Violins of Hope, the soul of Holocaust music, will visit Birmingham next spring

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Violins of Hope, the soul of Holocaust music, will visit Birmingham next springJeffrey and Gail Bayer say they are starting the Fund and supporting the concert to leave a legacy to their children and grandchildren. Here with Madison, left, and Emory Goldberg. (Karim Shamsi-Basha / Alabama NewsCenter)

Nearly 50 years ago, a Holocaust survivor brought the renowned violin maker Amnon Weinstein a violin to restore. When Weinstein opened the case, black ashes fell out. He thought of his relatives who died in German concentration camps, packed it back up and told the man he couldn’t.

But the soul of the music pressed on.

It wasn’t until 1996, after several people had asked Weinstein to rebuild Holocaust violins, that he decided he was ready and began restoring them. Six million people died in the Holocaust, but their music is still alive.

Next April in Birmingham, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra will host a concert at the Alys Stephens Center to honor Weinstein and give residents a taste of the soul of the music that endured one of the most horrific tragedies of mankind.

Weinstein showed one of the violins and spoke of the beauty of the sound during a recent Skype interview.

“It’s very important to me, every instrument speaks to me in a different way. It’s important to me to listen to the sounds and the stories each violin is giving,” he said. “I can say that this is my duty that I’m fulfilling.”

Violins of Hope Birmingham aims to strike a resounding note for interfaith dialogue, social justice from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

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Weinstein through Violins of Hope helps commemorate the violins that survived the Holocaust with concerts all over the world, including last year in Cleveland.

Getting down to business

When Birmingham’s Sallie Downs witnessed the Cleveland concert on television, it changed her life. She went to Israel and visited Weinstein to ask if he would consider bringing his violins to Birmingham.

“My husband and I went to Tel Aviv in June of last year to meet face to face with Amnon and his wife. They were thrilled at the prospect of Violins of Hope traveling to Birmingham,” Downs said. “They know all about Birmingham’s history, and Amnon said to me ‘Did you know that Condoleezza Rice plays concert piano?’ I smiled and said yes.

“He views Birmingham as an important place to visit. He believes Violins of Hope Birmingham is going to be something really special, because of our unique history for civil rights,” said Downs, who became the project coordinator for the Birmingham Violins of Hope concert.

A few of the Violins of Hope. (Karim Shamsi-Basha / Alabama NewsCenter)

Weinstein immediately saw the connection between Birmingham’s history and the violins.

“Birmingham has had its own struggle, and I am delighted to hold a concert there,” Weinstein said. “These violins from death camps like Dachau and Auschwitz remind people of the strength of the human spirit.”

Concert made possible

The Violins of Hope concert next April in Birmingham would not have been possible without two people who saw the importance of bringing such a treasure to the city. Jeffrey and Gail Bayer, of Bayer Properties, have been studying the idea of starting an interfaith, human rights and social justice fund (which they refer to as the Fund), and thought the concert would be a great way to kick off the nonprofit.

“Gail and I wanted to create an institute of interfaith dialogue and social justice originally through Temple Emanu-El,” Jeffrey Bayer said. “Then the idea of the Violins of Hope to kick off something even larger came about.”

Gail Bayer said she hopes the concert with violins that have survived the Holocaust will educate people about the magnitude of the tragedy.

“I thought it was important to bring a concert that still had a living part of the Holocaust, the violins, and bring them to life and let people see there are survivors. It’s important that their story gets told,” she said.

“These violins have survived when so many people did not. Their legacy lives on and that’s the hopefulness about something as terrible as the Holocaust,” Gail Bayer said. “We had been talking about a legacy we could leave to our children and our community, and we had talked about some kind of interfaith dialogue because religion has been the basis of so much strife and war in our world. If we can get people to understand and appreciate each other, then we can have a better, more understanding world – a live-and-let live world.”

Starting a human rights, social justice and interfaith dialogue institute in a city like Birmingham may seem like a herculean task, but the Bayers are prepared.

“One of my hopes is to bring the Jewish community together with the general community, so they can feel even more comfortable in an interfaith opportunity,” Jeffrey Bayer said. “We find ourselves in the year 2017 still fighting over whose belief in God is the right one, and that’s been going on since man existed.”

Downs sees her involvement with the concert and the human rights, social justice, interfaith dialogue Fund as the most important thing she has ever done.

“Violins of Hope is transcending from a singular spectacular event, to the beginning of a movement – a magnificent effort where all of us in the community come together and inspire people to move closer to being who God would want us to be, to love and care for our neighbor,” Downs said.

The violins

A few of the Violins of Hope. (Karim Shamsi-Basha / Alabama NewsCenter)

Violins have been an important aspect of Jewish culture, such as the Klezmer tradition of music. But during the Holocaust, some of these instruments were liberators and saviors. They provided comfort to the concentration camp prisoners in their darkest hours, and they saved the musicians who were asked by the Nazis to play them. They represent the resilience of the human spirit.

Today, they are reminders of the horrors of the 1930s and 1940s, which resulted in millions of Jews perishing. They remain as a memorial to those who survived. Each violin has a unique and captivating story.

A book, “Violins of Hope,” by James Grymes, chronicles the stories of these instruments. Also, a documentary film, “Violins of Hope: Strings of the Holocaust,” sheds light on the history of these instruments. Academy Award winner Adrien Brody narrates the film.

The violins will be in Birmingham for five days, from April 10 to April 15. Educational programs, art exhibits and lectures will take place in addition to the concert.

For Jeffrey and Gail Bayer, the Violins of Hope concert and the human rights, social justice, interfaith dialogue Fund are now their mission in life. They aspire to leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren that will give them hope for a safe and bright future.

“I feel we have to do something to help create a world of acceptance,” Gail Bayer said. “Not doing anything is not an option.”

 

(For details, email Information@violinsofhopebhm.org.)

Tree with roots in the Holocaust planted at Illinois junior high school

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BY IRV LEAVITT, Pioneer Press, June 5, 2017.  Click for full report from Chicago Tribute website.
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A sapling descended from a tree planted in a Nazi concentration camp in 1943 will remind many of those who lost their lives there — but that wasn’t the primary objective of the woman whose family donated the little tree to Northbrook Junior High School.

Dede Harris said she wanted the five-foot-tall descendent of the tree of Terezin to be planted in the back yard of the Northbrook school to celebrate a way of thinking about life.

“No matter how difficult our circumstance, we can always find a way to make this world better,” said Harris, a former teacher and social worker who in May published a children’s book, “The Children’s Tree of Terezin,” about the original tree. The book tells the story of a secret school in the Terezin concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. There, a teacher named Irma Lauscher had an idea to bring hope to the children by raising a smuggled-in maple tree. The children shared their water rations to keep it alive.

“I also want to say that we have to listen to our inner voice, our inner inspiration, the way Irma Lauscher the teacher listened to her inspiration. That was an inspired thought,” she said. “Listen to your inspiration, and move it forward.”

The tree eventually towered over the camp, called Terezin in Czech and Theresienstadt in German. Harris said the original tree died a few years ago, a victim of endemic Prague-area floods. But shoots from the tree arrived in Israel and, in 2009, at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, where Dede Harris is a director, and her husband, Sam Harris, is a past president.

At a Thursday ceremony at the school at 1475 Maple Ave. to dedicate the tree, Steen Metz, 82, a survivor of Terezin, said what it meant to him.

“I’d like to honor the memory of 40,000 Jewish people that passed away in Terezin. That included my father. And, additionally, there were 90,000 Jewish people that were deported from Terezin to extermination camps like Auschwitz and very few of those survived. So, today, let’s make sure that we never forget the memory of a people that passed away.”

Metz, a Lincolnshire resident, said he regularly instructs junior high students to each tell four people that the Holocaust existed, because as time goes on, deniers could conceivably prevail.

“Maybe I can ask everybody here today to talk to at least four people, and tell them that the Holocaust took place, because you heard an eyewitness,” he said. “It’s more important than ever, especially with today’s environment, that we don’t forget the Holocaust.”

Dede Harris’s husband, Sam Harris, is a survivor, too, of Deblin and Czestochowa concentration camps, and he likes the idea of telling children the tree story as a low-key educational tool.

“You’re teaching the Holocaust as though you’re not teaching it,” he said. “You’re going into the Holocaust with a different frame of reference — not drilling it into them, just telling them a story.”

Sam Harris is known for his own 2001 book, “Sammy, Child Survivor of the Holocaust,” about his experiences as a young survivor, who was adopted at 12 by a Northbrook family. He’s also at the center of an award-winning 2016 documentary film, “An Undeniable Voice,” produced by actress Sharon Stone.

His wife’s book is available for sale at the Holocaust Museum building at 9603 Woods Drive in Skokie. The $18 price all goes to the foundation, she said. That price is no accident, Dede Harris said, as numbers, in Hebrew, are also words, and 18 is “chai,” the word for peace and life.

A few copies are also available at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, where the sapling was nurtured. A launch party for the book, which is not yet available in bookstores or on the internet, will be held at 11 a.m. June 25 at the museum.

The District 28 seventh graders had just finished what they called “a Holocaust unit,” and two of them spoke about it at the dedication.

“I can never imagine anyone being treated so badly,” Sophie Cohn said. “What they went through is unforgivable, and unforgettable.”

One of the lessons of the Holocaust, Kyle Burke said, is to “speak out for those who need support. Speak out for what you believe in, your political beliefs, or speak out about changing society.

“Change won’t happen if you stay silent. Silence drove Hitler.”

One of Lauscher’s Terezin students reportedly wrote a poem that has been engraved into a plaque that will be erected near the new tree at Northbrook Junior High.

There are three things the Nazis could not take from us

They could not take the blue sky above us, for our gazing.

They could not take the flood of sunlight pouring into our courtyard, nourishing our tree and us.

But most of all, they could not take our invisible God who remained deep in our hearts.

ileavitt@pioneerlocal.com

Twitter @IrvLeavitt

“Rescue in the Philippines” a big success.

We are pleased to report that our showing of “Rescue in the Philippines” on June 4 was a big success. One hundred forty-two people attended the program (86 of whom had preregistered, plus 56 walk-ins).  Attending were members of the Frieder family who, with the help of the Philippine and U.S. government and military,  rescued more than 1,300 European Jews and bringing them to the Philippines during the early years of World War II.

It was particularly impactful having 11 members of the Philippines Executive Council of Greater Philadelphia, Inc. join us. After the screening, we had the pleasure of speaking with Ruth Luyun, President, PECGP; and other members of her organization, who were unaware that their country played a significant role in saving Jewish lives. Ruth told us how grateful she and the PECGP were to learn this piece of their heritage, and that they plan to share this story with their entire community.

We also were privileged to meet Dr. Jacques Lipetz, a resident of Melrose Park, who, along with his family, was one of the people rescued by the Frieders. Dr. Lipetz offered to become the newest member of HAMEC’s survivor heroes, and will be joining us as a Witness To History speaker.

 

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Left to right: Deanne Comer, Chuck Feldman, Dick Frieder, Peggy Ellis, Dr. Jacques Lipetz, Sam Frieder, and Lois Frieder. Dick and Sam’s father was one of the Frieder brothers highlighted in the film “Rescue In The Philippines.” The Frieders, with assistance of who help organize and implement the rescue of nearly 1,300 German Jewish refuges in 1938-1941, bringing them to safety in Manila. Peggy Ellis, Senior Producer of the film, is a granddaughter of Samuel Frieder, founder of S. Frieder & Sons, a Cincinnati cigar manufacturing and distribution company. Dr. Jacques Lipetz, a local psychologist who lives in Melrose Park, was one of the people rescue by the Frieders’ efforts. Sam Frieder, brother of Dick Frieder. And Lois Frieder, Dick’s wife.

 

Why it’s so hard to find the original owners of Nazi-looted art

International experts recently gathered at Smithsonian to discuss the state of international provenance research

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Joseph Goebbels viewing the 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition. (Wikimedia Commons)
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SMITHSONIAN.COM
MAY 31, 2017    Click for full report.

Cornelius Gurlitt’s Munich apartment was once packed with art. More than 1,200 drawings, paintings and prints were piled in the elderly man’s flat. When German investigators discovered the stash during a tax evasion investigation in 2012, each piece required cleaning and attention. Some were even growing mold.

The priceless collection—which ultimately was tallied to include 121 framed and 1,285 unframed works—was a secretive shame handed down to Gurlitt by his father, Hildebrand, the most prolific of the four art dealers involved in the sale of “degenerate art” for the Third Reich. When aGerman news magazine broke the news of Gurlitt’s holed-away hoard to the public in 2013, the story of the “Gurlitt Art Trove” scandalized the world. It also put provenance research in the headlines.

Provenance comes from the French word provenir, or “to come from.” That’s exactly what the field of provenance art research does: It traces the ownership history of a work. If you’ve ever watched “Antiques Roadshow,” you’ve seen why that’s so important. Identifying an artwork’s chain of ownership can establish its true worth, give valuable historical context and ensure that it isn’t forged or stolen property.

Uncovering the provenance of a piece, however, can be slow work that sometimes never reaches resolution. That’s especially the case when art is swept up in war or political instability. For family members seeking what is often the only remaining remnant of a loved one, though, that often prolonged search for provenance can be especially hard. That’s what makes the ongoing effort to identify potentially looted Nazi-era artwork in the cache so important.

Recently, the Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative, in collaboration with Smithsonian Associates and the German Embassy, brought together six of the international members named to the Gurlitt Trove’s special task force to speak about Holocaust-era provenance.

The Gurlitt trove is the fodder for the most high-profile Nazi-era provenance search. The stash goes all the way back to Hitler’s campaign to destroy “degenerate” artwork 80 years ago, historian and provenance researcher Meike Hoffmann explained during the night. The Nazis classified artistic movements that served as a threat to the Nazi way of life—whether it was the Dadaists, Cubists, Impressionists or Surrealists—as entartete kunst, or degenerate art. Looking to get rid of the artworks for good, in 1937, Joseph Goebbels, Nazi minister for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, tapped artist Adolf Ziegler to put together a commission to seize all degenerate art found in German museums.

The Nazis essentially stole from themselves during this purge. But before they removed the works entirely, they trotted select works out in an exhibit—the last time these works would be on view in Nazi Germany.

The government-sponsored exhibit opened its doors that summer. A handbook from the degenerate art exhibition spells out its intent: to “reveal the philosophical, political, racial and moral goals and intentions behind this movement, and the driving forces of corruption which follow them.”

Whether drawn by scandal or the desire to see these modern masterpieces one last time, 2 million people came to see art organized in rooms by categories like “blasphemous art,” “works made by Jews or communists,” “art determined to be critical of German soldiers,” and “art determined to be offensive to German women.”

The exhibit was intended to serve as a propaganda effort to coincide with the inaugural exhibition of the House of German Art, which was just a quick walk away. The House of German Art stood in stark contrast to its neighbor. It featured 850 paintings, sculptures and other artworks created by Germans since the Nazi party took power, including pieces like Ziegler’s depiction of nubile Aryan women in “The Four Elements” (which would later end up hanging over Hitler’s fireplace). The show, which was trotted out every year until the fall of the Third Reich, was meant to share Hitler’s vision of Nazi Germany—which he heralded as the “rebirth of Athens by the Isar [River].”

There, during his hour-and-a-half speech for the opening dedication, Hitler proclaimed the end of degenerate artwork for good, declaring ominously that “works of art that cannot be understood but need a swollen set of instructions to prove their right to exist[ …] will no longer find the road where they can reach the German nation open.”

One month later, General Hermann Goering issued the order that all German art museums and public art exhibitions be cleansed completely of “un-German” art “without regard to legal forms or the property rights involved.”

Pieces the Reich deemed unsellable were consigned to the fire. Some 5,000 works are believed to have been burned in 1939 “as a fire department training exercise” for the Berlin central fire station. But the Nazis needed money, and the rest were sold to foreign buyers to fund the Third Reich.

That’s where Hildebrand Gurlitt came in. Gurlitt was one-quarter Jewish and an ardent promoter of avant-garde European art. But in October 1938, he got in his car and met with a Nazi official after hearing that the government was looking to sell modern artworks. “Gurlitt felt a calling to be involved,” says Hoffmann. “For decades, he’d struggled to promote modern art, especially Expressionism.” When he got to the meeting, however, he was informed that the government wanted to sell art it had seized.

Ultimately, more than 21,000 pieces were confiscated throughout Germany, and the elder Gurlitt became one of four state-appointed dealers responsible for selling them. He was allowed to acquire works for himself, too, so long as he paid for them with foreign currency. He began to amass a collection of masterpieces by artists like Monet and Picasso for almost nothing.

Opportunistically, when the sale of degenerate art was declared complete in 1941, Gurlitt started dealing in artwork from occupied territories. Before the war’s end, he’d make a fortune from the Nazi government, Jewish artists, dealers and owners fleeing Europe.

Despite his complicity and corruption, Gurlitt was also a victim—and viewed himself as such. Because he had Jewish blood, he was vulnerable to the Nazi regime. “According to the Nuremberg laws, I was a second-degree crossbreed (Mischling),” he wrote, as Der Spiegel reports. When summoned by the Nazis, he knew the only way to protect himself was by emigrating or serving the government. He chose the latter.

But after the fall of Nazi Germany, he stayed silent on the art he had profited from. Rather than take responsibility for earning money off of the Holocaust, he continued to dig his feet in. He faced denazification trials twice. Each time, he was exonerated. Gurlitt told the court he was able to increase his income due to his artistic expertise, not the circumstances of war. But the extent of his (and eventually his family’s) deceit was only revealed in 2012.

A death card which shows art trader Hildebrand Gurlitt, the father of Cornelius Gurlitt, lies in a folder in the municipal archive in Duesseldorf, Germany, 25 November 2013.
A death card which shows art trader Hildebrand Gurlitt, the father of Cornelius Gurlitt, lies in a folder in the municipal archive in Duesseldorf, Germany, 25 November 2013. (ROLF VENNENBERND/dpa/Alamy Live News)
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Prior to being found out, Gurlitt’s son Cornelius had sold some art from the collection, and had half a million euros in a bank account. While he initially refused to cooperate with German investigators, he eventually agreed, before his death in 2014, to assist the authorities to determine whether the 1,280 works were stolen from their original owners.

When the Gurlitt task force was assembled in 2013, it was the first time an international group of experts was brought together for such a task. The body was given two years to begin investigating the provenance of the recovered art. The committee received 114 concrete claims, and 300 requests for investigation were filed from people around the world. Through its own basic research, the task force was also able to identify potential Nazi looted art in the collection on its own.

When examining the works, four provenance questions needed to be addressed, Hoffmann says. Who are the rightful owners of the works, and from which museums and collections did they originate? Under what conditions did Gurlitt acquire them? What role did Gurlitt play in the art trade of the Third Reich? And how should his dealings be evaluated from today’s perspective?

By the end of its $2 million mission, the body had identified 276 pieces that were either made after the Holocaust or created by members of the Gurlitt family, as well as 231 works that belonged to German museums. Of the remaining works, though, only five were identified as restitution cases and two highly likely items of Nazi-looted art were flagged.

That number might feel impossibly small. But establishing the provenance of just one of those pieces—a Matisse, which was returned to the descendants of Paul Rosenberg, a leading Modern art dealer—required wading through some 250,000 documents, letters and photographs in the family’s records before it could be returned.

Today, Andrea Baresel-Brand, scientific coordinator for the German Lost Art Foundation, says that approximately 1,000 artworks from the trove are still being investigated, a task that now falls to her organization. The exhaustive process for discovering the provenance of the artworks includes a “systematic and standardized” basic research compilation on the objects, collaboration with international experts and updating a public record online to chart findings. Final results are categorized based on the traffic light system—with a red flag meaning the object could be Nazi-looted art.

Currently, her researchers have 154 so-called “red flags.” But provenance is never simple, and that number might be much larger.

Just take one work that currently has a yellow flag—a Monet, which has an affidavit by Gurlitt’s mother Marie on its backside dated March 1938. On it, Marie inscribed: “This is a painting your father gave as a gift for your wedding in 1933.”

But the team found that the provenance of the piece ended in 1919, and there is no paperwork tracing this painting to the Gurlitt family. Why write the message five years after the wedding? “I am very suspicious,” says Baresel-Brand. “We think something’s wrong with it, but we can’t prove it so the category still is yellow, but internally it’s red.”

Still, the work continues. Just last week, a 1902 painting of the Seine by Camille Pissarro from Gurlitt’s collection was finally returned to the heir of Max Heilbronn, a businessman whose art collection was looted by the Nazis.

“It is good that we can return this work,” German culture minister Monika Grütters said in a statement upon the Pissarro’s restitution. “We owe it to the victims of the Nazis and their descendants, because behind the history of every work of art there is a human history.”

Holocaust survivors in Poland find restitution claims ‘like a carousel’

Hania Rosenberg, who now lives in Stockholm, Sweden, survived the Holocaust and is now trying to get back the properties that her family had in Poland. CreditCasper Hedberg for The New York Times
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AMSTERDAM — Hania Rosenberg was born in 1934 in Oswiecim, an industrial town in the Galicia region of southern Poland. The concentration and extermination camp the Germans built there after their 1939 invasion, called Auschwitz-Birkenau, would take the lives of 1.1 million people.

“No one was poor, no one was rich: We were all about average, like any small town,” Ms. Rosenberg, 82, recalled. “I remember our backyard, with dogs, hens and geese, where we had a cow, which my father bought when I was born because he said you should have your own milk. It was a happy childhood.”

Her father imported and exported straw, hay and coal. He died in the camps, along with most of the town’s Jewish community. Ms. Rosenberg and her mother survived the war — she hid with a gentile family, and her mother endured forced labor at a munitions plant. They later made their way to Sweden.

Her grandparents had a three-story house and a general store, farmland and two garden plots in the nearby town of Ledziny. During the Communist era, the house and store were expropriated. A shopping mall and new houses stand on what was once farmland. But two garden plots — still in the name of her grandfather — remain, and Ms. Rosenberg is fighting for their ownership, so that she can give them to the family who saved her.

“In Poland, there was no official process for this: You have to go to the courts,” she said in a phone interview from Stockholm. “We did go to the courts, but it was like a carousel: You go around and around and around and around. You have to produce the documents that they need, and then it’s not enough. There are always more documents you need to provide.”

Poland is the only European Union nation that has not established formal procedures to resolve claims made by people whose property was seized during the Holocaust, according to a new report by the European Shoah Legacy Institute, based in Prague.

The report, more than 1,200 pages, was based on three years of research in 47 countries that endorsed a 2009 pledge, known as the Terezin Declaration, to establish a restitution process for “immovable property” like land, homes and businesses.

It found that Poland had only partly complied with an obligation to return communal Jewish property like synagogues and cemeteries.

The issue of restitution is especially fraught for Poland, which had Europe’s largest Jewish community before the war. About three million Polish Jewswere murdered in the Holocaust, along with at least 1.9 million other Polish civilians.

The report says that Holocaust victims across Europe — not only Jews, but also Roma, gays, disabled people and others — “had to navigate a frequently unclear path to recover their property from governments and neighbors who had failed to protect them, and often, who had been complicit in their persecution.”

It added, “Law was not the survivors’ ally; more often it was their enemy, providing impunity for thieves and those who held stolen property.”

In Poland, the injustice was compounded because “comprehensive private property restitution legislation in the post-Communist era” was never enacted, according to the report.

Although the issue is longstanding, it has been complicated by the rise to power in 2015 of the right-wing Law and Justice Party. Party officials acknowledge the enormity of the Holocaust, but they emphasize that Poland was the victim of both German and Soviet oppression and that many minorities suffered; debates over remembrance have bedeviled projects like a new World War II museum in the seaside city of Gdansk.

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Pictures of Ms. Rosenberg’s family’s property in Poland, bottom, and of her grandmother, uncle and mother. CreditCasper Hedberg for The New York Times
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“On what basis should Poland decide that those with Jewish ancestors get compensated, whereas Belarussians, Poles, Ukrainians or Crimean Karaites, or Tatars and Germans — all of whom used to live here before the war — shouldn’t be compensated?” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the governing party, asked supporters last year. (The Karaites and Tatars are minority groups that speak Turkic languages.)

“Is Poland able to turn back time and compensate all those who suffered in those tragic events?” he asked. “Does it mean that the descendants of poor Poles are supposed to pay the descendants of those who were rich? This is what it comes down to.”

There is also a morass of legal issues. Poland says it is not to blame for the crimes of Nazi Germany, and it points to a 1952 agreement in which West Germany agreed to pay Israel reparations for wartime crimes. Communist-era governments also reached agreements with several countries, including the United States, to resolve wartime property claims, Polish officials said.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, a historian who has written about restitution issues, said the report focused too narrowly on Jewish victims. While Polish Jews “faced the extraordinary terror of total extermination,” he said, Polish Christians “faced the ordinary terror of partial annihilation.”

Last year, Poland’s constitutional court upheld a 2015 law that significantly limits the restitution rights of those whose property in Warsaw was seized during the war.

“Polish law treats everyone equally,” the foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, said in Israel last year. “Any legal or natural person, or their heir, is entitled to recover prewar property unlawfully seized by the Nazi German or the Soviet authorities, or the postwar Communist regime.”

However, Leslaw Piszewski, chairman of the board of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, said current policies made it far too difficult for claimants — effectively denying justice by delaying it.

“Attitudes have not changed at all,” he said. “Courts issue negative decisions or prolong the process to the extent that the claimant resigns from the process.”

The new report was presented at a conference in Brussels organized by Holocaust survivors and groups that represent them, and hosted by theEuropean Parliament.

Gideon Taylor, the operations chairman of one of the groups, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, said he hoped the conference would be a “rallying call” before time ran out for survivors, 72 years after the war’s end.

“We have a very narrow window of time, while survivors are still alive, to carry out some kind of symbolic justice, some kind of recognition of what has happened,” he said.

The issue is not just symbolic but also practical, said Mr. Piszewski, whose group represents nine officially recognized Jewish communities, with an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 members. (Precise figures are hard to come by.)

“Restitution is the only financial tool to maintain Jewish communities as well as the Jewish heritage, including 1,200 cemeteries,” he said.

Ms. Rosenberg told her story at the conference, after much hesitation. The family that saved her has been recognized by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem, as being among the Righteous of the Nations, non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews. A house her father owned in Oswiecim has been given to the family.

“Maybe this conference will make a difference,” she said. “I really hope so. We have been trying on our own for 26 years. They say that maybe something will change in 20 years, but none of us has 20 years to wait.”

Bernard Lens, Holocaust speaker, dies at 96

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Bernard Lens

The man who imparted the value of kindness onto scores of children has died, amid more than 200 thank-you notes penned by young students.

U.S. Army Pfc. Bernard Lens, 96, died of heart failure May 21 at his home in Bucks County. A graveside ceremony May 24 buried the former soldier with military honors.

He was known for frequent talks at school and community centers that chronicled his experience liberating Dachau concentration camp.

Students, moved by the presentations, often sent Lens handwritten notes expressing gratitude for his time. He kept every letter, niece Kathleen Lens said.

“It was his purpose,” she said, of sharing his experience in the Holocaust. “He lived in such a positive way. It was his way of making the best of it.”

Born in Philadelphia and raised during the height of the Depression, Lens faced economic uncertainty throughout much of his childhood. His mother raised three children on her own, and Lens was forever grateful for her dedication to the family.

Despite the circumstances, Lens graduated from Central High School in 1939. He enlisted in the Army at 19, inspired by the raging war in Europe.

During his military tenure, he served for a time under Gen. George S. Patton in Patton’s Third Army, witnessing countless wartime atrocities. One particular experience Lens never forgot occurred when he helped liberate Dachau concentration camp.

In his speeches, he often recalled the shock of entering the camp to find so many sick, dying and dead. The victims were frightened by the soldiers, but Lens ingeniously connected to them by mentioning his Jewish heritage and using humorous slang.

The experience impacted Lens deeply and, until his death, he gathered photographs of Holocaust victims.

He spoke widely about the Nazis’ horrors to ensure they never happened again and to preach kindness.

“He wanted to make the world better. He couldn’t do enough for others,” Kathleen Lens said.

After the war, Lens worked in sales for the clothing industry. For years, he couldn’t bear to speak about what he witnessed overseas.

“When we were kids, the adults would always say, ‘Don’t ask Uncle Bernie about the war. Don’t talk about the war,’” Kathleen Lens recalled.

“It was so painful for him, [remembering] the atrocities,” she said, but she noted that, “When we were adults he started talking.”

After that, he never stopped talking: He was even scheduled to give a speech to elementary school students on the day of his funeral.

Many of his talks were given in conjunction with the Holocaust Remembrance Program of Post 697 of the Jewish War Veterans in Levittown, which Lens participated in for more than 25 years. In 2015, he won the group’s Person of the Year award.

His connection to his audiences was bolstered by his quick sense of humor.

“He was a magnet for people,” Kathleen Lens said.

She shared an anecdote from this year’s family Passover seder, laughing about how at 96, “he was out until midnight!”

Similarly, after his great-nephew’s Bar Mitzvah last year in Connecticut, Lens had to be dragged back to Philadelphia after enjoying three days of festivities.

Kathleen Lens described her uncle’s ethos simply: “He embraced life.”

He is survived by three nieces and a nephew, as well as many grand- and great-grand- nieces and nephews.

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