Hate never takes a vacation and neither do we.

We are deeply disturbed by the open display of hate from members of the KKK, Neo-Nazis and others at the recent demonstration in Charlottesville VA. Open support of Hitler and his ideology while protected by free speech, reminds us of our mission to reach tens of thousands of students throughout the Delaware Valley and beyond with our message of tolerance. That message is delivered by our 30 Holocaust survivors and liberators both in person and now worldwide through the use of Skype. This wake up call will spur us on to do even more in the upcoming school year.  Unfortunately the events of the past week remind us that hate never takes a vacation. Well, neither do we!
Help us arrange a survivor program for your local school and community.  Call us at 215-464-4701or email us at info@hamec.org.

Property stolen during the Holocaust made some communities richer, even 70 years later

August 8, 2017.  Click for full report.

The entrance to the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau with the lettering ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (‘Work makes you free’) (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

One month ago, on July 9, Iraq’s prime minister announced the liberation of Mosul after three years of Islamic State rule. The violence displaced almost 800,000 civilians; more than40,000 died, and large tracts of the city were turned to rubbleduring the battle that had lasted since October 2016. Beyond those dramatic losses, the war also fundamentally reshaped local communities — as the remaining houses, land and other assets changed owners.

Of the Iraqi refugees interviewed by the International Organization for Migration, 89 percent said they had their dwellings confiscated; some 35 percent lost farmland, and 13 percent lost businesses. In Syria, Eastern Ukraine and other conflict zones, the victors and survivors are also taking property from those who have fled or died.

Do communities experiencing such wartime plunder change their economic status and political views?

Learning from the plunder at a Nazi death camp

Our research examines how communities were affected by property transfers during the Holocaust, one of the largest and best-documented cases of mass violence and plunder. During this time, some non-Jewish Europeans took over the homes, businesses and other property of the Nazis’ victims.

We study the effects of plunder at the Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, where 850,000 to 900,000 Jews were murdered between 1942 and 1943. Believing Nazi assurances that they were sent to perform agricultural labor in Ukraine, many Jews took valuables with them. After they were gassed, their property — jewelry, golden dental work, money, clothing, tools and even hair — was collected, sorted and sent to Germany. At Treblinka, plunder occurred at a gargantuan scale: the camp’s Nazi commandant Franz Stangl spoke of stepping “knee-deep into money” and “wad[ing] in notes, currency, precious stones, jewelry, clothes.”

Even though the Nazis worked hard to secure all the loot, some Jewish valuables ended up in the hands of the local population. At first, some locals traded with the camp guards, who amassed considerable wealth and paid “without even counting the bills.” When the camp closed in October 1943, some people began digging through graves at the camp site to find valuables missed by the Nazis. In accounts from the area, observers often described the scene with terms like “Eldorado,” “Klondike,” and “gold rush.”

How did this change local communities?

How we did our research

Treblinka is important for this research, because the precise placement of the camp was chosen by a mid-level German official, and had nothing to do with the local population’s pre-Holocaust wealth or political views. The locals were not involved in the killing or in the camp’s day-to-day operations. Before the war, few Jews lived in this predominantly agricultural area. Thus we are able to measure the impact of the Jewish property stolen at Treblinka by comparing communities closer to the camp with communities farther away.

Of course, not all Treblinka-area residents benefited from the Nazi plunder; some even risked their lives to help Jews. But for those who did want to trade with the guards or dig for valuables, shorter distance to Treblinka meant greater access to Jewish property.

As we did not know who benefited from Treblinka and who did not, we decided to analyze the differences between communities situated up to 70 kilometers (or about 40 miles) away from Treblinka. We collected demographic, economic and voting data from both pre- and post-World War II periods to test whether distance to the death camp is correlated with economic and political characteristics.

Being near Treblinka improved neighboring communities’ housing

We found that proximity to Treblinka is associated with newer and better housing stock. The closer to the death camp, the higher the share of homes built in the post-World War II period and of roofs made of sheet metal, a more expensive material than other roof options, as measured by the 1988 Census. For example, in communities within 15 km of Treblinka, 45 percent of dwellings on average had metal roofs; in communities 16-35 km away, that was 38 percent of dwellings; and in communities 35-50 km away, just 25 percent. All these communities were economically similar before the war, and wartime destruction cannot explain these patterns.

However, proximity to Treblinka is not associated with higher levels of economic activity, education or income in the 1980s or 1990s. To the extent that some locals benefited from Jewish goods, they invested this wealth in real estate.

Being near Treblinka pulled communities farther right in Holocaust-focused election

Communities closer to the camp exhibited higher support for the League of Polish Families (LPR) — an extreme right, anti-Semitic party — in the 2001 parliamentary election. During that election, Poles debated both Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust and whether property should be restored to long-ago owners. In the community closest to Treblinka, the LPR vote share was 14 percent, or almost twice its national average of 8 percent.

However, we found no relationship between proximity to Treblinka and support for non-xenophobic right-wing parties or support for the LPR in the elections in which the Holocaust and restitution of property were not discussed.

As societies transition from war to reconstruction and reconciliation, wartime property transfers create legal, political and social dilemmas. The perpetrators of the violence may be punished, but that does not prevent cleavages from emerging between those who lost and gained property because of the violence.

Our analysis suggests that raising the issue of restitution — while necessary to do justice to the victims — can strengthen support for extremist parties. Even today, more than seven decades after the Holocaust, when most direct beneficiaries and victims of wartime plunder are no longer alive, restitution debates across Europe sow anger and frustration and apparently stirred up some anti-Semitic backlash.

While it is too early to evaluate the consequences of ISIS rule in Iraq, we can expect disputes over property between the returning refugees and their former neighbors in the liberated areas. Unless handled very carefully, those may destabilize this ethnically diverse society.

Volha Charnysh is a fellow at the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University.

Evgeny Finkel is an assistant professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

Basie production carries torch for kids killed in Holocaust


In 1943, a group of children premiered “Brundibar” in the Theresienstadt concentration camp during the Holocaust.

They performed the opera 55 times over the next year, bringing ever-so-brief respites of music, resistance and hope to the camp.

The vast majority of those children, along with composer Hans Krasa, later were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Nearly 75 years later, “Brundibar” lives on, extensively performed by children across the globe as an act of remembrance and tolerance, and a beacon of hope.

A group of those young performers is taking part in a two-week camp at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, an opportunity that not only affords them the chance to study opera, but to gain a deep understanding of a tragic era in history and the power of art.

“These were kids our age in concentration camps, they performed like we do,” said Camille Pugliese, 15, an incoming sophomore at Middletown South High School.

“You hear about atrocities, but it brings human lives to the statistics.”

Fellow performer Alexandra Pennington, also 15 and an incoming sophomore at Middletown South, echoes her sentiments.

“This is history. It actually occurred.”

Pennington finds hope in the actions of the performers.

“Even in such a tragic place in their life, they came together to share their artistic talents to benefit the community,” she said.

Performances of “Brundibar” and “Friedl” will be staged this week at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank and at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts at Ocean County College in Toms River.

The camp is led by Eli Villanueva, director of the Los Angeles Opera, and music-directed by Jason Tramm, an assistant professor and director of choral activities at Seton Hall University.

The experience for students go far beyond the rehearsal room: They visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York last week and will meet with a Holocaust survivor this week.

Combined with its weighty context, Villanueva says it’s important to remember “Brundibar” contains a message of hope.

“The music that we’re presenting is actually offering hope for a better future and so we have to state that as part of the context in which we start to share this story,” Villaneuva said.

“I know that they performed ‘Brundibar’ as a form of protest and they needed that protest just to survive in the conditions that they were as opposed to giving up. This desire, this need to survive and finding ways of keeping beauty within art and music, all of these things to help maintain human life.”

“Brundibar” will be performed in conjunction with “Friedl,” which tells the story of some of the people involved in the opera in the camp.

“Putting the two together, we really get to dig deeply into the history of the Holocaust,” Villaneuva said. “‘Friedl’ deals with people who were in Terezin, and so (students) really get to talk about it and understand. It provides new context for how to deal with the history of the Holocaust.”

“Opera tells a universal human story, any great opera,” Tramm said. “And the pairing with ‘Friedl’ really brings it home. I’ve done ‘Brundibar’ before, but never with that type of prefacing. And the preface really sets up the story and humanizes the people. And then the brilliant pairing of the two works, light and dark, is going to be something that has never been seen in this region before.”

Adam Philipson, president and CEO of the Basie, says the message of the show is particularly apt now.

“This is a moment in our history where communication, tolerance, compassion and respect are paramount,” he said. “This is a piece that teaches that compassion.”

Philipson says in addition to the message, the opera camp offers many benefits, including raising the bar of teaching at the theater to allow kids to experience the rigors of opera and open a new artistic pathway to them, as well as partnering with different arts organizations at the Shore and growing the Basie’s both literal and figurative footprint amid a $20 million expansion plan.

An $18,000 grant from the OceanFirst Foundation supports the opera camp, Count Basie’s first opera offering. The summer camp and performances also are made possible by an endowment funded by the Charles Lafitte Foundation.


Villaneuva feels a sense of responsibility to Holocaust victims and survivors to share the messages of “Brundibar” and “Friedl.”

“Based on what I’ve found, I find that (survivors) feel it’s important that their story be heard, so that this doesn’t happen again. Their stories must be heard.”

Two performances of “Brundibar” and “Friedl” will be staged — at 8 p.m. on Aug. 19 at the Count Basie Theatre, and at 2 p.m. on Aug. 20 at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts at Ocean County College in Toms River. All tickets are $20 and are on sale now.

To buy tickets, visit countbasietheatre.org and grunincenter.org.

Ilana Keller: 732-643-4260; ikeller@gannettnj.com

Scots Holocaust heroine Jane Haining honored in Budapest

Jane Haining gave her life to help protect Jewish schoolgirls during the Holocaust. Picture: PA
Jane Haining gave her life to help protect Jewish schoolgirls during the Holocaust. Picture: PA

A Scot who gave her life to help protect Jewish schoolgirls during the Holocaust is to be officially honoured in her adopted city 73 years after she died.

Church of Scotland missionary Jane Haining will be the focus of a new exhibition in the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Budapest, Hungary.

Spokesman Zoltan Toth-Heinmann said Miss Haining, who grew up in Dunscore, near Dumfries, was a “unique and important” figure, but her inspirational story had been “neglected” in the city she made her home.

Matron at the Scottish Mission school in Budapest during the 1930s and 40s, she refused to return home despite advice from church officials, saying the children needed her in the “days of darkness”.

She was arrested in 1944, charged with working amongst Jews and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, where she died aged 47.

She was posthumously honoured by the UK Government for “preserving life in the face of persecution”.

Mr Toth-Heinmann said he was determined to ensure that as many people as possible learn about her and visited Scotland this week to seek inspiration for the temporary exhibition, which is going on show in the autumn.

• READ MORE: Revealed: the haunting last words of Scots WWII heroine seized by Secret Police

He visited Dunscore Parish Church in Dumfries, the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh and Queen’s Park Church in Glasgow, where the missionary worshipped before moving to Budapest in 1932.

He said: “Jane Haining’s story is an important part of the Holocaust history in Budapest, and sometimes, for the general public, it might be neglected.

“She was unique because all the other players – rescuers, victims and perpetrators – were local people.

“She was the only one who had the chance to choose if she would stay there and risk her life to save children or just leave and return to Scotland.”

Mr Toth-Heinmann said the exhibition will help ensure that her memory is kept alive and “illustrate her heroism to visitors”.

He added: “The primary objective will be the education of young people so they can learn that sometimes it is important to make a sacrifice.

“We have various items relating to her life – artefacts, photographs and documents – which will, along with testimonies from some of her former pupils, bring her story closer to visitors.”

Rev Ian Alexander, Secretary of the Church of Scotland World Mission Council, said: “Jane Haining’s story is heart-breaking, but also truly inspirational.

“Scottish missionaries were advised to return home from Europe during the dark days of the Second World War, but Jane declined, writing: ‘If these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness?’”

What became of Europe’s Nazi-looted libraries?



The rhombicuboctahedronal National Library of Belarus sits on the northwest edge of Minsk, elevated above the surrounding landscape like a Brutalist disco ball. Few passersby would suspect that it’s home to some of the finest Jewish libraries of pre-war Paris, housing thousands of rare volumes that once inhabited the elegant studies and drawing rooms of the French capital.

While the saga of the Nazis’ plunder of Europe’s visual art and Germany’s subsequent efforts at restitution has garnered attention, even inspiring multiple feature films, the Third Reich’s similarly destructive attempt to dominate the continent’s literary culture is little known. Now, the Wall Street Journal has brought that neglected history to public attention with a recent report that looks into the search for the 1.2 million books stolen, which include 500,000 taken from the Jews of France.

Historian Francoise Basch, the granddaughter of a French Jewish intellectual whose library was seized after he was killed by the Nazis, told the Journal, “I am terribly excited that his books are somewhere within reach and I might someday look at them, but there isn’t much time.”

“I am 87. I mean, this is such a slow process and the books are in Minsk.”

Interest in the plundered books is on the rise. Germany’s “Initial Check” program is seeking to reconnect books with their proper heirs, while Swedish journalist Anders Rydel’s book, “The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and a Return to Literary Inheritance,” was published in an English translation earlier this year.

History, however, makes the matter of restitution rather complicated.

While Germany has been willing to make reparations, a great share of the books it seized ended up in the hands of the victorious Red Army, whose “trophy brigades” secured them and brought them East. Thoroughly decimated by World War II, the Soviets were categorically uninterested in foregoing any of its spoils. The USSR, rightfully proud of its victory over the Germans, was largely unwilling to admit wrongdoing in any aspect of its heroic war effort, and its successor states have largely followed suit. They, too, have reason to count themselves among the war’s victims. While Hitler had considerable respect for the culture of his Western adversaries, his forces were instructed to destroy the high culture of their Slavic enemies in order to subjugate them more completely. According to a report in Haaretz, the Nazis emptied the Lenin Library in Minsk to the tune of 17 train cars worth of books.

Sadly, these circumstances make it unlikely that the books will be returned in full. On the topic of restitutions, Aliaksandr Susha, deputy director of the National Library of Belarus, told the Journal, “We are not ready for such discussions.” In lieu of this, Belarusian authorities have opened the collections to visiting scholars. If the books’ heirs wish to see them, they may have to do so within the confines of Minsk’s vaguely extraterrestrial library.


‘He should be as well known as Schindler’: Documents reveal Canadian citizen Julius Kuhl as Holocaust hero

He lived for decades in relative anonymity in Toronto, where he ran a construction company. But documents shared with The Globe show that Julius Kuhl – who died in 1985 – should have been one of Canada’s most celebrated citizens, a hero of the Holocaust who saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives, Mark MacKinnon reports.

Documents stored in Switzerland, Jerusalem and Washington – shared exclusively with The Globe and Mail and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, a Polish newspaper – reveal Julius Kuhl’s role as a saviour of hundreds, perhaps thousands of fellow Jews during the Holocaust.

Documents stored in Switzerland, Jerusalem and Washington – shared exclusively with The Globe and Mail and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, a Polish newspaper – reveal Julius Kuhl’s role as a saviour of hundreds, perhaps thousands of fellow Jews during the Holocaust.



BERN, SWITZERLAND.   Julius Kuhl arrived in Toronto shortly after the Second World War with his young family and a suitcase full of Swiss watches that he hoped to sell.

He was also carrying a story of bravery and sorrow that he shared only with those close to him – one that might have made him an international celebrity had he chosen to tell it.

Mr. Kuhl’s death in 1985 made no headlines in Canada or beyond. But documents stored in Switzerland, Jerusalem and Washington – shared exclusively with The Globe and Mail and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, a Polish newspaper – reveal Mr. Kuhl’s role as a saviour of hundreds, perhaps thousands of fellow Jews during the Holocaust. It is a story that deserves to be considered alongside those of famous Holocaust heroes such as Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg.

Described by his family as a short, devout and gregarious man who was constantly puffing on a cigar, Mr. Kuhl was a low-level diplomat at the Polish legation in Bern, the Swiss capital, during the Second World War. He was also the centre of a network that manufactured fake Latin American passports that were then smuggled into Nazi-occupied Europe.

Personal letters, diplomatic cables and Swiss police records show that, starting in 1941, Mr. Kuhl acquired thousands of blank passports from the consuls of Paraguay and other South and Central American countries in Switzerland. He and a colleague then entered by hand the names and dates of birth of European Jews – including many who were trapped inside the Warsaw Ghetto – before pasting in their black-and-white photos.

The effort continued for two years – until Swiss police, anxious to avoid irritating Hitler’s Germany, broke up the fake documents ring. They brought Mr. Kuhl and his collaborators in for questioning and demanded that the Polish legation, which represented the London-based government-in-exile of Nazi-occupied Poland, dismiss Mr. Kuhl.

He should be as well known as Schindler, because he saved as many lives as Schindler.


“He should be as well known as Schindler, because he saved as many lives as Schindler,” said Markus Blechner, who worked for years to collect the documents proving the tale he heard as a child about Mr. Kuhl and the life-saving passports. Mr. Blechner, the grandson of Holocaust victims, took up the cause of preserving Mr. Kuhl’s story after Mr. Kuhl attended his bar mitzvah as an honoured guest shortly after the war.

Mr. Schindler protected more than 1,000 Jews by employing them at his factory in Nazi-occupied Poland. Mr. Wallenberg saved almost 10,000 Hungarian Jews by issuing them protective passports identifying them as Swedish citizens.

One of the reasons Mr. Kuhl’s story isn’t as widely known is that his passport scheme was only partly successful. Mr. Blechner, who now serves as the honorary Polish consul in Zurich, says thousands of fake passports were distributed via Mr. Kuhl’s network, but only a minority of the recipients are believed to have survived the Holocaust.

Jews holding passports from neutral countries were considered exempt from Nazi laws that confined Jews to ghettos and mandated that they identify themselves by wearing yellow stars on their clothing. Those third-country passports allowed many Jews to flee ahead of the mass exterminations that followed.

An estimated six million European Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

While some of the Jews who received passports produced in Switzerland used them to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe, the majority were sent to internment camps – many, apparently, to a camp in Vittel, in Vichy France. Mr. Blechner says the Nazis’ original plan was to hold the “Latin Americans” until they could be traded for German citizens detained in camps in Canada and the United States.

But the sheer number of Latin American passport holders in occupied Poland eventually raised suspicions. As Swiss police moved to shut down Mr. Kuhl’s passport ring in the fall of 1943, Germany demanded that Latin American countries verify that the passport holders were really their citizens.

Photos of scanned docs held in the Yad Vashem archive in Jerusalem.

Photos of scanned docs held in the Yad Vashem archive in Jerusalem. Mr. Kuhl acquired thousands of blank passports, then entered by hand the names and dates of birth of European Jews, along with their photographs.


When Latin American governments said they had no knowledge of the passport holders, the Jews in Vittel and other internment camps were sent to Auschwitz and the horrific fate from which Mr. Kuhl’s network had tried to save them.

Another reason Mr. Kuhl’s exploits went unheralded is that Mr. Kuhl himself was uninterested in publicizing or romanticizing his exploits.

“[He] wasn’t interested in fame. He did this for a certain period in time, then he was selling watches in Toronto, then he became a construction magnate. People say, ‘Why didn’t he promote his story?’ Because he was busy,” said Mr. Kuhl’s son-in-law, Israel Singer. “He was a man trying to build a new life, just like the [Holocaust] survivors were.”

But Mr. Kuhl did tell his four children – two of whom still live in Toronto – and many grandchildren about the work he did during the war. The inspiring story they heard is supported by documents seen by The Globe and Mail in Bern, as well as by photocopied passports and other records that were anonymously donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shortly after Mr. Kuhl’s death. Other documents that corroborate Mr. Kuhl’s heroics are stored in the archives of the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem.

Israel Singer sits in the Azimut hotel in Moscow, Russia. Mr. Singer, Julius Kuhl's son-in-law, served from 1991 to 2006 as secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress.

Israel Singer sits in the Azimut hotel in Moscow, Russia. Mr. Singer, Julius Kuhl’s son-in-law, served from 1991 to 2001 as secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress. He says his work was frequently inspired by his father-in-law’s legacy.


A 1945 letter from the Agudath Israel World Organization states that Mr. Kuhl and his colleagues played a critical role in “rescuing many hundreds of Polish Jews.”

“These stories are not apocryphal. They’re actually real. There’s documentation,” said Mr. Singer, who served from 1986 to 2001 as secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress and then as chairman until 2006 – doing work, he said, that was frequently inspired by the legacy and teachings of his father-in-law.

One of the many saved by Mr. Kuhl’s efforts was Aharon Rokeach, the chief rabbi of the Belz Hasidic dynasty. Mr. Rokeach was considered a top target of the Gestapo, and saving the rabbi became paramount for the Hasidim.

He escaped Nazi-occupied Europe in 1943 using a passport created by Mr. Kuhl and sent via diplomatic pouch by Archbishop Filippo Bernardini, the papal nuncio to Bern who repeatedly used his office to aid Mr. Kuhl’s efforts. The rescue preserved the lineage of the Belzer dynasty, which has since re-established itself in Israel.

Rabbi Aharon Rokeach at Marienbad in 1937 for the famous rabbinical congress.

Rabbi Aharon Rokeach at Marienbad in 1937 for the famous rabbinical congress. The rabbi was one of many who were saved by Mr. Kuhl’s efforts.


Mr. Kuhl’s tombstone near Bnei Brak in Israel says he saved the lives of thousands of Jews, including that of Mr. Rokeach. Mr. Singer says the inscription was added at the “insistence” of the rabbi’s son.

Mr. Kuhl was born into poverty in the southeastern Polish town of Sanok in 1917 but was sent at the age of nine to live with his uncle in Zurich. His father had died when he was young, and his mother wanted him to get a better education than he could receive in Sanok. Mr. Kuhl fulfilled that wish by obtaining a PhD in economics shortly before the outbreak of the war.

His mother was deported to Siberia after the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. She died shortly after the end of the war.

In 1940, Mr. Kuhl was hired by the Polish legation as deputy head of the consular section, with a special remit to aid Polish refugees.

The passport-smuggling operation began in October, 1941. The first rescue was accomplished by Eli Sturnbuch, a Polish Jew living in Switzerland who purchased a blank Paraguayan passport in Bern and filled it in with the details of his fiancée, Guta Eisenzweig, who was trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto.

When that effort succeeded, Switzerland’s Jewish community realized they might be able to save far more people. Mr. Kuhl and his network began buying dozens, then hundreds, of blank Paraguayan passports from the co-operative Paraguayan consul in Bern.

As the operation expanded, the network began buying blank passports from other countries that had remained neutral. Bank transfers found among the documents in Bern show that American Jews aided the effort by sending money via the Polish consulate in New York.

Mr. Kuhl and his colleague Konstanty Rokicky filled in each document by hand from the safety provided by the Polish legation’s diplomatic status.

Another key figure in the operation was Adolf Silberschein, a Polish Jew who fortuitously happened to be in Switzerland attending a conference when the war began. In exile, Mr. Silberschein established a group called the Committee for Relief of the War-Stricken Jewish Population and sent regular lists to Mr. Kuhl and Mr. Rokicky – sometimes two or three a week – containing the names, personal details and photographs of Jews trapped in occupied areas and in need of fake passports.

Rodolfe Hugli, the honorary Paraguayan consul to Switzerland, also played a vital role – though a controversial one, because of the profit he made. Mr. Hugli sold blank Paraguayan passports to the network, then affixed his official stamp to the documents after Mr. Kuhl and Mr. Rokicky prepared them.

Some of the documents were collected by Mr. Blechner, while others were assembled by diplomats currently stationed at the Polish embassy in Bern.

While many details of the passport-smuggling operation have become public over the decades, the scale of the Polish legation’s involvement was not publicly known until now. Nor was Mr. Kuhl’s Canadian connection.

“It is unfortunate to note that some officials of the Polish Legation were very closely mixed up in this affair,” reads a 1943 Swiss police document that lays out the scheme and its participants. “Mr. Julius Kuhl was repeatedly given Paraguayan passports by Mr. Hugli, which he then took to the Polish Legation, where the names of Polish Jews were entered [into them], although [the recipients] had no claim to the possession of such papers.”

Several documents demonstrate that the entire effort took place with the active assistance and protection of Aleksander Lados, Poland’s de facto ambassador at the time.

It was Mr. Lados who had hired Mr. Kuhl and – despite increasing pressure to dismiss his deputy consul – gave his activities diplomatic protection.

(The government-in-exile of Nazi-occupied Poland had diplomatic representation in Bern via the same building that now houses the country’s embassy here. The Swiss government granted Mr. Lados and his colleagues diplomatic status though Switzerland but, to avoid provoking the Nazis, never formally accepted Mr. Lados’s credentials as Poland’s ambassador.)

Documents found in the Polish Embassy in Switzerland show that Julius Kuhl, a young Jewish man who was a low-ranking diplomat during the Second World War, saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives by printing fake South American passports that were then smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto.


“The Polish Legation in Bern, wishing to save its citizens, is doing all it can,” reads an August, 1943, letter from Mr. Silberschein, the man who compiled the lists for Mr. Kuhl’s network, to Archbishop Bernardini. “Thanks to these means, a few thousand lives have been saved.”

“Mr. Lados was the head and he tolerated and protected what Mr. Kuhl did,” said Mr. Blechner, who believes Mr. Lados should be added to the Righteous Among the Nations, an honour bestowed by the state of Israel on non-Jews who risked their own safety to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.

The possibility of obtaining a Latin American passport was a ray of hope for those trapped in Nazi-occupied Poland.

“I’d like to have Uruguayan passport, Costa Rican, Paraguayan – just so one can live peacefully in Warsaw, after all, it is the most beautiful of lands,” wrote Wladislaw Szlengel, a poet who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto until he was executed in May, 1943.

As the pace of the killings accelerated, so did the secret passport operation – until Swiss police broke it up.

Police records show Mr. Silberschein and his colleague Penny Hirsch were arrested in September, 1943, and found to be in possession of an assortment of Latin American passports, as well as several foreign currencies.

Under interrogation, the Moscow-born Ms. Hirsch told police she was aware of “between 200 and 300 passports” that had been distributed to Jews living in German-occupied parts of Europe. She told the police that she and Mr. Silberschein knew they had been breaking the law but that their motivations were purely humanitarian. “We did not intend to harm Switzerland,” she added, according to a police transcript.

While American Jews provided financial support to Mr. Kuhl and his network, the U.S. government was less helpful – apparently out of concern that German spies might reach North and South America using the passports. “The Legation of the United States in Bern, informed the Polish Legation some time ago that it was not satisfied with this traffic in passports,” Mr. Silberschein said during his own interrogation by Swiss police.

Dr. Kuhl was in the right place at the right time, and instead of doing nothing – like most people – he did the right thing.


He said the network paid anywhere between 550 Swiss francs for a blank Haitian passport and 1,200 for a Paraguayan one. (The average hourly wage at the time was less than two francs.)

But when asked how many passports he had helped smuggle in, Mr. Silberschein claimed not to know. “I don’t have a very good memory for numbers,” he told the police.

By the fall of 1943, Swiss police had focused their investigation on Mr. Kuhl, and Mr. Lados was summoned by the Swiss Foreign Ministry to explain the activities of his diplomat.

Mr. Lados swung between pleading with the Swiss – telling them the passport scheme had been motivated by “the desire to save the lives of many good people” – and subtly threatening to expose how Swiss police had themselves granted stateless passports to Jews crossing the country on their way toward neutral Portugal and Spain.

Mr. Lados and Mr. Kuhl remained in their posts until September, 1945, when they were replaced by emissaries from Poland’s postwar Communist government.

Stripped of his diplomatic status, Mr. Kuhl was told that, despite having a Swiss wife and two Swiss-born children, he had to leave Switzerland. He moved to Toronto with his young family “because the Canadians would have him. Jewish migrants were not welcome everywhere,” Mr. Singer said, adding that his father-in-law also tried living in New York but “felt lost” there.

“Toronto’s Jewish community was very welcoming to immigrants. He found his Judaism renewed in Toronto to a degree that never would have happened to him in Switzerland,” Mr. Singer said. “He arrived with a briefcase full of watches and became an important businessman and a Canadian citizen.”

Mr. Kuhl remained in Toronto until 1980, when he moved to Miami. By that point, he was already suffering from the emphysema that would claim his life.

A curiosity among the documents seen by The Globe is a 1960 letter Mr. Kuhl received from Roland Michener, then a Progressive Conservative MP and the Speaker of the House of Commons.

“It is indeed a remarkable story of which you have reason to be proud,” wrote Mr. Michener, who would become Canada’s 20th governor-general. But Mr. Michener appears to have been referring to Mr. Kuhl’s career in the construction industry, not his life-saving efforts during the Holocaust.

Mr. Singer says that while Mr. Kuhl never saw himself as a hero, it’s time his father-in-law was acknowledged as such.

“My view is that Dr. Kuhl was in the right place at the right time, and instead of doing nothing – like most people – he did the right thing.”

With files from Stephanie Chambers

World’s oldest man, an Israeli Holocaust survivor, dies at 113

Yisrael Kristal, who last year marked his bar mitzvah 100 years late, passes away a month before his 114th birthday

Holocaust survivor Yisrael Kristal, confirmed in March 2016 as the oldest man in the world. (Courtesy of family)

Holocaust survivor Yisrael Kristal, confirmed in March 2016 as the oldest man in the world. (Courtesy of family)

The world’s oldest living man, Yisrael Kristal, died on Friday one month before his 114th birthday.

In 2016 Kristal, born September 15, 1903, had been recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest man.

Kristal, who lived in Haifa, had lived through both World Wars and survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Last year he finally celebrated his bar mitzvah — a hundred years later than usual. He had missed the original date because of World War I.

Kristal was born to an Orthodox Jewish family near the town of Zarnow in Poland. He was orphaned shortly after World War I and moved to Lodz to work in the family confectionary business in 1920. During the Nazi occupation of Poland he was confined to the ghetto there and later sent to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. His first wife and two children were killed in the Holocaust.

Kristal survived World War II weighing only 37 kilograms (about 81 pounds) — the only survivor of his large family. He married another Holocaust survivor and moved with her to Israel in 1950 where he built a new family and a successful confectionary business.

A devout Jew, he had wrapped phylacteries daily for the past century.

Kristal will likely now be succeeded as world’s oldest living man by Spaniard Francisco Núñez Olivera, 112, who had been second in line for the title.

Notably, Kristal was the oldest living man but not the oldest living person — that title currently belongs to Jamaican Violet Brown, 117.

AP contributed to this report.

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