with glee and victory heaped upon helpless Jews, (and oh how helpless) this handful of people is against the infamous mob backed by the government of tyrants and Jew haters—to add the finishing touch—the Shield of David painted in white on all the windows. Well, that Shield has led Jews throughout centuries and protected them from greater atrocities than those that are being heaped on them today by this barbarous country…. God has never left us yet and my faith in Him has never been shaken.
The blood-thirsty army which Hitler and his cohorts have been building up have had their first outlet. … The protests of the Jews in the foreign countries played right into their hands and they used their already prepared and fully organized “boycott” as THEIR protest to the lies[underlined in the original] about Germany which, as they claimed, the Jews [underlined in the original]over here broadcast. These demons say, “this is your own work—now take your medicine.” … I am now worried until Pesach is over, for I can’t help thinking, in the face of the placards announcing that the Jews need Christian blood for the Passover feast, that some horrible thing is brewing. Let us hope not. I also am afraid now as many others are, of confiscation of the property belonging to the Jews… I doubt if anything I have written you in such minute detail will come into the press, and that is why I have written my personal account of it.
The letter makes evident that the writer is a member of the middle or upper-middle class. She wrote the letter in English and translated the German phrases she uses into English. The shock she evinces relates to the fact that she never encountered this kind of action and violence against Jews of her standing and class. She cannot grasp that such an action took place in an upscale district of Berlin and not in some lower-class and poor area of the city. She fears that this is not the end, but that the government has plans for additional and more horrible actions against the Jews. Her letter also makes evident that Jews owned most of the stores, restaurants, and cafes on Berlin’s most exclusive shopping street.
The following letter, dated March 23, 1933, was written by the wife of a physician and B’nai B’rith member in Vienna to her cousin in the United States. Although she lives in Vienna, she describes the conditions in Germany that affect Jews of the “intellectual” class. She asks her cousin Severna to “please consider this letter as one from my husband, whose secretary and spokesman I have become in this emergency.”
Aside from the daily violence and the daily threats and menaces of more persecutions to come, which the highest officials have openly said, we can report that the most dangerous threat of all which over-hangs German Jews is as follows: (my report is very condensed and stresses the situation of the intellectual workers, since my husband is a physician).
All Jews exercising so-called free vocations as lawyers, physicians, artists, etc. are placed under what is called “exception rules.” In plain words, that means that Jewish lawyers are not allowed to plead cases before German law courts, that Jewish doctors have been removed from the staffs of hospitals and cooperative health institutions more or less violently, and the actors and orchestra leaders are no longer permitted to act or to lead.
A highly organized boycott system is being carried out against Jewish tradesmen of all kinds so that our coreligionists in Germany find it absolutely impossible to earn a living.
In our country the same movement is spreading rapidly and we can foresee a coalition with the same German system in the near future.
I beg of you, dear cousin Severna, to hand this S.O.S. communication to the authority you think should see it. For the sake of caution I am not mentioning my address in this letter. Should you be unable to find it, I am sure your father will have it. I will not write you any personal news for we feel so depressed and downhearted that I could only repeat the theme of this letter.
Ever yours affectionately
P.S. When replying, please be very careful not to be too explicit and keep in mind the fact that the letter will possibly be opened and read by officials.
As in the first letter, the writer of this letter is also afraid to write her address. She is worried that German officials may trace the letter to her and she and her family will be in danger for what she wrote. She also fears that what is happening in Germany will happen in Austria as well.
As all the letters indicate, by the end of April 1933 few Jewish members of the middle and upper middle classes had any illusions that conditions under the Nazis would improve. With hindsight, we know that the Jewish situation only worsened. But none of the letter writers could have imagined that in 10 years they or their families would be reduced to ashes by a state-run industrial killing machine and that the long continuum of Jewish life in Germany would be broken.
World Jewish Congress wrote up a recap of our Jewish Rescuers Citation ceremony in New York City, in which we honored Jewish rescuers and their families for their valiant efforts saving other Jews from murder at the hands of the Nazis.
Scroll down to read the story or click to read it on WorldJewishCongress.org.
NEW YORK - B’nai B’rith International and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust (JRJ) on Monday presented citations to a number of Jewish individuals to honor their valiant efforts to save the lives of others.
“Thousands of Jews were saved by other Jews across Europe during the Holocaust. Many of these rescuers, rather than flee to ensure their own safety, chose to help other Jews escape,” noted B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin.
“It is critical that the effort of Jewish rescuers is remembered and we commit ourselves to sharing these stories that remind us all of the unique role these Jewish rescuers played in our history. There are so many individual stories. It falls on us to make sure these stories are told to personalize what happened.”
Among those honored was Dr. Hadassah Bimko-Rosensaft, whose posthumous Jewish Rescuer's Citation was presented to her son, World Jewish Congress General Counsel and Holocaust survivor advocate Menachem Rosensaft.
“Bnai Brith should be commended for this particular initiative, among so many others,” Rosensaft said in accepting the citation on behalf of his mother. “How overdue the recognition of Jewish rescuers is. The fact that they have been ignored is a stain on the work of remembrance that has been performed by the various Holocaust institutions…. The Jews in the ghettos and the camps and the forests who risked their lives to help others deserve no less recognition [than righteous gentiles].”
After Dr. Bimko-Rosensaft’s first husband and 5.5-year-old son were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau, she went on to save the lives of women inmates at that camp and later, as a doctor at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, kept 149 children alive, scouring the camp for young people in need of the food and medicine she managed to scavenge. Following the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, Dr. Bimko-Rosensaft was appointed head of the camp’s medical service by the American military and worked to save as many of the ill and malnourished prisoners as possible.
At gatherings of survivors over the course of next half century, said Menachem Rosensaft, his mother was told over and over: “You don’t remember me but you saved my life.”
Another honored rescuer was Ben Zion Kalb, who saved about 1,000 fellow Polish Jews, mainly infants, youngsters and teenagers, via a land route and a smuggling operation into Slovakia and whose son Mark told attendees at yesterday’s ceremony that the Jewish “rescuers themselves deserved something better than to be forgotten, having shown extraordinary courage.”
The Jewish Rescuer’s Citation was established in 2011 to pay honor and respect to Jewish rescue of other Jews during the Shoah. To date, more than 170 Jewish heroes have been honored for their daring rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Holland.
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The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) held, for the 15th consecutive year, a unique joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony on Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah).
This is the only event dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. About 300 border patrol cadets—who provided an honor guard—and 300 students participated in the ceremony together with Jewish rescuers and survivors. The ceremony took place at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza at 10:00 a.m. Israel time.
This year, the ceremony was dedicated to the rescue efforts of Walter Suskind and the Jewish caregivers who saved some 600 children at the crèche (day care center) in Amsterdam.
Scroll down to find a complete round-up of links, a magazine spread and photos from the event.
For further details, please contact: B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider at 052-5536441 or email@example.com.
There are some Jewish organizations which do honor Jewish rescuers. Since 2011, the B’nai B’rith World Center and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust (JRJ) has conferred a joint “Jewish Rescuer’s Citation.” Paldiel and several other survivors sit on the JRJ committee, alongside rescuers and children of survivors and rescuers.
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The campaign was supported on Facebook and Twitter (under #HolocaustJustice) by a number of high profile Jewish individuals, including former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and Hadassah Lieberman, daughter of Holocaust survivors; jurist and author Professor Alan Dershowitz; and actor Joshua Malina (“Scandal,” “The West Wing”).
B'nai B'rith International is a founding member of WJRO.
Click below to read the article on TheGuardian.com.
Tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors are spending the final years of their lives in financial hardship while waiting for governments across Europe to compensate them for property stolen during the Nazi era.
Despite a declaration by 47 countries seven years ago to ensure restitution for the theft of Jewish property during the Holocaust, many of the 500,000 survivors still alive are yet to be compensated, according to the World Jewish Restitution Organisation (WJRO).
Timed to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, the WJRO has organised a social media campaign under the hashtag #HolocaustJustice to put pressure on those countries to act on their 2009 commitment.
Among those backing the campaign are former UK foreign secretary David Miliband, scientist Robert Winston, former US senator Joe Lieberman and West Wing actor Joshua Malina.
Launching the campaign, survivor Jehuda Evron said he fought for 20 years for the return of property taken by the Nazis that belonged to his wife’s family.
“Now I am in my 80s. Until the day I die, I will not give up. Every day, the few remaining Holocaust survivors are passing away. Sadly, many of these survivors will die in poverty, without benefiting from their property. Our struggle for justice cannot die with us.”
Evron appealed to the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors to continue the battle for restitution. “Future generations need to continue efforts to recover what the Nazis, their allies and collaborators, as well as subsequent Communist governments, unjustly took from us and our families and Jewish communities.”
Baroness Deech, another supporter of the campaign, said: “Holocaust survivors and their families have waited over seven decades for a small measure of justice for the theft of their property. It is incumbent upon us as members of the next generation to take up this call for justice and urge governments in Europe to act now while the remaining survivors are still with us.”
Thousands of works of art, worth billions of dollars, were looted from Jewish owners in the run-up to and during the Holocaust. Many have been recovered and returned. But the theft and confiscation of Jewish property extended to buildings, furniture, jewellery, clothing, books, cash and other valuables and assets.
In 2009, the Terezin Declaration was approved at a conference in Prague. It pledged that “every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups.”
However, according to the WJRO, many of the signatories have no laws to provide restitution or compensation, and others have laws which may be exclusionary or whose processes are slow or unjust.
The 47 signatories to the Terezin Declaration were Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, , Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.
Ceremonies were held in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay that featured appearances and remarks from presidents, high-ranking ministers, legislators and members of the religious community.
Click here to read the story on PJVoice.org
In Argentina Human Rights Office Director Claudio Avruj, who is also a former B’nai B’rith executive vice president of District 23, held a memorial service in the Square of the Shoah in Buenos Aires. A memorial statue for the Righteous Among Nations was inaugurated in the square. Keynote speakers included Avruj and Minister of Culture Pablo Avelluto. Other government officials and leaders of the Jewish community attended the event as well. Argentine President Mauricio Macri hosted a delegation of Holocaust survivors in the presidential house, Casa Rosada, in Buenos Aires the day before.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Santiago held an event that was attended by more than 300 people. Acting president of Chile, Jorge Burgos and Leon Cohen, president of B’nai B’rith Latin America and the Jewish community in Chile, spoke at the commemoration ceremony. Writer Maria Angelica Puga gave a touching tribute to her great grandmother, Maria Edwards. Edwards, who rescued Jewish children throughout the Holocaust from the Rothschild Hospital in Paris, is the only Chilean recognized by the Righteous Among Nations. Puga accepted the Light and Memory Award in Edwards’ honor.
Uruguay’s congress held a special session commemorating the day, and acting Foreign Minister Jose Luis Cancela, Israeli Ambassador Nina Ben Ami and hundreds of others attended the event. President Tabare Vazquez gave a speech that was broadcast across the country on the radio and several television channels. In his speech Vazquez stated, "Our remembrance of Holocaust victims is also a commitment to fight for a real never more, and a commitment to fight for a better future, which was also dreamed by those who perished in this tragedy."
Brazil held several events across the country in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. The commemoration ceremony in Brasilia took place in Colegio de Abogados (Lawyer’s Hall), and was attended by congressmen, ambassadors, B’nai B’rith Brazil President Abraham Goldstein and other Jewish community leaders. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was abroad at the time, had a message read aloud to attendees at the ceremony by Chief of Staff Jaques Wagner. In her message Rousseff stated, "This day brings to our memory the most horrifying moment in history. We want to join our hearts with those who lost their families in the Shoah. We will always keep fighting in order to avoid that the horror of the Shoah never happens again."
In Ecuador, the University of the Americas hosted an event by the U.N. office, the Israeli Embassy, Albert Einstein College and the local Jewish community. Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia held special congressional sessions observing the day, and several members and leaders of the Jewish community attended these commemoration ceremonies. A minute of silence was observed across Panama, and all radio stations fell silent, and throughout the day, national television channels showed documentaries about the Holocaust.
Paraguay also held a special session in congress and Israeli Ambassador Peleg Lewi and several other ambassadors came to the event. President of the Permanent Commission of the Congress, Senator Adolfo Wiens, gave a speech on the Holocaust and human dignity. “This remembrance is a warning against hate, discrimination and racism,” Wiens said.
B'nai B'rith International is one of 14 member organizations, and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin serves as the head of the WJRO negotiating team.
The story begins at the 4:41 mark in the video:
B'nai B'rith International is a member organization of the WJRO and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin serves as the head negotiator when the organization meets with European governments.
In 2009, 46 European countries, including Croatia, signed the Terezin Declaration, a non-binding pledge to restitute stolen property to the rightful heirs and Jewish community. In April of 2014, Mariaschin explained why this declaration has been easier said than done (via the Jewish Telegraphic Agency):
"We had some leverage at a certain point in this process — the issue of countries coming into NATO or the EU — but that was accomplished in the 1990s or the early part of the 2000s. What we really are dependent on now is the moral imperative of the case, or the goodwill or lack of it by the governments involved, and on WJRO’s persuasive abilities. That’s a pretty challenging task."
Negotiations were completed yesterday, with a $4 million government property being turned over to the Jewish community. Read highlights from the announcement, via the JTA, Times of Israel, Arutz Sheva and The Jewish Forward.
According to the World Jewish Restitution Organization, the community will receive a six-story building and a surrounding land parcel owned by the government in the central part of the capital to replace a building once owned by the local Jewish burial society.
The Nazi-allied government confiscated the original building during the war and it was nationalized by the Communist government.
The income from the property will help to fund the operation of the Zagreb Jewish community’s senior-care facility and other communal programs.
“This is a long-awaited, but important first step in addressing the legacy of the Holocaust in Croatia and in ensuring that the Jewish community can continue to revitalize itself in a democratic Croatia,” Daniel Mariaschin, head of the WJRO negotiating team and executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said in a news release issued by the WJRO.
In 1997, the Zagreb Jewish Community filed a claim for the return of the original building, which was built in 1927 by the Jewish burial society. Croatia’s Jewish communities submitted claims for 135 communal properties under Croatia’s 1996 restitution law, but only 15 non-cemetery properties have been returned.
Croatia has also not provided restitution for heirless Jewish-owned property confiscated by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Before World War II, an estimated 25,000 Jews lived in what is now Croatia; only 6000 survived. The rest were killed or deported to Germany by local authorities or the German Army itself. The exact figures remain disputed.
Some 2,000 Jews live in Croatia today, mostly in Zagreb.
B'nai B'rith International is one of 14 member organizations, and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin serves as the head of the WJRO negotiating team.
Earlier today, WJRO was proud to release the following statement, announcing the return of property to the Jewish community in Croatia, which amounts to nearly $4 million.
Read the release in its entirety, below:
NEW YORK, Dec. 3, 2014 – The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) welcomes the Croatian government’s transfer of a valuable parcel of land and office building in central Zagreb to the local Jewish community.
Croatia will restitute the government-owned property at 6 Dezmanova St., a 6-story building situated on 874 square meters of land, in lieu of a building once owned by the Jewish burial society. That original Jewish-owned building, now in use by another entity, was expropriated during World War II and then nationalized by the Communist government.
“This is a long-awaited, but important first step in addressing the legacy of the Holocaust in Croatia and in ensuring that the Jewish community can continue to revitalize itself in a democratic Croatia,” Daniel S. Mariaschin, head of the WJRO negotiating team and executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said. “The income from this restituted property, valued at about $4 million, will help to fund the operation of the Zagreb Jewish Community’s facility for the elderly, among other essential communal needs.”
“We welcome this latest decision by the Croatian government,” WJRO Chair of Operations Gideon Taylor said, adding, “We ask that the government build on this positive action by returning additional properties to the Jewish community and providing restitution for private and heirless Jewish-owned properties.”
The original Jewish-owned building at 8 Amruseva St. was built in 1927 by the Jewish burial society, a social welfare institution serving the Zagreb Jewish Community. The Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia confiscated the property in 1941. After a brief return to the Jewish community in 1947, the building was nationalized by the government a month later. The property is currently owned by the Croatian Agricultural Cooperative Union. The Zagreb Jewish Community filed a claim for the return of the property in 1997.
Croatia’s decision comes ahead of Dec. 8-9 negotiations with WJRO representatives and after joint negotiations in April with WJRO representatives and a U.S. delegation led by Amb. Douglas Davidson, who then served as the special envoy for Holocaust issues, and Kenneth Merten, ambassador to Croatia. The talks occur in close coordination with the Zagreb Jewish Community.
Originally, the restituted property was owned by the Kleins, a Jewish family killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Croatian government in 1950 nationalized the property, which was later given to Croatian Radio Television. The government later took possession of the property because of tax debts.
Before World War II, more than 25,000 Jews lived in what is now Croatia; about 6,000 of them survived. The wartime Independent State of Croatia was ruled by the fascist Ustaše regime, which murdered Jews and others in concentration camps in Croatia, including Jasenovac, while overseeing deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Today, some 2,000 Jews live in Croatia, mostly in Zagreb.
Croatia’s Jewish communities had submitted claims for 135 communal properties under Croatia’s 1996 restitution law, yet only 15 non-cemetery properties were ever returned. Jewish private property owners from Croatia generally have not recovered their properties because the country’s restitution law does not apply to property seized during the Holocaust or allow claims by citizens of most foreign countries. Croatia also has not provided restitution for heirless Jewish-owned property confiscated during the Holocaust.
Arie Bucheister, who also led the WJRO talks and serves as chief of staff of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said, “We thank the American government for its sustained leadership on restitution in Croatia. We also commend the government of Israel for its ongoing support of WJRO’s restitution efforts.”
Both B’nai B’rith International and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany are WJRO member-organizations.
According to Washington Jewish Week, officials from the French National Assembly visited B'nai B'rith International headquarters in Washington to discuss ways to restore looted artifacts to their rightful owners. This is critical dialogue and marks a policy shift for France, which has been criticized for its reluctance to return the art.
Read the highlights from the wide-ranging article, below:
The French officials met with representatives of B’nai B’rith International in the District and visited New York State’s Department of Finance, two very different organizations that share the same expertise sought by the French lawmakers: restoring stolen Nazi art to its rightful owners.
Returning the art to its rightful owners is no easy task, said Eric Fusfield, director of legislative affairs for B’nai B’rith International.
“Most survivors are deceased now. We’re really talking about descendants now and most don’t have documentation. They have anecdotes and might not be able to name a specific work. That’s part of the challenge.”
But with B’nai B’rith, the group talked about specifics, according to Gerard Leval, the organization’s general counsel, who took part in the meeting.
“It was good to hear people who sincerely want to do the right thing,” he said. “Almost nothing during the Holocaust was random [including the theft of art]. We said, ‘Go to your documents – when it was taken, from whom it was taken, and from where it was taken.’ ”
The B’nai B’rith group suggested that the French advertise in publications with Jewish readers in the United States and Argentina, Leval said. They also pointed out that with anti-Semitism and xenophobia flaring up in France, the government could score propaganda points by showing that it “was doing its very best in areas where it can help the Jewish population,” he added.
Fusfield isn’t ready to declare victory yet. He recalled the March ceremony in Paris where the French culture minister returned three looted works to the grandchildren of the original owners. The restitution coincided with the French premiere of the George Clooney movieMonuments Men, about GIs working to recover looted art.
“So that’s three,” Fusfield said.
“Hollande has open the doors and that’s great,” Soltes said. “But there is other stuff, French decorative arts – tables, chairs, Louis XIV, XV, XVI owned by Jewish families. The French have stonewalled on them. You can see how interestingly self-contradictory this whole effort can be.”
Five years after the Terezin Declaration was approved to recognize the advancing age of Holocaust survivors and the imperative of delivering them aid and justice in their final years, progress remains slow.
As this article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency notes, many restitution advocates had high hopes that a corner had been turned in the struggle for survivor justice.
B'nai B'rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin is quoted within the story. Read full article below:
The Terezin Declaration, which had the support of 46 countries participating in the conference in the Czech Republic, outlined a set of goals for property restitution. It recognized the advancing age of Holocaust survivors and the imperative of delivering them aid and justice in their final years.
But five years on, progress on securing restitution has been painstakingly slow.
The lingering Euro Zone crisis has hampered efforts to get Eastern European countries to pass restitution legislation. The Terezin Declaration, while verbally bold, did not require any concrete commitments — or even the signatures of those countries present. Poland, the only European country occupied by the Nazis that has not enacted substantial private property restitution, did not even bother to show up for a follow-up conference in 2012.
In fact, since 2009, Lithuania has been the only country to enact substantial restitution legislation: a $53 million package announced in 2011, to be paid out over 10 years for communal property seized during the Holocaust.
“Most countries resist having to engage in restitution or compensation for lost property,” said Douglas Davidson, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for Holocaust restitution issues.
The week before Passover, Davidson was in Zagreb with Jewish restitution leaders negotiating with Croatian government officials. Croatia is one of the few countries that negotiators say is holding serious restitution talks and where a deal is conceivable in the foreseeable future.
“They want to do it, they know they should do it, but their economy is in disastrous shape and by their reckoning it would cost them 1 billion euros to compensate for property that was nationalized by the communist regime in Yugoslavia after the war,” Davidson said.
In a bid to add some fuel to the campaign for restitution in countries that are dragging their feet, the World Jewish Restitution Organization is mounting a new effort to drum up public and political pressure within the European Union. In February, the group helped orchestrate a letter by 50 British parliamentarians to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk pressing him on restitution.
“Unfortunately, Poland stands out in its failure to fulfill — or even recognize — its responsibility to victims,” said the letter, whose primary signatory was Baroness Ruth Deech. A Jewish member of the House of Lords, Deech had grandparents on both sides of her family who owned substantial property in Poland.
“Poland has a responsibility to elderly Holocaust survivors, their heirs and other victims to return property which was seized by the Nazis or subsequently nationalized by the Communist regimes,” the letter said. “Democratic Poland continues unjustly to benefit from the victims’ private property. Many of these victims and their heirs — both Jews and non-Jews — are British citizens.”
This month, British Foreign Secretary William Hague lent his support to the campaign.
“Europe is a partner that is as important and in some cases more important than the United States,” said Gideon Taylor, WJRO’s chairman of operations. “Making this a multilateral issue is going to be the way we need to go if we really want to use the last few years survivors are with us.”
The Obama administration also is trying to strengthen restitution efforts, with Vice President Joe Biden reportedly raising the issue in private meetings with European leaders.
During the heyday of Holocaust restitution legislation in the 1990s, the newly independent countries of Central and Eastern Europe viewed restitution as a way to curry favor with the West and improve their chances of gaining admission to NATO. Holocaust restitution often came up in U.S. Senate hearings on NATO membership, and it was during that era that several major restitution agreements were reached. The opening of state archives after the fall of the Iron Curtain helped keep a spotlight on the issue.
When Germany reunified in 1990, the restitution of East German properties once owned by Jews was a condition of the nation’s reunification agreement, and since then more than $3 billion in assets have been restituted.
Today, the main leverage for negotiators is the demand for justice, as well as the urgency of getting deals done before the last generation of survivors dies out.
“We had some leverage at a certain point in this process — the issue of countries coming into NATO or the EU — but that was accomplished in the 1990s or the early part of the 2000s,” said Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, which is a member of the WJRO. “What we really are dependent on now is the moral imperative of the case, or the goodwill or lack of it by the governments involved, and on WJRO’s persuasive abilities. That’s a pretty challenging task.”
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