Poland & Lithuania

A sad tale of two countries

By Stephen Schulman

I am extremely fortunate in being able to write these words. In fact, I am extremely fortunate in being here at all and I owe it all to my grandparents on both sides who over a hundred years ago had the foresight, took the initiative and seized the opportunity to leave Eastern Europe and immigrate to the West.

Like many Litvaks (Jews originating from Lithuania) they eventually wended their way to South Africa to seek their fortune in a new land that was free from oppression, persecution and pogroms. Growing up  as a 2nd generation South African, the Holocaust was certainly part of my education and consciousness but it never touched me personally as, to the best of my knowledge, my extended family on both sides had long moved to the West.

Poland

Coming to live in Israel radically changed my perspective of and my closeness to this unprecedented genocide in the history of mankind. Many survivors have made their home here and the Holocaust is seared into the nation’s psyche. Yad VaShem, the National Holocaust Institute located on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, with its extensive archives and comprehensive museum, is a revered institution and the moving state memorial ceremony that takes place there on the eve of the annual Holocaust Day is broadcast nationwide.

Nevertheless, fortunately in not having been affected personally, I felt a certain insulation that in the course of events changed when I met and married Yona. After the war, she had been born in a DP (Displaced Persons) camp situated in Germany where her parents Tsila nee Bastomski and Meir Perey both Holocaust survivors had met and married. In 1949, not long after the birth of the nation, her parents, with her a baby, came to live in Israel where, like many other survivors, permanently scarred but with fortitude and resolution they rebuilt their lives. Many other Holocaust survivors were less fortunate: crippled both physically and/or in spirit, they were incapable of shaking off the traumas of the past.

Post War DP Camp. Jewish displaced persons receive food aid from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) at the Bindermichl displaced persons camp in the US zone. Linz, Austria. It was in such a camp – but in Germany – that the writer’s wife, Yona, was born to parents, Tsila and Meir, both Holocaust survivors who had met, married and immigrated to Israel.

Tsila was forthcoming about her past and her wartime experiences and so fortunately in the course of years before she was crippled by illness, I was able to record all that she recounted to me. Sitting listening to her and Meir‘s story, I was filled with humility and awe at the strength of the human spirit to endure and overcome so much suffering and with the greatest of respect for my parents in law.

Tsila and family had lived in a settlement near Vilna (Vilnius) where, the family by dint of enterprise and hard work had built up a successful business supplying the local countryside. With the invasion by Nazi Germany, expelled from their home and possessions they were herded into the local ghetto. There, her father Israel, with all of them forced to witness, was publicly executed for attempting to sneak out to try to obtain food for his family. Tsila’s eldest brother Joshua, serving in the Polish army was murdered as a Jew. Whilst remaining in the ghetto, an older brother Yitschak managed to procure false documents for the remaining family and one night they made their escape, fleeing to a small village where posing as Christian Poles, Tsila, her mother Bunia, brothers Yitschak and Yehuda and elder sister Gessia lived for the duration of the war. Tsila and Gessia worked as seamstresses, Yitschak was an altar boy and Yehuda would walk at the head of funeral processions carrying a cross. Tsila, as was the custom, not forgetting to cross herself before all the road side shrines along the way, regularly walked to church barefoot carrying her shoes in hand to be put on before entering.

In the village itself, life was far from easy as the family lived in constant terror of their true identity being discovered; all too often they had to concur with the villagers’ antisemitic opinions and hear their glee concerning the fate of the Jews. The only times they felt relatively safe were during stormy nights when nobody ventured from their homes. She clearly remembers that when one night, her mother delirious from a high fever started to babble in Yiddish, the terrified family could not call for a doctor.

Meir was more reticent and rarely spoke about his family. Hailing from Bialystok and conscripted into the Red Army in 1939, he served at the front, narrowly losing a leg in battle and after recovering, working as a medical orderly on army hospital trains. Returning home after the war, he discovered that he was the sole survivor as all his immediate kith and kin: parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces had been murdered in the Holocaust.

What had caused Meir, Tsila and family to flee from the land where their families had lived for generations to a distant country to seek shelter in a displaced persons camp? After all, the war had ended and hostilities had ceased. Why had they not returned to their birthplaces? What influenced their decision – and of so many other Holocaust survivors – to irrevocably leave their homes and all behind?

Saul Friedlander and Jeffrey Veidlinger amongst others have documented the anti-Semitism rife in the Baltic States, Ukraine, Eastern Europe and the Balkans with the Christian churches in many cases either acquiescing or fanning the flames. Indeed, since the beginning of the 20th Century, intermittent pogroms had not only diminished but increased with generations of bystanders and/or perpetrators.

Consequently, Poland of 1945 as before the war was far from being a hospitable home. In the 1930’s formal anti –Semitic legislation had gradually increased and in 1936 there had been widespread pogroms with the murder of hundreds of Jews. In post war 1945, omnipresent ant-Semitism openly erupted making Poland a dangerous place for a Jew to live in. The historian Jan T. Gross ably records the fate of post WW II Jewry where many Holocaust survivors were murdered, the pogrom at Kielce being the most infamous incident.   

Meir, upon returning to Bialystok found his former neighbours, now comfortably ensconced in his family abode, most unpleasantly surprised by his appearance and informed him that if he valued his life, he should permanently put as much distance as possible between himself and his old home. Tsila, her mother and siblings, in the dead of night, packed their meager belongings onto a cart and silently fled the village. They were well aware that if their true identity were now revealed, the odds were that they would not remain alive. For them, Meir and other survivors, the only safe recourse was fleeing to the west.

Next Door Killers. On July 10, 1941, in Nazi-occupied Poland, half of the town of Jedwabne brutally murdered the other half – 1,600 men, women, and children, all but seven of the town’s Jews. In this shocking and compelling classic of Holocaust history, Jan Gross reveals how Jedwabne’s Jews were murdered not by Nazis but by people who knew them well―their non-Jewish Polish neighbors.
 

Lithuania

Family records show that my maternal grandfather Hirsh Wolf Edelson born in Sedova (Shadova), in 1909 had married Chana Etel Chaitovitz hailing from nearby Grinkishok (Grinkiskis) before immigrating to South Africa a few years later. Most fortunately, I also discovered that an industrious and indefatigable relative living in Jerusalem had compiled an extended family tree tracing my grandfather’s roots in his home town back to 1811. With my interest aroused, I delved into the proud history of Lithuanian Jewry and discovered one that is both tragic and horrific: how in 1941, Lithuanians from all walks of life, with few notable exceptions, in widespread cooperation with the German authorities and with their scant urging, ruthlessly and with the utmost zealous barbarity butchered and murdered their Jewish fellow citizens. This was executed with such efficaciousness that within a relatively short period of the Jewish community of 220,000 souls, 95 to 97 percent were no longer alive – one of the highest genocide rates in Europe. Their murderousness was equally matched by their avarice and rapaciousness in plundering the possessions and occupying the homes of former friends and neighbours whom they had known well, often for generations.

Shadow over Shadova. General view of the shetl of Shadova where the writer’s maternal grandfather Hirsh Wolf Edelson was born and in 1909 married Chana Etel Chaitovitz before immigrating to South Africa a few years later. In August 1941, the Jews of Shadova were murdered in a nearby forest.

On the 22nd June 1941, the Nazis occupied Lithuania and three days afterwards Seduva. Less than a month later on the 22nd July, the town’s Jews were incarcerated in a ghetto. On August the 25th, all 665 ghetto occupants were murdered in the Liaudiškiai forest. A few “privileged” Jews who had fought in the War of Independence of 1918 and who optimistically underwent public baptism were not included in the roundup. However, their reprieve was short lived, for a few weeks later they were driven to Panevėžys and shot dead with just one survivor who had been hidden by the priest. There exists a long list of the local shooters all of whom somehow did not recall the names of their victims but remembered in meticulous detail the loot they received for their participation.

Unveiling the Hard Truth. Famous Nazi hunter, Dr. Efraim Zuroff teamed up with the descendent of Nazi collaborators, Ruta Vanagaite on a journey to uncover Lithuania’s horrifying Holocaust secrets.

In their murderous diligence, no community however small was overlooked: My grandmother’s Grinikishok (Grinkiskis) was not exempt. At the end of August 1941, armed Lithuanians led the entire town Jews  – all 20 families! – to the nearby town Kriukai and there on September 2, 1941, murdered them together with the local Jews. All the other Lithuanian Jewish communities shared the same bitter fate. Dr. Efraim Zuroff and Ruta Vanagaita, in their book recording their painful journey visiting Lithuanian Holocaust massacre sites, noted that while Jedwabne in Poland was infamous for its inhabitants murdering their Jewish neighbours, there were over 220 such towns in Lithuania.

Following the Facts. The co-writers of ‘Our People,’ Ruta Vanagaite (left), who was threatened in Lithuania for exposing the truth of Lithuanian complicity in the Holocaust with Dr. Efraim Zuroff.

The bestiality and barbarism of the Lithuanians shocked even the hardened Nazis, one of whom had witnessed and photographed in Kaunas a townsman proudly standing holding his club with the bloody corpses of 45 Jews behind him. He was surrounded by an enthusiastic and laughing crowd of men, women and children who had cheered and applauded every time he slaughtered a victim. The Nazi bystander recorded that after the “Death Dealer” had finished, he stood on the pile of bodies and to the approbation of the onlookers proudly played the national anthem on his accordion. Lest it be thought that this was an isolated incident, instances of similar atrocities were recorded in many locations. The lists of rape, torture and murder go on and on…….



About the writer:

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).






THE LAST SHABBAT SUPPER

The day  – 80 years ago this week – my great grandfather ‘died’

By Jonathan Feldstein

The reality is that my great grandparents didn’t just die, they were murdered. They were two of six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their willing accomplices throughout Europe. And it wasn’t just the two of them, but their children and grandchildren, and scores of cousins, nieces and nephews, and neighbors. They were lined up and shot in a communal grave on the outskirts of Kańczuga, the Polish town in which they lived and raised their families for generations. Their murder took place 80 years ago this week.

Painfull Portrait. The writer’s great grandparents, Shalom Yaakov and Dreizel Birnbach who 80 years ago this week were – together their children, grandchildren, and rest of their family murdered in Poland during the Holocaust. (Family collection).
 

We know what happened from the testimonies and writings of some who had escaped, or those who were deported earlier and survived. Survivors communicated with their neighbors years later. My great aunt told me she would write to the mayor of Kanczuga after the war, sending along care packages as a bribe for him to provide information, any information, about her parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. Even if what he said was partly fabricated as the historical record seems to demonstrate, it gave her some sense of closure. 

When the war ended, some survivors came back to Kańczuga to look for other survivors, and try to start their lives over in the only place they knew as home.  Several Jews who returned were murdered by their Polish neighbors in a pogrom that took place in April 1945, after the war officially ended. I knew the three young men who buried the victims and extricated the survivors to safety from their Polish neighbors threatening to finish the job. As old men, they shared vivid details with me. Willie Kramberg, with whom I became close, was always “happy” to do so, but prefaced that he won’t sleep for three days as a result of reliving the horrors.

Jewish Life Deleted. The Dzikower Synogogue at the intersection of Sawicki and Wegierska streets in Kańczuga in 1941 (top) and a store in 2019 (bottom). (Courtesy Collection of the Switalski Family)

I have written and spoken about my family’s life, and death, in Kańczuga many times.  I heard stories from my grandmother and great aunt, about their parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. Though I have never been there, Kanczuga is part of my family’s history, but in the distant rear-view mirror. I have a sense of nostalgia for this place which I have never visited, in which my family lived for generations, yet no urgent desire to do so. 

I am grateful that my great grandparents had the sense to begin to get their children out of Poland in the 1930s.  But now, as a grandfather, close in age to that of my great grandparents were when they were murdered, I look back and weep at how painful it must have been not to be able to save everyone much less themselves.  They knew they needed to get their families out of Poland, that time was running out even before the Nazis arrived, but didn’t know when that time would be. Until that last Shabbat, when the Jews of Kańczuga were rounded up and massacred, I suspect they did everything they could to save their family.

Futures Denied. Some six years later, most of these happy faces of Jewish youth taken in Kańczuga in June 25, 1934 would be no more. (Laufer family collection)

Shabbat is a joyous day to celebrate surrounded by family. The sense of helplessness that must have overcome them in those last hours, on their last Shabbat, is incomprehensible as I think about what happened that Saturday 80 years ago. 

The Jewish community had been rounded up and crammed into one of the synagogues.  A hot August day with many times more people packed in than the building was built for. I don’t know if they were told they were being “deported” and given any hope, or not.  I just know how they perished.

While the bullets were German, the jeers from the those lined up to celebrate, or just watch, were Polish. If they were close enough to the Poles, no doubt my relatives saw neighbors they had known all their lives. The Nazis needed wagons and the like to move the Jews from the synagogue in the center of town to the communal grave that the men had been forced to dig outside the town. The Nazis didn’t just bring in their trucks and buses to deport Jews when they invaded. In many places they were forced to walk kilometers to their death, or carted out of town as it might be too “unpleasant” to massacre hundreds or more people too much in public. Where vehicles were needed, they were borrowed or requisitioned from the local Poles, often with the Polish “driver” leading his own horse to carry away his neighbors to their death.

From a Symbol of Life to a Symbol of Death. The ‘Great Synagogue’ – also known as the ‘New Synagogue’ – that was in construction before the outbreak of World War II was a source of great pride to the Jewish community of Kańczuga, until it was transformed into a symbol of Jewish extermination. Around 200 Jews were rounded up in the synagogue before their execution in Siedleczka in August 1942. One wonders what lessons have been learned seeing the antisemitic graffiti on the wall.(Courtesy Laufer Family Collection)
 

I met Benny Schanzer decades ago. He was a teenager when he was being deported 80 years ago.  He shared with me that my great grandmother, Dreizel, saved his life by telling him simply, “You’re too young”.  I don’t know if my great grandmother had any hope for herself or any of her family being saved even at those last horrible moments. She knew the end was near. Benny understood, escaped, and survived to tell me the story decades later.

Before the war and the Holocaust, Kanczuga had about 1000 Jews, representing between a third to half of the population.  There were instances of Jews and the mostly Catholic Poles getting along including attending school, doing business, even serving in civic capacities together.  Antisemitism existed as it did throughout Europe, largely but not exclusively due to Catholic teaching about the Jews.  That sowed the fertile ground in which antisemitism thrived. My grandmother used to me that the ground was soaked in our blood.  She did not mean it metaphorically. Antisemitism didn’t always involve overt persecution, but it was pervasive to the degree that at least my great grandparents had the sense and ability to be able to get four of their children out of Poland. And that when the Jewish community was being deported to their death, local Polish neighbors celebrated, and then took the homes and property of the Jews who once lived next to them.

As a result of four children surviving then, I am here. Including my brothers, our wives, children, and grandchildren we are 22 people. 80 years is not that long ago, but it feels like ancient history.  It’s a significant milestone we cannot let pass without remembering our relatives who were murdered, and honoring the survivors, thanks to whom we are here. 

A Relic of Jewish Life. Following their mass murder, a reminder of a vibrant Jewish life is revealed in these sad remains of a Kańczuga Jewish newspaper.

This year dozens of descendants of the former Kanczuga Jewish community will gather virtually from at least three continents, to remember.  We represent one very small group of descendants of one very small Jewish community, in one very small Polish village.  And my family, a few dozen within that one small town, whose matriarch and patriarch did everything possible to have their children survive. On that level, the incomprehensible number of six million becomes real. 

It’s the sum of hundreds of thousands of entire families, like mine.



You’re invited to join the memorial for the Jewish community of Kanczuga, Monday, September 5 at 9:00pm Israel time, 2:00pm Eastern/11:00am Pacific (US), to remember the victims and honor the survivors who suffered so much but thanks to whom we are here.


About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

5 EU COUNTRIES THAT SHOULDN’T BE THROWING STONES

Accusing Russia of rewriting the Holocaust for its current propaganda is fair – but not when you’ve always whitewashed the Holocaust for your own purposes

By Dr. Efraim Zuroff

(First appeared in The Times of Israel)

Several days ago, I was shocked to learn that five heads of state from Lithuania, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, and Poland, all post-Communist Eastern European countries, had recently beseeched the leaders of the European Union to step up efforts to “preserve historical memory.” It was addressed to the European Council president, European Commission president, and the Czech prime minister, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Participating in Ponary. Lithuanian collaborators guard Jews before their execution at Ponary, Lithuania, June–July, 1941.YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York

For the past three decades since their transition to democracy, these countries have excelled in grossly distorting their own respective histories of the Holocaust. Yet the quintet of leaders now maintains that the Kremlin “is seeking to rewrite history and use it to justify its aggression against sovereign states.” Thus, they urge the bodies of the EU to take a leadership role in “preserving historical memory and preventing the Russian regime from manipulating historical facts.” They contend that this concern “is particularly relevant in light of Russia’s intensive use of history for propaganda purposes in the context of the war in Ukraine.”

These heads of state know how to deal with this problem of rewriting history. They recommend the following four steps as the means of taking corrective measures:

  • the promotion of “European Remembrance narratives across the whole EU” through national educational programs;
  • providing adequate political and financial support to the Prague-based Platform of European Memory and conscience;
  • completing the project for a memorial to the victims of totalitarian regimes in Brussels;
  • stepping up the fight against disinformation.

Romania’s ‘Homegrown’ Holocaust. In the final days of 1941, Romanian authorities massacred 40,000 Jews in a chapter of the genocide in which 420,000 Jews were killed in ‘broad daylight’ with collaborators’ help.

These steps constitute a renewed effort to establish a false historical narrative as the “accurate/universally accepted” narrative of World War II and the Holocaust. Particularly ironic, coming from these five countries, is their statement: “Without an accurate, honest, and comprehensive assessment of the past, we will not be able to effectively prevent future crimes on our continent or investigate the current ones in Ukraine.”

Butchery in Bucharest. The Bucharest pogrom of January 23, 1941 was initiated by Romania’s Iron Guard who modeled itself on the Brown-shirts in Germany. Living up to its promise to defeat “Rabbinical aggression against the Christian world”,  the Romanian pogrom lasted for three days during which Torah scrolls in synagogues were desecrated and 127 Jews were murdered. (Public domain)

Each of these countries has produced its own false narrative of the events of the Shoah, either extremely minimizing or completely erasing the highly significant role played by their own local Nazi collaborators. It must be noted that only in Eastern Europe did collaboration with the Nazis include participation in the systematic mass murder of Jews. None of them is ready to admit the full scope and significance of their complicity and culpability.

There is, of course, no doubt that the Russians are manipulating history to justify the invasion of Ukraine. Nevertheless, a plea by these leaders to “preserve historical memory,” is the height of hypocrisy and chutzpah. Before making demands on the EU, let them begin to practice what they preach at home.

Estonian Complicity in Mass Murder . An execution site where members of Einsatzgruppe A and Estonian collaborators carried out a mass execution of Jews in September 1941. Kalevi-Liiva, Estonia, after September 1944. (DIZ Muenchen GMBH, Sueddeutscher Verlag Bilderdienst)

With the exception of one case in Poland, not a single Holocaust perpetrator has been convicted and punished in any of these countries since independence. They are reluctant to return Jewish property and compensate survivors. In short, they have totally failed to confront their crimes, and have failed in every aspect of dealing with the Shoah.

Unsettling Denialism in Poland’s ‘National Remembrance’ Law.  German Order Police assisted by the Blue Police (Polish police during WWII)  at Kraków in 1941. Wikicommons/ Bundesarchiv.

Indeed, in the Baltic countries, they have glorified anti-Communist fighters, even if they were Holocaust perpetrators. These figures include active participants in the murders of Jews, such as Lithuanians Jonas Noreika and Juozas Krikstaponis and Latvians Herberts Cukurs, Voldemar Veiss and Vilis Tunkelis, among numerous others. They continue to promote the canard of equivalence between Communist and Nazi crimes.

Killers on the Coast. Members of Latvian self-defense unit assemble a group of Jewish women for execution on a beach near Liepāja, 15 December 1941.

Brussels should therefore put pressure on these countries to begin telling and teaching the truth about the Holocaust and the role played by local collaborators in their own countries, instead of complying with the requests in the letter of the quintet.

The Jewish people have two foundational narratives about our history in the 20th century: the Zionist narrative of our return to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, and the chronicle of the Holocaust. When the Palestinians deny the former, we respond strongly, but Israel has failed to respond forcefully to the Eastern European distortions regarding the Holocaust that have been on offer ever since these countries obtained independence. The letter of the quintet should be a wake-up call for Israel as well.


We were Friends, I thought” – until they turned into our murderers (To watch – click on the PIcture or the caption).




About the writer:

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs.







While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

A 101 -YEAR-OLD-NAZI CONVICTED

Late justice is still justice

Josef Schutze lived to hear a German judge sentence him for helping murder thousands of Sachsenhausen concentration camp inmates. That’s a victory.

By Dr. Efraim Zuroff

(First published in The Times Of Israel)

The conviction of a Nazi war criminal is hardly a common occurrence these days, not even in Germany, the only country in the world that is still relatively active in investigating and prosecuting Nazi perpetrators. Last week, in fact, a new record of sorts was established, as 101-year-old Josef Schutze was convicted of accessory to the murder of 3,518 inmates of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, making him the oldest Nazi criminal ever convicted of Holocaust crimes.

Can’t ‘face’ the Truth. Convicted of more than 3,500 counts of accessory to murder, defendant Josef Schütz hides his face behind a folder when he first arrived for his trial in Brandenburg an der Havel, northeastern Germany, on October 7, 2021. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)

For those of us who played a role in helping to achieve this result, the verdict was extremely gratifying. It ended a nerve-wracking month in which Schutze had been rushed to a local hospital a few days before his verdict was originally scheduled to be delivered on June 2. Given his advanced age, one could not dismiss the possibility that the efforts over the past years might all have been for naught. I fully realize that such outcomes should be considered an occupational hazard, but that does not eliminate the frustration and anger at the missed opportunities.

Daily Death. Like all other Nazi concentration camps, the conditions at Sachsenhausen were incredibly barbaric with daily executions by shooting or hanging. Seen here a photo found on a SS.

Thus my immediate association was that of the case of Kosice (Hungarian-occupied Slovakia) police officer Laszlo Csatary, a notorious sadist who played a key role in the deportation of more than 15,000 Jews to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944. He had been sentenced to death in absentia in 1948 in Czechoslovakia, but by then he had escaped to Canada. After the Canadians stripped him of his Canadian citizenship in 1994, he voluntarily left the country and ostensibly disappeared, but we were able to find him in Budapest 17 years later. The Hungarians were in no rush to prosecute him, and finally indicted him only after extensive international media exposure, but he died several days before his trial was scheduled to open. He would have been the first Hungarian collaborator successfully prosecuted and convicted since Hungary made the transition to democracy, so his untimely death was particularly upsetting.

After Schutze was hospitalized, an Israeli filmmaker who is preparing a documentary on the recent trials being held in Germany suggested to me that perhaps I should pray a little harder in his case. She obviously had heard a joke I often relate in lectures and interviews, that I am the only Jew in the world who prays for the good health of Nazis (only those who can be brought to trial). In fact, I actually did so, although I certainly can’t validate that my prayers affected the positive result.

Unrepentant. Prisoners in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen in December 1938, although for Josef Schütz he did “absolutely nothing” and told the court he was not aware of the gruesome crimes being carried out at the camp.

When Schutz appeared in court last Monday, we all breathed a sigh of relief and listened carefully to his lawyer’s defense strategy, which was basically composed of two parts. One was to cast doubt on Schutze’s identification as the S.S. guard in Sachsenhausen by that name. (There were several other persons with the same name from the same town.) The second was a litany of all the usual arguments against the “belated trials,” the passage of decades since the crimes, the advanced age of the defendant, his ostensibly minor role (“small cog” argument) in the camp, and the fact that more culpable criminals were not held accountable. Schutze was then given an opportunity to address the court, but instead of arousing any sympathy, he was pathetic, claiming that he had no idea why he was put on trial and claiming to have been a law-abiding citizen all his life.

Hoping for Justice. Holding a picture in the courtroom during the trial at the Landgericht Neuruppin court in October last year, survivor of Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz and Buchenwald, 100-year-old Leon Schwarzbaum told the media that “This is the last trial for my friends, acquaintances and my loved ones, who were murdered, in which the last guilty person can still be sentenced – hopefully.”

Thus the main drama was to take place the next day, Tuesday, when Judge Udo Lechtermann would deliver his verdict.

One could sense the tension as the judge entered the courtroom, and everyone stood up, but the uncertainty as to the verdict dissipated quite quickly as the judge announced that Schutze had been sentenced to five years in prison, the maximum sentence for the offenses he committed. He referred to the documents which proved that he served in Sachsenhausen, including for example a letter written by his parents to friends that their son was “with the S.S. in Oranienberg,” the site of the concentration camp. He then presented a concise summary of the horrific crimes committed there, identifying the various groups of victims: Jews, Roma, homosexuals, socialists and other opponents of the Nazi regime – who were among the estimated 55,000 victims executed by experiments, forced labor, shooting, and inhumane conditions of hunger and disease, noting the importance of the role played by S.S. guards like Schutze.

Sachsenhausen Survivors. Liberated Sachsenhausen prisoners, Oranienburg, April/May 1945

So little justice has been achieved in Germany when it comes to Nazi crimes, and so many important figures in the implementation of the Final Solution have escaped punishment, that there are many people who scoff at victories like the one in this case. My approach is that even minimal justice is better than no justice. Anyone who saw the faces of the relatives of the victims of Sachsenhausen (who under German law can join the prosecution) when Schutze was convicted, will understand that the closure they felt when he was convicted is priceless. And believe it or not, according to Sachsenhausen memorial director Dr. Astrid Ley, quite a bit of new information about the history of the camp was revealed during the course of the trial. The German lawyers like the indefatigable Thomas Walter, who made these “belated trials” possible deserve our admiration and gratitude.

History Lesson. Sachsenhausen memorial director Dr. Astrid Ley says that valuable new information about the history of the Sachsenhausen camp was revealed during the course of Schütz’s trial.

In closing, I cannot conclude without pointing to a very sore point. Not a single Israeli official was present at the verdict, nor was there a single Israeli journalist, even though several media outlets have correspondents stationed in Germany. Apparently, for them, anything less than an Eichmann or a Mengele is of no interest.



About the writer:

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs.








While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

NO, ANNE FRANK WAS NOT PRIVILEGED!

Debate rages on social media platform discussing if Anne Frank had “White privilege”

By Rolene Marks

I cannot believe that I have to write this article in 2022 when we assume that with the body of knowledge and evidence that exists about the Holocaust. But here we are. Along with many outraged activists on JTwitter (Jewish Twitter), I added my voice to a chorus that had to take to the internet platform to say “No, Anne Frank is NOT an example of white privilege”.

Yup. You read that right.

What started off this tsunami of ire was the tweet below:

Nothing says “white privilege” like a whole group of people, i.e. Jews, singled out for extermination because not only were we seen as an inferior race by the Nazis; but we were not even seen as human.

This is not the first time that the teen who put a name and a face to the one and a half million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust has seen her image, memory and experience appropriated by those seeking to politicise a point.

The millions of people all around the world, in many different languages, who have read her story have shared in her daily frustrations, the precocious personality of a typical teenager experiencing the changes and her heartbreaks as well as the very real fear and hurt of being targeted for death for the crime of being a Jew. Anne Frank put a name and a face to the

1, 500, 000 children murdered in the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people. For many people, Anne Frank put a human face to a catastrophe many viewed in the abstract.

Anne and her sister Margot were sent to Bergen Belsen after the secret annex where her family and several other Jews were carefully hidden from the Nazi death machine, was discovered. They died of typhus and their bodies thrown into a mass grave. Their father Otto Frank, survived them.

Over the last few days, Anne Frank became a victim again. She was “othered” by someone who like many, see everything through a prism of race. The person who tweeted the offensive tweet was not the only one accusing her of amongst many things, “white Privilege”, “Jewish privilege” and “colonization”.   In “woke’ 2022, it is not unusual to see offence frackers accuse those who they don’t agree with or in this case, whose history they know nothing about; use terminology like “colonisation” or “privilege” – something very easy to do when you are living in suburbia with unfettered access to the internet….

Esteemed author and intellectual, David Baddiel who wrote the best-selling book, “Jews don’t Count” opined that there is a type of Schrodinger’s law on whites, particularly in reference to Jews. Schrodinger’s law originally referred to the physicist Erwin Schrodinger who explained how a cat in a box could be in an ambiguous predicament in the world’s most successful thought experiment. Until the box was opened and the cat’s condition weighed, the strange laws of quantum theory indicated that it could be both dead and alive.

Baddiel’s theory when applied to antisemitism is a kind of “Schrodinger’s whites”. Simply put, Jews are both white and not white, and too many are not seen as underprivileged or marginalised. Jews are often thought of as rich capitalists and don’t fit the fashionable parameters that get social justice warriors all heated up. Jews are also “too white” for campaigners and of no interest of social justice activists who see racism as a class construct, one in which you need to be economically or socially disadvantaged. “For progressives, he writes, “no victory is claimed by championing their experience, and this leads to a subtle — and unconscious — exclusion.” The mission of fighting racism has been repurposed to suit the other political causes of campaigners rather than the needs of its victims.” Anyone else have a headache?

To this point, Baddiel brings up the concept of “Schrodinger’s Whites”. Jews are both white and not white. To those trotting out the accusations of privilege, most Jews pass for Caucasian and are “rich”, so therefore they enjoy “white privilege”.  Shades of Whoopi Goldberg arguing that the “Holocaust was not about race, just some white people fighting each other” springs to mind.  In that sentence, Goldberg erased the unique and painful Jewish experience which is why her comments were so obscenely offensive.

Baddiel was asked for his comments about Goldberg and he said:

“One of the principal things going on here is the resistance that antisemitism is racism. What a lot of people think it is religious intolerance.”

He pointed out that, despite him being an atheist, he would have been persecuted due to his Jewish heritage:

“My great-uncle who died in the Warsaw Ghetto was not an observant Jew. The whiteness of Jews is a very complex thing.

Baddiel explains that“Far-right groups… have seen Jews as not part of the white race. But meanwhile, the far-left, the association of Jews… with power and privilege makes them super white.”

Author and comedian David Baddiel and his bestseller, ‘Jews Don’t Count.’ (Courtesy)

Jews are not a homogenous people – we are different races and ethnicities that come from all corners of the globe, are both affluent and not – but the one thing we all have in common irrespective of race, ethnicity and success is that the only “privilege” we all seem to have is enduring millennia of discrimination, persecution, hatred, exclusion and genocide.

This brings me back to Anne Frank.

Anne Frank once said, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”. If only the hope expressed through this remarkable young woman – whose story resonates through the generations in the hope that it would educate people and remind them that we were not just numbers but had names, lives and experiences – would be realized. We have to do better by Anne.

Perhaps we can start by ensuring that she continues to be a voice and a human face for the millions of Jews throughout our history who have suffered the unfathomable. We have a duty to protect Anne and everything she represents.






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

FROM CLOSED BOOK TO OPEN BOOK

An exposé of Polish participation in the mass murder of Jews

THE TOWNS OF DEATH  – Pogroms Against Jews By Their Neighbors by Miroslaw Tryczyk,  Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2021.

Book review by Nazi-hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff

(First published in The Jerusalem Report)

There are very few books which influence the rewriting of history, but this book should be one of them. It is the history of the fate of the Jewish communities in fifteen towns and villages in eastern Poland in the Bialystok region, in which the Jews were murdered beginning in summer 1941 not by the Nazis, but by their Polish neighbors. The communities which met this fate were :

Radzilow, Wasosz, Jedwabne, Szczuczyn, Bzury, Skaje, Goniadz, Rajgrod, Jasionowka, Kolno, Suchowola, Bransk, Lipnik, Danowo, and Dziegiele.

Paint the Town ‘Red. The mass murder of Jews in their hometowns by their neighbors is authentically revealed by witness reports from survivors, bystanders and the murderers themselves found in court testimonies.

The common denominator among them for more than half a century, was the false narrative that their Jewish residents had been murdered by the Nazis, a “fact”  inscribed on the various monuments to commemorate their memory. In 2001, however, Polish historian Jan Gross, who for many years had been teaching at Princeton, shocked Polish society by publishing Neighbors, a historically accurate narrative of the mass murder of almost all the 1,600 Jews of Jedwabne, many of whom were burned alive by their neighbors in the barn of a Polish resident of the town.

Poles ApartAntonina Wyrzykowska and her husband were beaten by fellow Poles for saving Jews in Jedwabne, and were later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations

Neighbors shocked Polish society and sparked intense internal controversy. Needless to say, it was totally rejected by ultranationalists and nationalists, and was considered an unprecedented attack on the accepted historical narrative of Poland during World War II. As the author explains in his concluding chapter, the Communists who ruled Poland in the aftermath of World War II completely denied the participation of Poles in Holocaust crimes. According to their version of the events, the Germans were the exclusive perpetrators of the crimes of the Holocaust and many Poles were Righteous Among the Nations. The facts revealed in Neighbors, however, cast serious doubt on that narrative, and created widespread public interest in the issue. which led to a forensic murder investigation of the events in Jedwabne by the Polish Institute of National Memory, which confirmed that the perpetrators were indeed ethnic Poles. In 2001, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski publicly apologized for the crime, as did President Bronislaw Komorowski in 2011.

Unholy Alliance. The author demonstrates the pivotal role of the Catholic clergy and individual priests, the intellectual classes, and political circles in perpetuating anti-Semitism leading to the mass murder of Polish Jews.

Following the rise to power of the ultranationalist Law and Justice party, however, President Andrzej Duda publicly criticized Komorowski’s apology, leaving the crimes in Jedwabne an open wound in Polish society. This bitter ongoing controversy, is what makes this book incredibly important, because it conclusively proves that the murders of the Jews of Jedwabne was not by any means an isolated incident, but rather a crime which was repeated by ethnic Poles in fourteen other communities in the same geographic area during the same time period. Tryczyk’s research is impeccable and is primarily based on court documents from over 700 cases conducted in Poland under the decree of August 31, 1944 on the punishment of “Fascist-Nazi Criminals Guilty of Murder and Torture of Civilians and Prisoners and of the Traitors of the Polish Nation,” supplemented by additional relevant sources such as Jewish memoirs by survivors, and the documentation of the proceedings of the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland, and many others.

Gag Order! “Poland is trying to ‘gag’ history,” says Polish-American sociologist and historian and Professor of History, emeritus at Princeton University Jan Gross who has been a catalyst for historical debates about Polish behavior during the Holocaust ( Photo: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Besides presenting much descriptive evidence on the crimes in each of the communities and their incredible cruelty (Jews were burned alive and murdered by iron-clad stakes, knives, axes, saws, pitchforks and hammers, but very rarely by firearms),  Tryczyk attempts quite successfully to explain the reasons for the pogroms, and the four stages of the process which transformed the Jewish residents from neighbors to defenseless sub-humans. The first stage was the intensive prewar antisemitic incitement against the Jews by the National Democrats political party and by many local Catholic priests. The second stage was the power vacuum left by the fall of the Polish state in 1939, and the subsequent flight of the Soviets in spring 1941, which was filled by the creation of a local Polish administration with its own militia, which took drastic measures against people accused of supporting the Soviets. The third stage was characterized by attacks on wealthy Jews, plunder of their property, rape of Jewish women, and beatings and humiliations of Jews. The Nazis arrive in the fourth stage and give their approval for a pogrom. In some cases they leave the murders to the local perpetrators, in others they cooperate with the killers.

Buying its Past to Bullying its Scholars. Before being overturned by an appellate court in Poland, Barbara Engelking (l) and Jan Grabowski (r) had been ordered in 2021 to apologize for their research on Poles who collaborated with Nazis (Yad Vashem via AP / courtesy)

Given the controversial “history policy” of the Law and Justice party and their determination to hide the Holocaust crimes committed by ethnic Poles, as per the notorious law of 2018 which made attributing Holocaust crimes to the Polish state a punishable offence, and the attempt to punish outstanding Holocaust scholars Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking for revealing Polish participation in the Shoah, Tryczyk’s book has become even more important.

It is not an easy book to read, but it is required reading for anyone interested in the Holocaust history of Polish Jewry.



About the writer:

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs.






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

BY THE GRACE OF THE GAME

The Holocaust, a legacy and an unprecedented American dream: Dan Grunfeld

Book reviewed here by Nazi Hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff

(First published in The Jerusalem Report)

By all accounts, Dan Grunfeld is a young man with a very bright future ahead of him. Born in 1984 to a highly successful couple, his father a basketball star who parlayed his athletic success into a job as a top NBA executive, his mother was the daughter of a founding partner of one of the largest law firms in Wisconsin, his future looked quite rosy. Add the facts that Dan is highly intelligent, an extremely talented writer, a hard worker and an individual with empathy and the right sensitivities regarding life and its various challenges, his journey into adulthood should have been a case of very smooth sailing from childhood all the way to the present. A book about his life, however, would most probably have been incredibly boring and not worth the read.

Surviving to Thriving. Says the author: “It’s a happy, hopeful story of basketball, perseverance, inspiration. Yes, I discovered tears, but I discovered a lot of love and laughs.”

Yet Dan’s life and career became much more challenging than he ever could have imagined, because of his family’s Jewish origin, the trials and tribulations and horrific losses of parents and siblings experienced by his Hungarian Holocaust survivor grandparents, and the unique basketball career in America of his father Ernie, who achieved incredible success on and off the court, following his immigration from Communist Romania to the United States at the age of nine. Rather than purposely ignoring or conveniently forgetting  these painful aspects of his family history, Dan embraced them all, and they became highly significant factors, which motivated him to try and emulate his father’s athletic achievements, even though his natural athletic abilities did not measure up to those of his Dad. It also made him determined to share his grandparents’ Holocaust and postwar travails in great detail to highlight their incredible resilience and fortitude. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first book about American college and pro basketball, whose real heroes are an elderly couple of Holocaust survivors.

Eye on the Ball. Ernie Grunfeld hugs his children, Rebecca, 12, and the author, Danny, 9, at a news conference in Harrison, New York, July 21, 1993. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

The story of the Grunfeld family begins in the village of Micula, in rural Transylvania, then part of Romania, on the border with Hungary. As Dan describes it:

 “there was natural beauty, but no running water, electricity or cars…Toilets were holes in the ground with makeshift wooden seats.”

Anyu, Dan’s grandmother was one of ten children, five boys and five girls. The family was modern Orthodox and relatively well-off, and appeared to be living an almost idyllic, if technologically primitive, life. The problems began in 1940 when Northern Transylvania was transferred from Romania to Hungary, in the framework of the Second Vienna Award. Within a year, the Hungarians began drafting Jewish males of military age to serve in the labor battalions, many of which were sent to accompany the Hungarian soldiers serving on the Eastern front. Their conditions were absolutely terrible, and Anyu’s oldest brother Ernie was purposely poisoned to death by a sadistic antisemitic commander in a labor camp in Ukraine.

Tragedy to Trophies. Ernie Grunfeld with his mother Anyu (Lily) Grunfeld in front of his trophy case. Ernie was named after his mother’s oldest brother who was purposely poisoned to death by a sadistic anti-Semitic commander in a labor camp in Ukraine. (Courtesy)

These problems paled, however, to the horrific situation following the Nazi invasion of Hungary on March 19, 1944. Within two months, the Nazis began rounding up all the Jews living outside Budapest, and deporting them to be murdered in Auschwitz. In Dan’s detailed description of Anyu’s survival in the Hungarian capital, his grandmother showed incredible resourcefulness, not only in saving herself and her sisters, but assisting other Jews by obtaining for them the Schutz-Passe documents issued by Swedish diplomat Raul Wallenberg, which spared their bearers from deportation.

Swedish Savior. When Dan and his grandmother Anyu visit the Holocaust Museum, the first place they go is the corner honoring Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved Anyu’s life twice as she evaded the Nazis in the Budapest ghetto. “My grandmother still talks about him to this day.”

After the Russians liberated Budapest, Anyu headed home with one of her siblings, only to realize that most of her family had been murdered and almost every single one of their possessions had been robbed by their non-Jewish neighbors. She married a fellow survivor and tried to rebuild her life, but they realized that Communist Romania was not an ideal place to raise a Jewish family, and so after about a decade, they were able to emigrate to the United States and start all over again in Forest Hills, Queens. There the same values of hard work and resourcefulness served them well, and even the tragic loss of one of their two sons to leukemia did not break their spirits. It was in New York City, that their son Ernie achieved the American dream, starring in basketball at Forest Hills High, a success he replicated at University of Tennessee, which paved the way for his NBA career on and off the court, and set Dan on his path to try and match his father’s successes.

In a League of his Own. Ernie Grunfeld, star of the New York Knicks in October 22, 1982 is the only son of Holocaust survivors known to play in the National Basketball Association — or any other major American sports league.
(AP Photo/Joe Giza)

As someone who grew up in New York City fantasizing of achieving basketball history as the first Orthodox Jew to play in the NBA, despite totally lacking the skills required, I very much identified with Dan Grunfeld‘s quest to duplicate his father’s basketball career.

Aiming High. Ernie Grunfeld lifting Dan as a young boy who would emerge himself as a  pro basketball player in Israel, Europe and the United States, and the tournament MVP for the gold-medal-winning Team USA in the 2009 Maccabi Games. (Courtesy)

His quest was noble, albeit somewhat obsessive, but he did make it to the pros, at least in Europe. But as Dan himself will admit, and as the readers of his book will learn,  basketball is not the most important thing in life. The fact that he was able to beautifully convey his family history and remain loyal to his Jewish heritage, is the most valuable lesson from his journey.

Triumph Books: Chicago, Illinois, 2021, 2022, $20.00



By the Grace of the Game: The Holocaust, A Basketball Legacy, and an Unprecedented American Dream



About the writer:

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs.






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

HOW QUICKLY ORDINARY PEOPLE CAN TURN FROM LIVING ALONGSIDE TO EXTERMINATING EACH OTHER

Why the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre explores the history of the Holocaust and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda side by side.

By Tali Nates

(Based on an article first published online by DAFKADOTCOM )

In April 1994, while South Africans were jubilantly voting in the country’s first democratic elections, in Rwanda, a mere three and a half hours’ flight away, hundreds of thousands of Tutsi, as well as Hutu who opposed the genocide, were being slaughtered .

1994. Two countries in Africa. Two very different paths!

Not that South Africa’s transition to democracy has been easy. As xenophobic violence has shown, South Africans too have the potential for horrific violence against an “other”. 

In 2006, during one of my visits to Rwanda, a personal experience profoundly impacted my thinking on the creation of a future Centre. At a visit to Ntarama Church Genocide Memorial site where more than 5000 Tutsi were murdered, a young survivor, Cocous, was visibly upset. That morning we had also visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the last resting place of over 250 000 Tutsi, including his parents. Sitting with Cocous, who bears a large machete scar on his head, I shared my own family’s history. I told him about the murder of my grandmother Leah Turner and my two aunts, Cela and Helen. My father Moses and his brother Henryk were rescued by Oskar Schindler, but the rest of the family were murdered in the Holocaust. He touched my face in disbelief saying:

“and still after that, genocide happened in my country?”

We spoke about the words ‘Never again’ placed on every memorial to the murdered Tutsi around Rwanda. They sounded hollower than ever.

Never again, yet again?

That encounter persuaded me that any museum in South Africa dedicated to the Holocaust and genocide had to include the story of Rwanda. ​

Personal Horrors. Sylvestre Sendacyeye, survivor from Rwanda, next to the Memorial for the Tutsi who were murdered in the genocide. (Photograph: Catherine Boyd)

This conversation took place while we were reflecting on the importance of memorialising the Holocaust and genocides in the 20th century and how to make such immense human catastrophes feel resonant, relevant and ‘personal’ to South Africans in the twenty-first century. Around the world museums are emerging more and more as institutions dedicated to facilitating human rights awareness and education, dialogue, and debate; we hoped that the Centre would encourage South Africans to grapple with our own history (and how that continues to inform our present), within the context of broader histories.

With or without our intervention, the Holocaust is present in South African public life. In 2007, the Department of Education included the study of ‘Nazi Germany and the Holocaust’ in the South African national social sciences and history curriculum for Grade 9 and 11 (15 and 17 years old). By first learning about the Holocaust and then about Apartheid, they hoped students would have a better understanding of human rights, peace and democracy. All good in theory, but to make this really work requires a huge amount of education before the first lesson is even presented. Much of the essential preparation is provided by three independent Centres, all under a national association, the South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation. The first Centre was opened in Cape Town (1999) and a second one was established in Durban (2008). The Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre was officially opened in March 2019 but operated from temporary offices since 2008.

Illuminating Darkness. The Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre sheds light on the holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda.(Photo JHGC, Johannesburg)

In order to offer visitors a deeper understanding of recent genocides, the core exhibition, developed over many years, covers more generally genocides in the 20th century, starting in 1904 with the Herero and Nama genocide in Namibia and the Genocide of Christian Armenians beginning in 1915. It also looks at the development of the word genocide and explores the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and its aftermath. Finally, the exhibition connects to current human rights abuses in South Africa, particularly xenophobia and racism.

The iconic building is replete with symbolism. Its South African architect, Lewis Levin reflected:

How can the language of architecture be recruited to describe and symbolize the terrible events that took place in Kigali and Auschwitz?”

Asking Holocaust and Rwandan survivors what symbols they would like to see represented in the building, Levin recalls:

The first images that emerged from our discussions were those of trains, railway lines and the vast transportation network of Europe that was employed and diverted to haul people to their deaths. Trains and railways, once a symbol of industrial progress, in the eyes of 20th century modernists, were transformed by the Nazis and their collaborators into a vast killing machine. In Africa, the railways that represented the great dream of the colonialists, not only brought along empire, but also oppression and human misery”.

The building’s façade is lined with railway lines embedded in concrete and rock. The railway, a symbol of modernity and progress, as well as oppression and suffering, is a strong reminder of genocide, a man-made catastrophe.

 “The next images that haunted the survivors,” Levin continued, “were the forests and landscapes of death. The Nazis murdered Jews and others within the panoramas of the European landscapes, often in lyrical forest settings. In Rwanda, the genocide took place in a spectacular landscape of lush green vegetation and terraced hills”. Indigenous yellowwood trees wrap the building from all sides. As you enter the foyer, the railway lines disappear into voids, memorialising the loss and scars of genocide.

Story of a Survivor. Doris Lurie, survivor from Vienna, Austria, with her son Peter next to her portrait and story. (Photo: Catherine Boyd)

LOOKING IN AND LOOKING OUT

​The permanent exhibition area has wide, high windows, unlike many other museums that present this history in darkness. The design invites the visitor to remember that genocide does not happen only in the dark but in broad daylight while neighbours are watching. It challenges them to explore their role as bystanders today and encourages them to move to action. The exhibition journey ends in a Garden of Reflection with a soundscape, Remember/Zachor/Ibuka, by renowned South African composer Philip Miller, with music, songs and testimony of survivors of the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda.
 
The JHGC’s core exhibition and education programmes feature stories, photographs and artefacts of Johannesburg survivors that would not be found in any other museum in the world and are uniquely South African. The Centre collected many photographs, documents and objects from survivors of the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda. Genocide survivor Xavier Ngabo, for example, donated objects found with the remains of his mother Beatrice. In response to hearing his testimony, students sponsored his return to Rwanda to find the remains of his parents and bury them. 

Processing Evil. Most important are South Africa’s students, who will be tomorrow’s leaders, to visit the Holocaust Centre.(Photo Catherine Boyd)

The JHGC recorded hours of testimonies from Holocaust and Rwandan survivors. For many of the Rwandan survivors, when filmed, it was the first time they told their story – 20 years after the genocide. Holocaust and genocide survivors are also among the Centre’s volunteers and share their testimonies with students at schools, colleges and universities.

One recent student is 21-year-old Mikateko Mnene, in her final year at the University of Johannesburg; studying a Bachelors in Education degree, who describes her visit to the JHGC in April 2022 as “eye-opening” in that the experience “made us more aware that stereotypes, even though seemingly insignificant, can turn into mass persecution and murder. This is exactly what happened to the Jews.”

“Never Again”. Studying to be a teacher,  Holocaust Centre visitor Mikateko Mnene believes we need to educate“the world can become a better place.”

Struck firstly by how “such atrocious cruelties could ever happen, but they did and they can again if we do not make a stand and watch each other’s backs,”  Mikateko draws the lesson of her visit to what is happening closer to home when she says:

 “This experience also made us more aware of the current issues we are facing in South Africa and how the xenophobic stereotypes we are seeing now should not be taken lightly.”

She says that as a teacher in training:

I paid great attention to how the Holocaust affected children and teachers, and how the education sector was infiltrated to support and promote antisemitism. I realised the power and influence of teachers and the education sector. Loving children so much, it was so painful to read about the children in the ghettos and camps and how some of them were used for medical experiments through which some died. I am inspired by the few teachers who tried to continue teaching the children. I asked myself as a teacher, what would I have done? I strongly believe that if we could all do our bit to stand for what is right and just in our different career sectors, the world can become a better place.”

Auschwitz survivor and writer, Primo Levi’s words greet visitors as they enter the JHGC:

It happened therefore it can happen again; this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere”.

When visitors leave the Centre these words feel ever more painfully relevant.



About the Writer:

Tali Nates is the founder and director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre. She is a historian who lectures internationally on Holocaust education, genocide prevention, reconciliation and human rights. She has published many articles and contributed chapters to different books, among them God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors (2015) and Remembering The Holocaust in Educational Settings (2018)






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

LITHUANIAN JEWS ARE STILL AVOIDING THEIR COUNTRY’S HOLOCAUST DISTORTION

What a shame that those who work to bring Lithuania’s large-scale participation in Holocaust crimes to light cannot be honored by the Jewish community there

By Dr. Efraim Zuroff

[Courtesy of “The Times of Israel“]

Last week, the Lithuanian Jewish community hosted the “Fifth World Litvak Congress” in Vilnius (Vilna) from Sunday, May 22 until Thursday, May 26. In theory, the event is open to any Jew of Lithuanian origin and anyone who has a meaningful connection to the history, politics, or culture of Lithuanian Jewry. 

The program featured an opening event in the Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament), cultural events, as well as visits to Kaunas (Kovno), Panevezys (Ponevitch), Seduva (my grandmother’s birthplace), and other sites of Jewish interest. The congress was also addressed by Lithuanian politicians, such as Seimas Speaker Viktorija Čmilyté-Nielsen, the patron of the congress, foreign experts on combatting antisemitism, such as European Commissioner Katharina Von Schnurbein and former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, as well as scholars who are experts on aspects of Lithuanian Jewish history, such as American Professor David Fishman and Israeli Dr. Ben-Tsiyon Klibansky

The program even included presentations which addressed the ostensibly most controversial subjects regarding Jewish history in Lithuania, those dealing with the role of Lithuanians in the Holocaust. Thus, for example, Faina Kukliansky, the chairperson of the local Jewish community for close to a decade, was allotted all of 15 minutes for the important topic of “Thirty Years of History, Problems and Challenges of the Lithuanian Jewish Community”, and Lithuanian professor Violeta Davoliūte of Vilna University was given a whole quarter of an hour to speak about “Memory of the Shoah.”

Diluting the Truth. Lithuanian professor  Violeta Davoliūtė of Vilna University was allotted only 15 minutes to speak about “Memory of the Shoah” as was Faina Kukliansky, the chairperson of the local Jewish community on her important topic of “Thirty Years of History, Problems and Challenges of the Lithuanian Jewish Community”.

In other words, the congress had no intention of exposing, let alone attempting to deal, with the dangerous problem of Lithuanian Holocaust distortion, which has plagued the country since it regained its independence from the Soviet Union in March 1990. Given the fact that the local Jewish community numbers less than 5,000 members, and suffers from internal dissension, one cannot blame them for staging an event, which is a festival of celebration of a community doomed to extinction, highlighting the renovation of synagogues in communities without a single Jew, which will never again fulfill their original purpose.

Ironically, a different event sponsored by the Igud Yotzei Lita (Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel) was held in Tel Aviv the previous week, attracting a large crowd of Litvaks, anxious to combat the false narrative promoted for the last three decades by the Lithuanian government, which minimizes the extremely significant role of local collaborators, and glorifies Holocaust perpetrators who led the post-World War II fight against the Soviet occupation.

The guests of honor were two descendants of Lithuanian citizens, both currently residing in the United States, who were not invited to attend, let alone present, at the current Litvak World Congress, and not by accident. Both are determined to do whatever they can to persuade the Lithuanian authorities to honestly confront the large-scale participation of Lithuanians in Holocaust crimes, and thereby earned the disdain of Lithuanian officials, which naturally affects the attitude of the local Jewish community. 

The star of the event was Silvia Foti, the granddaughter of one of the biggest Lithuanian national heroes, Jonas Noreika, who was a leader of the post-World War II opposition to the Soviets, but played a key role in Holocaust crimes as the local liaison with the Nazis in northwest Lithuania. Her story is truly amazing. 

Raised in Marquette Park, Chicago, the largest concentration of Lithuanians outside Vilnius, Silvia imbibed the deep adulation of her grandfather by her Lithuanian émigré neighbors, and grew up in an ultra-patriotic Lithuanian family. At the deathbed request of her mother, who had originally undertaken to write her father’s biography, Silvia began to research her grandfather’s life, only to discover his key role, in the mass murder of thousands of Jews. Instead of abandoning the project, Silvia was determined to fully clarify his past, and ultimately realized that her beloved ancestor was indeed a Nazi war criminal. The result was her illuminating book:

The Nazi’s Granddaughter

How I Discovered That My Grandfather Was a War Criminal.

The Troubled Truth. Silvia Foti began to research her revered Lithuanian grandfather’s life, only to discover that her beloved ancestor was indeed a Nazi war criminal participating in the mass murder of Jews. The result was her illuminating book, which Lithuania prefers no-one to read.

The second guest of honor was Grant Gochin, a Litvak born in South Africa, currently residing in Los Angeles, who lost practically his entire family in the area where Noreika collaborated with the Nazis. Ever since he discovered Noreika’s role in the murders, he has waged a legal battle against the Lithuanian government to force them to cancel the numerous honors bestowed upon the man. He has submitted such suits to Lithuanian and international courts, and a current suit is under consideration at the United Nations. When Silvia found the initial evidence regarding her grandfather’s crimes, she reached out to Grant, who has devoted much effort to assisting her with the publication and promotion of her book, which has attracted worldwide attention and been published in several languages, including, quite recently, in Lithuanian.

Message Muted. Why were these well-received US guests-of-honor at an ‘Association of Lithuanian Jews’ event in May 2022 in Tel Aviv, Israel – Grant Gochin (left) and Silvia Foti – NOT invited to attend a week later the ‘Litvak World Congress in Lithuania’? Clearly, there is a reluctance in Lithuania to provide public platforms to these strong advocates  set on exposing the false narrative by the Lithuanian government, which downplays the magnitude of local collaboration during WWII and glorifies Holocaust perpetrators who later emerged as heroes in their subsequent fight against Soviet occupation. (courtesy)

Both Silvia and Grant were given the standing ovation they well deserved by a very appreciative audience of Litvaks, who are sick of the lies and false narrative of the Holocaust promoted by the Lithuanian government. They are part of a group of truth-tellers in Lithuania, determined to fight for the accurate account of the tragedy of Lithuanian Jewry, such as Prof. Dovid Katz, and Prof. Pinchos Fridberg, and ethnic Lithuanians like Ruta Vanagaite (who was the first to deal with this issue after discovering that her family were participants in Holocaust crimes) and researcher Evaldas Balčiūnas. None of them were invited to speak at the Litvak Congress, but their efforts will ultimately count more than any of the speeches delivered in Vilnius last week.

Other Voices Unheard. The writer and Nazi-hunter, Dr. Efraim Zuroff (right) with Ruta Vanagaite, who was among the first  to expose the whitewashing by successive Lithuanian governments of the huge extent of Lithuanian complicity in Holocaust crimes after discovering that members of her family were participants. She co-authored an exposè of the cover-up with Dr. Zuroff, entitled (in English) Our People; Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), which was a best-seller in Lithuanian. Neither of the authors were invited to address last week’s Litvak World Congress in Vilnius.




About the writer:

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs.






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Has Israeli TV lost all interest in Nazi-hunting?

The toughest “nut to crack” is Israeli television

By Dr. Efraim Zuroff

First appeared in The Jerusalem Post (Courtesy, permission granted)

Practically every person who works in the field of Holocaust commemoration, research, education and activism is well-aware that there are only two weeks a year that the local media are truly interested in stories about various aspects of the Shoah. One is the week of Yom Hashoah, Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed on the 27th day of the month of Nissan in the Jewish calendar, six days after the end of Passover, which was chosen because it was a date during which the Warsaw Ghetto revolt took place. 

The revolt started on April 19, 1943, which was the eve of Passover and lasted until approximately the 5th of Iyar, the day on which Israeli independence was declared five years later.

The second is the week of January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1945, which was established as an international memorial day by the United Nations in 2005.

Tracking Mass Murderers. Pursuing a 90-year-old Dane suspected of being involved in the mass murder of Jews in Belarus during World War II, Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff talks to the media outside a Copenhagen Police Station in Copenhagen on July 21 in 2016. (Anthon Unger, Polfoto via The Associated Press)

HEART-WRENCHING SUBJECT

These two weeks are like a breath of fresh air for the many hundreds of people in numerous different countries all over the world, who have dedicated their lives to various aspects of the Holocaust, and toil many hours a week dealing with a very painful, sensitive, and in many cases heart-wrenching subject. It is only natural therefore for many such individuals to look forward to these dates, and plan in advance, how to maximize the media’s biannual interest in Holocaust-related stories and issues.

I am no exception in this regard. Twice a year, I try to make sure to write at least one or two op-eds on various aspects of our continuing efforts to maximize justice and our fight against Holocaust distortion, which are the two main issues that our office concentrates on. So, for example, I arrange the publication of the findings of our annual report on “Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals” to coincide with the two weeks in which media interest is at its highest level.

Needless to say, as the number of Holocaust perpetrators diminishes due to age, there was less and less interest in the trials, although the dramatic change in German prosecution policy instituted slightly more than a decade ago, whereby death camp guards could be convicted of “accessory to murder” based on service alone, did result in some increased interest.

Eichmann Trial – A Living Record. Adolf Eichmann, the architect of Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution” for the extermination of the Jewish people being tried in 1961 in Jerusalem. Televised and broadcasted internationally, the trial served to educate a global viewership about the crimes committed against Jews

HOW DID 9 MINUTES TURN 3?

From my personal experience of directing the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for the past 36 years, the toughest “nut to crack”, has always been Israeli television, especially the morning talk shows. Several times over the past years, I had been contacted and asked to appear, only to be told the night before, that horadnu et ha-aytem (we dropped the topic).

Thus, I was very pleasantly surprised when Adi, the producer of Channel 13’s morning show Ha-Olam ha-Boker, called me almost three weeks before Yom Hashoah, in order to ensure my participation in the program slated for that day.

Justice for the Dead. Central to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, the late legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal pursued hundreds of war criminals after World War II and created a repository of concentration-camp testimonials and dossiers on Nazis at his Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna.

Also encouraging, was the fact that Shay, the researcher for the show, spent a total of well over an hour on the phone with me the day before to collect as many details and anecdotes as he could on the most interesting and exciting cases of the Nazi criminals whom I had helped to bring to justice.

He also provided the “icing on the cake”, when he assured me that my slot on the program would be nine minutes long, a very respectable length. In other words, it would be well worth my while to get up at 5 a.m. in order to arrive in Tel-Aviv on time.

Unfortunately, that was nowhere near the case. Nine minutes? Not even close. What happened was that I was supposed to follow an interview with former Israeli Supreme Court President, Aharon Barak, who at age eight was smuggled out of the Kovno Ghetto in Lithuania in a sack of potatoes.

As far as I could ascertain, the interview was supposed to last about 8-9 minutes, but ultimately was on the air for 15 minutes. This left only three minutes for my segment, which was unceremoniously ended by the 8:00 a.m. news, without my being able to relate almost any information of any value or interest.

Of course what should have happened, was that the interview should have continued after the news for at least 5-6 minutes, during which the audience could have received some valuable information. Judging from the stories of the guests who followed me on the program, which I heard discussed in the studio waiting room, none seemed to be of any unique or special significance.

Needless to say, at first I was personally very upset, but by a few hours later, it was obvious that to me that the problem had nothing to do with me, but rather was a far deeper problem, the lack of interest and concern in Israeli commercial television regarding the efforts to bring Nazis to justice. Or as I have often explained to foreign journalists, who were very surprised by the lack of interest in the subject by their Israeli TV colleagues:

 “In Israel, unless you’ve caught Mengele, you haven’t done anything.”

And in the same vein, I will never forget a comment by one of Israel’s top political TV journalists today, Amit Segal, when he was approached at the Demjanjuk trial in Munich in 2009 by two journalists from the French equivalent of 60 Minutes.

No Let-Up. “The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers,” says Efraim Zuroff, the writer and his Center’s top Nazi-hunter.
 

They had interviewed me in Jerusalem, accompanied me to the trial’s first session in Germany and asked Amit, “Why isn’t Zuroff famous in Israel?” He began to explain to them that the Holocaust is a very difficult subject, and so on, to which I replied:

 “Amit, I would have loved to bring Himmler to justice, but he committed suicide before I was born,” to which he replied quite pithily:

 “Ze lo tayrutz,” (That’s no excuse.)




About the writer:

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center – Israel office and Eastern European Affairs, and coordinator of the center’s Nazi war crimes research worldwide.







While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).