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September 3, 2014 / 8 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Ed Lion’

Fifty Years After Eichmann Execution, Israel Thrives

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Half a century ago in May, Israel hanged Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann for overseeing Germany’s extermination of six million European Jews, fully one-third of the world’s prewar Jewish population. The murder of the six million staggers the mind. Such a vast breadth of our people, each of them with his own individual dreams, loves and aspirations, exterminated.

The Nazi genocide was undertaken through a rail-linked infrastructure of concentration camps, ghettos and “liquidation sites” meticulously administered by SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolph Eichmann, chief of the Jewish Office of the Gestapo. At war’s end Eichmann was captured by U.S. soldiers but managed to hide his true identity and high-ranking role before escaping into the chaos of postwar Europe. He was mentioned during the 1946 Nuremburg trials but by then his trail had gone cold and the world at large seemingly forgot about him. Not, however, Israel and Holocaust survivors seeking justice.

In 1960 Mossad/Shin Bet chief Isser Harel investigated a series of tips on Eichmann’s possible whereabouts, including one from a blind man in Argentina who suspected his daughter was dating one of Eichmann’s sons unknowingly. The Mossad investigation found Eichmann was living under the name “Ricardo Klement” with his wife and four sons in Buenos Aires. Round-the-clock surveillance of the target was established and by April several agents, most of whom had lost family to the Nazis, sprang into action.

On May 11, 1960 as the man believed to be Eichmann got off a bus, the agents snatched him, forced him into a waiting car and sped off to a pre-arranged rented “safe house.” Under interrogation, he immediately admitted he was Adolph Eichmann. The agents kept him at the safe house for some nine days, chained to a bed.

The Mossad knew Argentina would never extradite Eichmann because it had received millions in Nazi bribe money and gold and was sympathetic to pro-Nazi German expatriates who had flocked there after the war. Because of this, the operation had been timed to coincide with Argentina’s 150th anniversary celebration attended by dignitaries from around the world – including an Israeli delegation who flew to South America on a chartered El Al flight. The plane provided an ideal way to smuggle Eichmann out of the country.

On the night of May 20, the empty El Al jetliner was parked on an airport tarmac when a limousine pulled up to the plane and a group in airline uniforms crowded up its steps. Eichmann, who had been sedated, was half-carried to a window seat. Soon the drugged Eichmann, watched over by his Mossad guards, was flying to a Jewish state on a Jewish airline, flown by a Jewish pilot. Quite a turn of events for the monster who during the war had worked so diligently to make the Jews into “an extinct people.”

The next day, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion tersely told the Knesset that the “Israeli secret service had located Eichmann” and he would be tried shortly. The announcement stunned the world and Jews everywhere celebrated. But many world leaders, accustomed to Jews being defenseless victims, were outraged by Israel’s bold action. Argentina immediately called for Eichmann’s return and the United Nations Security Council unanimously condemned Israel.

Israel, believing only it could dispense justice to Eichmann proceeded to put him on trial and assembled the prosecution’s case. For nine months the world was riveted as 112 survivors gave heartrending testimony in a Jerusalem courtroom on the suffering that Eichmann had unleashed on the Jewish people.

Sitting behind bulletproof Plexiglas, Eichmann remained impassive throughout the trial, claiming he had no personal hatred of Jews and had “only followed orders.”

In mid-December 1961 Eichmann was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death – the first and so far only time Israel dispensed capital punishment. Five months later, on May 31, 1962, he was marched from his prison cell to a specially constructed hanging platform, where a guard pulled a lever. Eichmann’s body was cremated and the ashes were scattered in the dark waters just beyond Israel’s national boundaries.

The man who had been chosen to act as executioner, a Yemeni Jew, was interviewed many years later on Israel Radio. “It was the greatest of mitzvahs,” he declared, “wiping out Amelek.”

Hannah Szenes And George Soros: A Study In Moral Contrasts

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

This is the story of two Hungarian Jews and their diametrically opposed responses to the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust. The reactions and their consequences for Israel and the Jewish people to this day bear examination.

One, Haganah heroine Hannah Szenes (often spelled Senesh) returned from the relative safety of Palestine to parachute into war-torn Europe in a courageous – yet ultimately doomed – bid to save her fellow Jews. Born in Budapest, Szenes became an ardent Zionist and went to Palestine at age 18 in 1939. She joined a kibbutz and the Haganah, becoming a member of the Palmach, its elite strike force.

With the war raging, the British military hatched a plan to drop Haganah fighters with radio transmitters into Yugoslavia to help in the intensifying battle between Tito’s partisans and the Nazis. Szenes willingly entered the dangerous battle, spending several months in Yugoslavia.

But with the Nazis occupying adjacent Hungry and gearing up their deportations of the Jews there, she crossed into her homeland, planning to help her brethren resist.

A short time after crossing the frontier, Szenes was arrested by Hungarian fascist soldiers, thrown into prison and charged with treason. The Nazis, not content to wait for a trial, summarily placed her before a firing squad. She refused a blindfold, bravely facing her executioners at age 23.

In 1950, her body was returned to Israel and she was buried among the heroes of the Jewish people on Har Herzl. A prolific poet, she had left a large body of her writings at her kibbutz and they are known widely in Israel. One, “Eli Eli,” an ode to love, hope and beauty, has been put to music and is now a haunting anthem to Yom HaShoah and the lost of the Holocaust.

The other Hungarian Jew, George Soros, now 80, is a billionaire financial wizard who runs a New York-based hedge fund. He moves international currency markets with his pronouncements and, through a maze of foundations and front groups, bankrolls and backs a slew of radical far-left campaigns intended to, in his words, “puncture the bubble of American supremacy.”

Just like Szenes, he was born to assimilated parents. His father changed the family name of Schwartz to Soros both to avoid anti-Semitism and to try to shed the family’s Jewishness. But faced with the Nazi occupation, his father realized there was no shedding the Nazis’ hatred. He saved his family by splitting them up, providing them with forged papers and false identities as Christians and bribing gentile families to take them in.

The young Soros, then fourteen, posed as the godson of an official of Hungary’s fascist regime – a member of the Agricultural Ministry. The official was assigned to deliver deportation notices to Jews and confiscate Jewish property and the young Soros accompanied him on his rounds.

In interviews and his memoir, Soros acknowledged he understood the gravity of what was occurring. Asked on CBS’s “60 Minutes” if it had psychologically scarred him, he said, “it created no problems at all.”

Of course, we who didn’t live through the nightmare of the Holocaust can’t say how we would react in such circumstances, but Szenes and Soros were both put to the test and their very different reactions are worth examination. Szenes’s selfless bravery has inspired hundreds of young Israelis to join paratroop commando units and fight for the Jewish people. Soros is now a leading Israel basher who calls Zionism “a tribal” behavior that turns Jews into “oppressors” of the Palestinians and creates worldwide anti-Semitism. He also is involved with the J Street lobby, which espouses positions commonly associated with the far fringes of anti-Israel rhetoric.

Both the Szenes and Soros stories are presently very much in the public discourse. Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City is running a multimedia exhibit on Szenes through next August. Conservative television and radio commentator Glenn Beck, a staunch Israel supporter, recently explored Soros’s history and political backing of radical causes. As a result, some in the Jewish community have charged Beck with anti-Semitism – a patently ridiculous accusation given his support of Israel during the Second Lebanon War and the Gaza blockade battle.

Sixty-five years after the Shoah and when Israel is encircled with enemies – including “delegitimize, boycott and divest” leftist campaigners in America – Jews should reflect on history and who our heroes and friends really are.

Conquering the Shoah: Reflections on the 70th Anniversary of My Father’s Deportation

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Seventy years ago this autumn, the Nazis rounded up my father, grandparents and some 6,000 other Jews, shipping them from southwest Germany to the Gurs internment camp in southern France.

The deportation in packed railway trains cast my family into an anguished struggle for survival and spelled the disappearance of an oft-forgotten segment of German-Jewry – the observant country folk of the Rhine River Valley.

To this day my father, Kurt Lion, now 84, remembers the 7 a.m. pounding on the family door, the cries of “Raus! Raus!” and his mother’s terror as they found six Nazis screaming on the doorstep.

It was October 22, 1940, and the Nazis had begun an operation to deport Jews from the Franco-German border region – including Germany’s Baden province where my father was born.

The Nazis shrieked for the Jews in my father’s village of Ihringen to assemble on the main street within twenty minutes – and each was only allowed to carry a small suitcase of belongings.

My father remembers that a crowd of the gentile villagers had turned out to gape at the expulsion of Ihringen’s last remaining Jews – but some did more than gape, seeing them off with cruel jeers.

Vibrant Jewish Life

At my father’s birth in 1926, the village of about 3,500 people had some 250 observant Jews, engaging mostly in farming and commerce. Most of Germany’s half million pre-war Jews lived in the bigger cities and were decidedly assimilated.

Not so with the country Jews farming along the Rhine River. But because of their small numbers, history has largely overlooked them and their lives characterized by cattle and vegetable farming, wine-making and small-scale commerce mingled with Torah observance.

In his earlier years my grandfather had been a kosher butcher and chef who had worked in a hotel in Karlsruhe – a German equivalent of Grossinger’s. By middle age, he engaged in cattle dealing and farming in Ihringen.

His brother Benjamin ran the kosher butcher shop in the village. He even exported kosher meat to nearby Basel, Switzerland because the Swiss restricted kosher butchering.

My father’s maternal uncles ran a large kosher wine- and vinegar-making business. Their father, Jacob Guggenheim, had, in his younger years back in the 1800s, single-handedly saved Ihringen’s important grape crop from a blight threatening the region’s vineyards. Knowledgeable in agriculture, he grafted hardier stock onto the vines, ensuring they could withstand the disease.

For the rest of his life, he was honored with the nickname “The Master” by area Jews and gentiles alike who gratefully remembered his rescue of the village’s grapevines.

My father’s earliest memories are of friendly interaction between Ihringen’s mostly Protestant population and its Jewish community, one of the biggest among the region’s villages.

Ihringen’s concentration of Jews was reflected in its large well-kept Jewish cemetery filled with Hebrew-inscribed gravestones, the final resting place for some 1,000 souls.

My father remembers his early childhood visits there, the tidy plots and grave markers studded with piles of small stones, a sign of the living honoring the dead in a tradition linking the generations.

The most visible marker of Ihringen’s thriving Jewish community was its century-old three-story synagogue, one of the most prominent buildings in the village. My father remembers gazing up at its stained glass windows and depictions of the twelve tribes of Israel when he prayed and studied there with his father.

During my father’s earliest years, Jews continued to enjoy prosperity and peace in Ihringen and throughout the region.

Persecution, Deportation and Death

But that all changed with Hitler’s rise, with Nazi laws stripping Jews of all rights, and with Kristallnacht, when the synagogue was burned to the ground. My grandfather and his brothers were held for several months in Dachau. My grandfather, then in his late 60s, never recovered his health though his spirit remained unbroken.

During this terrible time, Ihringen’s Jewish population had steadily shrunk as many moved to the anonymity of bigger towns and the more fortunate secured visas to emigrate. By 1937, my father’s two elder sisters were among the latter, managing to relocate to New York City.

But on that fateful morning of October 22, 1940, my father, grandparents and the other Ihringen Jews were subjected to an ordeal that remains vivid in my father’s mind.

SS officers backed by rifle-toting soldiers escorted the Jews to the village hall and announced their expulsion while their neighbors looked on. My father remembers that a number of them showed sadness, but none said a word of protest.

Others in the crowd shouted anti-Semitic slogans. The most hateful were the teen-aged boys, proudly sporting Hitler Youth uniforms and taunting the deportees. One spit at my father and jeered, “You’ll be dead soon, Jew!”

At this point, when my father recounts the scene, his voice seems to change from that of an old man to the teenager he was seventy years ago. He proudly recalls that he spit right back at the German and answered, “I’ll be back to bury you!”

My family and the others were forced onto a truck and driven to a nearby town where the Germans had gathered up another thousand Jews from the area. Without explanation they were crammed into an old passenger train with blacked-out windows.

So began a terrifying four-day journey with little food, pails for toilets and conditions so crowded that many had to stand or sit in the aisles. Today my father’s voice grows hoarse remembering the suffering of the sick and elderly on that train and the stunned faces of people who had ridden that same rail system in times past, times of normalcy that were now gone forever.

The stop-and-go journey, plagued by numerous delays, ended some 800 miles to the southwest in remote southern France. There, the French Vichy government had set up internment camps on the orders of the Germans.

For the next 18 months, my father endured lice, hunger and deprivation as he nursed his ailing parents, first in the Gurs camp, later at Rivesaltes two hundred miles away. His father, Philip, 69, died from the horrible conditions; his mother Rosa was eventually transported to Auschwitz where she was gassed. She was 59.

Both had reiterated to him the same burning wish – that someday he make it to America for a new life and a reunion with his sisters. My father, just 16 then, vowed to survive and avenge his parents’ suffering.

Escape – and Striking Back

At Rivesaltes, he was forced to hide in crawlspaces to evade the SS squads that increasingly sought young Jews for lethal work details. Certain he must flee to live, he slipped away with falsified papers provided by a Swiss nun permitted to do charity work at the camp.

The nun vowed to save as many lives as she could and the papers classified my father as “French-born.” This enabled him to secure a place in an agricultural school run by the Jewish refugee charity ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation and Training) on a farm 300 miles to the north in La Roche.

After four months, my father was suddenly arrested and taken to the Casseneul holding depot for shipment to a concentration camp. But that night, he managed to escape by squirming through a sewage pipe and jumping into a nearby river.

Attaining freedom, he lived on foraged food and eventually was able to get identity papers for himself under a gentile name. With this alias, he found work as a laborer for a farmer in a village in East-Central France.

There, he managed to replenish his strength. But with his increased strength, something else within him grew stronger – his desire to strike back against the Germans for their crimes.

And strike back my father did, first by attacking German troops while fighting in the French Underground. Later, after D-Day, when the underground was formalized into a reconstituted French military, he served as an aerial gunner in an American-supplied “Free French” B-17 bomber that rained explosives on Germany in raids coordinated by the U.S. Air Force.

After a dozen successful bomber missions, my father’s plane was shot down and he ended the war performing other duties for the French military.

Conquering the Shoah

With Germany’s surrender, he returned to Ihringen in a French military jeep and found the Jewish cemetery there vandalized.

The villagers were wary at seeing a uniformed French military man. But their wariness turned to outright fear when they recognized him – a Jew deported from the village five years before but now returned with the conquering Allies.

With a hand on his rifle, he ordered those who had gathered around his jeep to clean up the cemetery. A few had been there jeering at his expulsion and now they trembled, their faces drained of color.

“You’re not so big now, are you?” my father said. “Go clean up the cemetery. I’ll be coming back to check.”

The villagers, still white-faced, nodded in wordless fear.

He was stationed in the area and returned several times to the village over the next few weeks. And soon the cemetery was indeed cleaned up.

Another victory for my father in those months after Germany’s collapse was the help he was able to provide Jewish refugees newly freed from the concentration camps. Jewish soldiers from among the Allies, most notably the British army’s “Jewish Brigade” drawn from Palestine, had set up a smuggling network; my father worked with it to help refugees escape the graveyard of Europe.

With his French military status he had access to military vehicles and “borrowed” them for what he called “unauthorized refugee transport.” In concert with the smuggling network, he made numerous trips taking refugees, hidden under blankets, from inside Germany across the Rhine River to the French city of Strasbourg.

During a furlough, he revisited the ORT school in La Roche, where the Nazis had arrested him. Now he happily discovered it was being used as a place to prepare freed camp inmates for transport to Israel. A Zionist shaliach lived there, teaching Hebrew and farming skills.

My father had a French military van at his disposal and was able to transport a number of the refugees to a beach outside Marseilles, where they awaited boat pick-ups for clandestine crossings to Palestine.

A few months after that furlough, in April 1946, my father immigrated to the United States.

Just as his parents had wished, he reunited with his sisters. In the ensuing years, he married my late mother Giselle, herself a Holocaust survivor, raised my two sisters and me in northern New Jersey and crafted a successful career as a textile designer.

In 1969, my father visited Israel for a joyful reunion with a man who had been in the camps with him.

At the reunion, my father was amazed and delighted to see several familiar faces – a few of the other boys who had been at the ORT school with him. They had been bedraggled refugees when he knew them. But now they were Israelis, citizens of the thriving Jewish state, which gave my father enormous satisfaction.

Three years later in 1972 my parents traveled to Europe and visited Ihringen with a dual aim – my father wished to show his birthplace to my mother and also “to show the Germans in the village that I was still around and doing just fine.”

They immediately paid their respects at the Jewish cemetery and discovered it choked with weeds. My father angrily stormed into the village hall and confronted the burghermeister.

“You Germans made sure there weren’t any Jews left here to take care of our graves,” my father fumed. “So now the responsibility falls to you to do it, to treat them with respect.”

Stung, the burghermeister nodded his assent. As he did, my father suddenly noticed a carved wooden clock hanging on the wall above the desk. It was the very same clock that had hung in his parlor throughout his childhood, a century-old timepiece that his father had carefully maintained.

Reaching up, my father lifted the clock from the wall and pointed to marks on the back identifying it as “Lion property.”

My father brought that clock back home with him. Ever since, it has had pride of place hanging in my father’s living room, its hourly chime poignantly cutting across the years.

When my father had arrived in America, his only pre-war possession was a small Hebrew-German prayer book, a memento of his lost Jewish life in Ihringen.

Five years ago when his grandson, Sam, became bar mitzvah, my father brought our family to tears by presenting the book to him with a heartfelt message.

My father explained that his bar mitzvah had occurred less than six months after Kristallnacht when German Jewry was perched on the very brink of extinction.

The tiny prayer book, inscribed “from the Jews of Ihringen” was the sole present my father received for his bar mitzvah – and he cherished it. So much so that on that terrible October morning when his family was expelled to the camps, he took the prayer book with him. Throughout the war, he managed to keep it safe.

He hid the book in his clothing, stashed it near where he slept or buried it.

After he landed his farm laborer job, he hid the book under a loose brick in the farmer’s wine cellar.

The book remained there undetected until the war ended. In early 1946, preparing to immigrate to America, he returned to retrieve it.

For most of his life here, my father kept the book in a night table by his bed. But five years ago he decided to pass it along to his grandson to mark the boy’s bar mitzvah.

In an emotional note, my father told Sam that “All of our relatives, the living and even those who passed long before” would rejoice at his bar mitzvah. “They would be proud,” he said, that Sam would be carrying the family into a new generation, the latest link in the chain of Jewish continuity.

And then, with a smile of love and pride, my father presented his grandson with the book, an embodiment of his own survival and, in a wider sense, that of the Jewish people.

Ed Lion, formerly a reporter with United Press International, is a writer who lives in the Poconos.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/conquering-the-shoah-reflections-on-the-70th-anniversary-of-my-fathers-deportation/2010/11/17/

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