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Toby Axelrod
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End of trips back to Germany for persecuted Jews marks milestone

WorldPublished: 09 July 2010

BERLIN – Yochanan Asriel stood at the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Franzoesicherstrasse in Berlin last week next to a small brass plaque newly set into the sidewalk. On it was the name of his father: Davicso Asriel, born 1882, deported Jan. 26, 1942, murdered in Riga.

“I am here today,” said Asriel, 85, “to leave a bit of my family behind.”

Now living in Haifa, Asriel was part of the last official group of former Berlin Jews to be hosted formally by the city as part of a program to sponsor their visits back to their native city. With the number of survivors dwindling, the 41-year-old Invitation Program for Former Persecuted Citizens of Berlin came to an end with last week’s trip.


A much-belated memorial to the Jews of Gerolzhofen

Published: 09 April 2010

BERLIN – It isn’t easy facing the cold stare of a Nazi perpetrator, even in a photo. Increasingly, however, memorial sites in Germany are making the confrontation possible, opening a door that long has been sealed.

A new exhibit at the former Ravensbrueck women’s concentration camp in the ex-East German state of Brandenburg is the latest example.

“The Fuehrerhaus: Everyday Life and Crimes of Ravensbrueck SS Officers,” opened March 20, allowing a glimpse into the life of camp commandant Max Koegel and his SS underlings through informational panels arranged in his former villa, steps away from the barracks that once housed thousands of prisoners.


For Mengele survivor, forgiveness is freedom

WorldPublished: 05 February 2010

OSWIECIM, Poland — Eva Kor believes in forgiveness.

Kor says she has forgiven Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who conducted experiments on her and her twin sister, Miriam, at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Last week, Kor led 55 American teachers and students on a trip to her former place of torment, where she was liberated exactly 65 years ago.

“Here I am, this little guinea pig from Auschwitz, and I have the power to forgive Josef Mengele! And he can’t do anything about it,” the diminutive, energetic woman who turned 76 on Saturday said last week at Auschwitz. “I stopped being a victim, and that makes me a very powerful person.”


Controversy erupts over Holocaust revisionism in E. Europe

WorldPublished: 01 January 2010

BERLIN – Was the Soviet Union a force for good or ill during the Nazi years?

That question is at the core of a controversy among some Jewish groups and former Soviet republics over the issue of Holocaust revisionism, and it erupted last month at a conference in Berlin organized by the World Congress of Russian-Speaking Jews on “The Legacy of World War II and the Holocaust.”

Some former Soviet republics view Stalin’s Soviet regime as evil and laud those who fought it as nationalist heroes. The problem, many Jewish groups say, is that some of those nationalists were Nazi collaborators and vicious anti-Semites.


As Demjanjuk trial nears, prosecutors confident

WorldPublished: 30 November 2009

BERLIN – Whether in a wheelchair or on his own two feet, John Demjanjuk will enter Munich District Court on Nov. 30 to stand trial for World War II-era crimes against humanity.

He is charged as an accessory to the murder of 29,700 Jews at the Sobibor death camp in Poland.

The trial, which some are billing as the last major Nazi war crimes case, marks another landmark for Germany’s confrontation with its Nazi past.

It will be the second war crimes trial for Demjanjuk, 89, who was born in the Ukraine and immigrated to the United States after the war.


Does new memorial honor Nazis?

WorldPublished: 13 November 2009

BERLIN – A controversy has erupted in a German town over a new memorial that critics say honors SS soldiers and ignores Jewish Holocaust victims.

The interfaith German-Israel Society says the memorial to be unveiled Nov. 15 in Grossburgwedel, near Hannover, recognizes members of the notorious Blackshirts. But the mayor of Burgwedel, which has jurisdiction over Grossburgwedel, rejects the charge.

“We were accused of honoring SS members, and we are definitely not doing that,” Mayor Hendrik Hoppenstedt told JTA.

While five members of the SS blackshirts are among those named on the memorial, he said, they were never charged with any war crimes and are not receiving any special honor.


Despite measures, Germany-Iran ties persist

WorldPublished: 08 May 2009

BERLIN – Shareholder meetings usually are about profits.

But at the scheduled May 15 meeting in Munich of Linde AG, a chemical company, a group of activists is expected to take the floor with a simple message: Don’t do business with Iran.

The activists, from the German and Austrian group Stop the Bomb, say that, along with considering profits, corporations should be responsible when it comes to nuclear threats.

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Europe struggles with Muslim identity crisis

A Holocaust lesson for Muslim youth in Europe

Cover Story Published: 27 February 2009

BERLIN – Onur looks intently at the photomontage. From all the famous news images, he picks one: New York’s World Trade Center aflame.

“Did you know that the Jews were warned before to get out?” he whispers. “I read it on the Internet.”

Onur, 15, and his classmates are participating in a weeklong educational program at the Wannsee House Memorial and Educational Centre, the site where Nazi leaders in 1942 worked out their genocidal plan for the Jews.

The Wannsee House is one of many institutions in Germany today trying to counter anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, particularly among Muslim youths.

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Celebration, sadness at opening of Berlin mikvah

WorldPublished: 09 December 2008

BERLIN — The dedication of a new mikvah at the Chabad center here was tinged with sadness as participants remembered two Chabad emissaries killed last week in the Mumbai terror attacks.

A memorial service for Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg is planned here for Dec. 2,  Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal, the director of the Rohr Chabad Center, said on Sunday.

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Kristallnacht remembrances visit today’s concerns

WorldPublished: 14 November 2008

BRUSSELS – They still hear sounds of breaking glass, still smell the fire, still feel a parent’s hand protectively close over their own. And they still feel fear.

Those who remember the events of Kristallnacht 70 years ago may be ever fewer, but their memories are vivid. At memorial events over the weekend in Brussels and Berlin, the witnesses brought home the details.

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