Recipient of the Spirit of the Jan Karski Award at the November 18 David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies 10th Anniversary Dinner was survivor, philanthropist, Sigmund Rolat.
In his acceptance speech Rolat — who unveiled a monument dedicated to Czestochowa’s 40,000 Jewish citizens who perished in Treblinka, restored the city’s philharmonic–naming it after Bronislaw Huberman (founder of what became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) and brought Joshua Bell (with Huberman’s violin) to perform there, and has been the driving force behind the about-to-open Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw — dubbed Karski as “One of the major figures of World War II.”
In 1942 Karski, a member of the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) was ordered to go to the West and report on — among other issues — the plight of Polish Jewry under the Nazis. He met with a Zionist leader and a Bundist and was then smuggled into the Warsaw ghetto by Leon Feiner, a lawyer and Bundist activist, to be an eyewitness to the Jews’ doomed fate.
“This is the second time I am here,” Poland’s ambassador to the United States, Ryszard Schnepf said from the bimah of Park East Synagogue at the November 12th launch of the New York exhibition of “Forbidden Art” created by prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau. to Holocaust survivor and Kristallnacht witness Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the assemblage and diplomats from 18 countries.
First seen in Poland, the exhibit of 20 rare and fragile items out of 2,000 original works is part of a nationwide awareness campaign that prompted President Obama to declare: “Exhibitions like ‘Forbidden Art” bring to light the stories of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters and brothers and sisters who endured the unthinkable cruelty of concentration camps” and had ambassador Schnepf amplify: “It is our responsibility to remember the suffering of all people in concentration camps. Remembering them promises a light to a time of no anti-Semitism, a future free of hatred.”
Quoting Elie Wiesel, Israel’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations David Roet said, “No other people has such an obsession about remembering.” Gazing down from the bimah he recounted how his father had been saved by a baker in his village “because of a priest’s directive” and that “what helped his father survive in Auschwitz was the memory of the Shabbat and the dates where/when each family member died. But memory is not enough. What is necessary is standing up with Israel so it never happens again.”
(JTA) — Smiley selfies from Auschwitz and Buchenwald? They’re trending, apparently
Blogger Hektor Brehl, writing for the German version of Vice magazine, has a piece about the tendency of young travelers to post pics taken at Holocaust memorials in which they show off their new sneakers and crack “uncool” jokes.
In what was its most successful event, the October 16 Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Humanitarian Award dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria raised a whopping $1.6 million.
Dinner chair Nelson Peltz introduced the Center’s Distinguished Service Award recipient —New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo who good humouredly led off with: “When Nelson [told me] ‘I didn’t vote for you,’ I thought it was a joke. He wasn’t kidding.” Cuomo touted Peltz, CEO and founding partner of Trian Fund Management LLP, as “an icon of the American dream, a great American and New Yorker, a great philanthropist.”
Touting the Wiesenthal Center as “a living memorial to the memory of a great man — Simon Wiesenthal — who died eight years ago at the age of 96, sixty years after his liberation,” Cuomo said: “Now some will say that the Center’s mission is complete.” Apropos the emergence of anti-Semitism worldwide, Cuomo cited incidents in France when “last month a group of Jews were attacked by a gang of teenagers…in Spain two months ago…’Adolf Hitler was right’ was painted across a bullfight arena…. It is very much a real threat in the world we live in…. So Simon Wiesenthal was right and you are right to be here this evening. We need a strong Israel and we need a strong America…working hand-in-glove because they are the bulwarks for democracy on this globe.”
“Anti-Semitism around the world has never been stronger and more dangerous,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, declared. His documented scroll of statistics included: “an estimated 150 million Europeans harbor anti-Jewish sentiments…. Seventy years after the Holocaust, in the same country that initiated the Holocaust, a study showed that 20% of Germans living today are anti-Semitic.”
Speaking with the help of an interpreter, 86-year old Medal of Honor recipient Czeslawa Zak — who was a young girl in Warsaw when her parents helped harbor 14 Jews from 1940-1944 — played down her family’s heroism. The family was designated as Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem. During the reception I got to chat with Ambassador Yehuda Avner author and star of the Moriah Film documentary “The Prime Ministers” and shared some pre-war Warsaw memories with Zak, who joined me in singing Polish folk songs.
Keynote speaker Vernon Jordan Jr. Senior Managing Director, Lazard presented the 2013 Simon Wiesenthal Center Humanitarian Award to Kenneth Jacobs, Chairman and CEO, Lazard.
The Wiesenthal’s newly opened exhibit/installation in Los Angeles in memory of Anne Frank brought back my 1982 visit to the Anne Frank house where we chanced on an elderly British couple musing: “One wonders if it really happened?” I retorted: “Does one also wonder about the London Blitz?” They apologized. “Yes. Yes. It must have happened.” In Litvishn Yiddish I asked an elderly German woman [from Aachen] with granddaughter in tow, why she came. In German she replied: “My neighbors, my friends, they were taken away in the night to Theriesenstadt…” Tearfully she added: “Ach ja! She needs to know this.”
“Not every Pole is an anti-Semite and not every Jew is anti-Polish, “ has long been the mantra of Czestochowa-born Holocaust survivor Sigmund Rolat, an orphan and survivor of a Nazi slave-labor camp in Czestochowa who in 1948 arrived in New York City as a penniless teenager. On September 23, he was honored at a special ceremony hosted by Consul General Ewa Junczyk Ziomecka at New York’s Polish consulate.
A businessman extraordinaire, philanthropist and major financial backer of The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Rolat was presented with the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland by Poland’s president Bronislaw Komorowski.
“It is an honor to be decorated by President Bronislaw Komorowski with others, who as myself, emigrated from Poland — but never really abandoned her,” Rolat said. “Life decided that we leave, in all cases dramatically — war, Holocaust, then Communist enslavement. But our hearts remained there — mine in Czestochowa where I was born…There were our homes, our families…there today are graves of our ancestors.”
The gathering of Poles and Jews at the ceremony included past medal recipients Cantor Joseph Malovany, David Marwell, director and CEO of The Museum of Jewish Heritage — a Living Memorial to the Holocaust, as well as this Warsaw-born columnist.
Rolat — who on other occasions stated that “Poland as a nation was also a victim of the Nazis — No other country has a larger list of Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem than Poland”— announced, that shortly an international committee will be formed to build a monument to express gratitude to those Poles who saved Jews from death during the Holocaust.” In his address, President Komorowski touted the proposed monument in memory of Poles helping Jews as “making a difference between Polish-American relations, Polish-Jewish relations and Polish-Polish relations.”
On a personal note, my mother and I owe our survival to a Polish peasant woman who risked her life and that of her family to hide us in her hut in the shadow of a Nazi patrol booth, yet refused a reward of any sort stating, “It is my Christian duty.” Benjamin Meed, co-founder of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors once told me that “it took ten Poles to hide one Jew” a statistic that his wife Vladka Meed— who had been a weapons smuggler into the Warsaw ghetto and courier between the Polish Underground and the Warsaw ghetto fighters — concurred during one of our conversations.
Schepping nakhas were Rolat’s son Geoffrey Rolat, daughter Samantha Rolat Asulin, and his grandson Henry Asulin.
Sometimes, it’s good to be reminded of the destructive power of the selfie.
A new Tumblr called “Selfies At Serious Places” does just that. It’s exactly how it sounds: people taking close up pictures of their faces with an incredibly inappropriate backdrop. Seriously though: what goes through your mind when you tweet a picture of yourself posing in the gas chamber at Auschwitz? Come on.
Other choice locations include the Anne Frank house, the Berlin Holocaust memorial, Chernobyl, the 9/11 memorial and Pearl Harbor.
Get it together people.
Shoshana Colmer, 93, a survivor of Auschwitz, was crowned Miss Holocaust at a contest in Haifa.
The second annual Miss Holocaust Survivor Beauty Contest was held Aug. 22 at the Municipal Sports Complex before an audience of thousands.
More than 300 women from Israel and around the world applied to participate in the contest, according to Haaretz. Colmer told the audience that she sang one song to a Nazi guard each morning in Auschwitz in return for an extra piece of bread. She was liberated after taking part in a death march from the camp.
Dr. Izabella Grinberg, a geriatric psychiatrist, and Shimon Sabag, director of Yad Ezer L’Haver, an organization that assists Holocaust survivors, developed the contest. It is designed to help the contestants and the survivors watching to come to grips with their survival and boost their self esteem.
Check out a video about the inaugural pageant, which took place last year:
“Soul Doctor” can best be described as “Hair” meets post Holocaust trauma with Eric Anderson’s visceral channeling of Reb Shlomo Carlebach and Amber Imam’s portrayal of Nina Simone illuminating the production.
The 700 opening-nighters at the August 15 performance of “Soul Doctor” at Circle in the Square included philanthropist and Birthright founder Michael Steinhardt (who was married by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach), Tovah Feldshuh in an eye-popping iridescent tangerine hued shawl, 90-years young Yiddish stage legend and TV star Fyvush Finkel, National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene artistic director Zalmen Mlotek, its executive director Bryna Wasserman and Paul Libin executive vice president of Jujamcyn Theatres.
Following a standing ovation curtain call, some 500 “Soul Doctor” devotees migrated to the 41st St. Liberty Theater for a post-performance party nosh at which a “kosher menu” was served. When I asked press representative Richard Kornberg why kosher menu was highlighted in the invitation, he said it was because ”this was the first ever kosher menu served at a Broadway opening.”
No one has made a bid yet for an original copy of Oskar Schindler’s famed list.
The iconic list of Jews to be saved from the Nazis went up up for auction on eBay Friday night and an amazing 250,000 users had viewed the listing as of 10 p.m. Sunday. But there were no bidders for the item, which carried a starting bid pricetag of $3 million.
Though there were originally seven versions of the list that saved thousands of Polish Jews from death at the hands of the Nazis, only four have been located. Two are at Yad Vashem and one in the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington.
According to the New York Post, the list offered on eBay is a 14-page long onionskin document, dated April 18, 1945. 801 male names are featured.
The historic item’s sellers, Gary Zimet and Eric Gazin, two California collectors told the Post they hoped the list would sell for as high as $5 million.
“It is extremely rare that a document of this historical significance is put on the market,” Zimet said. “Many of the survivors on this list and their descendants moved to the United States, and there are names on this list which will sound very familiar to New Yorkers.”
In a statement released on Monday, the Museum of Jewish Heritage expressed its disappointment that a document of such significance would be sold to the highest bidder.
“As a museum, we believe important historical materials such as these best serve the public when they are held in a museum or archive that will ensure they are well cared for and make their contents widely available,” said Anita Kassof, Deputy Director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.
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To the roster of Righteous Gentiles that includes Oskar Schindler and Chiune Sugihara — the Japanese diplomat who in 1940 issued 2039 visas that saved 6000 Jews (including my mother and me) — one must now add Sir Nicholas Winton whose British chutzpah illuminates the Menemsha Film documentary “Nicky’s Family.”
Directed by Matej Minac, the wrenching yet heartwarming film chronicles the rescue of nearly 700 Czech and Slovak Jewish children before the outbreak of World War II. During my overseas exchange with Barbara Winton, daughter of the 104-year-old (and still active!) Winton, she recalled the film’s provenance: “A scrapbook found in an attic in the 1970’s, when I was in my early 20’s. I showed the scrapbook to some Israeli friends. None of us recognized the implications it would have on the names on [the scrapbook’s] list.”
Interfacing archival film of Hitler’s march into Czechoslovakia with montages of mothers pleading with a 29-year old Winton to save their children, the film transmits the desperation and panic of that period. “He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his remarkable deed,” Winton’s daughter pointed out.
Imagine my surprise when one of the rescued Winton children — who appears as an adult in the film — turned out to be a long-time friend, Hanna Slome! In all the years I’d known her, she never mentioned her history. During our chat this week she revealed: “Only recently did I learn who had saved me! All I remembered was my mother at the train station in Prague, May 1938, telling me ‘if I have your hand, I’ll be with you.’ I was fourteen… an older girl, given a young child on my lap, someone to care for and put on a train to England. I have absolutely no recollection of the four-day train trip.” Yet she clearly recalled that on the ship to England “children sang the Czech national anthem.” At the dock in England, she described, “a 3-year old left waiting to be picked up. A taxi driver took him home, fed him fish and chips. The poorer they were, the kinder they were.”
Most of the children never saw their parents again nor knew what happened to them. Slome told me: “In 1942 my mother spent one week in Terezin — Hitler kept good records! She was then sent to Bergen-Belsen or Treblinka.” To this day many of these rescued children — who had been placed in Christian homes — have not been located. At a 500-strong recent Kindertransport reunion held at The Catskills Nevele Resort, Slome finally met someone from her transport, enabling her to begin to retrace her past.
In a 1988 clip from BBC’s “That’s Your Life,” Winton seems unaware that he is sitting next to those he had saved until half the audience — his rescuees — rise to applaud him! There are over 6,000 descendants worldwide.
“Nicky’s Family” opens in New York on July 19 at the Quad and Manhattan’s JCC. Don’t miss.
Who could have imagined that cigars and poker would be the main ingredients in the recipe of rescue of Jews on the cusp of World War II?
“Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust,” tells the story of how the five Frieder brothers from Cincinnati, built a cigar empire in Manila and with the help of poker aficionados Col. Dwight Eisenhower, U.S. High Commissioner to the Philippines Paul McNutt and the first president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon, helped 1,200 Jews find haven in that country.
The one-hour documentary held its New York premiere on April 10, hosted by the American Jewish Historical Society. Narrated by Liev Schreiber and with a promo quote from Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower as “A story for all time,” this 3 Roads Communications film puts the gutsy president Quezon on the map as a Righteous Gentile alongside Oskar Schindler.
Jonathan Karp, AJHS Executive Director, introduced Mario Lopez de Leon Jr, Consul General, Republic of the Philippines in New York, who told the guests — amongst whom were a number of Manila survivors including Berlin-born Dr. Yashar Hirshaut, President of the Israel Cancer Research Fund International Scientific Council — “The story has a special meaning for the Filipino people people…who find kinship with the Jewish people in their shared belief in the dignity of man and human rights. Speaking as a diplomat, this film also served a deeper purpose…to strengthen the vibrant friendship between the Filipino and Jewish people founded [when] the Philippines voted in favor of the UN resolution which gave rise to the State of Israel. We were among the first countries to recognize the State of Israel.”
Present at the screening were film consultant Peggy Ellis, her mother Jane Frieder Ellis and film consultant Barbara Sasser,who says in the film: “Quezon was willing to take in 30,000 or more Jews and settle them on the Island of Mindanao…He was a good Catholic…the most irreligious thing he could think of was to think badly of the people who gave them their savior.”
Quezon’s daughter, Zenaida Quezon Avancena said, “Dad had moral courage….. He believed in the sanctity of life.” His grandson Manuel Quezon III said his grandfather had been born poor, never had the problem of the colonial mindset and was “a great ballroom dancer and a hard-boiled politician,” adding: “He loved the underdog and he knew what it was like to be on the run.”
In the film,George Lowenstein, a German-Jewish refugee, recalls that when the Americans returned with General MacArthur, an American pilot flew overhead and spotted little George. “He did a 360 and dropped a Hershey bar.” After the liberation, 10-year-old George read the “Four Questions” at the first night of Passover celebrated by the GIs and refugees in Manila. The film notes that American GIs helped rebuild Manila’s Emil Synagogue, which had been destroyed by the Japanese.
In a recent video interview, Israeli novelist Etgar Keret joked that he wouldn’t trust Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, despite his well known union background and anti-racism bona fides, to hide a Jew in his attic during another Holocaust. And he jested that Real Madrid’s star attacker Cristiano Ronaldo — who used to play for Ferguson at the club — wouldn’t behave much better. He bases his assessment, of course, on nothing but the team’s style of play.
Manchester United have been a dominant financial and sporting force in English soccer over the past decade, earning the envy and enmity of millions worldwide. But they uncharacteristically go into the final game of the English Premier League season this weekend needing a better result than their “noisy neighbors,” Manchester City, to pip them to the title.
Claiming that a symbolic compensation agreement signed by the governments of the United States and Austria ten years ago is inadequate, a group of Austrian-born Israeli Holocaust survivors is suing Austria for $21 billion. That is the value of the property taken from Austrian Jews during the Nazi era, according to calculations by historians.
The 2001 agreement stated that Austria had to pay Holocaust survivors and their children a total of $210 million — only 10% of what the families claim is owed to them. According to Ynet, the then-conservative Austrian national government was eager to use the agreement as a way of overcoming the international isolation it was suffering at the time. It also took advantage of the Austrian Jewish community, getting its approval for the deal when it was in a desperate economic situation and facing bankruptcy.
Another living link to the Holocaust was lost last week when the last surviving man to have worn the pink triangle — sewn onto concentration camp uniforms to signify homosexuality — died at the age of 98.
The New York Times reported that Rudolf Brazda, who had been imprisoned in Buchenwald, died in Alsace, France, where he had lived since the camp’s liberation, in 1945.
It was only in May 2008, “when the German National Monument to the Homosexual Victims of the Nazi Regime was unveiled in Berlin’s Tiergarten park — opposite the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe — that Mr. Brazda became known as probably the last gay survivor of the camps,” the Times said. “Until he notified German officials after the unveiling, the Lesbian and Gay Federation believed there were no other pink-triangle survivors.”
Leave your headphones at home.
Charlotte Friedman, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, tells her story for the first time in a two part video series produced by Jewish.TV, the multimedia branch of Chabad.org. The twist? Friedman, who is deaf, conducted the interview entirely in American Sign Language.
Friedman’s tale of escape from a Dutch internment camp is especially astonishing given that many deaf people were tortured and killed by the Nazis.
Friedman recounts her childhood in Germany, including how her parents managed to provide her with an education despite her impairment and the enactment of the Nuremberg laws. She also discusses how she crossed paths with another persecuted Jewish girl hiding out in Amsterdam — Anne Frank. Her parents befriended Anne Frank’s parents, but the bonds were broken when the Friedmans left for America.
Though she chatters away on many other subjects, when asked about her remarkable endurance, Friedman simply states: “I was very lucky.”
There’s nothing like a carefree luxury vacation where you visit Dachau, eat a Bavarian dinner at the beer hall where Hitler unveiled the 25-point Nazi party program, and drop by Wannsee, the elegant lakeside residence where the Holocaust was planned.
At least that’s the idea behind Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: The Face of Evil, an eight-day, $3,200 “historical tour” which “covers the entire sobering story of Nazi Germany — from the Nazi party’s birth in the smoky beerhalls of 1919 Munich to the Third Reich’s protracted death, amidst the ruins and despair of 1945 Berlin,” according to the website of U.K. tour operator Historical Trips.
Here’s how it seems to work at the Cannes Film Festival: organizers are happy to show your film even if you’re famously anti-Semitic — please just don’t make any weird comments on the premises.
That’s one way to interpret the events of the last few days, particularly after today’s announcement that Lars von Trier, the oddball Danish director, has been officially declared “persona non grata” at the festival.
The designation follows von Trier’s totally bonkers performance yesterday at a press conference for “Melancholia,” his latest film, at which he — jokingly? — said he can “sympathize” with Hitler. (Poor Kirsten Dunst was trapped onstage, squirming with increasing discomfort as his bizarre remarks went on.)
Biometric identity cards — cards carrying a computer chip with biographical information like a photo, fingerprints, signature, and date of birth — were controversial from the moment they were first mentioned. Now Israel is finally ready to issue them, the local media reports.
We have known this was coming since the run up to the vote on the so-called biometric law, which passed in December. The Forward reported almost two years ago about concerns that were being voiced. But there’s one bizarre detail that has only just come to light.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be a vile Holocaust denier, but that won’t stop some of his countrymen from learning about the genocide in their own language.
The Aladdin Project, a Paris-based organization devoted to co-existence and education, has announced that the landmark Holocaust documentary “Shoah” will be beamed into Iran next Monday via satellite. The film will be translated and subtitled into Farsi for the broadcast, and will be followed by similar Turkish- and Arabic-language airings elsewhere in the Middle East. The broadcasts “will allow wider audiences to be acquainted with the history of the Holocaust in their own languages,” Aladdin Project officials said in a statement.
Accessing Yad Vashem’s massive store of photos and documents is about to get as easy as typing into a search bar. According to a report in The New York Times this week, the Jerusalem-based “keeper of the world’s largest Holocaust archive” is expanding a partnership with Google to digitize about 130,000 photographs — and give users the option to add commentary, historical backgrounds, and family stories.
The long-term goal, said the Times, “is to include Yad Vashem’s larger archive of millions of documents, including survivor testimonials, diaries, letters and manuscripts.” A Yad Vashem press release proclaimed the initiative “will not only bring this valuable information to a much wider audience worldwide, but it will allow people around the world to contribute, by identifying the stories behind photos and documents, adding their own stories and knowledge to the site.” Google — whose founders are Jewish — “is an integral partner in our mission, as they help us to reach new audiences, including young people around the world, enabling them to be active in the discussion about the Holocaust,” Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said in the release.