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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Slovakia’

A Story of Three Friends

Monday, January 28th, 2013

I am a survivor of the Holocaust. Of the several concentration camps which I lived through, in one in Germany, I became close to two Slovak boys around my age named Artur and Miki. The three of us shared the same fate right through the end of the infamous twelve-day “Sachsenhausen Hunger March” and were liberated together near the town of Schwerin in northern Germany, on May 2, 1945.

I now live in New York City. In November, 2012, I published my memoir, “MEMORIES OF EVIL,” where I described parting with Artur in Schwerin.

“Schwerin was a beehive of activity: ex-prisoners and American soldiers were swarming about. The Americans directed us to a former German army compound for food and lodging. As we passed the town park we came across some adult ex-prisoners I knew. They busied themselves setting up a campsite and cooking sausages. They invited me and my friends Miki and Artur to stay with them. Artur declined and decided to go on, but to Miki and me an army compound had the odor of a concentration camp about it and so we gladly accepted the invitation.

So, how did Artur and I part? We had been together through so much: in Heinkel, sleeping on the concrete floor, we used our breath and bodies to warm each other; we were together in all the small Jugendliche (juveniles) groups of the camps that followed; we shared our first Red Cross food package; we shared our “bed” on the forest ground of the last night of the Hunger March; and we had recently shared our first meal of freedom – a surfeit of delicious boiled new potatoes.

So, here is the question: what did we say to each other? And here is the answer: nothing. He left, I stayed.

We were not insensitive. We were simply emotionally dead. My entire concentration camp ordeal had felt surreal to me and thus Artur and Miki were equally unreal. Artur and I parted and we never saw each other again.

Fast forward 67 years. In early July, 2012, I received a phone call from a woman speaking with a strong Israeli accent:

“This is Ruthi Paz, I am calling from Israel and my father (she pronounced it fazzer) thinks he knew you a long time ago in Germany.”

“Well, I don’t come from Germany, I come from Slovakia, but I was in Germany in concentration camps during the Second World War.”

“Well, so was my fazzer. His name is Yitzchak Ringwald, but his original name in Slovakia was Artur.”

Yitzchak/Artur gets on the phone line. His language is Hebrew, which I don’t speak, and my language obviously is English, which he does not speak. So, we have an emotional conversation in Slovak, our native language which neither of us had much occasion to use over the past decades. Speaking it is a struggle for both of us. It turns out that it was his grandson who discovered me on the Internet. The grandson also discovered a reference to my 2006 memoir “1000:1 ODDS.” I promise Artur to mail him a copy.

The other problem is that Artur does not use a computer or the Internet. So, I exchange several e-mails with his daughter, Ruthi. We communicate our mutual feelings of excitement over the recent turn of events; she gives me their exact address in Haifa. I airmail Artur a copy of my book. He phones me again some ten days later to thank me for it. He, of course, is unable to read it and his children are attempting to translate it via Google Translator.

There is more to the story.

In our second phone conversation Artur tells me that our mutual friend Miki also lives in Haifa. It takes till September before I receive a phone call from Miki. He had kept is original name; his last name is Brand. Miki and I had stayed together until our repatriation to Prague and he got to meet my mother after I ran into her on a Prague street.

He, too, neither speaks English, nor is he capable of using the Internet. He finally mails me a letter in Slovak, with copies of some old post-War photos of himself, one of me from my home town of Trencin after the War, and a couple of recent photos of me which his grandson discovered on the Internet. We exchange further correspondence by mail, in Slovak. I find this language easier to write than to speak since I can do so with a dictionary next to my computer. My last letter is dated November, by which time my new memoir, “Memories of Evil” has been published; I mail him a copy, trusting his grandson will be able to attempt a translation.

Fledgling Israel Lacrosse 2-0 in European Championships

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Israel’s lacrosse team – which did not exist just two years ago – is dazzling the world of sports, defeating Slovakia and France in recent matches to stand 2-0 in its first-ever European Championships.

On Thursday, Israel defeated number 17 ranked Slovakia 11-8, and then number 27 ranked France in a drenching rain on Friday.

On Sunday, Israel faces number 24 ranked Norway.

Israel Lacrosse was founded by Scott Neiss who came to Israel for the first time on Birthright in 2010.  He made aliyah to Tel Aviv and decided to bring his passion for the sport to his new home.

So smitten was Neiss with Israel during his trip, and so ardent a lacrosse enthusiast, that he conducted research on bringing lacrosse to Israel during the early days of his tour, ultimately sneaking away from his group to rendezvous with Israeli contacts given to him by his own connections at the international lacrosse federation.

The team is comprised of 43 men from teams in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as Jewish players from other countries.  The team was given official recognition by the Ministry of Culture and Sports and permission to represent the state at the European Championships in Amsterdam.  It is coached by another immigrant from the United States, Bill Beroza, member of the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Israel Lacrosse is organizing clubs dedicated to the sport across the country to encourage youth to play.  According to an interview done with Haaretz, Neiss said the clinics are always conducted in Hebrew, even though a large number of the new devotees come from English-speaking families.  “If we’re speaking English, the question Israelis ask is ‘Who are these crazy Americans?’  If we’re speaking Hebrew, the question is ‘What is this sport?’” Neiss told Haaretz.

A women’s team is also in the works.

Please – Take Our Jews

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

(In memory of my grandparents Eliezer Dovid ben Efraim Fishl and Itl bat Moshe Yisroel on the 70th anniversary of their deportation from Slovakia.)

What made the deportation of more than 80,000 Jews from Slovakia during World War II unique? It was this striking fact: In contrast with other countries, the Slovak government actually appealed to the Germans to enact deportation.

Until the end of World War I Slovakia belonged to Hungary. In 1919, under the auspices of the League of Nations, Slovakia and Czechia, which had heretofore belonged to the Austrian Empire, joined to form a united Czechoslovakia. It turned out to be an uneasy union. Though both countries were Slavic and language differences were small, Czechia was highly industrialized compared to the poorer, agrarian Slovakia. Resentful of Czech superiority, a Slovak Peoples’ Party militated for more autonomy. The Jewish minority was treated fairly and had representation in Parliament.

The Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938, began the rapid dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Yielding to German irredentist demands, a significant section of Czechia, the so-called Sudeten, was ceded to Germany. A week later the Slovaks attained their autonomy. The country assumed the hyphenated name of Czecho-Slovakia.

Three weeks later, under the Vienna Award, a substantial Southern belt of Slovakia was ceded to Hungary by German largesse. On March 14, 1939, Slovakia declared its full independence. The next day, units of the German Wehrmacht marched into Prague. Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. World War II was but a heartbeat away.

* * * * *

The Slovak Peoples’ Party was founded by a Catholic Priest, Andrej Hlinka. From the outset its orientation was blatantly anti-Semitic. Many of its leaders, like its founder, were Catholic priests, which gave the party an unusually strong standing and authority in the eyes of the devout peasantry. The simple folk unquestionably accepted the preaching of its clerics regarding Jewish guilt in the crucifixion of Jesus. Once freed from Czech restraint, Slovakian Jewry found itself sitting on barrels of dynamite. At an early stage the party modeled itself after the German Nazi Party.

This writer remembers distinctly a visit by Hlinka in the town of Lipiany. Peasants of the town and its vicinity assembled en-masse in the main square with baskets and sacks on their arms ready to pillage Jewish property. Hlinka’s incendiary words were, however, accompanied by a plea to delay any damage to Jewish possessions since it was only a matter of time before all would fall into their laps.

Hlinka’s death at the time of the Munich Agreement brought no perceptible change. His successor was Dr. Joseph Tiso, also a Catholic priest. With the declaration of Slovakia’s independence, Jews were speedily deprived of their rights. Exploiting his priestly garb, and to the embarrassment of the Vatican, Tiso continually invoked Christian principles to gain the backing and solidarity of the largely Catholic nation.

As early as February 26, 1939, the newspaper Narodne Noviny warned: “The Jews cannot count on being left in peace in Slovakia. They cannot count on any future for their children.”

On September 23, 1939, as the German onslaught on Poland was reaching its speedy and victorious conclusion, the official paper of the Slovak Peoples’ Party, The Slovak, declared: “Warfare against the Jews and the radical solution of the Jewish question must be looked upon as an inevitability, even a necessity, if we want to preserve our nation. We have to put aside false and unjustified sentimentality.… We can rightly blame [the Jews] for failures and disasters brought on our nation.”

In October 1939 the minister of the interior of the Slovak Republic instructed the district authorities that in public life “it is necessary to consider the Jews as not only an alien element but also a permanent enemy of the Slovak state.”

The ferocity and viciousness of these and similar statements not only equaled but in many respects superseded the pronouncements of German Nazi officialdom. It is noteworthy that their origin was not linked to German Nazi pressures but had domestic roots.

* * * * *

The various anti-Jewish measures enacted since the creation of the independent Slovak state were incorporated in the Jewish Codex, promulgated by the Slovak government on September 9, 1941.

The Codex contained 270 anti-Jewish paragraphs that stripped more than 80,000 Slovakian Jews of their civil rights and all means of economic survival, and in effect placed them beyond the bounds of law and society. Although drafted on the German model, in some instances it was more devastating. For example, it provided not only for marking a person with a yellow star, but every letter sent by a Jew had to have a star affixed. The police were authorized to open these letters and destroy them at their discretion.

The Slovak government press boasted that the Codex was more severe than the Nazi’s infamous Nuremberg Laws.

Viera Rybarova: A Remarkable Mission

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Last year Viera Rybarova, professor of English language and literature in Bratislava, Slovakia, undertook a formidable task. Having read my Holocaust memoirs, she decided to translate one of the books into Slovak, where there is still a shortage of literature on the tragic fate of the Jews seventy years ago.

“First of all, under Communism, very few non-Communist memoirs were published, the history was distorted, the Holocaust and the Jews were cleared away into silence,” Professor Rybarova recalls.“After [the fall of Communism in] 1989 this topic became very alive, I am almost inclined to say requested. Your book had to compete with several books with a similar topic and it has won because of its quality. Readers of your book told me they enjoyed it and learned a lot from it. It describes the post-Holocaust period, what is an almost unknown topic here. Your book can reach new readers, I believe.”

This is what prompted Professor Rybarova to embark on the mission of not only translating, but finding a reputable publisher to print and widely distribute the Slovak version of the book. She felt it was imperative to make Jewish reading material available for Slovak readers, young and old, to counter prejudice with facts.

“I believe your book, that tells the story of Slovak Jewry from the personal perspective of a survivor will reach out to Slovak readers and touch their minds and hearts,” Dr. Rybarova reinforces. “I believe Slovak readers, all readers, not only the ‘converted’ ones, will think about the issues woven in the book and they will be affected by them.”

“What made you so sensitive to the issue?” I ask Viera.

“Both my parents were concentration camps survivors,” she replies. “So were all their friends. From my childhood I remember when my parents and their friends met they always spoke about concentration camps. When I was a child I thought to become an adult meant to go to a concentration camp first!” she confides with an embarrassed chuckle.

Viera Horakova was born in Slovakia during “the period of hard Communism, but fortunately, after the death of Stalin [and Hitler]!” Viera speaks with affectionate pride about her family. Her father, who died of cancer at a young age, was a lawyer, with the reputation of a good and honest man. Viera’s mother, Medy Lustig, a handsome eighty-eight year old woman, lives on her own in Bratislava near her daughter’s home. Viera’s husband of thirty-four years, endocrinologist Dr. Martin Rybar, shares Viera’s concern for and care of her mother.

The Rybars are the parents of two grown sons – Marek, 33, an engineer who designs technology for water treatment plants, and Thomas, 26, a Ph.D candidate in theoretical physics. His wife Ela is a journalist, reporting for a leading Slovak daily in Bratislava.

Viera studied English and Russian at the University of Bratislava, and got her Ph.D. degree in literary theory, working at the Academy of Sciences as a literary theorist. Since 1991 she has been teaching English at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, her students being future filmmakers and musicians. In addition, Dr. Rybarova has done translations from English to Slovak of articles, leaflets and programs for the Theater Institute and correspondence for various other institutions.

“Your book is my first ‘creative’ translation,” Dr. Rybarova discloses to me. “Before I dared take this step, I showed the translation of a small part to people whom I trust and they encouraged me. They shared both my idea that this book should appear in Slovak, and my fervent hope that it will make a positive impact on the attitudes of Slovak readers.”

Professor Viera Rybarova’s project is a small step in the grand design of changing history. As a famed historian taught: History does not hop on one foot; it crawls on a thousand feet. May Viera Rybarova’s one small step be blessed with the accomplishment of its remarkable mission.

Return to Dachau: A Unique Gathering (Part II)

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010
The last living link to the Holocaust is quite a responsibility.“  
Remarkably, a number of sensitive young Germans and a few others from beyond Germany’s borders have taken on the responsibility and the challenge.
An outstanding example is Eva Gruberova from Slovakia.  Eva has devoted her professional life to researching and documenting the Shoa, so that mankind, learning of its unprecedented horrors, will not allow them to recur. Together with her husband, Helmut Zeller, whom she met at the Süddeutsche Zeitung (South-German Newspaper) where they both work as journalists, she explores the history of the Third Reich and its persecution of the Jews. “One of our first dates was the exhibit in Munich that dealt with crimes of the Wehrmacht in World War II,” she recalls. “We are bound to each other not only by deep love and friendship, but by our mutual interest in the Holocaust.”
Eva was born and raised in Kosice, Czechoslovakia, where she completed her studies, earning her first degree in philosophy. Receiving a stipend to continue her studies at a German university she enrolled at the Institute of Higher Studies in Frankfurt an Main for political science and ethics and later at the Institute for Philosophy in Munich.
            And it was here that she got in contact with the Süddeutsche Zeitung and her childhood dream of becoming a journalist reawakened. She made a dramatic shift, terminated her studies and plunged into writing for various newspapers.
“I still remember my first article I wrote from Germany for a Czech newspaper. It was a review of Daniel Goldhagen’s provocative book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which claims that the Nazis were but ordinary, middle-class Germans who willingly cooperated in killing Jews.”  She seemed to agree with the thesis which then prompted her to search for signs of German recognition of collective guilt.
            “That’s the reason I came to Germany: I was curious, how do the Germans cope with this history, do they feel shame? I must admit I hated the Germans then. For me every German was a Nazi. Today, however, I believe the Germans have made in the last 20 years great strides in educating about their past. As a journalist I often accompany German pupils to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial site, and this 4th generation is so open and interested that I, despite the sad contents, enjoy the tour,” Eva Gruberova confesses, and adds that she wishes that in other countries, especially in her home, Slovakia, there would be such openness and interest.
“About five years ago,” she continues, “I started to research and write a book about the ‘forgotten Jews,’ of Eastern Europe. I have visited an old age home in Bratislava where the residents are Holocaust survivors. There are women there who went with the very first transport in March 1942 to Auschwitz-Birkenau Many of them have never spoken of their experiences and they were very surprised with my interest. Some are even today afraid to admit that they are Jews. This disturbed me very deeply.”

            In Dachau Eva Gruberova had come across the picture of the seven young mothers with their babies born in the concentration camp. She could not believe her eyes. Her astonishment motivated her passionate search for sources and the discovery of the incredible story resulted in the deeply moving film, “Geboren im KZ” (Born in the CC) co-produced by Eva Gruberova and a colleague, Martina Gawaz, and the magnificent reunion of the “babies” from the world over, organized by her and team-mates at the Dachau Memorial site.

           I left Dachau with a sense of liberation. Here I met the new Germans, heard their voices, looked into their eyes and sensed genuine concern. Here a Holocaust cannot happen again.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewess-press/impact-women-history/return-to-dachau-a-unique-gathering-part-ii-2/2010/07/21/

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