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By Vanessa Gera, Associated Press, December 14, 2018 as published in Washington Post. Click for full report.
WARSAW, Poland — The Warsaw Ghetto Museum should be an ambitious state-of-the art facility —”the major Holocaust museum in Poland” — when it opens in 2023, its newly appointed chief historian said Friday.
The Polish government announced plans in March to create a museum dedicated to the Jews who were imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto and then tortured and murdered by German forces during their World War II-era occupation of Poland.
But Daniel Blatman, a Holocaust historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, described a mission for the museum that is much broader and more ambitious.
“What I would like to achieve is a wide perspective of Jewish life and death during the Nazi occupation through the perspective of the history of the Warsaw ghetto,” Blatman said, describing plans to address the experiences of Jews elsewhere in Poland, including in the many other ghettos created by the occupying Germans.
“I want this to be the major Holocaust museum in Poland,” Blatman said.
He presented his vision at a news conference in Warsaw and in a separate interview with The Associated Press.
Blatman noted that while Poland has many authentic World War II memorial sites, like Auschwitz and other former Nazi death camps, and a major museum in Warsaw dedicated to the 1,000-year presence of Jews in Polish lands, it actually has no major museum dedicated only to the Holocaust.
Polish Jews numbered about 3.3 million on the eve of the Holocaust and most were murdered. While much can be learned at Auschwitz, with exhibitions housed in old barracks and the remains of structures where human beings were gassed and burned, that death camp was used mainly to kill Jews transported from elsewhere in Europe.
Poland’s Jews — who made up 10 percent of Poland’s population — were mostly killed in other death camps, including Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor, Blatman said.
One guiding principle of the new museum will be to portray the fate of Poland’s Jews as part of both Jewish history and Polish history.
“Polish Jews who perished during the Holocaust perished as Polish citizens of Jewish origin. And I believe that the right way to present the history of that in Warsaw is to find ways to integrate it into the overall picture of this city under Nazi occupation,” he said at the news conference. “There was a wall separating Jews and Poles during the Holocaust but that wall was created neither by Jews nor by Poles. It was created by the Germans.”
Another key aim will be to portray the unique experiences of religious Jews under Nazi occupation.
The 65-year-old’s own family history was shaped by the Holocaust.
His father was a Polish-born Zionist who at 17 left to settle in Israel in 1936 — three years before German dictator Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland that unleashed the war. His father returned to Warsaw for a visit in 1938 which turned out to be the last time he saw his parents, who probably died in the ghetto. Nine brothers and a sister of his father’s perished at the Treblinka death camp.
“I grew up with a sense of a black hole because of my father’s experiences,” Blatman said. “He never recovered from not being able to get his parents out of Poland before the war and not knowing exactly how they died.”
The museum is to be housed in a former children’s hospital established by Jewish philanthropists in the late 19th century and which during World War II was enclosed within the ghetto’s walls. Extensive renovations are needed. Museum director Albert Stankowski and other officials are considering adding extensions to the building or digging below ground level to create more floor space.
Other top positions must still be filled, including a chief curator, more historians and a design team.
The museum is scheduled to open in 2023 on the 80th anniversary of the uprising by Jews in the Warsaw ghetto.
By Phil Davison, Washington Post, December 13, 2018. Click for full report.
In the early 1970s, the Parisian hairdresser Joseph Joffo, at the time a stylist to French political leaders including François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac as well as film stars such as Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon, decided to write about his dramatic childhood as a Jew during the Nazi occupation.
He did it, he said, for his children and grandchildren, to “leave a testimony” about the era in history when 6 million Jews, among them his father, were murdered by the Nazis. The manuscript appeared at a time when postwar French generations were growing up with little knowledge of the collaboration by many countrymen in the Holocaust.
Mr. Joffo’s memoirs, jotted by hand on school notepaper, “were to be just a family thing, to exorcise those terrible years,” as he once put it. But a friend persuaded him to share the story with publishers.
He endured a dozen rejections before the book, “Un Sac de Billes” (“A Bag of Marbles”), was released by a small publishing house in 1973. The account of Joseph’s odyssey across France with his brother Maurice as they evaded the Nazis became an international sensation. It sold more than 20 million copies in 18 languages and is now taught in French schools to inform children about the dangers of racism and anti-Semitism.
The book was adapted into two movies of the same title, the first in 1975, directed by Jacques Doillon to much acclaim, and the second last year, directed by French Canadian filmmaker Christian Duguay to mixed critical reaction.
Mr. Joffo died Dec. 6 at 87 in a hospital in Saint-Laurent-du-Var near his retirement home in Cannes on the French Riviera. His son Franck Joffo announced the death to the French news agency Agence France-Presse without specifying the cause.
Joseph Joffo was born in Paris on April 2, 1931, and grew up in the Montmartre quarter of the capital, where his favorite pastime was playing marbles.
Both parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father, Roman, ran a popular hair salon, Joffo, below their apartment. His mother, the former Anna Markoff, was a violinist.
“Montmartre was a melting pot of Jewish refugees from Poland, Romania and Germany itself,” Mr. Joffo recalled in a 1998 interview with Le Parisien newspaper. “They all had one thing in common: they spoke Yiddish and all had the same desire to create a better world.” Many, including his father, would later be rounded up and taken to Nazi extermination camps.
The youngest of seven children, Joseph had just turned 9 when Adolf Hitler sent his forces into France in 1940. Hearing of Hitler’s attacks on Jews in Germany, Roman Joffo sensed the danger that was coming. He had already sent two of his older sons, Henri and Albert, to Menton on the Mediterranean coast of France near Monte Carlo. The town was in Vichy France, not militarily occupied by the Nazis but run by a collaborative French regime.
In 1942, the Nazi occupiers ordered Jews to wear a yellow star patch carrying the word Juif. “I was a kid like any other — with marbles, games, clouts on the ear, lessons to learn. Now all of a sudden they stick a few square inches of cloth on me, and I turn into a Jew,” Mr. Joffo later wrote in his book.
Increasingly concerned for his children’s safety, Roman Joffo gave 11-year-old Joseph and 13-year-old Maurice 5,000 francs each (about $50 at the time) and told them to flee. Before he left, Joseph traded his yellow patch to a curious Gentile friend in exchange for a bag of marbles — hence the book’s title.
Roman Joffo told his two boys to make their way south by foot, bus or train to link up with their brothers in Menton. “Un Sac de Billes” recounts that journey.
Joseph and Maurice traveled through fields and forests and waded across rivers to evade checkpoints run by Nazi troops or collaborative French gendarmes. They never forgot what their father had told them — “never tell anyone you’re Jews.”
Once, as dramatically portrayed in Duguay’s 2017 film, Roman roughly slapped Joseph many times, demanding of him, “You’re a Jew, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not a Jew, I’m not a Jew,” Joseph repeated before his father embraced him.
Roman was trying to prepare his sons for how the Gestapo were likely to treat them if they were caught and interrogated.
During their trek, the boys often found shelter in farmhouses, pretending they were orphans. French resistance fighters also helped them on their way.
But with Allies having landed in North Africa in 1942 and in Sicily in 1943, Hitler ordered his troops in France to crack down on the resistance, communists and Jews.
Meanwhile, Roman and Anna had been arrested. They were eventually released through the intervention of Roman’s influential clients and fled south to Nice, where Joseph and Maurice had arrived safely.
But there, Roman was again arrested by the Gestapo. In November 1943, he was deported to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland. The family never heard from him again. Anna, for reasons unknown, was freed and survived the war.
Joseph and Maurice were also later detained by the Gestapo. Using what they later called their carefully thought-out lies, they claimed they were Catholic. A sympathetic priest backed their story and furnished fake baptismal certificates.
For a while, the boys split up, Maurice working as a baker for a Nice hotel and Joseph taken in by a Nazi-collaborating librarian who did not know that Joseph, calling himself Jo Jo, was Jewish.
After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, Joseph and Maurice returned home to be reunited with their mother and siblings.
The four brothers honored their father’s memory by continuing his hairdressing business in Paris, expanding the operation to create a 12-salon chain. To this day, their main salon, Joffo on Paris’s Rue Saint-Lazare, owned by Maurice, now 89, is frequented by celebrities from France and beyond.
In addition to “A Bag of Marbles,” Mr. Joffo wrote books including “Anna and Her Orchestra” (1975), about his mother as a young woman, and “Baby Foot” (1977), about his adolescence in postwar Paris. Survivors include his wife, Brigitte; three children; and a brother and sister.
Maurice Joffo, a former art and jewelry dealer who splits his time between France and Brazil, was convicted in Paris in 1986 for “fencing” allegedly stolen jewelry and melted-down gold ingots, and he was sentenced to five years in prison with a fine of 7 million francs.
In court, his brother Joseph said the goods belonged to Maurice, who had learned to save and hoard during the Nazi occupation and the postwar years. After his release, Maurice published an autobiography titled “Pour Quelques Billes de Plus?” (“For a Few Marbles More?”).
This week we had a visit from Mr. David Tuck who came to speak to 5th grade students (who are reading Number the Stars — a book about Denmark and the Holocaust. We would especially like to thank the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center for arranging this very special visit. (From Princeton Charter School Facebook page. Posted December 14, 2018).
Through Skype in the Classroom, in cooperation with Microsoft, or in person, we can bring the latest in Holocaust education to you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-464-4701.
By DAVID RISING, Associated Press, From Richmond.com, December 5, 2018. Click for full report.
BERLIN (AP) — Hundreds of Holocaust survivors around the world marked the third night of Hanukkah on Tuesday, with menorah-lighting ceremonies paying tribute to them and the 6 million other Jews who were killed by the Nazis.
Initiated last year by the New York-based organization that handles claims on behalf of Jews persecuted by the Nazis, International Holocaust Survivors Night was expanded this year to include Moscow, a nod to the large number of survivors who live in Russia and other former Soviet countries.
“The sense of Hanukkah is in our dear veterans who are present here today,” Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar said at the ceremony in the Jewish Community Center and Synagogue in Moscow. “These people have seen war, but never gave up.”
Other ceremonies were held in Berlin and Jerusalem. At a gathering of more than 100 survivors at Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange, New Jersey, outside New York City, Hanna Keselman recalled being separated from her parents in Germany by the Nazis. Her mother survived but her father died.
“We are what is left of a people who were not able to celebrate the Jewish religion because another government decided that we were not worthy of existing, much less openly practicing our faith,” the 87-year-old Keselman said. “It is a miracle, after the horrors we faced, that we are celebrating Hanukkah today.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a former ambassador to Germany under former President Barack Obama, told the group that survivors “are owed a debt by each of us, and from all humanity.”
Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said that more than seven decades after the end of World War II it is more critical than ever to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.
“We owe it to you, to show you that we will not forget,” he told the group of several dozen survivors and relatives in Moscow. “The Hanukkah candles will serve as a reminder from here forward of the importance of preserving memory. We have rebuilt many times in the past; we will never forget those lessons.”
In Berlin, several hundred survivors and relatives packed the German capital’s biggest Jewish community center for a dinner of turkey and rice, washed down with Manischewitz red wine, before lighting a menorah on stage.
Sara Bialas-Tenenberg, a native of Czestochowa, Poland, who survived 4 ½ years in the Nazis’ Gross Rosen concentration camp, said even though it was good to be among people with whom she had so much in common, the event was “not easy” for her.
She told The Associated Press it brought back memories of her parents, killed in Treblinka, a sister who was shot by the Germans and another sister who simply vanished.
“I was just a child then, 13 years old, I knew nothing of the world and I’d never been away from my parents,” said Bilas-Tenenberg, who turned 91 on Tuesday and has lived in Germany since 1961.
“I miss my mother always and even though I’m now old, I need my mother.”
At Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, more than 250 survivors from across Israel lit candles at sunset after feasting on sweet Hanukkah treats and dancing to traditional Hebrew folk songs.
Colette Avital, chair of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, said her own trauma hiding from the Germans as her family members were killed inspired her to promote Holocaust commemoration, a task she said grows in urgency every year as survivors advance in age.
“The people here are old and ailing and getting sicker,” she said. “We have to celebrate them while we can.”
Shlomo Gur, the vice president of the Claims Conference in Israel, said in the wake of reports of rising anti-Semitism in Europe, the international nature of the ceremony has taken on increased importance.
“We need to make sure more and more people remember,” Gur said. “This event gives us hope — it’s an expression of overcoming the tragedy, bringing people from darkness into light.”
In Berlin, Charlotte Knobloch, a survivor and former head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, also condemned the increasing anti-Semitism, pledging to those who perished in the Holocaust: “We are here and we are staying.”
“Many of you will never see the light of Hanukkah again,” she said. “It is you who we remember.”
Isabel Debre in Jerusalem, Iuliia Subbotovska in Moscow and David Porter in South Orange, New Jersey, contributed to this story.
On the “Night of Broken Glass,” a hundred Jews were killed; in its aftermath, 30,000 were arrested and dispatched to concentration camps, their communities destroyed. Moszer and his family fled, and two months later were on a train headed for England. The journey would ultimately take him to the United States and bring generations of Jewish youth under his tutelage, a calling for which Moszer, now 93, is being honored.
During Shabbat services on Saturday, prior to the start of Hanukkah this week, families at Congregation Brothers of Israel in Newtown hailed Moszer for not only tutoring the synagogue children in Torah recitation for their bar and bat mitzvahs, but for being an exemplar of survival when all seems lost.
“You are teaching them our way of living and how to love who they are,” Joan Hersch, synagogue education director, told Moszer during an interview.
His voice choking, he replied, “That’s why I get so emotional.”
“We’ll cry together,” Hersch said.
Moszer, a retired aeronautical engineer who lives in lower Bucks County, has been teaching at Congregation Brothers of Israel for the last 18 years, and since the 1970s at Congregation Beth El in Yardley, where he is a member.
He and his wife, Eva, were witnesses to the early years of the Holocaust. She was 8 when she and her sister escaped from Berlin as part of the Kindertransport, an organized rescue of 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, from Europe nine months before World War II commenced. The sisters lived in England for a decade before immigrating to the U.S. and being reunited with their parents, who had managed to hide out in Germany during the war.
Sid Moszer is one of 25 Holocaust survivors who serve as speakers at events throughout the region for the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center at the KleinLife community center in Northeast Philadelphia. When he talks about his years as a German schoolboy and the deadly chaos that surrounded him, he must pause periodically to rein in his emotions.
“You live with this insecurity and uncertain feeling, and that feeling is always in the back of your mind,” he said.
On Nov. 9, 1938, Moszer was living with his mother and three siblings — his father, a Polish Jew, had been expelled, and an older brother was on his own — in an apartment on the edge of a park in Cologne. As the Nazis burned synagogues and vandalized Jewish homes and businesses, the family fled the apartment, waiting in the park for hours until the violence of Kristallnacht ended the next afternoon and they could return.
They immediately began planning to flee Germany. Moszer’s father managed to get back from Poland, and the family secured transit visas to England because a relative lived there. After 21 months, on Oct. 4, 1940, they left for America — what he calls “the greatest day of my life.”
The family later moved to Philadelphia. In 1944, Moszer was drafted into the Army and wound up with the infantry in France. At the war’s end, he was assigned to the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps as an interpreter for agents interrogating Nazis.
“I felt pretty good being able to interrogate the Germans from the other side,” said Moszer, who was discharged in 1946.
He and his wife married in 1954 and had three sons, and there are now five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Tutoring the Torah was at first a favor for a friend who was dissatisfied with his son’s bar mitzvah education. Other parents at Congregation Beth El recruited Moszer, and eventually he was pressed into service at Brothers of Israel.
“He taught us about reaching our maximum potential — and instilled in us that it should be our minimum expectation,” said Gregory Segarra, 24, of Langhorne, a former student.
Moszer teaches each student the section of the Torah, the Haftorah (selections from the biblical books of the prophets), and the blessings that are scheduled to be read in synagogue on the day of the bar or bat mitzvah, as well as the prescribed chants for each section’s recitation.
His lessons are never cookie-cutter, said Rebecca Wind, 13, of Newtown. “He changes his [approach] to make sure it was the best way for you to learn. He works at your speed.”
Lessons are usually one-on-one, an hour a week, for six months. He has huddled with students in synagogue classrooms, in offices and hallways. He describes his mission as not only teaching, but easing fears and instilling confidence.
“I talk to them on their level,” he said. “I don’t talk down to them, and I try to connect.”
He doesn’t “involve parents” in the lessons because “that doesn’t work.”
In the early days, he routinely teared up while watching students on their big day, often standing next to them as they chanted the Torah.
In 1999, Moszer attended a reunion of the Kindertransport with his wife in London, and the event helped him realize the importance of his mission and the triumph his life represents.