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August 24, 2016 / 20 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Nazis’

Pope Francis Blesses Righteous Christian Polish Gentiles at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

Pope Francis visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp this weekend, a powerful experience made even more meaningful for the pontiff by his meeting with 25 Righteous Gentiles Among the Nations — Christian Poles who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

The meeting was arranged for this past Friday by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, a New Yorker whose grandparents immigrated to the United States from Poland.

The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous offers financial support to the 200-plus “Righteous Among the Nations” who are still alive in Poland.

For some time, Schudrich has contemplated what kind of spiritual gift he could give these precious people who were so willing to risk their lives for the souls of Jews.

“I thought a special blessing from the pope would make them feel honored because of their unbelievable morality and humanity,” he told Associated Press.

Hana Levi Julian

Historical Discovery in Lithuania: Escape Tunnel Used by Jewish Prisoners to Escape from the Nazis

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

The escape tunnel used by the so-called “Burning Brigade” to allude the Nazis has been pinpointed at the Ponar massacre site near Vilnius in Lithuania, using Electric Resistivity Tomography.

Some 100,00 people, of whom 70,000 were Jews originating in Vilna and the surrounding area, were massacred and thrown into pits in the Ponar forest near the Lithuanian capital during WW2. With the retreat of the German forces on the eastern front before the advancing the Red Army, a special unit was formed in 1943 with the task of covering up the tracks of the genocide. In Ponar this task was assigned to a group of 80 prisoners from the Stutthof concentration camp.

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

At night the prisoners were held in a deep pit, previously used for the execution of Vilna’s Jews, and during the day they worked to pen the mass graves, pile up the corpses on logs cut from the forest, cover them with fuel and incinerate them. All the while their legs were shackled and they were certain that, upon completing their horrendous task, they too would be murdered by their captors. Some of the workers decided to escape by digging a tunnel from the pit that was their prison. For three months they dug a tunnel some 100 ft. long, using only spoons and their bare hands.

On the night of April 15, 1944 they escaped. The prisoners cut their leg shackles with a nail file, and 40 of them crawled through the narrow tunnel. Unfortunately they were quickly discovered by the guards and many were shot. Only 15 managed to cut the camp fence and escaped into the forest. Eleven reached the partisan forces and survived the war.

Since WW2, the exact location of the tunnel has been lost, even though a number of attempts were made to find it. Now, through the cooperative work of Dr. Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority; Prof. Richard Freund of the University of Hartford; Paul Bauman of Advisian of Calgary, Canada; and the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, the tunnel has been rediscovered using Electrical Resistivity Tomography, from the pit used to imprison the captives, to an open space next to it.

Electrical Resistivity Tomography is a geophysical technique used in mineral and oil exploration for imaging sub-surface structures from electrical resistivity measurements made at the surface, or by electrodes in one or more boreholes.

Preparations for the ERT scan of the trench used to hold the victims before their execution. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

Preparations for the ERT scan of the trench used to hold the victims before their execution. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

Dr. Jon Seligman, of the IAA, said, “As an Israeli whose family originated in Lithuania, I was reduced to tears on the discovery of the escape tunnel at Ponar. This discovery is a heartwarming witness to the victory of hope over desperation. The exposure of the tunnel enables us to present, not only the horrors of the Holocaust, but also the yearning for life.”

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev said, “I congratulate the Israel Antiquities Authority on its participation in this international effort that turns history to reality. The exciting and important discovery of the prisoners escape tunnel at Ponar is yet more proof negating the lies of the Holocaust deniers. The success of modern technological developments, that have aided the Jewish people to reveal another heroic story the Nazis attempted to hide, profits all humanity.”

The memorial to the Holocaust at Ponar. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

The memorial to the Holocaust at Ponar. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

The award-winning science series NOVA, produced by WGBH for PBS, will follow this excavation and the team, capture their stories, and restore the memory of this lost world in a new film slated to premiere in the US on PBS in 2017. The documentary will tell the story of the fate of the Jews of Vilna, Lithuania, now the modern city of Vilnius, through major archeological excavations of several sites in and around the city, including the larger excavation project at The Great Synagogue of Vilna. The discovery of the evidence of an escape tunnel at the Ponar pits sheds new light on a story of life, resistance and courage.

It is the intention of the partners to return to the site in the near future to expose the tunnel for public viewing as part of the memorial for the victims of Vilna and the surrounding area.

JNi.Media

Report: Germany Returned Nazi-Looted Art to the Nazis who Looted It

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Germany returned Nazi-looted art to the high-ranking Nazi families who stole it rather than to the families from whom it had been taken, according to a report by the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE), which says it has recently discovered this remarkable scandal that has been covered up by Germany for decades.

The family of the late Gottlieb and Mathilde Kraus of Vienna, represented by CLAE, who are still trying to recover their 160 looted paintings, had good reason to think two of their paintings would be in the state-owned museum in Munich, the Bayerische Staatsgemaeldesammlungen (Bavarian State Paintings Collections). Records show they were handed over to Bavaria by the US government in 1952 for the purpose of restitution. To their shock, they found the paintings had instead been given by the Bavarian State in the early 1960s to Henriette Hoffmann-von Schirach, daughter of Hitler’s close friend and photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, and wife of the notorious Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach. Von Schirach was condemned at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity for the deportation of 60,000 Austrian Jews.

Bavarian State Paintings Collections

Bavarian State Paintings Collections

Gottlieb Kraus (1867-1952) and his wife Mathilde Kraus (1873-1954) were prominent members of Viennese society. Gottlieb Kraus was a businessman and honorary consul for Czechoslovakia in Austria. Beginning in the early years of the 20th century, he and his wife assembled a notable art collection of over 160 paintings, and their apartment was opened as a public museum to display it in 1923.

Gottlieb and Mathilde, together with their daughter Marie, fled Vienna soon after the Nazis took power in March 1938. Their flight took them via Prague, Brussels, England and Canada, before they were eventually able to settle in Washington DC. They discovered after the war that their entire collection left in Vienna had been seized by the Nazis in 1941, some selected for Hitler’s Linz Museum. Their daughter Marie made unsuccessful efforts over decades with both Germany and Austria to find and recover their possessions, but was blocked at every turn. These efforts were continued after her death in 1997 by the several grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Gottlieb and Mathilde.

The Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE), is an international, expert and non-profit representative body which negotiates policies and procedures with governments and cultural institutions and promotes the identification of looted cultural property and the tracing of its rightful owners. It represents families from all over the world, acting on their behalf to locate and recover their looted artworks. It has been instrumental in the return to its rightful owners of over 3,500 items of looted property since it was set up in 1999. It also provides a Central Registry of Information on Looted Cultural Property 1933-1945 at www.lootedart.com to fulfil Washington Principle VI which called for the creation of such a repository of information.

Anne Webber, Co-Chair of CLAE, said CLAE’s research shows that in the 1950s and 1960s Henriette Hoffmann-von Schirach recovered scores of paintings from Bavaria. It seems that Bavaria thought restitution meant restitution to the Nazis rather than to their victims.

Among the high ranking Nazi families negotiating to get back art, some of it looted, were the Goering, Hoffmann, Bormann, von Schirach, Frank and Streicher families. In many cases they negotiated directly with the Director of the Bavarian State Museums and Ministers in the Bavarian government. While their demands were dealt with promptly and efficiently and with little requirement to prove their claims of ownership, the looted families had their claims thrown out or impossible hurdles were created to prevent them recovering their artworks. The families are still experiencing the same barriers to recovery of their looted works of art today.

One of the two Old Master paintings handed over to Mrs Hoffmann-von Schirach in 1962 in exchange for the paltry sum of 300 Deutsch Marks, was sold by her the following year for 16,100 Deutsch Marks to the Catholic Cathedral Association of Xanten in Germany’s North-Rhine Westphalia.

In July 2011, on behalf of the Kraus family, CLAE made a claim to Xanten for the painting, providing extensive proofs of its shocking history: looted by the Gestapo in Vienna in 1941 from the collection of Gottlieb and Mathilde Kraus; acquired in Vienna with other paintings from the Kraus collection by Heinrich Hoffman through the good offices of his son-in-law Baldur von Schirach; found by the Allies at the end of the war; returned to Bavaria by the US with the restitution obligation; and then returned to Mrs Hoffmann-von Schirach in 1962 on the flimsiest of grounds.

Despite the Cathedral of Xanten publicly proclaiming its proud ‘anti-Nazi’ past, it seems this attitude does not extend to property stolen from Jewish families. In the five years that CLAE has been trying to achieve an amicable settlement, the Cathedral Association, of which the local Bishop is part, has not once acknowledged the historical injustice perpetrated on this family or the persecution it has suffered. It has provided no documentation of any kind, nor a single proof of evidence of a good faith purchase. It has locked away the painting and only and repeatedly denied settlement of the claim on the grounds that it must have “an index linked return on its investment” of 1963. The last settlement offer by CLAE was made in September 2015 when the family stated their wish that their claim be resolved by the end of October 2015. Anne Webber said there has only been silence from Xanten in the nine months since.

CLAE’s several requests for an explanation of the post-war ‘return-sales’ to the Nazi families, made to the Bavarian State Museums, the Bavarian State government and the German Foreign Ministry, met with equal lack of success, as did its requests for documentation. CLAE was told that there were only four documents consisting of five pages in total. CLAE embarked on its own research, uncovering hundreds of pages of records and the details of this scandalous history.

JNi.Media

Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN Apologizes to Ambassador Danny Danon

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN Rafael Ramirez expressed his apology to Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon following his comments last week at the UN Security Council where he asked if “Israel wants a final solution to the Palestinians?”

On Wednesday, Ramirez met with Edmund Mulet, the UN Secretary General’s chief of staff, and said he regretted his language and apologized to Danny Danon personally.

Rafael Ramirez compared Israel to the Nazis.

“What is Israel planning to do with the Palestinians?” asked Venezuela’s UN Ambassador Rafael Ramirez. “Do the Israelis want the Palestinians to disappear? Is Israel preparing a ‘final solution’ for the Palestinians similar to that which was perpetrated against them?”when he asked “Israel wants a final solution to the Palestinians?”

Shalom Bear

Analysis: Deputy Chief of Staff Compares IDF to Nazis, Then Says He Didn’t

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, speaking at a commemoration of the Holocaust, said he sees in today’s Israel evidence of events that took place in Europe before the Holocaust. The ceremony, at the Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak, included dignitaries like Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), who were visibly unhappy with what the man who could some day lead the Jewish Army thought about his subordinates.

Maj. Gen. Golan, who is the child of a Holocaust survivor whose entire family was murdered by the Nazis, said that what truly frightens him in recalling the Holocaust is to identify the same blood curdling processes that took place in Germany and in the rest of Europe “70, 80, and 90 years ago, and discovering evidence of their taking place here, among us, in 2016.”

Golan summed up the characteristics he found in both pre-Holocaust Europe and in 2016 Israel as follows: hatred of foreigners, fear mongering, brutalization, rhinocerization and self-righteousness. The one before last term refers to the 1959 play Rhinocéros by Eugène Ionesco, a Romanian exile in Paris, who explains Nazism and Fascism in a satirical tale of a small, provincial French town whose people turn into rhinoceroses.

The Golan statement goes to show that being the child of a Holocaust survivor does not automatically qualify one to be able to make convincing analogies between the state-organized, industrialized slaughter of six million Jews and what amounts to 150 years of a difficult relationship between neighbors in Israel. The comparison, inaugurated by the late professor of chemistry and ingenious commentator on Jewish law and Jewish history, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who coined the term Judonazis, has been rejected with contempt by many Israelis, most notably the late Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin:

In 1993, Prof. Leibowitz was selected for the highest national award, the Israel Prize. Before the award ceremony, Leibowitz was invited to speak to the Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, where his controversial remarks calling upon Israeli soldiers to refuse orders triggered outrage, and PM Yitzhak Rabin threatened to boycott the Israel Prize ceremony. The IP jury convened to withdraw the award from the provocative and intentionally nasty professor, but Leibowitz quickly announced that he would refuse to accept the prize, taking charge of his own public execution.

Maj. Gen. Golan on Wednesday night may have walked into his own public execution, which explains why he and the IDF spokesperson’s office and Army Radio have been swimming the backstroke all of Thursday trying to persuade a livid nation that the deputy chief did not mean the IDF was starting to look like the Wehrmacht.

So, here is what the man next in line to lead the IDF said about the IDF (translated from the full text of his speech, courtesy of Ha’aretz):

Saying that Holocaust Memorial Day must also be a day of national reckoning, Golan suggested such reckoning must include “unsettling phenomena.” Referring to the public debate over the purity of the weapon (a uniquely Israeli term, dating back to the pre-state years, meaning when Jews use their weapons they must do so ethically), he said he wished to comment on the matter.

The most notable “unsettling phenomenon” Golan was citing had taken place on Purim day, when two Arab terrorists stabbed an IDF soldier in the neck at a check post outside Hebron in Judea. The force at the site shot down both terrorists, killing one and neutralizing the other. About ten minutes after the incident, a 19-year-old medic who served with the same unit showed up to help treat the stabbed soldier, and was documented by a B’Tselem video as he shot dead the terrorist who was still living, who was lying on the ground. The IDF and the Defense Ministry reacted at lightening-speed to the video, turning what would have probably resulted in a disciplinary action, if at all, into a murder investigation. The sheer audacity of the military prosecution in attempting to pin a murder charge (which has now been reduced to manslaughter) on a combat soldier aroused a groundswell of popular protest, the likes of which Israel’s security apparatus brass had rarely faced before; and the protest also served to enhance the demarcation between left and right, Zionist and anti-Zionist, ruling elites and everyone else in Israel. When you read Maj. Gen. Golan’s notes below, keep all of that in mind as the subtext.

“Irregular use of weapons, and damage to the purity of the weapon have taken place in the IDF since its founding,” Golan conceded, adding, “The pride of the IDF has always been in our ability to investigate difficult incidents, without bias, to bravely investigate problematic behavior, and to accept full responsibility for the good but also for the bad and the unlawful. We didn’t justify, we didn’t hide, we didn’t paint over, we didn’t wink, we didn’t roll up our eyes to the heavens, we also didn’t make excuses. Our path has been and will continue to be the path of truth and accepting responsibility, even when the truth is hard to take and the responsibility heavy. We believe in the righteousness of our path — but not everything we do is righteous. We trust the morality of the IDF as an institution, but we do not overlook the exceptions. We demand of our soldiers precisely what we demand of ourselves, and we insist that being a personal example be second nature to every commander.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett issued a tweet saying, “One minute before the Holocaust deniers turn these erroneous words into a flag, one minute before our soldiers are compared to Nazis, God forbid, with approval from the brass, [we say] the deputy chief of staff made a mistake and he must correct it at once.”

The IDF released a statement saying, “The Deputy Chief Of Staff wishes to clarify that he had no intention of comparing the IDF and the State of Israel with events that took place in Germany 70 years ago. The comparison is absurd and utterly groundless, and there was no intent to create such a comparison, nor to criticize the political echelon. The IDF is a moral army which observes the purity of the weapon and the dignity of man.”

But, of course, he did just that, he compared the IDF and the State of Israel with events that took place in Germany 70 years ago — in fact, that very reference is a quote from his speech, spoken with a self-righteous tone reserved to the members of the ruling elite when they describe the plebeian masses who foolishly fail to adhere to the wisdom and moral uprightness garnered by decades of being in charge.

Come to think of it, the Golan speech was the perfect analogy for the decadence, hatred of foreigners, fear mongering, brutalization, rhinocerization and self-righteousness — of Israel’s Jewish left, and Holocaust Memorial Day was the perfect time for such an analogy.

The fact that a man who compares his subordinates to Nazis may be considered to replace the current chief of staff, who, for his part, has told the nation that the rabbinic principle of “He who rises to kill you, kill him first” is merely a metaphor and not a moral principle; and that both men are commanded by a Defense Minister who keeps Jews in prison for many months without charges, and uses brute force to evict Jewish dwellers from their homes — while permitting widespread illegal Arab dwellings — those are crucial lessons Jews must learn and absorb, lest we are tempted to believe that what followed the Nazi Holocaust was a full Jewish liberation.

There’s still a whole lot more liberation left to be done.

JNi.Media

Israel Ambassador to UK Mark Regev Speaks Out on Labour’s Rising Anti-Semitism

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

Israel’s new Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev has joined the fray over the rising anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

Regev has jumped right in the middle between party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Jewish Labourites. Corbyn denies any anti-Semitism exists and says if it does, he will find it in an internal investigation he’s just launched and will root it out.  Jewish party members meanwhile have been threatening to leave over the rising number of anti-Semitic Labourites whose hate-filled remarks are being exposed by media since Corbyn became party leader.

In an interview published today on the front page of The Sunday Times, Regev said flatly, “I have no doubt that part of the Left is in denial. They say, ‘Anti-Semitism, that’s the Right, that’s the fascists.’

“That’s a copout. It doesn’t stand up to serious historical examination,” Regev said. “Anti-Semitism should concern everyone. When it does raise its ugly head, it should be condemned across the board, and failure to condemn it has to be in itself condemned,” he added. “If someone wouldn’t dream of sharing a platford with an anti-black racist or an anti-female sexist, shouldn’t one be equally concerned about sharing a platform with an anti-Jewish racist?” Regev asked.

The Sunday Times said Regev’s remarks would likely be interpreted as an attack on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose members have been cited for anti-Semitic remarks or activities, one after another.

Corbyn has defended most of them, but Friday finally himself called for an independent inquiry into the question of anti Semitism and racism within the party.

This past week two Labour members were suspended: MP Naz Shah, whose anti-Israel and anti-Semitic Facebook posts in 2014 were ‘outed’ by the Guido Fawkes political website, and former London mayor Ken Livingstone declared Adolf Hitler was a Zionist before he “went mad” and killed six million Jews in WWII.

The offensive language was deliberately calculated to provoke a maximum number of Jews, according to British journalist and historian Andrew Roberts. He wrote Thursday in an article on CapX that “the sole reason Ken Livingstone brought up the Fuhrer in his interview was to be as vicious and loathsome as he possibly could to any Jews listening, rather than genuinely intending to make some valid historical point about the migration policies of the putative Third Reich in the 1930s. He must know perfectly well that the very insertion of the word ‘Hitler’ in the context of a debate over anti-Semitism would create precisely the effect that it has.”

Livingstone claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also pointed out last October that Hitler originally intended only to expel the Jews. Jerusalem Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini urged Hitler to murder them all instead, he noted during a meeting of the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu later clarified the point in a long Facebook post, noting that the concept of the “Final Solution” came from Hitler and the Nazis alone. “The Nazis saw in the mufti a collaborator, but they did not need him to decide on the systematic destruction of European Jewry, which began in June 1941,” Netanyahu wrote.

Hana Levi Julian

Hunting Nazis To Their Dying Day: An Interview with Author Andrew Nagorski

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Major Wilhelm Trapp, who led of one of the most notorious Nazi killing squads in Poland, once said to his driver, “If this Jewish business is ever avenged on earth, then have mercy on us Germans.”

Most Nazis never did meet justice on this earth. That even a few did is largely thanks to a small group of individuals – both Jews and non-Jews – who refused to forget and forgive. They are the subject of a new book by award-winning journalist and author Andrew Nagorski, “The Nazi Hunters” (Simon & Schuster), available in bookstores on May 10.

The Jewish Press: What was the immediate reaction of Jews to their Nazi tormentors after the Holocaust?

Nagorski: Many people had a natural urge to seek vengeance. One of the characters I interviewed for the book told me he saw a group of concentration camp prisoners who, after their liberation, put an SS officer on a metal tray and fried him alive in the crematorium.

So that was the first impulse. But pretty quickly it transformed into an impulse not for vengeance but for justice. They felt there had to be individual accountability and there had to be a record of what had happened because the greatest fear of many survivors was that the world would quickly forget or even deny its existence.

The Allies tried a number of Nazi leaders after World War II but soon soured on holding trials and even commuted the sentences of some of those who had already been convicted. Why?

At first there was the question: What do you do with these people? Stalin suggested we just take out a whole bunch of them and have them shot. Then there was talk of trials, but Churchill was reluctant because he was afraid they would be show trials. The Americans, though, said we have to show that these people are responsible.

So that was implemented in the Nuremberg and Dachau trials. But with the advent of the Cold War, both the Soviets and the Americans were much more concerned about recruiting German scientists and getting West Germany or East Germany lined up on their side, so there was a lot of pressure to commute some of these sentences and stop some of the trials.

In the book you write about the Adolf Eichmann trial at some length and note that some prominent individuals – Isaiah Berlin and Erich Fromm, for example – were morally opposed to Israel trying him. Why?

Many people said it was going to look like vengeance. But Ben-Gurion’s government felt they needed this for internal consumption as much as anything else. Gabriel Bach, who is the last surviving member of the team that prosecuted Eichmann, told me there was almost a feeling of shame about the Holocaust in Israel, especially among the younger generation. They didn’t understand how Jews could go “like sheep to the slaughter.”

The Eichmann trial gave Israel a chance to educate a whole generation about how the Holocaust transpired – how Jews were deceived at every turn, how it was impossible in most cases to resist, and how when there were possibilities to resist, people did.

Several years after the Eichmann trial, Israel pursued and killed Nazi-collaborator Herbert Cukurs, who was known as the “Butcher of Riga.” Why didn’t they try him like they did Eichmann?

Cukurs had escaped to Latin America, and in 1965 someone posing as an Austrian businessman lured him to a house in Uruguay where a group of Mossad agents standing only in their underwear – so that no blood would get on their clothes – killed him. They then left a note saying this was vengeance for what he did.

This operation has always been cloaked in mystery since this was not the way the Mossad normally operated. When I talked to Rafi Eitan, who was the Mossad agent on the Eichmann case, his only explanation was that it must have been something personal. Maybe the parents of someone high up in the Mossad died at the hands of Cukurs.

After Eichmann, number 1 on the list of many Nazi hunters was Dr. Josef Mengele. He, however, managed to elude their grasp. Can you talk a bit about him and the efforts to find him?

He was known as the “Angel of Death” and was a particularly vicious person who sent countess Jews to their deaths and conducted really horrible experiments on people, especially twins.

After catching Eichmann, the Israelis made some efforts to find Mengele. A couple of agents were on his trail – one of them thinks he may have even seen Mengele walking on a country path – but then they were called away to work on a child custody case [the Yossele Schumacher affair].

Mengele drowned off the coast of Brazil in 1979, and his remains were definitively identified in 1985.

In addition to describing Israel’s forays into Nazi hunting, you profile a number of individual Nazi hunters in your book, including Simon Wiesenthal. Wiesenthal is somewhat of a polarizing figure among Nazi hunters with some regarding him as a hero and others as a publicity-seeking hound. What’s your take?

Even those who quarreled with Wiesenthal – including, most famously, Isser Harel, the head of the Mossad – give him credit for pressuring governments to put Nazi war criminals on trial, especially in the 1950s and ‘60s when most governments were turning away from this whole issue.

He kept up the momentum when it could’ve died and, with it, the whole era of Nazi-hunting. The fact that we have trials of elderly Auschwitz guards in Germany today is to a large extent the product of the early efforts of Nazi hunters – Wiesenthal foremost among them – not to allow the public to forget.

Perhaps the most interesting Nazi hunters featured in your book are Serge and Beate Klarsfeld. Can you talk a bit about them?

They are a fascinating couple. Beate, who isn’t Jewish, was born in Germany. Her father served in the Wehrmacht, and when she was growing up her parents didn’t speak much about the war or the Holocaust. When she about 20, though, she went to Paris to strike out on her own and met her husband Serge whose father had died in Auschwitz. At that point, Beate started discovering what had happened during the war and became this really radical Nazi hunter.

One of her more brazen actions took place in 1968 when she was so outraged that the German chancellor – Kurt Georg Kiesinger – had been a member of the Nazi party that she got a press pass to the Christian Democrats’ convention, walked up to the chancellor, and slapped him in the face.

Later, as a couple, the Klarsfelds went after top Nazis – most prominently Klaus Barbie – who had served in occupied France and were responsible for the murder of [tens of thousands of] Jews. They personally tracked Klaus Barbie down in Latin America and kept up the pressure on the French government to have him extradited and put on trial. He was, in fact, ultimately put on trial and died in prison.

A 94-year-old Auschwitz guard, Reinhold Hanning, is currently being tried in Germany for his role in the Holocaust. Some people wonder if putting such an elderly man on trial for crimes he committed 75 years ago makes sense. How do contemporary Nazi hunters today see it?

Each of these cases is seen as a way to bear witness to what happened. And since there are only a few of these people still left – just as there are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors left – these cases become even more important. Individual testimonies are the most powerful tool to educate the world about what happened.

It’s interesting, by the way, that the Germans courts have finally accepted something they did not accept before. Today you no longer have to prove that an individual Nazi killed or tortured a specific person. It is enough just to show that his role was essential for the mass killing. So if you served as a guard in Auschwitz, for example, you were part of the killing machinery and can be held accountable.

Once this legal principle [was accepted in 2011], Germany started looking through the records of Auschwitz guards and other guards to see who was still alive, who was mentally capable, and who was in Germany. That’s where the Reinhold Hanning trial originated.

Elliot Resnick

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/hunting-nazis-to-their-dying-day-an-interview-with-author-andrew-nagorski/2016/04/27/

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