Teen’s secret Holocaust diary to be published after 70 years in a bank vault

WREG, Newschannel3, September 12, 2119.  Click for full report.

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NEW  YORK — For almost 70 years, the secret Holocaust diary of the Polish Jewish teenager Renia Spiegel was sealed away in a New York bank vault.

Shot dead by the Nazis just as she reached adulthood in 1942, Renia’s story was too painful for her surviving sister and mother to read.

Now, Renia’s Diary: A Young Girl’s Life in the Shadow of the Holocaust is finally to be published by her family. And it is already drawing comparisons to the diary of Anne Frank for its clarity and skillful writing.

Described by its publisher, Penguin Books, as “an extraordinary testament to both the horrors of war, and to the life that can exist even in the darkest times,” the journal will be released on September 19.

The girl lived in Przemysl, south-east Poland, which was under Soviet occupation until the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

The diary, almost 700 pages, begins in January 1939 when Renia was 15 and chronicles her escape from bombing raids in her hometown, the disappearance of other Jewish families and the creation of the ghetto.

Renia and her sister Elizabeth (nee Ariana) got separated from their mother, who was on the German side during the war. Almost every entry of the diary ends with “God and Bulus will save me,” using the girl’s pet name for her mother.

An aspiring poet, Renia also fills her diary with dozens of compositions, as well as accounts of her falling in love for the first time for a boy named Zygmunt Schwarzer.

The two exchanged their first kiss a few hours before the Nazis reached Przemysl.

Renia was murdered in July 1942 at the age of 18 when the Nazis discovered her hiding in an attic. She left the diary with her boyfriend, who wrote the chilling, heartbreaking last lines in the journal: “Three shots! Three lives lost! All I can hear are shots, shots.”

Schwarzer shared it with someone else for safekeeping before he was deported to Auschwitz. He survived, moved to the US and in 1950 managed to return the diary to Renia’s sister Elizabeth along with her mother Róża, who were both living in New York

Elizabeth couldn’t bring herself to read it, so she decided to deposit it in a bank vault. It wasn’t until 2012 that her daughter Alexandra Bellak pushed to have the diary translated into English so people from all over the world could read it.

“I was curious about my past, my heritage, this special woman I was named after (middle name is Renata) and I don’t speak Polish (thanks mom!) And she never read it as it was too painful,” Alexandra told CNN in an interview conducted over Facebook Messenger.

When she read it for the first time, she was “heartbroken”, she said.

“I understood its depth and maturity, and fine writing and poetry, and with the rise of all the isms – anti semitism, populism and nationalism – both me and my mom saw the necessity in bringing this to life.”

Alexandra said her mom, now 87, hasn’t read the diary in its entirety because it’s too painful for her. “She read only the excerpts that were printed in the Smithsonian,” she added.

She added that the first reaction from people who have read it has been overwhelming. “From young and old, they’re praising the outstanding writing, the yearning for a normal life, the longing for her mother,” Alexandra said.

Here are some extracts from the book:

August 15, 1939

I haven’t spoken to you for a while. The end of the school year is long gone, my summer vacation is

almost over, and I haven’t spoken to you. I went to see my aunt in the countryside, I went to Warsaw,

saw Mama and now I’m back. But you don’t know about any of tha . You were lying here, left on your

own with my thoughts and you don’t even know that we have a secret mobilization, you don’t know

that the Russians have signed a treaty with the Germans. You don’t know that people are stockpiling

food, that everybody’s on aler , waiting for…war’

June 7, 1942

Wherever I look, there is bloodshed. Such terrible pogroms. There is killing, murdering. God Almighty, for the umpteenth time I humble myself in front of you, help us, save us! Lord God, let us live, I beg You, I want to live! I’ve experienced so little of life. I don’t want to die. I’m scared of death. It’s all so stupid, so petty, so unimportant, so small. Today I’m worried about being ugly; tomorrow I might stop thinking forever.

Think, tomorrow we might not be

A cold, steel knife

Will slide between us, you see

But today there is still time for life

Tomorrow sun might eclipse

Gun bullets might crack and rip

And howl — pavements awash

With blood, with dirty, stinking slag

Pigwash

Today you are alive

There is still time to survive

Let’s blend our blood

When the song still moves ahead

The song of the wild and furious flood

Brought by the living dead

Listen, my every muscle trembles

My body fumbles for your closeness

It’s supposed to be a choking game, this is

Not enough eternity for all the kisses

July 15, 1942

Remember this day; remember it well. You will tell generations to come. Since 8 o’clock today we have been shut away in the ghetto. I live here now. The world is separated from me and I’m separated from the world.

UNESCO advisor speaks out against Holocaust Memorial in London’s Victoria Tower Gardens

Jerusalem Post, September 12, 2019.  Click for full report.

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Victoria Tower Gardens, London.

UNESCO seems to have taken a position against” a planned Holocaust memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens in Westminster, London, said Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations Dr. Shimon Samuels in a press release.

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The concept for the Making Memory UK National Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre was born in 2015, but the planning application is still being considered by Westminster City Council.
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Royal Parks, a charity, described the gardens as a “highly sensitive location in planning and heritage terms,” insisting that “the structure will dominate the park and eclipse the existing listed memorials which are nationally important in their own right.”
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The park is currently home to three other memorials.
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A member of the “Save Victoria Tower Gardens” campaign claimed that “The scale… is deliberately obtrusive because it’s intended to be shocking and attention-grabbing” and that the memorial should be moved to Westminster’s College Green or the Imperial War Museum.
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“The memorial is designed to honour the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and all other victims of Nazi persecution, including Roma, LGBT and the disabled,” said Samuels. “The planners argue that they will take up 27% of the green space currently in the park…Its propinquity to the British Parliament aims to focus on the need to sensitize the public and their MP’s to the dangers of bigotry, prejudice, hate and violence against the other.”
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The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the advisor to UNESCO, has objected to the location since the project “would interrupt substantially the park’s view of the Tower and Palace,” and two lines of trees may not survive.
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London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has supported the project and a new design has been presented to “accommodate planting adjacent to the fence.”

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A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government reassured that, “The proposals have been developed with great sensitivity to the existing context and character of the gardens.”
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“It is clear that a Holocaust memorial cannot become subject to a debate in the guise of the environment…UNESCO, on the one hand, has a declared interest in Holocaust Education,” said Shimon. “It can not, on the other hand, be abused as an obstacle to this Holocaust Memorial…Our Centre urges a clear response to the media which has already placed the issue at UNESCO’s doorstep…We call on you, Madam Director-General, to take appropriate and rapid action.”

 

Austrian firm chosen to design Babi Yar Holocaust memorial

By SAM SOKOL, Times of Israel, September 12, 2019.  Click for full report.

 

Architectural rendering of a proposed memorial/research institute at the Babi Yar massacre site in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. (Courtesy BYHMC)

Architectural rendering of a proposed memorial/research institute at the Babi Yar massacre site in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. (Courtesy BYHMC)
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Efforts to build a memorial and research center at the Babi Yar Holocaust massacre site in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv appeared to progress significantly this week with the announcement that an Austrian firm had won an architectural competition to design the structure, which organizers hope to open in 2023.

More than 30,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis and local collaborators at the site over a period of two days in 1941.

Querkraft Architekten was chosen from among five finalists to design the “next-generation memorial” being planned by the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC), an initiative whose supporters include World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, former Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko and a number of a number of wealthy Russian businessmen. A declaration of intent to create the center was signed in Kyiv in the presence of then-president Petro Poroshenko in September 2016.

The winning design features a ramp resembling the ravine in which the massacre took place, leading to an exhibition space 20 meters (65 feet) underground that represents “society’s initially invisible, yet incessant plunging in the darkness of violence.”

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“The abstract and low-key architecture forms a unique interpretation of the competition task for realizing the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center,” said Professor Rainer Mahlamäki, a member of the architectural jury of the competition. “The proposal provides an excellent starting point to develop the Babi Yar Memorial into an internationally important center.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to endorse the project during a state visit to Ukraine last month, saying that he and Ukraine’s recently elected Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky, had spoken with Sharansky “about the possibility of establishing a heritage center here that would be a symbol to all of humanity.”

“I thank you President Zelensky, and I also thank the Ukrainian government, for your efforts to preserve the memory of the Holocaust,” Netanyahu said. “You are continuing your efforts in the war against anti-Semitism.”

While Ukraine has indeed made efforts to commemorate the Holocaust in recent years, its record on memory is more complicated than Netanyahu’s statement indicated. While the Ukrainian government has supported the creation of a memorial, it has also made efforts to revise the history of Ukrainian participation in the Holocaust, including at Babi Yar.

In early 2016, Jewish groups harshly criticized Ukraine over a previous and unrelated architectural competition aimed at revamping the site that sought to fix the “discrepancy between the world’s view and Jewry’s exclusive view of Babi Yar as a symbol of the Holocaust.”

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Less than a year later, at the official commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the massacre, a sign was erected memorializing Ukrainian journalists whom the authorities claimed had been killed at the site. They had worked for a nationalist newspaper that had actively called on Ukrainians to turn Jews over to the Gestapo. In 2018, Poroshenko appointed the leader of the nationalist group’s current incarnation to a committee separate from the BYHMC tasked with planning for the future of the site.

Ukrainian nationalists, and even some in the Jewish community, have accused the projects’s organizers of seeking to present Ukrainians as anti-Semites and of highlighting Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis while downplaying the suffering of members of far-right groups like the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and its militant offshoot the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Both organizations had collaborated with the Nazis and their followers were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews and Poles.

Several months after the project’s unveiling in 2016, a number of Ukrainian historians wrote an open letter decrying what they described as “an attempt to connect Babi Yar only with the history of the Holocaust, ignoring other victims and other dramatic moments of its history.”

While most community leaders in Ukraine, including the chief rabbi, support the project, Josef Zissels, the head of the Vaad of Ukraine, a Jewish group, accused the organizers of secretly representing Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming that the proposed museum’s goal was to “present Ukraine as a fascist, anti-Semitic and nationalistic state where human rights used to and continue to be violated.”

The notorious collection of Nazi-looted art amassed by Hildebrand Gurlitt will travel for an emotional show in Jerusalem

By SARAH CASCONE, artnetnews, September 6, 2019.  Click for full report.

The infamous Gurlitt trove—roughly 1,590 artworks that the reclusive Cornelius Gurlitt inherited from his art dealer father, a Nazi collaborator, and kept hidden in his apartment for decades—is coming to Israel. An exhibition of some 100 pieces from the collection, including works by Pierre-Auguste RenoirÉdouard ManetOtto Dix, and Max Ernst, as well as never-before-seen Eugène Delacroix drawings, will go on view at the Israel Museum later this month.

Journalists film, take picture and look at the pieces of a art during the press preview of the first masterpieces of the estate of German collector Cornelius Gurlitt at the Museum of Fine Arts Bern (Kunstmuseum Bern) on July 7, 2017 in Bern. Photo credit should read Valeriano Di Domenico/AFP/Getty Images.Journalists film, take picture and look at the pieces of a art during the press preview of the first masterpieces of the estate of German collector Cornelius Gurlitt at the Museum of Fine Arts Bern (Kunstmuseum Bern) on July 7, 2017 in Bern. Photo credit should read Valeriano Di Domenico/AFP/Getty Images.

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Amassed by Hildebrand Gurlitt, the art collection was discovered by German authorities during a 2012 tax investigation. Given the elder Gurlitt’s known work with the Third Reich, the provenance of the works, found in Munich and Salzburg, immediately came into question. How many of them had been sold under duress by Jewish families, or seized outright by the Nazis?

The Israel Museum exhibition, titled “Fateful Choices,” marks the first time that works from the Gurlitt hoard have made the trip to Israel. The show will include Otto Mueller’s Portrait of Maschka Mueller, declared “degenerate” by the Nazis and acquired by Gurlitt in 1941, as well as Dix’s Self Portrait Smoking, seized by the US Army in 1945 and returned to Hildebrand Gurlitt in 1950. Other works, like Ernst’s collage (Woman Soldier House), have no red flags that might indicate ties to the Nazis.

“The historical circumstances behind the Gurlitt Art Trove make it our responsibility to expose the works and the story to the public,” said the museum’s director, Ido Bruno, in a statement. “’Fateful Choices’ describes the fate of art in Europe in the dark years of the Third Reich regime and generates a profound discussion about the connection between art and ethics, as well as the difference between political preferences and personal taste.”

Before Gurlitt’s death, he bequeathed his entire collection to Switzerland’s Kunstmuseum Bern. The museum, which is helping to organize the Israel Museum show, held the first exhibition of the works in a joint presentation with the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, Germany, in 2017 and 2018.

In Jerusalem, the show will address issues of provenance head on—and an ongoing, state-led Gurlitt Provenance Research Project is working to identify any potentially looted works with an eye toward restitution. (There have been six stolen pieces found to date.)

Sculptures by Auguste Rodin at the exhibition "Inventory Gurlitt" in Bonn, Germany, at the Bundeskunsthalle. Photo by Oliver Berg/picture alliance/Getty Images.

Sculptures by Auguste Rodin at the exhibition “Inventory Gurlitt” in Bonn, Germany, at the Bundeskunsthalle. Photo by Oliver Berg/picture alliance/Getty Images.

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When the exhibition was announced in October, Monika Grütters, Germany’s federal government commissioner for culture and the media, told the press that she hoped it would boost efforts to identify Jewish owners of the art.

“We wanted to be open and transparent and to show the German and international public what was effectively in this Gurlitt trove and to make clear the background history, the art dealing during World War II and the Nazi period,” Rein Wolfs, director of the Bundeskunsthalle and a member of the Israel Museum’s exhibition advisory committee, told the Times of Israel. “It’s a lot of questions, and touchy questions of restitution.”

Fateful Choices: Art from the Gurlitt Trove” will be on view at the Israel Museum, Derech Ruppin 11, Jerusalem, Israel, September 24, 2019–January 24, 2020.

The White Rose: The secret student group who took on the Nazis.

in  | September 9th, 2019.  Click for full report.

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Lately, young people standing up against oppressive regimes have faced unrelenting streams of ridicule, abuse, and worse: some have even lost their lives in mysterious circumstances that recall the tragic fates of those who battled racism in the U.S. south decades ago. Though it’s cold consolation to the bereaved and harassed, it at least remains the case today that activists who speak out can count on varying, but vocal levels of support, and they will find celebrities and politicians, whether cynical or well-meaning, to amplify (or co-opt) their message.

We can and should draw parallels between 20th-century European fascism and the 21st-century’s fascist turn. But the above situation could never have obtained in Nazi Germany of the 1930s and 40s. Anti-Nazi points of view were banned even for entertainment purposes. Circulating them would almost certainly result in execution. Ordinary Germans may have also vented their spleens at dissenters, but they did so with full assurance that those people would be crushed by the government, and that no one would stand up for them, not even to posture.

It was in this paralyzing climate of terror that the student members of The White Rose, a secretive, anonymous group of activists, began distributing leaflets denouncing Hitler and Nazism. “At a time when a sarcastic remark could constitute treason,” notes the TED-Ed lesson above, the strident language “was unprecedented.” Most of the leaflets were written by Hans Scholl, as the short, animated video—scripted by scholar Iseult Gillespie—informs us. Just a few years earlier, Scholl had been an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth, and his sister Sophie, who joined him in The White Rose, had been a member of the League of German Girls.

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In 1936, when Hans witnessed a mass Nazi rally for the first time, he began to seriously question his life choices. Sophie had been entertaining her own doubts. Their parents, both increasingly concerned about the Nazi threat, were very supportive. The Scholl family had secretly listened to foreign broadcasts and learned “shocking truths” about what was happening in their country. While at the University of Munich, Hans “started reading anti-Nazi sermons,” writes Erin Blakemore at Smithsonian, “and attending classes with Kurt Huber, a psychology and philosophy professor whose lectures included veiled criticisms of the regime.”

Hans was drafted into the army as a medic, where he witnessed abuses against Jewish prisoners and heard about the concentration camps. When he returned to medical school at the University of Munich, he met several friends who shared his outrage. In 1939, The White Rose printed its first leaflets, spreading them all over Munich. “Adopt passive resistance,” they urged, inspiring Germans to sabotage the war effort. “Block the functioning of this atheistic war machine before it is too late. Before the last city is a heap of rubble. Before the last youth in our nation bleeds to death.”

Many more leaflets followed. (Sophie would not discover them and join the group until after their activities began.) “The White Rose mailed the pamphlets to random people they found in the phone book,” writes Blakemore. They “took them in suitcases to other cities, and left them in phone booths. They also painted graffiti on the walls of the University of Munich with slogans like ‘Freedom!’ and ‘Hitler the Mass Murderer!’” It was the first time public dissent against the Nazis had taken hold. “The society’s work quickly spread to other cities, with some of its literature even showing up in Austria.”

In 1943, Allied planes dropped tens of thousands of The White Rose’s leaflets over Nazi Germany. News of them “even reached concentrations camps and prisons,” the video notes. Soon afterward, the Scholls and their friend Christoph Probst were arrested by the Gestapo. (Read a moving account of their arrest and trial at the Jewish Virtual Library.) The three were put on show trial and executed by guillotine. Later, their professor, Kurt Huber and other members of The White Rose were also beheaded.

The identities of The White Rose would not be known until after the war. They have since become heroes to anti-fascists and activists around the world, and their call for passive resistance echoes in one of their final leaflets: “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!” In spite of the risks, which they all knew, the Scholls and their allies chose to act, cautiously, but decisively, against a regime they finally saw to be a terrible evil.

To learn more about The White Rose, explore these books: The White Rose (1970), A Noble Treason (1979), and An Honourable Defeat (1994).

 

Jewish Foundation for the Righteous honors non-Jewish Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust

Non-Jewish Poles who rescued Jews in the Holocaust are honored at an event in Warsaw, Sept. 8, 2019. (Courtesy of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous)                                            .

BY MARCY OSTER, JTA, September 9, 2019.  Click for full report.

(JTA) — A U.S. Jewish foundation honored Polish non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust at an event in Warsaw.

Some 30 rescuers in their 80s and 90s attended the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous ceremony Sunday at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jewry.

“These are heroic people of exceptional character who risked their lives and often the lives of their families to save Jews during the Holocaust,” said Stanlee Stahl, the foundation’s executive vice president. “This special event is designed to recognize them and give them the proper honor they deserve.”

Foreign diplomats, religious leaders and community leaders also were on hand.

The event also marked the launch of a partnership between the foundation and Warsaw’s first kosher food bank, which was founded earlier this year under the leadership of Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, with the support of Yad Ezra, a kosher food bank in  Detroit. The food pantry based in the Nozyk Synagogue complex will provide bimonthly food packages to needy non-Jewish rescuers — those who have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, or Righteous Gentiles, by the Yad Vashem Holocaust center in Jerusalem.

The foundation provides monthly financial support to some 147 needy Polish rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, and to a total of some 265 Righteous Gentiles living in 18 countries.