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August 29, 2016 / 25 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

Last Survivor of Sobibor Death Camp, Philip Bialowitz, obm, Passes Away

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Philip Bialowitz, age 90, was the last Polish Jewish survivor of the infamous Sobibor Nazi death camp.

After decades of bearing witness to the revolt staged by a small group of Jews who overpowered their captors and freed hundreds of their fellow prisoners, he passed away peacefully this past Saturday in a Florida hospice, surrounded by his four children.

Bialowitz saw it as a sacred duty to bear witness, having been exhorted to do exactly that by the two leaders of the revolt who stood on a table to launch the fight for survival.

“If you survive, bear witness!” they cried to their fellow prisoners. “Tell the world about this place!”

Bialowitz spent the rest of his life doing exactly that, honoring the memories of the 250,000 Jews whose lives were lost and the few who survived at Sobibor. Their “fighting spirit” became their legacy, that which he recounted to the thousands of children and adults in his countless speaking engagements around the world. “I had the honor of meeting Philip numerous times with former Deputy Minister of Education for the State of Israel Avi Wortzman, at Treblinka extermination camp and most memorably at Chabad in Warsaw, where I learnt of his love of Chazanut, Jewish music,” Jonny Daniels, founder of the Holocaust commemoration foundation ‘From the Depths’ wrote on Facebook.

“He always had a smile on his face and was always so open and willing to speak of his difficult past.

“Now is our turn to stand as his witness.”

His popular book, ‘A Promise at Sobibor,’ told the story of his life from his childhood in pre-war Poland and his teen years in WWII to the years after the war, when he married and grew a family. He helped build a community and bring Nazi monsters to justice while never forgetting to keep his promise to tell the story of the revolt at Sobibor.

Baruch Dayan HoEmes. “Yehi Zichro Baruch – May he rest in peace.”

Hana Levi Julian

The Nozyk Genizah Of Warsaw: Historic Torah Fragments Discovered In Poland

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

More than seven decades after the devastation of the Jewish community of Poland, there are still new discoveries being made on a regular basis.

The genizah before examination.

The genizah before examination.

Recently a genizah of old Torah fragments called yeriot was discovered in the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw. The Nozyk Synagogue was the only synagogue out of some 400 in Warsaw to survive the Shoah because the Germans decided to desecrate it by turning the beautiful, sacred place into a stable for their horses.

“We don’t know the exact origins of the genizah,” said Rabbi Moshe Bloom, rosh kollel of Nozyk, “but we can conjecture that after the Shoah the Nozyk Synagogue was returned to the Jewish community of Warsaw and it became a magnet for all things Jewish.

“Over the years, non-Jewish Poles would at times approach the synagogue, sometimes to honor lost friends, sometimes out curiosity, sometimes out of guilt. Some brought with them artifacts that they had kept hidden in their homes and felt a responsibility to return them. The Torah fragments were collected for eventual burial as prescribed by Jewish law.”

Special embellishments found on the last words of the Torah.

Special embellishments found on the last words of the Torah.

When I was recently in Warsaw Rabbi Bloom asked if I would be able to raise money to bury them with proper kavod and ceremony.

I wondered whether anybody had examined them.

“Why?” he asked.

Because, I told him, Torah scrolls from the pre-Shoah period had often been used for hundreds of years and therefore might have unique characteristics that are no longer in use. I asked Rabbi Bloom if I could examine the scrolls. He gave me permission to look them over and even photograph them.

A fragment showing unique tagim in Az Yashir.

A fragment showing unique tagim in Az Yashir.

The genizah consists of about 30 fragments (there are no complete scrolls), some only one or two columns and others much larger. Some showed signs of fire or water damage, slashes from knives, and other ravages of age and war. Almost all sections of the Torah are represented in the collection, from Bereishit to the end of Devarim.

Upon examination, I found that most of the fragments were very similar to those one would find in any synagogue today. A few of them looked to be over five hundred years old due to some of the variant letter shapes and tagim (crowns) that are no longer used.

When I returned to New York I visited with Rabbi Traube of Bais Hastam on 13th Avenue in Boro Park. An expert in the laws, and lore of Torah scrolls, he helped me understand some of the history behind the strange letter forms.

He explained that tradition tells us that the form of the Torah we have today was copied by Eli HaKohen off the stones that Joshua had set up when he brought the Jews into the land of Israel after the death of Moses.

A burnt Torah fragment from the genizah.

A burnt Torah fragment from the genizah.

For thousands of years these letter forms were the way all Torah scrolls were written; it was only about 400 years ago that they began to be used less and less frequently. The Chatam Sofer in his Teshuvah 265 says that Jews stopped using them after a Torah scroll from Tzefat was found without them. He explains that the special letters and tagim were used to remind people of certain lessons in the Torah but since we do not learn from Torah scrolls (other than during prayers) they should no longer be used.

There are many books that describe the different letters and tagim. Torah Sheleimah by Menachem Mendel Kasher covers many of the letter forms and lists many sources. Sefer Tagi lists different letters and reports that the letter peh with the special shape can be found 191 times, the letter lamed 26 times, and the letter ayin eight times.

A fragment with the peh lafufa in the Torah portion describing the fight between Jacob and the angel.

A fragment with the peh lafufa in the Torah portion describing the fight between Jacob and the angel.

The final disposition of the Nozyk genizah is still being decided. Many of the badly damaged yeriot will be buried while some of the others will be put on display thanks to generous support from Monika Krawczyk of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (www.fodz.pl). The proposed exhibit will be located in the synagogue in the town of Leczna and hopefully include the complete story of stam — the writing of Torahs, mezuzahs, and tefillin.

Rabbi Traube of Bais Hastam was excited about the exhibit and is looking forward to making a special trip to Poland to examine the fragments for himself.

“It is rare enough to find a genizah,” he said. “We would be lucky to find one or two interesting items in a genizah but here they have so many it is truly a historic find.”

 

Editor’s Note: For more information, to organize a lecture, or help support the genizah project, contact Shmuel Ben Eliezer, who serves as the project’s director of research and development, at nozykgeniza@aol.com.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

UNESCO to Question Jewish Ties to Western Wall in Arab-Sponsored Draft Resolution

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

United Nations Watch, a Geneva-based watchdog organization, expressed concern today that UNESCO may fuel anti-Jewish incitement and violence, and the increasing PA Arabs’ denial of Jewish religious and cultural rights, by adopting an Arab-sponsored draft resolution that denies Jewish ties to Jerusalem’s Western Wall and Temple Mount.

The Jordanian-Palestinian draft text on the Old City of Jerusalem was submitted to the 21-member World Heritage Committee, which meets over the next 10 days in Istanbul for its 40th annual session.

“This inflammatory resolution risks encouraging the past year’s wave of Arab stabbing and shooting attacks in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel, which began with false claims that Israel was planning to damage holy Muslim shrines,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

Under the battle cry of “Al-Aqsa mosque is in danger,” incitement in September by Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad sparked a wave of terror attacks across Israel which began on the Temple Mount and eastern Jerusalem. At least 40 have been killed and more than  500 wounded. The Arab attacks include 155 stabbings, 96 shootings, 45 car ramming attacks, and one bus bombing.

The draft now before UNESCO includes the following problematic language:

  • The draft refers ten times to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, exclusively using the Islamic term for Temple Mount, without any mention that it is the holiest site in Judaism. This is part of a larger campaign at the UN, and particularly in UNESCO, to Islamize sites historically belonging to other faiths.
  • This year’s proposed draft is even more extreme than the resolution adopted in 2015. The new version three times uses the Islamic term Buraq Plaza while placing the parallel name “Western Wall Plaza” in scare quotes, implying skepticism or disbelief concerning what is the most hallowed site for Jewish worshippers over two millennia, due to the ancient wall’s connection to the Holy Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 CE. Last year’s resolution also sought to diminish the Jewish connection by putting the name Western Wall in parentheses after the Islamic term, yet the new use of quotation marks intensifies the denialism that was famously promoted by Yasser Arafat’s negotiator at Camp David, and which continues in Palestinian Authority statements.
  • Israel, which is referred to throughout as “the Occupying Power” in Jerusalem, is called to restore “the historic Status Quo,” with the new word “historic”—a change from last year’s text—implying a reversal of any changes since 1967.
  • Jerusalem’s light rail, which is used daily by thousands of Arab residents among others, is accused of having a “damaging effect” on the “visual integrity” and “authentic character” of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem—even though the track passes through an existing highway and only facilitates transportation for visitors of all faiths.

The 21 members on the UNESCO world heritage committee are: Angola, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Croatia, Cuba, Finland, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Good luck to all of us.

Jewish Press Staff

Yad Vashem Leadership Mission Arrives in Israel

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

More than 50 influential friends and advocates of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, participating in a Leadership Mission arrived in Israel today. The Mission brings together Yad Vashem’s steadfast supporters from around the world to explore prewar Jewish life in Europe, to reflect on the past, present and future, and to connect to Yad Vashem as well as to one another. Among some of the notable members of the Mission are Chairman of the American Society for Yad Vashem Lenny Wilf, world-renowned hotelier Mark Moskowitz, entrepreneur and philanthropist Yossie Hollander, Holocaust survivor Roberto Kucinski, and Barry Levine. In Poland, the Mission visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Wroclaw and Wolfsberg forced labor camps before spending a meaningful Shabbat in Krakow, where they were joined by Yad Vashem Council Chairman Rabbi Israel Meir Lau. 

 The Israel portion of the Mission begins with an private audience with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin. Participants will also meet with Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev, Director General Dorit Novak, and many of Yad Vashem’s Senior Staff. They will tour the campus on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, and be briefed about Yad Vashem’s far-reaching activities in the fields of Holocaust remembrance, documentation, research and education.   

David Israel

Report: Ambitious Justice Minister Using Polanski Extradition to Pave Own Career

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Polish Justice Minister and Prosecutor General (in Poland you can be both) Zbigniew Ziobro on Tuesday declared that he plans to appeal a Polish court ruling not to extradite 82-year-old, Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski, to face charges of jumping bail for a 1977 case of statutory rape, news agencies reported. Ziobro told Polish radio that the reason for his attempt to extradite Polanski is that “he is accused of a terrible crime against a child, the rape of a child.”

Justice Minister Ziobro has gained a reputation in Poland of a stickler for the law, but also of being a polarizing figure in Poland’s politics. His uncompromising prosecutorial style has earned him the title of Man of the year for 2006, awarded by Newsweek-format Wprost magazine. But his policies have been criticized as partisan and overzealous by local and international press.

According to Wprost, Ziboro has turned the Polanski extradition into one of his pet campaign issues, and last October, after a Krakow Regional Court ruled against the extradition of Roman Polanski to the United States, Ziobro promised to take action to extradite Polanski. “Mr. Polanski cannot stand above the law,” he declared. “Therefore, I believe that the future minister of justice, whoever he may be (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) should agree to extradite Polanski to the United States. There can be no protection from responsibility due to the status of a person for such heinous acts, such as sexually abusing a minor in the absence of her parents. Pedophilia is evil and must be definitely removed.”

Krakow Regional Judge Dariusz Mazur wrote in his October ruling that “had Poland accepted the US extradition request, it would have violated the rights of Mr Polanski and at the same time the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Jerzy Stachowicz, an attorney for the aging Polanski, told AFP: “We were expecting this. Ziobro had previously announced he was going to do this. For the moment, we won’t be commenting because we don’t know whether he has already done it or whether he is about to do it.”

Presumably, Polish defendants receive some manner of notification in these instances.

Roman Polanski / Photo credit: FICG.mx

Roman Polanski / Photo credit: FICG.mx

In 1977, Polanski was arrested in Los Angeles and charged with five counts against Samantha Gailey, 13: rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor. At his arraignment Polanski pleaded not guilty to all charges, but later accepted a plea bargain which dismissed the five initial charges in exchange for a guilty plea to the lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse. Polanski underwent a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, followed by a recommendation of probation. But according to the documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” things changed after a conversation with LA Deputy District Attorney David Wells and the judge, Laurence J. Rittenband. Polanski’s attorneys insist that the judge suggested to them he planned to send the director to prison and order him deported. In response to the threat of imprisonment, Polanski fled the United States, first to England, then to Paris. He was born in Paris in 1933 to Polish Jewish parents, and his family returned home to Poland just before World War II.

JNi.Media

Volunteering In Poland Over Pesach

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016
Synagogue in Katowice.

Synagogue in Katowice.

Going to Poland is never just a pleasure trip. Wherever you turn you are reminded of the once glorious Jewish past. Whether in Warsaw or some small village, the one thing that is always tangible is the absence of the masses of Jews who once called Poland home.

Last month I had the opportunity to return to Poland for Pesach to help the community prepare for the holiday and to run many of the services.

Arriving on the Monday before the chag I met with Rabbi Moshe Bloom, an emissary of the Israeli organization Torah MiTzion who heads Warsaw’s Kollel Nozyk. We unpacked many of the items I’d brought from New York including candy for the many children, cheese, haggadot, Jewish decorations, and Seder plates.

They were especially happy to get the candy and the decorations as there was a bar mitzvah scheduled for that Shabbat in the Nozyk shul, the only synagogue in Warsaw that survived the Shoah.

On Tuesday I participated in a ceremony commemorating the 73rd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. More than three thousand people were in attendance including the Polish prime minister and the president, both of whom gave moving speeches.

The chief rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, read the tefillot. A parade of government officials and organization heads then laid wreaths at the monument to the Ghetto fighters. Throughout the streets of Warsaw and other cities, paper daffodils, the symbol of the Ghetto fighters, were handed out.

Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising fighters.

Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising fighters.

After meeting with and getting instructions from Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis, the emissary for Shavei Yisrael in the city of Katowice and project manager in the office of the Polish chief rabbi, I traveled to Katowice where I spent the next day kashering the kitchen with Piotr Wrobl, a mashgiach trained by Rabbi Schudrich. (Wrobl stayed in Katowice to run the sedarim, which drew nearly 70 people.)

Katowice was the birthplace of both Chovevei Tzion and Agudat Yisrael. Before the Shoah the city had a Jewish population of more than nine thousand.

The day after that I traveled to Wroclaw where I delivered goodies from Warsaw and helped with preparations for the chag. I met community leaders Andje and Alex as well as David and Danielle Basok, a young couple from the Jewish Agency who were there to represent Israel and help with religious practices. We did bedikat chametz, held a practice Seder, and the next morning had a communal burning of the chametz.

The next day, Erev Chag, I traveled to Legnica with Yaakov Einhorn, an active member of the Wroclaw community, to prepare for the sedarim. There we met with Nicholas, the leader of the small community that before 1968 boasted more than 5,000 members with many synagogues and Jewish schools. Today the community rarely meets – mostly just for holidays. Community member James Nollet, a native of Boston, can lead tefillot in Hebrew.

Legnica community leader Nicholas (left) and Kuba Einhorn.

Legnica community leader Nicholas (left) and Kuba Einhorn.

Yaakov, or Kuba as he likes to be called, was a great help in running the sedarim and gave a running translation from English/Hebrew to Polish. We had just under thirty people at the Seder and fifteen for Shacharit. The community joined us for Kiddush and all the meals, which were alive with conversation on Jewish topics ranging from who is a Jew to kashrut.

On Sunday I returned to Warsaw to visit old friends and do some business. I met with the heads of the community and officials from the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, the Museum of the History of Jews in Poland, and many others.

There are no restaurants open on Pesach but lunch was available at the community kitchen. For about four dollars one received a complete, wholesome, and tasty meal under the auspices of Rabbi Schudrich.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

After Decades of Silence, Holocaust Survivors Open Up

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

By Jesse Lempel/TPS

Jerusalem (TPS) – When Pnina Katsir turned 80, she finally told her daughter a secret she had kept for decades: she was a survivor of the Holocaust.

“I didn’t tell anyone. My kids didn’t know,” Katsir told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) at a ceremony for Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Wednesday evening. “I decreed silence on myself in order to raise a normal, happy family – not living in the shadow of that awful time.”

Yet Katsir, now 86, boldly recounted her experiences before a crowd of dozens at the Jerusalem ceremony, including many fellow survivors, their children and grandchildren, as well as a group of female soldiers. They had gathered to share stories and commemorate the dead as part of the AMCHA organization, an Israeli psychological and social support group for Holocaust survivors, which Katsir credits with giving her the tools to finally express herself.

“There was a conspiracy of silence among survivors and Israeli society,” explained Elisheva Flamm-Oren, AMCHA’s director of planning and development. “They were afraid to tell their children and burden them with what they went through, and Israeli society also didn’t want to hear it – they preferred to project strength.”

AMCHA was started 30 years ago by Holocaust survivors and health care professionals to address this “conspiracy of silence” and provide survivors with the support they need. They now cater to 20,000 Holocaust survivors in fifteen centers across the country, boasting 480 mental health professionals and a thousand volunteers. In the past year alone they logged 186,000 hours of therapy, 30% of which took place in house calls to survivors too frail to leave their homes.

“There’s a lot of power in meeting other survivors,” Flamm-Oren told TPS. “AMCHA created a place where you can come and talk about the past without fear. We want them to know that they are normal people who went through unimaginably abnormal circumstances.”

And the survivors do more than talk. They participate in AMCHA’s creative writing seminars and theatre troupes—who recently staged a play starring a 97-year-old actress—all designed to give survivors creative outlets to process their past traumas and communicate with younger generations.

“They know how to get you to open up,” said Katsir, who read a moving composition describing her childhood in a Ukrainian ghetto, including the “nightly task” she shared with her sister to clutch their grandmother’s legs as she slept in the hopes of keeping her warm.

For many survivors, the creative process has been enormously satisfying.

“I have a kind of Holocaust disease – it actually makes me feel good to talk about the Holocaust,” Elias Feinzelberg told TPS after reciting the Kaddish, the solemn prayer for the dead, at the ceremony. Feinzelberg, a very active 98-year-old who was born in Lodz, Poland, endured nine different concentration camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“I spoke at two schools today,” Feinzelberg said, proudly pointing to the pins on his blazer bearing the names of educational institutions around the world in which he has shared his story.

“Once I opened up,” Katsir told TPS, “I realized how much energy I had wasted all these years on not talking.”

TPS / Tazpit News Agency

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/israel/after-decades-of-silence-holocaust-survivors-open-up/2016/05/05/

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