Germany buries remains of Nazi-era prisoners used for research

A woman holds flowers during the burial of the remains of victims executed during the Nazi-era in Germany and used for research at Berlin's Charite university hospital during the Holocaust at Dorotheenstaedt cemetery in Berlin, Germany, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) – Human tissue from some 300 women dissidents whose bodies were used for medical research after they were executed by the Nazis was buried on Monday in a shared grave at a Berlin cemetery.

The grave will be marked by a plaque but will not name the identified victims at the request of their families.

Microscope slides holding tissue samples from the victims were handed over to the Brandenburg Medical School in 2016 by the heirs of an anatomy professor who had conducted research on the bodies of prisoners killed by the Nazis.

Hermann Stieve, who specialized in the female reproductive system while working at the Charite hospital in the 1930s and 40s, received the bodies of women executed at Ploetzensee prison in Berlin, sometimes just 30 minutes after their death. He used the bodies to research the effects of stress on women’s anatomy, historians say.

A man throws ashes during the burial of the remains of victims executed during the Nazi-era in Germany and used for research at Berlin's Charite university hospital during the Holocaust at Dorotheenstaedt cemetery in Berlin, Germany, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

A man throws ashes during the burial of the remains of victims executed during the Nazi-era in Germany and used for research at Berlin’s Charite university hospital during the Holocaust at Dorotheenstaedt cemetery in Berlin, Germany, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

At the burial ceremony on Monday, a pallbearer carried a wooden box containing the remains of the victims to a shared, unnamed grave at the Dorotheenstadt cemetery.

The box was buried near a memorial at the cemetery for other victims of the Nazi dictatorship.

“The decision was taken together with the relatives of the resistance fighters and I think it is important to bury them simply because at the time these people were denied a grave,” said Andreas Winkelmann of the Brandenburg Medical School.

“And that’s what Stieve took part in. He helped the murderous justice system to deny these people a grave … We decided to bury them even though you don’t usually bury microscopic slides,” he added.

More than 2,800 prisoners were executed at Ploetzensee prison between 1933 and 1945.

Stieve died of a stroke in 1952.

(Reporting by Tanya Wood; Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Remains of hundreds of Jews unearthed in Nazi-era mass grave in Belarus

A soldier from a special "search battalion" of Belarus Defence Ministry takes part in the exhumation of a mass grave containing the remains of about 730 prisoners of a former Jewish ghetto, discovered at a construction site in the centre of Brest, Belarus February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

BREST, Belarus (Reuters) – Soldiers in Belarus have unearthed the bones of hundreds of people shot during World War Two from a mass grave discovered at the site of a ghetto where Jews lived under the Nazis.

The grave was uncovered by chance last month on a construction site in a residential area in the center of Brest near the Polish border.

A soldier from a special "search battalion" of Belarus Defence Ministry takes part in the exhumation of a mass grave containing the remains of about 730 prisoners of a former Jewish ghetto, discovered at a construction site in the centre of Brest, Belarus February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

A soldier from a special “search battalion” of Belarus Defence Ministry takes part in the exhumation of a mass grave containing the remains of about 730 prisoners of a former Jewish ghetto, discovered at a construction site in the centre of Brest, Belarus February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Soldiers wearing white masks on Tuesday sifted through the site with spades, trowels and their gloved hands to collect the bones. They also found items such as leather shoes that had not rotted.

Dmitry Kaminsky, a soldier leading the unit, said they had exhumed 730 bodies so far, but could not be sure how many more would be found.

“It’s possible they go further under the road. We have to cut open the tarmac road. Then we’ll know,” he said.

Some of the skulls bore bullet holes, he said, suggesting the victims had been executed by a shot to the back of the head.

Belarus, a former Soviet republic, was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War Two and tens of thousands of its Jews were killed by the Nazis.

The site of the mass grave served from December 1941 to October 1942 as part of a ghetto, areas created by the Nazis to segregate Jews and sometimes other minorities from other city dwellers. Brest was part of Poland before the war.

The remains were discovered when builders began to lay the foundations for an apartment block.

Local authorities want to bury the bodies in a ceremony at a cemetery in the north of the city.

“We want to be sure that there are no more mass graves here,” said Alla Kondak, a local culture official.

(Reporting by Reuters TV; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Israelis to scour Danube for Holocaust remains with Hungary’s help

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks during an annual pilgrimage to the gravesite of Moroccan-born sage and Jewish mystic Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, also known as the Baba Sali, on the anniversary of his death in the southern town of Netivot, Israel January 9, 2019 REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – An Israeli recovery team will search Hungary’s Danube river for remains of Holocaust victims, with Hungarian permission and assistance, so they can be buried in accordance with Jewish rite, a visiting Israeli official said on Monday.

According to Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, some 565,000 were killed in the Holocaust, the majority of them deported to the Auschwitz death camp between May and July 1944.

In October of that year, when the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross party took power in Hungary, thousands of Jews from Budapest were murdered on the banks of the Danube, according to Yad Vashem.

Arye Deri, Israel’s interior minister and an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, said his Hungarian counterpart, Sandor Pinter, had agreed to his request to provide special equipment to forensic experts from the Israeli volunteer Zaka who traveled with him to Budapest.

“I hope that immediately, tomorrow, the righteous men of Zaka will bestow mercy on these highest of martyrs and bring them to Jewish burial,” Deri said in a video posted on Twitter.

The Hungarian Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to emailed questions for comment.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

European Jews feel under threat, think of emigrating: EU survey

The Star of David is seen on the facade of a synagogue in Paris France, December 10, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – More than one in three European Jews have considered emigrating over the past five years because they no longer feel safe amid a surge in anti-Semitism, a European Union study showed on Monday.

The survey in 12 countries that are home to 96 percent of European Jews showed widespread malaise at a rise in hate crimes which Jewish communities blame in part on anti-Semitic comments by politicians that stoke a climate of impunity.

Feelings of insecurity were particularly acute among Jews in France, followed by Poland, Belgium and Germany, the study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found.

Facing hostility online and at work or in graffiti scrawled on walls near synagogues, nine out of ten Jews living in nations which have been their home for centuries feel that anti-Semitism has worsened over the past five years, the study said.

“It is impossible to put a number on how corrosive such everyday realities can be, but a shocking statistic sends a clear message … more than one third say that they consider emigrating because they no longer feel safe as Jews,” FRA’S director Michael O’Flaherty was cited as saying in a foreword to the study.

EU officials presenting the report in Brussels on Monday called on governments to do more to combat such hate, including commemorating the history of the Holocaust in which the Nazis killed at least six million Jews in Europe during World War Two.

“What we need now is concrete action in the member states to see real change for Jews on the ground,” European Commission deputy head Frans Timmermans told reporters. “There is no Europe if Jews don’t feel safe in Europe.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn are among the most prominent EU leaders battling accusations of anti-Semitism by Jewish community leaders.

Worries over the hostile rhetoric are underscored by government figures in several European countries showing a spike in violence against Jews.

Following a number of high-profile attacks targeting Jews, soldiers and armed guards at the doors of synagogues or Jewish schools have become a familiar site in Europe.

Eighty-five percent of the 16,395 polled identified anti-Semitism as the biggest social and political problem, while almost a third said they avoid attending events or visiting Jewish sites.

However, 79 percent of those who experienced harassment said they did not report the incidents to authorities.

The results showed a loss of faith in their governments’ ability to keep them safe, the European Jewish Congress (EJC) said, causing Jews to feel torn between emigrating and cutting themselves off from their Jewish community.

“This is intolerable and a choice no people should have to face,” EJC head Moshe Kantor said in a statement.

A government spokeswoman in Germany said the results of the study were shocking, adding that the interior ministry “isn’t looking at it idly.”

 

(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel in Brussels and Riham Alkousaa in Berlin; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Exhibition depicting death camp survivor’s trauma opens at Auschwitz

A man looks at a painting during the opening of an exhibition featuring works by David Olere, a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, at the museum in Oswiecim, Poland October 30, 2018. Picture taken October 30, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki via REUTERS

OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) – David Olere, a former Auschwitz prisoner who helped dispose of bodies at the Nazi death camp, depicted his trauma of the horrors he witnessed in haunting drawings and paintings.

Paintings are pictured during the opening of an exhibition featuring works by David Olere, a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, at the museum in Oswiecim, Poland October 30, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki via REUTERS

Paintings are pictured during the opening of an exhibition featuring works by David Olere, a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, at the museum in Oswiecim, Poland October 30, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki via REUTERS

Now more than 80 of those artworks have gone on display at an exhibition at the Auschwitz Memorial in Oswiecim, Poland.

“David Olere: The One Who Survived Crematorium III,” shows the extermination process which took place at Auschwitz during the Holocaust through the late painter’s own eyes.

A French Jew of Polish descent, Olere was part of a special unit of male Jewish prisoners, dubbed the Sonderkommando, chosen by the Nazis to discard the bodies of those killed in gas chambers.

“He is the only witness who documented this unimaginable cruelty in the form of paintings and drawings,” Agnieszka Sieradzka, an art historian at the Museum Collections and one of the curators of the exhibition, said in a press release.

Born in Warsaw in 1902, Olere studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in the Polish capital before eventually settling in Paris. He was arrested in 1943 and deported to Auschwitz, one of several concentration camps operated by the Nazis on Polish soil during the Holocaust in which some six million Jews were killed.

Marc Oler, David Olere's grandson attends the opening of an exhibition featuring works by David Olere, a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, at the museum in Oswiecim, Poland October 30, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki via REUTERS

Marc Oler, David Olere’s grandson attends the opening of an exhibition featuring works by David Olere, a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, at the museum in Oswiecim, Poland October 30, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki via REUTERS

His grandson Marc Oler described the artist, who died in 1985, as “very, very tough, very, very talented, very, very traumatized”.

“David Olere wanted the next generation to be aware so they could be … (spared) the horrors that he had been through and know peace,” Oler, who attended the exhibition’s opening on Tuesday, said.

The exhibition, which runs until March, displays its own collection of Olere’s artwork as well as many others on loan from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and France’s Memorial de la Shoah.

(Reporting by Reuters Television and Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian)

Polish lawmakers back Holocaust bill, drawing Israeli outrage, U.S. concern

Israel's Ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari, is seen after a meeting with Poland's Senate Marshal Stanislaw Karczewski, in Warsaw, Poland January 31, 2018.

By Justyna Pawlak and Lidia Kelly

WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish lawmakers approved a bill on Thursday that would impose jail terms for suggesting Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, drawing concern from the United States and outrage from Israel, which denounced “any attempt to challenge historical truth”.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) says the bill is needed to protect Poland’s reputation and ensure historians recognize that Poles as well as Jews perished under the Nazis. Israeli officials said it criminalizes basic historical facts.

The Senate voted on the bill in the early hours on Thursday and it will now be sent to President Andrzej Duda for signature.

“We, the Poles, were victims, as were the Jews,” Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, a senior PiS figure and supporter of the law, said on Wednesday before the vote. “It is a duty of every Pole to defend the good name of Poland. Just as the Jews, we were victims.”

Under the proposed legislation, violators would face three years in prison for mentioning the term “Polish death camps”, although the bill says scientific research into World War Two would not be constrained.

Israel “adamantly opposes” the bill’s approval, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

“Israel views with utmost gravity any attempt to challenge historical truth. No law will change the facts,” ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said on Twitter.

Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant, one of several cabinet ministers to denounce the bill, told Israel’s Army Radio that he considered it “de facto Holocaust denial”.

The bill has come at a time when rightwing, anti-immigrant parties like PiS have been in the ascendancy in Europe, especially in the former Communist countries of the east. EU officials have expressed alarm over the PiS administration in Poland, which they say has undermined the rule of law by exerting pressure over the courts and media.

The ruling PiS, a socially conservative, nationalist group, has reignited debate on the Holocaust as part of a campaign to fuel patriotism since sweeping into power in 2015.

The U.S. State Department said the legislation “could undermine free speech and academic discourse”.

“We are also concerned about the repercussions this draft legislation, if enacted, could have on Poland’s strategic interests and relationships,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, told Reuters it was likely to push Poland further toward nationalism and isolation.

“The president will have to sign it – otherwise it would mean he is giving into international pressure. But the external criticism will, of course, push the government further into the position of a besieged fortress, strengthening both the nationalistic rhetoric…and the nationalistic mood in the country.”

PAINFUL DEBATE

Poland had Europe’s largest Jewish population when it was invaded by both Germany and the Soviet Union at the start of World War Two. It became ground zero for the “Final Solution”, Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews.

More than three million of Poland’s 3.2 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, accounting for around half of the Jews killed in the Holocaust. Jews from across Europe were sent to be killed at death camps built and operated by the Germans on Polish soil, including Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor.

According to figures from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Germans also killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians.

Many thousands of Poles risked their lives to protect their Jewish neighbors; Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust center recognizes 6,706 Poles as “righteous among nations” for bravery in resisting the Holocaust, more than any other nationality.

But Poland has also gone through a painful public debate in recent years about guilt and reconciliation over the Holocaust, after the publication of research showing some Poles participated in the Nazi German atrocities. Many Poles have refused to accept such findings, which have challenged a national narrative that the country was solely a victim.

A 2017 survey by the Polish Center for Research on Prejudice showed that more than 55 percent of Poles were “annoyed” by talk of Polish participation in crimes against Jews.

Poland has long sought to discourage use of the term “Polish camps” to refer to Nazi camps on its territory, arguing that the phrase implies complicity.

European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister and political foe of the PiS, said the bill had the opposite of its intended effect, tarnishing Poland’s name and encouraging the view of history it aimed to criminalize.

“Anyone who spreads a false statement about ‘Polish camps’ harms the good name and interests of Poland,” Tusk said on his private Twitter account. “The authors of the bill have promoted this vile slander all over the world, effectively as nobody has before.”

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in JERUSALEM, Mohammad Zargham in WASHINGTON, Gabriela Baczynska in BRUSSELS and Marcin Goettig in WARSAW; Writing by Justyna Pawlak and Lidia Kelly; Editing by Peter Graff)