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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Holocaust’

Considering future, Claims Conference weighs shutting down vs. Holocaust education

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

A special panel tasked with examining the governance and strategic vision of the Claims Conference is recommending that the organization shift its long-term focus to Holocaust education and remembrance, JTA has learned.

The panel was appointed last year following a scandal involving the Claims Conference’s failure to detect a $57 million fraud scheme there that persisted until 2009. It also recommended cutting in half the size of the board’s executive committee and the number of special board committees.

The special panel did not, however, recommend any changes to the composition of the Claims Conference’s board, which critics have complained is unrepresentative because it does not include enough Israeli or survivor groups and includes too many once-robust Jewish organizations that are quite small today.

The new recommendations, outlined in two hefty documents sent to Claims Conference board members last week and this week and obtained by JTA, will go to a vote when the board holds its annual meeting in New York on July 8.

Consisting of board members and outside experts and guided by Accenture consultants, the special panel was charged with reviewing the administration, management and governance structure of the Claims Conference, which obtains Holocaust restitution and compensation from Germany and Austria. The central question the panel examined was what the Claims Conference should do after the last of the survivors dies.

Three possible courses of action were given serious consideration: shutting down; funding education and remembrance projects; or shifting its focus to general Jewish educational programming, helping victims of other genocides obtain restitution or preserving Jewish cultural sites in the former Soviet Union.

Given the Claims Conference’s successes at convincing Germany to increase its funding for survivors, the panel concluded that “to close down without attempting to leverage its position and significant experience in the service of Holocaust education and remembrance would be to miss a major opportunity.”

In an interview with JTA, the Claims Conference’s chief executive, Greg Schneider, emphasized that Holocaust education isn’t new to the Claims Conference: The organization currently funds education and remembrance to the tune of $18 million per year with money obtained from the sale of unclaimed Jewish properties in the former East Germany.

“The Claims Conference has always dealt with the consequences of the Shoah,” Schneider said of the board’s mandate for the organization. “When that meant direct payments to survivors, we did that. When that meant rebuilding communities, we did that. When that meant home care [for elderly survivors], we did that. Educating people about the Shoah and confronting Holocaust denial all deal with consequences of the Shoah. To be faithful to our mandate, we should continue to do that. And we are uniquely qualified to do so.”

The new vision for the Claims Conference hinges on the organization’s ability to get material support for it from the perpetrators of the Holocaust — namely Germany, but also Austria and companies complicit in the Nazi genocide. If that funding cannot be secured, the Claims Conference should go out of business once there are no survivors left, Schneider said.

“If we’re unable to get money from perpetrator governments, and the survivors have all died, we should close down,” he said. “We should not try to reinvent ourselves into something else.”

Stuart Eizenstat, a lead Claims Conference negotiator and special assistant to Secretary of State John Kerry on Holocaust issues, said he’s optimistic about getting Germany to support the proposed new focus, noting that the country already does so through mandatory Holocaust education in German schools.

“There’s every reason to think that they would be supportive of this,” Eizenstat said. “After all the survivors are gone this is the right thing to do.”

Though survivors are dying, their overall need for aid actually is rising because of their growing infirmity and relative poverty. The Claims Conference estimates that survivor needs will peak in about two or three years, followed by a progressive decline.

Globally there are an estimated 500,000 living Nazi victims — a category that includes not just survivors of concentration camps, ghettos and slave labor camps but also those forced to flee the Nazi onslaught, compelled to go into hiding or who endured certain others forms of persecution. About half are expected to die in the next seven or eight years, according to a new demographic assessment that was part of the special panel’s work, and survivors of some kind or another are expected to be around for another 20-25 years.

The debate about what to do about the Claims Conference once the last of the survivors dies is not new. Established in 1951 to secure compensation and restitution from Germany, the Claims Conference has negotiated successfully for an estimated $70 billion for survivors and survivor needs over the course of its existence.

Most of that money has come directly from Germany in the form of pensions and compensation payments, with the Claims Conference acting only as the processor of payments and verifier of claims (this latter area is where the $57 million fraud occurred). As each survivor dies, these payments cease.

The Claims Conference also has a bucket of discretionary funding: billions generated from the sale of heirless Jewish property from the former East Germany. But that bucket, known as the Successor Organization, is expected to run dry by 2020 at its current annual allocation rate of about $118 million to groups that aid survivors and $18 million to Holocaust education and remembrance.

In 2004, the Claims Conference managed to get Germany to begin to fund a new area: home care for survivors, including food, transportation and medical care. Berlin has steadily increased the amount of money it provides the program, from $42 million in 2009 to $190 million in 2013. Last year Germany agreed to another $800 million in funding through 2017.

If the Claims Conference board adopts the new plan next month, the question for Claims Conference negotiators is whether they’ll be able to get Germany to move into another new area — one that, unlike aid to aging survivors, has no particular expiration date.

“I believe the good will is there,” said Julius Berman, the Claims Conference’s chairman. “Their issue is more in terms of budget rather than concept. If we do a correct job to explain the need, I think we’ll have a receptive audience on the other side.”

The mandate for reexamining the Claims Conference’s future and governance grew out of a public storm a year ago over the discovery that the organization had conducted two investigations in 2001 into questionable conduct that failed to uncover a massive fraud scheme being perpetrated by a senior Claims Conference official. The fraud continued unabated until Claims Conference leaders discovered it in late 2009. In all, 31 people pleaded guilty or were found guilty in connection with the scheme, which resulted in $57 million in illegitimate payouts by Germany.

A Claims Conference probe last year into the bungled 2001 investigations proved highly controversial when it was disavowed by two of its four committee members and then rebutted in a 21-page missive by Schneider. In the end, the Claims Conference board elected to end its reexamination of the 2001 episode and rebuffed proposals to open up to any additional outside oversight.

The committees that oversaw this most recent Claims Conference reexamination process were, however, led by outsiders. The strategic vision committee was chaired by Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Charles and Andrea Bronfman Philanthropies, and the governance committee was chaired by Michael Miller, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. The committees themselves included outsiders as well as Claims Conference board members.

 

Yad Vashem Recognizes First Peruvian Righteous Gentile

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Yad Vashem recognized its first Righteous Among the Nations from Peru.

Israel’s national Holocaust memorial on Thursday posthumously honored Jose Maria Barreto, a diplomat in Switzerland who used his position to attempt to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. A ceremony for Barreto will be held at a future date, Yad Vashem said in a statement.

As the consul general of Peru in Geneva, Barreto issued 27 Peruvian passports to 58 Jews, including 14 children, even though the government of Peru by 1938 had given instructions to its consulates in Europe not to issue visas to foreign immigrants — with an emphasis on barring Jews in particular.

Barreto was acting on the request of Abraham Silberschein, the head of RELICO, a Jewish relief organization in Switzerland funded by the World Jewish Congress, to issue Peruvian passports for Jews under German occupation.

Silberschein in a letter from August 1943 said, “Mr. Barreto, deeply moved by the suffering of millions of human beings in the occupied countries, wished to participate in helping to alleviate the plight of these innocent people, and decided to agree and provide us with a certain number of passports so that we could send them to different persons in the countries under German control. Mr. Barreto was convinced that by this highly humane deed he would save a number of people.”

That year, the Peruvian foreign minister canceled the passports and ordered the closure of the Peruvian consulate in Geneva. In addition, Barreto was fired and dismissed from Peru’s Foreign Ministry.

Is A Second Holocaust Possible?

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Is a second Holocaust possible? While not all hate-mongering leads to mass murder, history shows that genocide is usually preceded by continuous demonization of the eventual victims.

Never in history had the psychological infrastructure for genocide been prepared more thoroughly than it was before the Holocaust. In his book The Devil and the Jews, Joshua Trachtenberg summarized how Medieval Christendom viewed the Jew: as a “sorcerer, murderer, cannibal, poisoner, blasphemer.”

Experts on Jesus’s lifetime know that in Roman times the Jews had no power to kill anyone. However, the false accusation of deicide persists to this day. The Nazis and their allies added another accusation of absolute evil: “Jews are subhuman.” The culmination of the extreme defamation was the slaughter of six million Jews.

The newest accusation against the Jews of absolute evil is the claim that they behave like Nazis. As I pointed out in my recent book Demonizing Israel and the Jews, at least 150 million people in the European Union think Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians or, alternatively, behaves toward them like the Nazis did to the Jews.

A major study in 2013 by the Fundamental Rights Agency shows that due to increasing anti-Semitism in Europe a substantial number of Jews frequently or always hide their identity in public. In Sweden and France, the majority of Jews do so.

This is not to suggest that European Jewry is in danger. It remains highly unlikely that there will be a second European Holocaust against the Jews in the foreseeable future, as there is far too much resistance to that very notion in society at large.

That same resistance, however, does not exist in large parts of the Muslim world. An Iranian nuclear bomb is not the only potential source for a second Holocaust. One just has to watch the atrocities committed almost daily by Muslims, mainly against other Muslims, in Syria and Iraq.

If they were ever to gain sufficient power, there are enough Palestinians who, in league with organized jihadists, would attempt to do the same to Israel’s Jewish population.

In order to prevent such a scenario, Israel must work with sympathetic journalists and other opinion makers to educate the West about the duplicity and cruelty that has become endemic to much of the Muslim world.

California School District Cancels Lesson on Holocaust Denial

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Students at a school in California who were given an assignment to compare propaganda with actual evidence on the Holocaust have instead been told to abandon the project.

The order came following a firestorm of criticism and at least one death threat aimed at Southern California’s Rialto Unified School District, which assigned the homework.

According to a report published in The Daily Bulletin newspaper, the project was assigned in April to 2,000 13-and-14 year old eighth grade students, as follows:

Shen tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual historical event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain.  Based upon your research on this issue, write an argumentative essay, utilizing cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim. You are also required to use parenthetical (internal) citations and to provide a Works Cited page.”

It had first been reviewed by a committee of eighth grade teachers, and sent to middle school sites in February for comment prior to distribution to the students. No objections were raised at the time, according to the spokesperson.

But the district found itself under siege on Monday, with the switchboard lines ringing off the hook.

At least one person called police repeatedly threatening death to a district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri and the interim school superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam. The incident is under investigation.

But also among the critics was Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, who slammed the assignment as inappropriate.

Rabbi Cooper told FoxNews.com on Monday, “Whatever the motivation, it ends up elevating hate and history to the same level… We should train our kids to have critical thinking, but the problem here is the teacher confused teaching critical thinking with common sense, because common sense dictates you don’t comingle propaganda with common truth.”

The rabbi advised the district to instead assign students to research the issue of Holocaust denial and meet with local survivors of the Nazis.

The school district responded in a statement saying the interim superintendent will speak with its educational services department to “assure that any reference to the Holocaust ‘not occurring’ will be stricken from any current or future argumentative research assignments. The Holocaust is and should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration to the victims who endured the atrocities committed,” the statement continues. “We believe in the words of George Santayana, ‘Those who cannot learn from history are bound to repeat it.”

The Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League said it was satisfied with the district’s actions by Monday. “It is ADL’s general position that an exercise asking students to question whether the Holocaust happened has no academic value; it only gives legitimacy to the hateful and anti-Semitic promoters of Holocaust denial,” Associate Regional Director Matthew Friedman was quoted as saying, after having spoken with the interim superintendent on Friday.

“ADL does not have any evidence that the assignment was given as part of a larger, insidious, agenda,” a blog post quoting Friedman continues. “Rather, the district seems to have given the assignment with an intent, although misguided, to meet Common Core standards relating to critical learning skills.”

In a number of European countries today — including Germany — Holocaust denial is a criminal offense for which one can be sentenced to prison. The Nazis exterminated six million Jews out of a total of some 11 million victims murdered between 1933 and 1945, in the Holocaust that took place prior to and during World War II. Some two-thirds of European Jewry was wiped out in the slaughter, which ended with the defeat of Nazi Germany by the U.S., UK and their Allies.

Why Many Orthodox Jews Can’t Face Up To History

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

I think we can all agree that the two main stories in the Jewish world in the past century were the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel.

These two cataclysmic events changed Jewish society radically if not even permanently.

Yet much of Orthodoxy inexplicably ignores them as though they never happened.

The Holocaust and the rise of Israel occupy no space or time in many Orthodox schools, and days of commemoration of these events are absent on school calendars.

Instead there is a mindset that harkens back to an idyllic Eastern European world of fantasy – a world that is portrayed falsely in fictional stories and hagiographic biographies and by doctored photographs and omission of uncomfortable facts.

An entire talented and vital society is doomed to live in the imagined past and disregard present realities. And if the view of the present is unfortunately shaped by historical and social disconnect and denial, then certainly the longer and equally important view of the future will be distorted and skewed.

Sooner or later reality must sink in and when it does, the pain, anger and frustration over past distortions and failures will become very difficult to bear.

The great struggle of most of Orthodoxy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries against Zionism influenced all Orthodox thought and behavior. As late as 1937, with German Jewry already prostrate before Hitler’s madness and Germany already threatening Poland, the mainstream Orthodox rabbinate in Poland publicly objected to the formation of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel on the grounds that the heads of that state would undoubtedly be secular if not even anti-religious.

They were correct in that assessment, but since the Holocaust was then an unimaginable event in their worldview, they continued in their opposition to Jews leaving Poland to settle either in the United States or in Israel. Because of this past mindset, the Holocaust is more unsettling – theologically, at least – to Orthodoxy then perhaps to any other group in the Jewish world.

Much of Orthodoxy chooses to ignore the issue or to contrive lame excuses and causes for this catastrophe. In my opinion, while there is no human answer to the event itself, it cannot be ignored.

One of the consequences of confronting it would be to admit that great and holy men can be wrong in their assessment of current events and future occurrences. But much of Orthodoxy is so hagiographic about its present and past leaders that it cannot bring itself to admit that. As such, the past cannot truly help to assess the present. A false past is almost as dangerous as having no past at all.

Dealing with the modern state of Israel is an even more vexing issue for much of Orthodoxy. The creation of the Jewish state, mainly by secular and nonobservant Jews and by political and military means, was not part of the traditional Jewish view of how the Land of Israel would again fall under Jewish rule.

Since it occurred in the “wrong” way and was being led by the “wrong” people, this too shook the mindset of much of Orthodoxy. One of the great and holy leaders of Orthodox society in Israel stated in 1950 that the state could not last more than fifteen years. Well, it is obvious that in that assessment he was mistaken.

But again, it is too painful to admit he was mistaken and therefore the whole attitude of much of the Orthodox world is one of denial of the fact that the state exists, prospers, and is in fact the world’s largest supporter of Torah and the traditional Jewish religious lifestyle.

Jewish Motorcyclists to Ride for Refugee Shelter

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

PRESS RELEASE – The Safe Haven Museum and Education Center is pleased to announce that the Jewish Motorcyclist Alliance (JMA) will participate in the 70th reunion of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter which is taking place from Thursday, June 19th through Sunday, June 22nd.

The Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance consists of 44 clubs worldwide and has over 8,000 members. Each year a site is chosen for the annual “Ride to Remember” to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust and to raise money for organizations that support and promote Holocaust education and awareness.

This museum is not only unique to the city, but unique to the nation.

Safe Haven Museum tells the stories of 982 refugees who were allowed into the country as “guests” of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to escape the Holocaust. The refugees were housed at the Fort Ontario Emergency Shelter in Oswego, NY, from 1944-1946. Safe Haven tells a very unique story as this shelter was the only one of its kind in the United States,” said Judy Coe-Rapaport, president of the museum’s board of directors.

This will be the 10th annual “Ride to Remember” event for the JMA. “We want the story told and how nice to celebrate 70 years with survivors and their families who were lucky enough to come to Oswego,” said Betsy Ahrens, president of the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance.

The “Ride to Remember” will take place Friday, June 20th, beginning at Bayshore Grove and will conclude with a presentation at the Safe Haven Museum. Additional events are planned throughout the weekend.

Tens of Thousands Participate In Budapest Holocaust Memorial March

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Tens of thousands of Jews and Jewish supporters participated in the 12th March of the Living Hungary in Budapest in what is considered the largest civil anti-fascist event in Hungary.

It was held on the 70th anniversary of the mass deportation of Jews from Hungary by the Nazis.

Holding posters saying “Never again” and “History cannot be re-written!,” the participants marched from the Danube River to the Eastern Railway Station in Budapest to commemorate the loss of Hungarian Jewry in 1944, when two-thirds of Hungarian Jewry — nearly 600,000 people — were deported and killed.

Dozens of Hungarian Holocaust survivors were the guests of honor at the march.

“We go to Auschwitz, but this time we will return,” Ilan Mor, Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, said in an emotional speech.

Mor will be part of the Hungarian delegation in Monday’s Auschwitz commemoration, where Hungarian President Janos Ader will deliver a speech at the Auschwitz memorial site of Hungarian Holocaust victims.

The International March of the Living Conference was part of weekend memorial events in Budapest, including a panel discussion on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe with the participation of members of parliaments from Poland, Greece, Spain and Canada.

Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian justice minister and lawmaker, as well as a human rights activist, chaired the panel.

“Jews died in Auschwitz, but anti-Semitism did not die, and we are experiencing anti-Semitism yet again,” he told JTA. “Now the time to mobilize all of humanity against this anti-Semitic phenomenon that again has come.”

Cotler visited the Budapest site of the daily protest against a monument being constructed to honor the country’s victims of World War II. Jewish groups have protested that it obfuscates Hungary’s Holocaust-era role.

“I hope that the Hungarian government will cease and desist from putting up this memorial as it now stands because in the end of the day, it will not serve neither the interest of remembrance nor the truth, or not even the interest of the Hungarian government, which I don’t believe want to be seen as mis-characterizing the Holocaust,” he said.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/tens-of-thousands-participate-in-budapest-holocaust-memorial-march/2014/04/28/

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