Bosnia and Herzegovina required to return stolen Jewish Property before joining European Union

By Israel Hayom, via JNS, February 15, 2019.  Click for full report. – The European Parliament set clear conditions this week for Bosnia and Herzegovina to start on the path to membership in the European Union: the enactment of legislation to regulate the restitution of property stolen from Jews in the Holocaust.

Jakov Finci, president of the Jewish Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina, hailed the decision, which he said was “a powerful call for long-awaited legislation in Bosnia to provide justice for Holocaust survivors and their families, and to the Jewish community and other religious communities.”

The European Parliament voted to adopt a resolution put forward by Romanian European Parliament Member Cristian Dan Preda, who also serves on the body’s Foreign Affairs Committee, based upon a European Commission report on the subject from last year.

The resolution passed in a vote of 468-123, with 83 abstentions.

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This was the first time the European Parliament has officially decided that the restitution of stolen Jewish property was an issue that must be taken into consideration when considering Bosnia and Herzegovina’s request to join the EU.

The parliament calls on the country “to ensure the right to property” and also “points out the lack of a comprehensive legislative framework on handling restitution claims and encourages the authorities to open a dialogue with interested parties on issues pertaining to the restitution of, or compensation for, seized property.”

The World Jewish Restitution Organization, one of the groups involved in efforts that led to the decision, welcomed the move.

“WJRO is proud to have supported this key article in the European Parliament resolution,” said Gideon Taylor, WJRO chair of operations. “We urge Bosnia and Herzegovina to pass legislation for the return of private and communal property.”

According to the WJRO, Bosnia and Herzegovina has no official legislation for the restitution of property stolen during the Holocaust. Despite efforts by local Bosnian authorities to determine legal property ownership, the Jewish community has not seen the return of any of its communal property.

Some 14,000 Jews lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina up until World War II, 12,000 of them in Sarajevo. Approximately 2,000 returned after the war, and now the country has a Jewish population of around 1,000 people.

According to the WJRO’s website, the organization “consults and negotiates with national and local governments in Eastern and Central Europe for the return of Jewish communal property and heirless private property and the payment of full compensation in cases where restitution is not possible.”


US House members introduce bill to fund Holocaust education in schools

BY RON KAMPEAS, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Feburary 6, 2019.  Click for full report from Times of Israel.


Representatives Maloney (left) and Stefanik (right),

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan slate of House members introduced a bill that would grant money to Holocaust education in schools.

The Never Again Education Act would establish the Holocaust Education Assistance Program Fund in the US Treasury. The bill would combine appropriated funds and private donations.

A release from the office of Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, one of the lead sponsors, said the bill would “finance grants to public and private middle and high schools to help teachers develop and improve Holocaust education programs.”

The other lead sponsor is Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik.

The lead sponsors, launching the bill Monday at the Center for Jewish History in New York City, cited reports of a rise in anti-Semitism and a decline in awareness of the Holocaust.

“Anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world and here at home, and the memory of the Holocaust is fading for far too many Americans,” said Maloney, who launched a similar initiative in the last Congress that languished. “We can combat this by making sure we teach our students, tomorrow’s leaders, about the horrors of the Holocaust.”

Also present at the bill’s launch were representatives of Jewish advocacy groups and Israeli diplomats.

Holocaust Survivors and Nazi descendants in March of Life conference

BY URI BOLLAG, Jerusalem Post, February 14, 2019.  Click for full report.

The Fourth Annual March of Life conference is set to take place between February 15-17 in Tuebingen, with friends and supporters of the March of Life movement attending the conference, which runs under the slogan “Living Memory – Reconciled into the Future – An audible voice against Antisemitism.”

The March of Life was founded in 2007 by Jobst and Charlotte Bittner, bringing together Jews and Holocaust survivors with descendants of Nazi perpetrators to fight antisemitism and express support for the State of Israel.

“For ten years, March of Life has enabled and motivated tens of thousands of people around the world to be an effective voice against antisemitism and Jew hatred through their personal confrontation with the Shoah and by working through their own family histories,” Jobst Bittner said.

“New nations and cities are added every year, making the March of Life a dynamic, growing movement – and yet we are only at the beginning,” he added.

Since its inception, the march has taken place in 22 nations and more than 400 cities in partnership with Christians and Jews from around the world.

Speakers at the conference include Josh Reinstein, Director of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus and President of the Israel Allies Foundation, Shaya Ben Yehuda, Director of International Relations at Yad Vashem, Edward Cwierz, National Coordinator of the Marches of Life in Poland and Bittner himself.

Holocaust survivors and Nazi descendants unite in March of Life conference

A flower lies in the train tracks at Gleis 17 memorial in Berlin, where thousands of Holocaust victims were deported to concentration camps. (photo credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)

Other national and international speakers will also address the crowd.

Dr. Arie Itamar will be the guest of honor. Itamar is a Holocaust survivor who boarded the refugee ship “Exodus 1947″ as an eight-year-old boy with another 4500 Jewish refugees, sailing from Southern France to then-mandatory territory of Palestine.

Itamar will share his moving story in order to help the audience appreciate the importance of the State of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.

“The March of Life has become an international voice for both remembering the atrocities of the Holocaust, as well as supporting the State of Israel,” Reinstein said. “At this upcoming conference, I look forward to encouraging all the attendees to join the growing grassroots network of faith-based supporters of Israel who stand against antisemitism and anti-Zionism and actively fight its newest form, the BDS movement.”

Maryland bill aims to make Holocaust education in schools a requirement

BY KATE RYAN, WTOP, February 15, 2019.  Click for full report.

WASHINGTON — Alarmed by a study that shows 4 in 10 millennials know little about the Holocaust, Maryland state Sen. Ben Kramer is urging his colleagues in the Maryland General Assembly to pass a bill that would require that a unit on the topic be included in schools.


Kramer cited statistics from a 2018 study commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. “A full one-fifth of millennials have not even heard of the Holocaust,” Kramer said in explaining why he is working to pass Senate Bill 416.

Kramer also told a committee in Annapolis, “Hate crimes and intolerance have been increasing dramatically over the past few years, both nationally and here in Maryland.”

He also mentioned the mass shooting that targeted a Pittsburgh synagogue as an example of the dangers of anti-Semitism.

The bill would require that starting in middle school, “age-appropriate” education on the topic be included in middle and high schools.

Two Holocaust survivors joined Kramer to testify in favor of the bill.

Irma Pretsfelder, who was born in 1926, recalled Kristallnacht, the night in November 1938 when violent anti-Jewish demonstrations broke out across Germany.

“My synagogue was on fire. I was only 11 years old. I think I turned into stone, because I couldn’t move. I didn’t really know what was going on,” Pretsfelder said.

Martha Weiman said she was born in a German village on the Dutch border, and recalled, “When the Nazis boycotted our store, we were forced to leave.”

Weiman described how her family came to the United States, and added that she spoke to schoolchildren about her experiences. She supported Kramer’s bill, saying, “This act will perpetuate the teaching of the Holocaust long after we survivors are no longer here.”

Kramer said educating children about the profoundly dark chapter in human history goes beyond the specifics of the horrors of the Holocaust. “This is how we’re going to teach tolerance to future generations,” he said.

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Report: Finnish SS volunteers likely killed Jews in WWII

HELSINKI — An Israeli Holocaust historian praised authorities in Finland on Sunday for publishing a report that concluded Finnish volunteers serving with Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS “very likely” took part in World War II atrocities, including the mass murder of Jews.

Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center lauded the determination of the National Archives of Finland to release the findings even if doing so was “painful and uncomfortable” for Finland.

Zuroff called the decision an “example of unique and exemplary civic courage.”

Finland’s government commissioned the independent 248-page investigative report, which was made public Friday. It said 1,408 Finnish volunteers served with the SS Panzer Division Wiking during 1941-43, most of them 17 to 20-years-old.

“It is very likely that they (Finnish volunteers) participated in the killing of Jews, other civilians and prisoners of war as part of the German SS troops,” said Jussi Nuorteva, director general of the National Archives.

A significant part of the study was based on diaries kept by 76 of the Finnish SS volunteers. Eight of the Finnish SS volunteers are still alive, Nuorteva said.

The research document entitled The Finnish SS-volunteers and atrocities 1941 – 1943 against Jews, detailing atrocities against civilians and Prisoners of War in Ukraine and the Caucasus Region, pictured in Helsinki, Finland, on Friday Feb. 8, 2019. Senior Israeli Holocaust historian, Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, on Sunday Feb. 10, 2019, has praised Finnish authorities for publishing a report concluding that the Nordic country’s volunteer battalion serving with Nazi Germany’s notorious Waffen-SS took part in atrocities during World War II including participating in the mass murder of Jews.(Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP) (Associated Press)

Finland was invaded by Moscow in November 1939. The fighting in what became known as the Finnish-Soviet Winter War lasted until March 1940, when an overwhelmed and outnumbered Finland agreed to a bitter peace treaty. The small Nordic country lost several territories but maintained its independence.

Isolated from the rest of Europe and afraid of another Soviet attack, Finland entered into an alliance with Germany, receiving weapons and other material help from Berlin.

As part of the pact, Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler insisted that Finland dispatch soldiers to the SS Wiking division, similar to the volunteers it demanded from Nazi-occupied Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and elsewhere.

Reluctantly, Finland complied and covertly recruited the first group of 400 SS volunteers to be sent for training in the spring of 1941. The vast majority of them had no ideological sympathies with the Nazi regime, the report said.

When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 under Operation Barbarossa, Finnish regular army troops fought independently alongside Wehrmacht soldiers on the northeastern front. In 1941, the Finns advanced in the Karelia region outside Leningrad.

The Finnish soldiers were not under Nazi command, and the country’s leadership was mainly motivated by the desire to take back the territories lost to Moscow.

“At the beginning of the attack (on the Soviet Union), Finns were unaware of the Germans’ goal of eradicating the Jews,” Nuorteva said. “Finns were, above all, interested in fighting against the Soviet Union” due to their brutal experiences in the Winter War and the perceived threat from Moscow.

In this way, “the starting point for Finns’ involvement was different compared to most other countries joining SS foreign volunteers,” he said.

Finnish SS volunteers with the SS Wiking division operated on the eastern front until 1943, entering deep into Ukraine.

The leading Finnish military historians who undertook the study of the country’s wartime role wrote that the Finnish SS volunteers likely took part in killing Jews and other civilians, as well as witnessed atrocities committed by the Germans.

The volunteers returned to Finland after the Finnish government sensed the tide of the war had turned against the Germans. Many of them then served in the Finnish military until the end of World War II.

A copy of Friday’s report was given to Paula Lehtomaki, a state secretary with the Finnish government, who said it was a valuable contribution to existing research “on difficult and significant historical events” during Finland’s complex World War II history.

“We share the responsibility for ensuring that such atrocities will never be repeated,” said Lehtomaki.

The historical probe was launched following Zuroff’s request in January 2018 to Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

Finland’s move contrasts with the attitude of some eastern European nations that have sought to diminish their culpability in the Holocaust.

In Poland, the current right-wing government has worked to highlight cases of Poles who acted heroically and saved Jews, as well as the large numbers of Poles who died and suffered during German occupation.

Aron Heller in Jerusalem and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland contributed to this report.