Interviewed on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet following the 90th anniversary commemoration in Sighet of the birth of Elie Wiesel, Joel Rappel, founder of the Elie Wiesel Archives at Boston University and Wiesel’s personal assistant for seven years, told a story about Wiesel that is not generally known.
At the time of the Eichmann trial, Wiesel was working as a correspondent for Yediot Aharonot. He wanted to cover the trial, but the editor felt that as an Auschwitz survivor, the trial would be too personal for him and he would not be able to write with objectivity. So instead, Wiesel reported in Yiddish for The Forward. He intended to write a book based on his reports and kept them all in a large envelope.
Noted poet, novelist, journalist and filmmaker Haim Gouri was also reporting on the Eichmann trial for a paper that is since long defunct, on the basis of which he wrote his book Facing the Glass Booth. When Gouri asked for Wiesel’s help in getting the book published in English, Wiesel, who already was internationally famous, knew that if he published his book at the same time as Gouri published his, no one would look at Gouri’s. So he sealed the envelope with his own reports and placed it somewhere among his papers.
Rappel found it many years later, and when the opportunity arose he told Gouri about it at Gouri’s home on Pinsker Street in Jerusalem. Gouri was initially incredulous, and then, as realization dawned, called out to his wife, Aliza, to tell her of Wiesel’s noble gesture. Wiesel’s book on the Eichmann trial was never published, but perhaps some of the reports may now be translated, and the book might be published posthumously.
APROPOS THE Holocaust, one of the missions of foreign ambassadors in Israel is to make known the efforts of diplomats from the countries they represent to rescue Jews from Nazi persecution and to save their lives by issuing to them false documents. Best known among these diplomats are Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden and Chiune Sugihara of Japan. But there were many more from other countries, whose names have unfortunately faded into the dust of history instead of serving as glowing reminders of humanity and morality.
Long before Tuesday’s ceremony in Lucerne, in which Polish President Andrzej Duda honored the memory of Konstanty Rokicki, a Warsaw-born Polish diplomat who helped thousands of people survive the Holocaust, Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski was speaking of Rokicki with pride.
It is known that certain diplomats from different countries joined forces to provide visas and passports that offered some degree of safe passage to Jews. Rokicki, who during the war was Polish vice consul to Riga and Bern, during the period 1941-1943 used his position to produce false Latin American passports which were smuggled into Nazi-occupied Poland and the Netherlands. Together with Juliusz Kuhl, another Polish diplomat of lower rank, who happened to be Jewish, Rokicki produced thousands of false Paraguayan passports, which served to protect Jews who otherwise might have been deported to Nazi death camps. Even before the war, he provided visas for Jews in Riga who wanted to enter Palestine, which was then under the British Mandate.
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During the war, Rockiki and Kuhl personally bribed Rudolf Hugli, who was the honorary consul for Paraguay in Bern, in order to obtain blank Paraguayan passports. A smuggling network, primarily under the administration of Agudat Yisrael, arranged for the false passports to reach Jews in Poland. Although Agudat Yisrael mentioned Rokicki in a letter of appreciation that it sent in later years to the Polish government, Rokicki, who settled in Switzerland after the war and died in Lucerne in July 1958, was largely forgotten until August 2017, when he was mentioned by Canadian journalist Mark McKinnon and Polish journalists Zbigniew Parafianowicz and Michał Potocki, who collaborated to write about rescue operations during the Holocaust.
Many diplomats who saved Jews were disowned by their own governments, or left the foreign service of their own volition immediately after the war. A few, like Wallenberg, were arrested and were either executed or died in captivity. It was only many years later – usually after their deaths – that their countries recognized them as heroes.
THIS WEEK marks the 25th anniversary of Grapevine in its present home, as people who read The Jerusalem Post on a daily basis may have seen in a news item on Monday.
Grapevine originated in The Australian Jewish News in Melbourne, the birthplace of its author, then received a new home in In Jerusalem, the Post’s Jerusalem supplement. When the late David Bar-Ilan was editor of the Post, he decided that Grapevine should also appear in the daily paper. Initially, it appeared in a double column on the back page, and was launched with a report on The Event, an Anglo fun day at the Wingate Institute initiated by the Post primarily for Israel’s native English-speakers. It was attended by some 10,000 people from all the English-speaking countries represented by Jewish citizens in numbers large and small who had migrated to Israel. The column grew in popularity, and when Jeff Barak was editor-in-chief, he decided that it would appear twice a week. Under David Horovitz the midweek column expanded to a full page, and under current Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz the column runs three times a week, with half pages on Sundays and Fridays and a full page on Wednesdays.
In all probability, there are social columns in other Israeli publications that have been running for as many years or even longer, but it is doubtful that such columns have had the one author continuously, without interruption.
A newspaper is not just a platform for information. It is also a vehicle for education. Throughout the years Grapevine columns have included snippets of history here and there on a variety of subjects and individuals which hopefully have inspired some readers to probe further and learn more.
There have also been items about relatively anonymous people who, when being thrust temporarily into the limelight, have in some cases been asked by cynics: “How much did you pay her?” No one has ever paid to be included in Grapevine, and if they offered to do so, this would immediately exclude them. It has been a private pleasure to enable some people who might otherwise be overlooked to have their moment of glory, and I thank a series of Post editors for giving me that freedom.
IN ITS weekly newsletter, the Russian Embassy last week paid tribute to Yuri Levitan on the104th anniversary of his birth. Levitan, the iconic Russian broadcaster, in June 1941 announced the war between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. According to the newsletter, he broadcast information bulletins from all the front lines during the four years of fighting, and “Soviet marshals said that his voice had the power of a military division. In the list of the enemies of the Third Reich, Levitan was... No. 1 and Stalin was listed second.... [A fortune was] promised for killing Levitan, and a special SS unit was planning a diversion in Moscow to eliminate the presenter.”
What the newsletter does not state is that Levitan was Jewish. In January 1934, Stalin, who was no Jew lover, called the station after hearing Levitan broadcast and demanded that Levitan be the one to read all of Stalin’s announcements. Levitan subsequently became Stalin’s personal announcer, and in March 1953 also announced Stalin’s death. He continued to broadcast major events in Russia until his own death of a heart attack in August 1983.
BEFORE LEAVING for Denmark on Tuesday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Denmark’s daring rescue of its Jews during the Nazi occupation, President Reuven Rivlin on Monday held one of his so-called regular meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The meetings used to be on a monthly basis, but went into hibernation for the best part of a year. The prime minister updated Rivlin on security and diplomatic issues.
Accompanying Rivlin to Denmark were some of the people who were rescued 75 years ago by being ferried from Denmark to Sweden. Among the invitees was Werner Buchman, a prominent member of Israel’s Danish community, who as a seven-year-old child had been among those Danish Jews who were saved. Buchman had to decline the invitation because he had a previous commitment to speak about that period in his life at a meeting on Wednesday at the residence of Swedish Ambassador Magnus Hellgren.
DESPITE THE fact that the embassies of the United States and Guatemala are located in Jerusalem, neither held their independence day celebrations in the capital. The only country that unfailingly celebrates its independence day in Jerusalem is Armenia, partially because Armenian Ambassador Armen Smbatyan is nonresident and sits in Cairo, but more importantly because honorary consul for Armenia Tsolag Momjian, though of Armenian parentage, was born and raised in Jerusalem, where he and his wife, Allegra, still reside.
The reception is always held on the grounds of the majestic Notre Dame Center and is invariably attended by a large representation of the Armenian Patriarchate, as well as representatives of the Russian Ecclesiastic Mission and the Latin Patriarchate. There is also an extraordinarily large representation of the Foreign Ministry, including both current officials and retirees. Among them were Eliyahu Yerushalmi, who is Israel’s ambassador to Armenia , but who works out of Jerusalem. Also present was former ambassador to Armenia Rivka Cohen.
On the wall behind the microphones was a huge placard honoring the memory of French-Armenian singer and actor Charles Aznavour.
In past years Momjian devoted much of his address to the Armenian Genocide, which Israel still has not formally recognized, but this time he preferred to focus on Armenia’s velvet revolution, which culminated with the election of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Momjian said that Armenia was one of 15 former Soviet states that had each been faced with social and cultural challenges after winning their independence. In most cases statues of Lenin and Marx had been replaced by corrupt oligarchs, he said, noting that Armenia was no exception. “But a few months ago, from March 31 to May 8, Armenia woke up to a peaceful revolution,” which under Pashinyan has led to a major change. Changes are also visible on the world stage, said Momjian, noting that there are new alliances heralding a new shape of things to come, “a new reality which forces us to challenge accepted concepts.”
In the past, there has not been an official government representative at the Armenian reception, but Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who is running for mayor of the city, showed up and said that it was a wonderful opportunity for him to salute the Armenian people on its day of independence. He mentioned similarities in Armenian and Jewish history and the potential for deepening relations between the Israeli and Armenian governments. He recalled having visited Armenia in 1989 “during a very complicated time” and personally witnessing Armenia’s struggle for independence.
TWO DAYS later, Elkin was making nice to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov at the annual Israel-Russia Business Forum, which is part of the Israel-Russia Business Council, headed by Timor Ben Yehuda, whose birth certificate lists his surname as Chikhanshvilli. The meeting at BIOHOUSE Hadassah in Jerusalem was attended by Israeli and Russian businesspeople who focused on closer economic cooperation and direct business relations between companies in both countries. The emphasis was on innovative hi-tech with particular attention to health-tech. The occasion was also used to inaugurate the Israel-Russia Chamber of Commerce.
NO TWO weddings are exactly the same, and in terms of the unusual, the wedding last Thursday of healer, healthcare provider and health counselor Yocheved Rindenow to freelance journalist and commentator with a background in high finance Gol Kalev, who also happens to be the chairman of the America-Israel Friendship League Think Tank, was decidedly different. The bride is the daughter of Rabbi Mordechai and Mindy Rindenow of New Jersey, and the groom is the son of Yitzhak and Nechama Kalev of Israel.
After spending 20 years in America, the groom returned home just a little over three years ago and, as fate would have it, met his bride-to-be just a few meters from his new home, which is situated in a luxury tower close to the Mahaneh Yehuda market. Residents in the nearby Nahlaot neighborhood had decided to have a community Shabbat lunch along part of Jaffa Road and invited anyone who happened to be walking past. Rindenow was there, Kalev saw her, and it was love at first sight on his part. That was two-and-a-half years ago. After two decades in the US, Kalev had to come home to find the American-born girl of his dreams in Jerusalem.
The wedding at the Bible Lands Museum was conducted by Rabbi Benny Lau. Guests ranged from ultra-Orthodox to ultra-secular to non-Jewish. Several came from abroad – and not only from the US. Very few of the females were casually dressed. Most wore formal evening attire. A seven-piece band serenaded the bride as, dressed in an exquisite jewel-encrusted classic lace gown, she walked to the bridal canopy.
Lau noted that the bride’s family had two years earlier suffered the loss of one of the bride’s younger brothers, Shlomo, a 20-year-old soldier in a combat unit, who was killed in an accidental grenade explosion on the Golan Heights.
Lau also spoke of the importance of Jerusalem and the words of the Prophet Jeremiah on a nearby site to the museum, when he stood looking at the ruins of the city and the lines of people moving to Babylon, and prophesied: “There will again be heard in the cities of Judah and the courtyards of Jerusalem, the voice of joy and the voice of celebration, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride...”
The groom, prior to uttering the traditional marriage vow of “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem....,” turned to his bride and spoke of his own homecoming not only to Jerusalem but also to her. “You are my home,” he said.
Among the people called up to recite the seven blessings was the Admor of Chernobyl, who is the current leader of the hassidic dynasty from which the famed Twersky family spread out into the world. The Rindenows are related to the Twerskys.
After the ceremony, the band struck up a lively melody, and guests danced a klezmer conga onto the dance floor, where the bride and groom danced a slow tango to the strains of “Jerusalem of Gold.”
AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Chris Cannan had not originally planned to be at the Friday dinner at Jerusalem’s Orient Hotel hosted by the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce. But as he had cause to be in Jerusalem earlier in the day, he decided that as the dinner was in honor of a trade mission from South Australia, he, as a native of South Australia, could not decline the invitation, especially as his embassy works so closely with the chamber.
Also present was Ken Ryan, the State of Victoria’s London-based commissioner for Europe, who is on a frequent commute to Israel where the State of Victoria has a trade and investment office, and is the only state in Australia which is represented in its own right in Israel. Earlier in the week he had attended a reception in Tel Aviv for Governor of Victoria Linda Dessau.
Although there have been numerous trade missions from Victoria and New South Wales, there have been few trade missions from other states. This was only the second such mission from South Australia. A Women and Men of Impact delegation from Western Australia is scheduled to arrive in November.
Whenever Paul Israel, executive director of the chamber, and his staff put together an itinerary for any visiting delegation, they almost always include Friday night in Jerusalem with a visit to the Great Synagogue for Friday night services as the guests of international lawyer and synagogue president Zalli Jaffe, who has several clients in Australia. Jaffe later presides over the dinner and explains Jewish history and traditions to all those gathered around the table. Because this was a first-time visit for most of the mission participants, including the head of the delegation, David Pisoni, the state minister for industry and skills, Jaffe wanted to know how many times people who had previously been to Israel had visited. In the approximately two years that he has been in his current role, Ryan estimated that he’d been to Israel at least 15 times.
Pisoni, for whom this was a first visit to anywhere in the Middle East, said that the reality differed greatly from the image of Israel presented by the media. He came away with very positive impressions, but said he was not surprised, because Jews around the world are known for the contributions they make to the communities in which they live. He cited New York as an outstanding example, but said there was plenty of evidence of this in Australia as well.
Andrew Gwinnet, president of the South Australian branch of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, emphasized that the success of Israeli start-ups is to some extent attributable to the joining of forces by the public and private sectors. A couple of academics said that they had been impressed by the amazing synergy between government, the private sector and academia.
South Australia is known for its high-quality wines, and the greatest compliment that Andreas Clark, the CEO of Wine Australia, could pay to Israel was to say that Israel has some very good wines. Almost everyone for whom this was a first visit declared that it was not a last visit and promised to be back.
JUST A few days prior to October 6, the Gregorian calendar anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, the National Library of Israel posted on its website a collection of photographs that had been taken during the war by Nathan Friedrich, a Jewish-American photojournalist, who happened to be in Israel at that time. He grabbed his camera and headed for the front, photographing soldiers individually and in groups. But he failed to take the names of the soldiers and was unable to identify any of them.
Shortly before this year’s anniversary of the war, Friedrich, now 84 and living in Eugene, Oregon, sent hundreds of photos to the National Library, where he believes they belong. The photos are sharp, and the collection is rich in its importance. Friedrich became a war photojournalist by happenstance. He happened to be on an archaeological dig in Israel when the war broke out. He documented the fighting on both the northern and southern fronts. He donated the photographs to the National Library as a gift, not for payment, knowing that the photographs would be seen by millions of viewers in Israel and around the world on the National Library’s website.
“The intense experience of the Yom Kippur War, which I had the privilege of documenting with my camera, influenced the course of my entire life to this very day,” said Friedrich from his home in Oregon. “All these years I’ve spoken about the war to various audiences in the United States, but I always hoped that the pictures in which I captured IDF soldiers during battle, and that were sitting in my house here on the West Coast, would be preserved in an Israeli institution that could ensure they received public exposure in Israel and around the world using 21st-century technologies. The National Library is the most professional and suitable institution for this purpose, and I was therefore very happy to be given the chance to transfer my collection to the library and thus return it to its natural home in Israel, where it will be preserved for generations.”
While documenting the war, Friedrich himself was wounded, and was treated by Israeli army medics. A photo in the collection shows him being treated. If viewers can identify any of the soldiers in the photos on the website, the National Library will be delighted to be able to receive and share this information.
IT’S THAT time of year again when everyone who roams the diplomatic circuit will have to learn a new batch of names of heads of foreign missions. There are so many of them pouring in between now and December that Meron Reuben, the head of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, and Nitza Raz Silbiger, who runs the Protocol division, are going to barely have a moment to breathe. On October 25 the ambassadors of Cameroon, Guatemala, Germany, Hungary and Japan will present their credentials to Rivlin, and on November 8 it will be the turn of the ambassadors of Croatia, Jordan and the Czech Republic. Another ceremony is planned for December 17.
FEW PEOPLE believed that Walter Bingham, the 94-year-old radio broadcaster, was serious when he said he wanted to jump out of a plane. Even those who did believe him thought that he would get cold feet when push came to shove. But according to Jordan Miles of Israel Extreme who jumped with him: “Walter had a real blast.” There are photographs to prove how much Bingham enjoyed himself.
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