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Dinah Spritzer
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Poland the worst offender in Holocaust restitution drive

WorldPublished: 07 December 2012

PRAGUE – In 1988, Yehuda Evron received a memorable letter from Lech Walesa, the first post-communist president of Poland, on the eve of the country’s transition to democracy.

“He wrote that within a few months we would get my wife’s property back,” recalled Evron, now 80. His wife was the only Holocaust survivor from her family, which had owned a residential building and factory in Zwienec that had been confiscated by the Nazis and then seized by Poland’s communist government.

Evron, a Romanian emigre and leader of the New York-based Holocaust Restitution Committee, which represents claims of thousands of survivors from Poland, snorted bitterly last week when recalling his initial optimism after corresponding with Walesa.


In teaching about the Holocaust, educators focus on prewar lives, not just camps

WorldPublished: 23 July 2010

Educators who teach Holocaust history face the same challenge every year: how to get students interested in one of history’s greatest tragedies more than 65 years removed from World War II.

In the old days, the formula was straightforward.

“You show kids horrifying pictures, scare them, then you traumatize them” was how Nina Sasportas, a teacher at the Jewish High School in Berlin, put it. The result, she said, was that “many either block out the memory or get Holocaust exhaustion. This is true if the child is Jewish or not.”

In recent years, however, some educators have shifted their approach toward teaching individual stories.


Diaspora Jews rally to Israel’s defense

In Europe, flotilla protests smaller than against Gaza war

Cover Story Published: 11 June 2010

PRAGUE – As thousands of protesters condemned Israel’s blockade of Gaza in cities across Europe, reactions within Jewish communities ranged from mild concern to alarm.

On Saturday, 6,000 protesters marched in Germany, 20,000 in France, and 2,000 in London against Israel’s actions in the May 31 confrontation with a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists dead.

In Brussels, protesters in front of the Israeli Embassy shouted their support for Hezbollah, jihad, and Hamas, with some calling witnesses who tried to take pictures “dirty Jews,” according to Dan Levy, vice president of the Union of Jewish Students from Belgium.


Kaczynski leaves legacy of Polish-Jewish reconciliation

WorldPublished: 16 April 2010

PRAGUE – For Jews, Poland’s late president, Lech Kaczynski, was a man of many firsts.

He was the first Polish president to attend a service at a Polish synagogue, the first to celebrate Chanukah at the presidential palace, the first Polish leader to provide support for a Jewish history museum on Polish soil.

His death in Saturday’s plane crash along with his wife Maria and 96 members of Poland’s political elite represents a huge loss for the Polish-Jewish relationship, Poland’s chief rabbi, New York native Michael Schudrich, told JTA.


Europe, U.S. standing shoulder to shoulder on Iran

WorldPublished: 16 October 2009

PRAGUE – When President Obama announced at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh late last month that Iran had built a secret nuclear plant in Qom, southwest of Tehran, he was followed by a visibly angry French President Nicolas Sarkozy and an unusually harsh British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Sarkozy was particularly pugnacious when he spoke, warning the Islamic Republic that it had until December to come clean on its nuclear weapons program or face punishment. The usually reserved Brown accused Iran of “serial deception.”

Again earlier this month, U.S. and European officials stood shoulder to shoulder in Geneva in talks with Iran about its nuclear program.


Last chance for Holocaust restitution

‘We are here to ignite momentum before it is too late’

Cover Story Published: 03 July 2009

PRAGUE – Stuart Eizenstat, who led the U.S. government delegation to the June 26-29 Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague, sat down with JTA for an interview on the eve of the conference.

The conference, organized by the Czech government, brought together representatives of 49 countries for what participants said was likely to be the last major attempt to compensate Holocaust victims and their heirs for art and property confiscated or sold under duress during the Nazi era.

Eizenstat, a lawyer who served as undersecretary of state under President Clinton and recently was appointed chairman of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, is largely credited with getting Jewish property restitution started in the former Eastern bloc after the end of the Communist era. He also was the lead negotiator in the $1.25 billion settlement with Swiss banks in 1999.

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Last chance for Holocaust restitution

10 European countries that pose obstacles for restitution-seekers

Cover Story Published: 03 July 2009

PRAGUE – Ten European Union countries where claimants of looted art, communal property, or private property face serious obstacles:

• Poland: Has not enacted any form of private restitution or compensation for an estimated $30.5 billion worth of property confiscated by Nazis or Communists. The Jewish share of claims on those properties is estimated at 20 percent to 27 percent. Poland has a very slow and burdensome process for restitution of Jewish communal property. Since 1997, 5,500 claims were filed but only 1,625 were adjudicated.

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Last chance for Holocaust restitution

Cover Story Published: 03 July 2009

PRAGUE – It has the tone of a newspaper from Berlin in 1936, except it’s from Vilnius in 2009.

The face of a rabbi is enlarged on the cover of a Lithuanian tabloid with the words “Give it now!” emblazoned across the top. The subject, Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international affairs for the American Jewish Committee, is cast as the villain, looking down on a miniature Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, portrayed as defenseless at the hands of some Shylock.

The image, which appeared on the June 26 edition of the popular right-wing daily Vakaro Zinios (The Evening News), alludes to Baker’s demand that the Lithuanian government return Jewish property after eight years of promises to do so.

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Tough economic times drive European voters to far right

WorldPublished: 12 June 2009

PRAGUE – Gains by anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and racist far-right parties in June 4-7 elections for the European Parliament were a reminder of how voters across Europe gravitate toward fringe parties and extremists during tough economic times.

As in the United States, Europe is experiencing levels of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. The financial misery has given rise here to increased nationalism, skewing an election of representatives whose job is mostly to pass Europe-wide regulations on food and safety standards, the environment, and internal market competition.

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Europe struggles with Muslim identity crisis

The making of Islamic terrorists

Cover Story Published: 27 February 2009

Ishtiaq Ahmed, who works as a spokesman for the Bradford Council for Mosques in Bradford, England, lives with three generations of his family in a luxurious British home built by his father, a successful Pakistani-born businessman.

After the July 7, 2005, public transit bombings in London, which killed 52 people, Ahmed woke up, looked around his neighborhood, and was troubled by what he saw. Three of the four bombers were from nearby Leeds and, like him, they had Pakistani backgrounds.

“There is a growing section of Muslim young people 16 to 25 who are increasingly becoming alienated, disillusioned, and angry about a host of issues, such as unemployment, racism, and British foreign policy,” Ahmed said.

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