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August 30, 2014 / 4 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

Critics see struggle for power behind replacement of Krakow chief rabbi

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

On the way to his first appearance as Krakow’s new chief rabbi, Eliezer Gurary passed a group of young demonstrators holding signs with messages of affection for Jews.

“I [heart] Jews,” one sign read.

“Yes to tolerance,” read another.

But the demonstration last week outside Krakow’s Old Synagogue was no support rally.

Organized by non-Jewish university students on the day of Gurary’s installation, the protest was sparked by the rabbi’s recent assertion in an interview with the Israeli news site Arutz 7 that all non-Jews dislike Jews.

Gurary’s statement, which he has denied making despite a recording attesting to its accuracy, provoked an unusually strong rebuke from local Jews, with passionate condemnations from 12 lay leaders and rabbis who said his words were harmful.

Jonathan Ornstein, director of the Jewish Community Centre of Krakow, called on Gurary to resign because he was “caught lying” about the quotes.

The interview by Gurary, a Chabad rabbi who has lived in Krakow for eight years, upset local Jews in part because it appeared to signal a dramatic reversal from the approach of his predecessor. Boaz Pash was a popular figure known for his outreach and openness in a country where many non-Jews have discovered they have Jewish roots that were lost over decades of assimilation and communist repression.

Pash quit the post last year, but his supporters say that community leaders had him replaced because they feared his outreach agenda would bring in new members who might weaken their hold on the community and its real-estate holdings.

“From outside, it may seem like the controversy is all about outreach, but the real issue is control,” said Anna Makowka Kwapisiewicz, Pash’s former assistant and the co-founder of Czulent, an organization of young Krakow Jews.

For decades, Krakow’s Jewish community, which employs the chief rabbi, has been controlled by members of the Jakubowicz family. The current president is Tadeusz Jakubowicz, a 75-year-old musicologist who has headed the community since 1997. Jakubowicz’s uncle, Czeslaw, was the previous president, and Jakubowicz’s daughter, Helena, is the current vice president and manager of the community’s real-estate portfolio. Helena’s life partner, Kuba Lewinger, a businessman and factory owner, runs the 371-year-old Kupa Synagogue.

“That family pushed out the excellent Rabbi Pash because he drew in too many new faces whom they couldn’t control,” Ornstein said. “Then they brought in a rabbi who believes in exclusion and isolation to facilitate their task of preventing community growth just to preserve their dynasty at the top. That’s what caused the uproar.”

Tadeusz and Helena Jakubowicz did not reply to numerous requests from JTA for comment, but Lewinger denied the accusation, saying that “almost anyone” can join the community if they have at least one Jewish parent. Membership policies, Lewinger said, are an attempt to keep the community “authentically Jewish and not turn into a touristic display for and by non-Jews, like Ornstein’s Jewish Community Centre.”

The Jewish Community of Krakow, which has 130 members and is run by a five-person board, may be safeguarding more than just its Jewish identity.

Since the 1990s, the community has come into possession of several restituted properties that had been seized from Jewish communities during the Holocaust. The community did not respond to requests for information about its budget and real-estate holdings, but a former community leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the organization owns dozens of properties worth more than $10 million.

“The power that comes with handling such vast property is both how and why the Jakubowiczes created an inner circle of loyal community members who are sometimes dependent of them,” the former leader said. “They keep membership at a minimum because that small circle is easier to control.”

Pash would not comment on the dispute, but in his farewell letter to congregants last year he blamed Lewinger for “ruining the atmosphere in Krakow and scar[ing] people away” from the community — factors that “in a major degree” led to his resignation.

In interviews, several people said the Jakubowicz family had Pash replaced because his outreach efforts had led unaffiliated Jews to apply for membership in the community, which may have diluted the family’s power. The votes of registered community members determine the makeup of the board.

One young woman told JTA that she applied for community membership in 2008 after becoming acquainted with Pash through his outreach to young people with Jewish roots. But her application was rejected because the documents she submitted did not satisfy the membership requirement of having at least one Jewish parent or grandparent.

Speaking to JTA on condition of anonymity, the woman said the rejection was arbitrary.

“I know it was false because the following year, I used the exact same documents to make aliyah,” she told JTA, referring to Israel’s guarantee of citizenship to anyone with a Jewish grandparent.

Ornstein’s Jewish Community Centre, which opened in 2008, has 500 members. Many of them are excluded from registering as community members, he said, even though they meet all the requirements. Ornstein said Pash served them, too, not only the registered members.

“Rabbi Pash is a hippie rabbi, very informal, very welcoming, and that helped him work with unaffiliated Jews like me,” the young woman said. “He kind of created an alternative community, but his bosses didn’t like that.”

Lewinger denied that the membership restrictions have anything to do with real estate, which he claims are a drain on communal finances. But he did confirm that he and Pash clashed over the outreach issue.

In addition to serving as chief rabbi, Pash also was an emissary for the Israeli nonprofit Shavei Israel, which aims to reconnect those with Jewish roots to the Jewish community.

Krakow is an important area for the group because it was home to hundreds of thousands of Jews before the Holocaust. Many descendants of survivors lost their Jewish connections during the decades of communist rule, but have slowly begun to rediscover them following the fall of the Soviet Union.

“Pash was more concerned with catering to non-Jews than to his own community,” Lewinger said. “He was never at shul.”

One thing in particular that bothered Lewinger was the Jewish learning seminars that Pash would hold in pubs in Kazimierz, Krakow’s Jewish quarter now known for its sizzling night life.

Shavei Israel founder Michael Freund said the bar crawls were part of Pash’s effort to go where the Jews are.

“Those pubs were packed with young Jews as well as non-Jews with Jewish roots, and he got everyone singing Jewish songs and having a positive Jewish experience, which is an important first step towards making them feel welcome in the community,” Freund said.

But to Lewinger, the scenes were symbols of the way Krakow Jewish life has been turned into a cultural attraction.

“I don’t want to be put on display in a glass cage,” Lewinger said. “I just want to go to shul and find a rabbi there.”

 

Russia Scolds NATO, USA on Sanctions, Troop Movements

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

As pro-Russian separatists eat up town after town in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin is closely monitoring NATO’s reaction – and the White House response.

Extra troops – 600 from the United States – were sent this week to Poland and the Baltic States to reassure NATO allies. In addition, new sanctions were imposed against Russian officials and pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists by the United States and the European Union.

The moves came following the kidnapping by pro-Russian separatists of some 40 people in eastern Ukraine.

Among the hostages were an Israeli American journalist (freed after Ukrainian government troops entered the city of separatist-controlled Sloviansk). Three members of the Ukraine security service and seven military observers for the Geneva-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are still being held.

The Jewish mayor of Kharkov in eastern Ukraine was likewise shot in the back by would-be assassins on Monday; he was airlifted in critical condition for advanced medical treatment to a hospital in Israel.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rebuked the United States and the European Union Tuesday over the sanctions imposed on Russia due to the Ukrainian crisis.

“We reject sanctions in any of our relationships, in particular those sanctions that were sponsored by the United States and the European Union, which defy all common sense, regarding the events in Ukraine,” Lavrov told reporters during a trip to Cuba.

He complained the West was “attempting to blame others” for the crisis after sanctions in the United States imposed Monday on seven Russians and 17 companies directly linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The European Union similarly named 15 new targets for sanctions on Tuesday, including General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, and Lt.-Gen. Igor Sergun, head of the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU. Also on the list are Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak and pro-Russian separatist leaders in Crimea and the eastern Ukrainian cities of Luhansk and Donetsk. A total of 48 individuals have so far been hit by EU sanctions thus far.

“The attempts to blame others is the result of weak politicians, or rather of those politicians who understand that their geopolitical ambitions have failed, and they are attempting to blame others,” Lavrov said.

Ukraine’s Crimea region was summarily annexed by Russia’s Kremlin after the province “elected” to secede from Ukraine following the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president in February due to massive protests by a population demanding closer ties to Europe.

In response, eastern Ukraine has become a hotbed of separatist activity, with one town after the next falling to pro-Russian terrorism. Nevertheless, Russia denies encouraging the attacks, even though the separatists who carried the assault weapons all spoke a guttural Russian, as heard in videos shot by news reporters.

Recently the pro-Russian eastern Ukraine Donetsk province also declared itself independent from the country, and now refers to itself as the “independent Republic of Donetsk.”

Jewish Ukrainian Mayor Shot, Worry Rises as Separatists Seize More Towns

Monday, April 28th, 2014

The Jewish mayor of the eastern Ukrainian town of Kharkov was shot in the back by unidentified masked gunmen on Monday and is now fighting for his life, even as Israel’s president warned Jews around the world on Holocaust Remembrance Day to watch for signs of rising anti-Semitism.

Pro-Russian separatists captured Kharkov, eastern Ukraine’s second-largest town, on Monday, according to a report by RIA Novosti. The news outlet quoted a friend of Mayor Gennady Kernes who said, “They shot him in the back from the forest…  His lung is pierced and his liver pierced all the way through.”

Aides said the mayor had recently received numerous threats,  RT News reported. The attack, which came less than 24 hours after a clash between anti-government protesters and nationalists in the city left 14 people injured, left Kernes critically wounded.

Speaking at the opening ceremonies Monday for Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Peres spoke of the death of his family in the little town of Vishnyeva, in Poland. Two thousand Jews all died there after being locked into the wooden synagogue building by the Nazis, and then burned alive.

“Half of the Jews of Vishnyeva made aliyah to Israel, the other half, which did not, were burned alive,” the president said. “Our body was slashed in two – but our spirit remains undivided, pulsating here in Israel as a locked memory, an independent Jewish renaissance never again to be destroyed.”

The clear warning issued by the president is one the Jews in Ukraine now must heed – if they even had a chance to hear it as the rising war begins to rage around them.

So far the Jews of Kharkov seem to be safe – but the city has a bloody past in terms of protecting its Jews. More than 15,000 Jewish residents of Kharkov were murdered between December 1941 and January 1942, herded by Germans into a ghetto area set up for them about five miles from the city and periodically hauled out and shot to death. Some were just buried alive. A mass grave was discovered not far from the site, in the Drobitzki Valley.

Many of the supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are also anti-Semitic, sources told the Arutz Sheva website in an interview in February. As a result, some of the community is considering aliyah.

In the eastern Ukraine on Monday, armed gunmen also seized town of Kostyantynivka, entering the administration building and the police headquarters. International media reported that masked gunmen were wearing camouflage outfits and were armed with assault weapons.

Both towns are located in the Donetsk region, along with Sloviansk, a third city which also has now been declared an independent entity by pro-Russian secessionists.

Protesters seized a local state TV station in the city of Donetsk. The protesters demanded the launch of a ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ TV channel, and that Russian TV channels be broadcast. The Ukrainian flag was lowered from the building and the flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic was raised in its place – but later, that too was removed. Nevertheless, a source told Interfax-Ukraine that secessionist security personnel remained at the TV station to enforce the demands.

Youngest Holocaust Survivor from Schindler’s List Tells her Story

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

The following article was first published on the IDF’s blog site. Eva Levi, 75, is the youngest person alive who lived through the horror of the Holocaust thanks to the famous Oscar Schindler. Today, a few days before Holocaust Memorial day, she tells her story.

Hello, my name is Eva Levi. I was born in Krakow, Poland and when I was two-years-old, WWII broke out. When the war was over, I was eight years old.

During the war, I was deported from a ghetto to Auschwitz and then to Czechoslovakia. I am alive today and can tell you my story thanks to two people: Oscar Schindler and my mother. Today I am married and live in Israel. I have two children and three grandchildren…. My first granddaughter, Anne, is currently in the Israeli army. Because of this, I am telling my story to the IDF.

When the war started, I was such a little girl that I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t have a childhood at all; I didn’t have grandfathers or grandmothers, nor did I go to kindergarten or school.

However, though this was a terrible time in my life, I had two great fortuitous things: I was lucky to have my name inscribed on Oscar Schindler’s list, of which I was the youngest person, and I was able to stay by my mother’s side.

We were first sent to the Krakow Ghetto. From this ghetto, they took us to labor camps near Krakow and this is how I got put on Schindler’s List. They then wanted to take us to Czechoslovakia but after an accident, we were transferred to Auschwitz. We stayed in the death camp for three weeks, and lived in horrendous conditions. The fear of dying was always present and renewed every time we went near the crematoria.

A particular moment stands out specifically during my time living in this hell. One day, while all the women were together in a dark building, a female Nazi officer approached my mother and told her that I was to be taken away. My mother began to cry and scream. She wouldn’t let me go. But in Auschwitz it was impossible to refuse. My mother asked her where I was being taken and the officer promised I would be going to a good place. My mother did not understand. A good place? At Auschwitz? How could that be possible? But the officer again swore to my mother that I would be taken to a good place. And indeed, they took me to a very different place inside Auschwitz.

Nobody could believe it. The place was modern and clean, a rarity at Auschwitz where everything was dirty and black. At this new place there were only well-dressed children who almost looked good. I did not understand at all where I was. I felt that I may be in paradise. There were drawings on the walls, toys, clothes. The children were obviously sad because they were alone and without parents. It was 1944 and hunger was widespread, but in this place no one starved.

One day, the Nazis called us to come to dinner. The previous days we hardly ate. A slice of bread here, a potato there. That evening, they served us dinner and we ate so much. The next morning, once again, we had a real breakfast! The Nazis were so attentive that we thought that perhaps the war was over. For lunch, we were surprised as a table was prepared and we were dressed up.

We sat as three or four smiling kind men in civilian clothes entered. Each of the men sat alongside a child. I can still remember the smell of the potatoes they served for lunch. But we ate so much the day before that I could barely stomach anything. I was not hungry at all and I began to weep. The civilian who sat next to me asked, “What is the matter dear? Are you not hungry?” And I responded that no, I was not hungry. These men were actually from the Red Cross. All of the clothes, the food, the entire place was a false display of what was happening at Auschwitz. Crematoria? They weren’t seen. Lovely, well-dressed children who felt well and weren’t hungry, that is what the Red Cross Inspectors saw.

Warsaw Demolishing Ghetto Wall, Promises Reconstruction

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Workers began demolishing a wall in Warsaw near the spot where Jews were gathered for transport to the Treblinka concentration camp, but a city official said it will be rebuilt and was torn down so trees and vegetation could be cut.

The wall borders the square in the former Warsaw Ghetto known as the Umschlagplatz and is topped with barbed wire ins some places.

It has been in poor condition for some time.

Historians reportedly are not sure whether the wall is the original from World War II.

Bartosz Milczarczyk, a City Hall spokesman, told RDC radio that the wall will be reconstructed. “I am glad that the authorities see how important for the history of both the Jews and the city are relics such as this particular wall,” Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, told JTA. “These objects, even if their historical origin is in some doubt, are an important element of the teaching of history that took place here a few decades earlier. And that we must not forget.

“I hope that as Warsaw authorities promised, the wall will be reconstructed as soon as possible.”

Italian Tourist Caught Smuggling Barbed Wire from Auschwitz

Monday, March 31st, 2014

An Italian tourist tried to smuggle a piece of barbed wire from the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum out of Poland in his suitcase.

The man was detained Sunday by border guards at the airport in Krakow. The tourist said he found the rusty piece of wire, which is nearly 16 inches long, on the ground.

“During interrogation, the man said that he took the wire as a souvenir while visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, lifted it from the ground and took it with him,” Katarzyna Walczak, a spokeswoman of the Silesian-Malopolska Border Guard, said in a statement.

The tourist faces a jail term ranging from three months to five years.

In 2009, the “Arbeit macht frei” sign was stolen from above the entrance to the Auschwitz I concentration camp. The three thieves were given sentences ranging from six months to 2 1/2 years.

Nazi Auschwitz Metal Stamps for Tattooing Found in Poland

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

An identified person or group has discovered metal stamps with embedded needles that were used on Jews at Auschwitz and which Holocaust experts said may be the first proof of original tattooing equipment at the death camp.

The director of the Auschwitz Museum, which is located on the site of the death camp, said the discovery “is one of the most important finds in years,”

The identity of the founder and how and where the stamps were located has not been revealed except for the information that they were found in Poland.

Nazis used the small stamps, to tattoo numbers on the bodies of inmates.

Museum director Piotr Cywinski was quoted by British media as saying, “We never believed that we would get the original tools for tattooing prisoners after such a long time. The sight of a tattoo is getting rarer every day as former prisoners pass away, but these stamps still speak of the dramatic history that took place here even after all these decades. They will become a valuable exhibit in forthcoming exhibitions.”

The metal stamps were put into a wooden block to form a number and then plunged into the prisoners’ skin, and ink was then rubbed into the wound to make the number appear.

The evil system was used only for a short period of time because it was too inefficient for the Nazis as they rounded up tens of thousands of Jews, most of whom were gassed, tortured to death or murdered.

Instead, the Nazis used a penholder to hold a single needle to tattoo prisoners.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/nazi-auschwitz-metal-stamps-for-tattooing-found-in-poland/2014/03/13/

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