Grapevine October 23, 2019: When conscience and shame collide

It is rare for the descendant of a Nazi to trace the names and histories of people for whose death her grandfather was responsible and to ask Yad Vashem to include them in its project.

SERBIA’S PRESIDENT Tomislav Nikolic looks at pictures of Jews killed in the Holocaust during a visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
SERBIA’S PRESIDENT Tomislav Nikolic looks at pictures of Jews killed in the Holocaust during a visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is not unusual for the children and grandchildren of Nazis to feel not only remorse but a sense of personal guilt that propels them into activities in behalf of Holocaust survivors and people with disabilities who would have surely been destined for death under the Nazi regime.
But it is rare for the descendant of a Nazi to trace the names and histories of people for whose death her grandfather was responsible and to ask Yad Vashem to include them in its project to collect and memorialize the names of Holocaust victims.
The project, which has been widely publicized on the Internet, came to the attention of Mechtild Wagenhoff, a resident of Frankfurt, who, while researching her family’s history, discovered that her grandfather Paul Burberg, who joined the Nazi Party in 1936, had as early as October, 1939, only a month after the German invasion of Poland, confiscated the property of the affluent Wejda family in Kalisz, Poland, and sent the parents and their son to the Warsaw Ghetto, from where they were deported to Dachau. The parents, Jozefa and Wieslaw Jerzy, were murdered. The fate of their son, Zdzislaw Lech, remains unknown.
Burberg usurped the vast Wejda estate and lived there till 1945. Wagenhoff’s aunt Ruth Burberg confirmed that as a child she had visited the estate. She also knew that the owners had been sent to the Warsaw Ghetto.
Although it was painful for Wagenhoff to learn of this dark chapter in her family’s history, she persevered, determined to do what little she could to atone for the atrocity perpetrated by her grandfather.
With help of the Kalisz administration, which made its archives available to her, she was able to piece together the story of the Wejda family, after which she contacted Yad Vashem and asked to fill out a page of testimony in each of their names.
Such pages are usually filled out by a relative or a member of the community in which the victim(s) had lived. It is extremely rare for a page of testimony to be submitted by a non-Jew, especially a non-Jew whose grandfather was a Nazi.
Wagenhoff made no effort to disguise this fact. On the contrary, she emphasized it, and on each page where the person submitting the request is asked to state their relationship to the deceased, she wrote that she was the granddaughter of the perpetrator.
Now that the story has become public, it will be interesting to see how many other descendants of Nazis will follow her example. Some descendants who in previous years have spoken to the writer of this column have admitted that they are terrified that the cruel, inhuman streak that characterized their grandfathers is part of their own DNA.
It may not be part of their DNA, but it is certainly evident in German folklore, as evidenced in the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, and initially published in German and then translated into many languages. Most of the tales are filled with cruelty and fear – and these were stories told to small children, including many of the readers of this column.
■ THESE DAYS, despite rising antisemitism in Europe, there are still people whose courage is fueled by conscience and disgust. Case in point is Prof. Mark Eidelman, head of pediatric orthopedics at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center.
According to a report in Yediot Aharonot, Eidelman and his wife, Regina, took their seven-year-old grandson Itai Gordon on a trip to Paris. While they were strolling along Ben-Gurion Esplanade in the 7th arrondissement, they noticed that the street signs had been defaced by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement stickers. Their original intention had been to go to the Eiffel Tower, but Eidelman knew that there was a 4-kilometer esplanade between the tower and the Louvre which had been named for Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and he wanted Itai to see it. However, what met their eyes was not exactly what Eidelman and his wife had in mind. On the other hand, it was an opportunity to give Itai a very important educational lesson. After all, a child is never too young to start learning. So they made it their mission to work together to remove all the BDS stickers. It was not only a good way to teach Itai to stand up for his principles and to fight antisemitism and anti-Israelism wherever he encounters one or the other or both, but it also allowed the Eidelmans to bond more closely with their grandson in working toward and achieving a common goal.
■ A FORMER Jerusalem Post columnist, Caroline Glick, who inter alia now writes for Israel Hayom, earned high praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his Facebook account last weekend.
Netanyahu lauded Glick for making what he considered “a very important point” in her most recent column, in which she wrote: “In Israel and throughout the free world, all politicians and all media organs maintain ties with one another as a matter of course. If Mandelblit accepts the state prosecutor’s position and indicts Netanyahu, practically speaking, he will render all politicians and media outlets in Israel hostage to state prosecutors. At their pleasure, the prosecutors can criminalize their routine practice of politics and journalism. They can investigate anyone, at any time. They can destroy reputations, squeeze politicians and media outlets financially by saddling them with legal fees, and even send them to prison. And at their pleasure, prosecutors can decide not to investigate politicians and media outlets, and so leave them free to attack their less fortunate colleagues as ‘criminal suspects’ and ‘alleged felons.’”
■ ALTHOUGH BLUE and White leader Benny Gantz has stated that he does not want to include religious parties in his coalition, he has no objection to dancing with religious people, as was seen during the second hakafot on Monday night when he went to Kfar Chabad to dance with the Chabadniks and the Torah scrolls.
Chabad is an acronym for chochma, wisdom; bina, understanding; and da’at, knowledge – all of which would stand Gantz in good stead during his negotiations to form a coalition. However, while his party appears to be united under the Blue and White banner, it is in fact fragmented, and unless he breaks away from Yair Lapid, there is little likelihood that he will gain any support from the religious parties. This will make it very difficult for him to form a 61-member coalition.
Even if Gantz weakens his resolve and enters into a coalition with the religious parties, providing they break their bond with Netanyahu, he still won’t have sufficient mandates to form a government, as not everyone on the Arab list is willing to support him, and Avigdor Liberman is not yet ready to eat humble pie and sit in a coalition with the religious parties, which are also holding a Gantz-led government to ransom by refusing to sit with Lapid.
■ NEARLY ALL the tributes to the late Meir Shamgar, a former president of the Supreme Court, who died last week, referred to him as the backbone of Israel’s legal system and a giant in defense of civil rights and freedom of speech. But few spoke of Shamgar, the person, the man with the aristocratic appearance but the modesty of manner, or even about what he did outside of writing legal opinions. Shamgar was a great jazz fan and a regular at the annual jazz festival in Eilat.
Public relations strategist Etty Eshed, who was for many years the legendary spokeswoman of the Justice Ministry, worked closely with Shamgar for nine years and posted a heartfelt obituary on her Facebook account, in which she asked where else would anyone find a president of the Supreme Court who drove himself in a small Mini-Minor to an Independence Day event at the President’s Residence, and looked for a parking spot, just like anyone else.
Eshed described Shamgar as a very modest man who was part of a lost generation that is no more. Sometimes she had to enter his office four or five times in a day. Although their conversations were brief, he was interested in everyone and everything around him, and was very detail conscious. Despite his intensely busy schedule, he always had time for everyone, she wrote.
Prof. Yuval Elbashan, dean of the law school at Ono Academic College, recalled hearing a story that while Shamgar and his wife were standing in line to board a plane, Shamgar was recognized by the chief steward, who wanted to instantly escort him on board. Shamgar declined, saying that he had purchased tickets in tourist class, which did not entitle him to special privileges, and therefore he and his wife would wait their turn along with all the other passengers.
■ IN CANADA this week, Justin Trudeau scored a very narrow victory that enables him to serve for a second four-year term as prime minister of Canada. Trudeau’s key opponent, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who is a devout Catholic, had promised during his campaign that if he won, he would move the Canadian Embassy to Jerusalem. Now, we can only wonder whether he would have honored that pledge, had he been victorious.
■ WHEN A monarch, president or prime minister goes abroad on an official visit, it is customary for the ambassador of the host country to travel with or ahead of him or her, in order to be present at official meetings, which are also attended by the ambassador of the official visitor’s country. This is not always the case with visits by ex-officials. However, in line with the upcoming visit of former Australian prime minister John Howard, whose almost 11 years in office ended in December 2007, Mark Sofer, Israel’s ambassador in Canberra, is coming home for the occasion.
It should be noted that since Howard’s period in office, Australia has had six prime ministers: Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Rudd again (for less than three months), Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and present incumbent Scott Morrison, who has recognized west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Howard advocates moving the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem.
Also arriving in tandem with Howard’s visit are several of the leading figures of the Zionist Federation of Australia, who will in all probability be participating in next week’s meetings of the Zionist General Council and in the Herzl Conference. Some will be torn between the Herzl Conference and the Judaism, Israel and Diaspora Conference, which is being held on the same date as the Herzl Conference.
Also being held at the same time is the annual commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba, which was won by members of the Australian and New Zealand Light Horse Brigade, and was one of the last cavalry battles of the 20th century.
■ TRUE, THE world’s largest Jewish Diaspora is in the United States, and it is important that American Jews maintain their Jewish identities and their connection to Israel, but other Diaspora Jewish communities are just as important – perhaps even more so, because the smaller they are, the more likely they are to assimilate, and are less likely than their American counterparts in cases of intermarriage to celebrate both Easter and Passover, and Hanukkah and Christmas.
But organizers of the Judaism, Israel and Diaspora Conference, which is a joint endeavor of Haaretz, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have taken very little notice of the non-American Jewish Diaspora. Other than Israelis, the only non-Americans listed as speakers or panelists are Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur of the Liberal Jewish Movement of France, Richard Schneider of ARD German TV and Rabbi Philip Scheim, from Toronto, who is president of Masorti Olami. Most of those of the Haaretz editorial staff who are participating are either American expats or have lived in America for an extended period of time. The notable exception is British-born columnist Anshel Pfeffer.
It is commendable that the list of speakers includes Orthodox and Reform rabbis, politicians, academics, journalists, representatives of the Sephardi, Ashkenazi and Ethiopian communities, along with authors, musicians, screenwriters, actors and satirists who are participating as discussants. Two of the more interesting sessions that veer away somewhat from traditional topics are headed “My Judaism,” in which people of varied backgrounds will present their personal take on Judaism; and “The Foundation of Rational Judaism.” A third topic that has been dealt with for decades without reaching consensus is “What is Judaism – Religion, Nation, Culture, Peoplehood?”
■ NOTHING BEATS authenticity, especially for those who believe in the old maxim that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. That may account for the fact that for close to 40 years, the nearest thing to family in Israel for maestro Zubin Mehta has been Indian restaurateurs Reena and Vinod Pushkarna.
There have been a handful of Indian restaurants opened by Israelis, but nothing in terms of taste, ambience and service could compare with the Tandoori restaurants which the Pushkarnas have been operating since 1983.
Whenever Mehta was in Israel, he made a beeline for the first of the Tandoori restaurants in Tel Aviv, where he could eat his favorite Indian delicacies. Even though he has lived outside of India for more than half his lifetime, his heart and his palate are still there.

Thus, it stands to reason that three days prior to his final concert with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and his return to his home in Los Angeles, his farewell party with the orchestra – including his successor, Lahav Shani, plus a handful of admirers and journalists, as well as Mehta’s wife, Nancy, and his brother Zarin, who inter alia has been the managing director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and executive director and president of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra – would be a Tandoori affair.
Although the Tandoori restaurant in Herzliya is very large, with an upstairs gallery that also seats some 50 people, there simply was not enough room, and several tables were set up on the pavement outside for those who came late and couldn’t find a seat inside.
Anticipating that this might be the case, Reena Pushkarna had her staff set up the outdoor tables in advance with the same beautiful decor of de-stemmed roses in shades of deep red and delicate pale apricot.
It was to be expected that there would be a number of emotional speeches – and indeed there were.
Celebrated horn player Yoel Abadi, who is also chairman of the management of the IPO, or the va’ad as it is known in Hebrew, has performed under Mehta’s baton as a soloist in concerts in Israel and abroad, and is also a member of the faculty of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University. As the key representative of the va’ad, Abadi has had dealings with Mehta for 11 years.
Speaking on behalf of IPO musicians, past and present, Abadi said: “Thank you for what you have done to our lives, the orchestra and the State of Israel. Coming back three times a year for every season, as well as in difficult times, you gave us inspiration for more than half the years of your life. You could have chosen anywhere else, but you chose us. What I learned from you is how powerful it is to think positively and think actively.”
Another member of the orchestra presented Mehta with a huge photo album reflecting Mehta’s history with the IPO, which included inscriptions from every member of the orchestra, each expressing their affection for the maestro who had so profoundly affected their careers.
Arguably, the most affected was Shani, who as a brilliant pianist had played with the orchestra on several occasions, and had followed Mehta’s urging that he go to Berlin to study how to be a conductor.
Mehta promised to read every one of the letters in the album, and said that he would never forget anyone who had played in the orchestra. He referred to some of the veteran players as “people I grew up with” and said that every time the IPO played Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, he saw their faces, and saw “the ladies’ mascara running.” He recalled the joy of taking the orchestra on tour to China and to India, where it had appeared for the first time, adding: “I don’t know why we still don’t play in Cairo or Amman.”
He is confident that Wagner will eventually come into the orchestra’s repertoire. He was happy with what the IPO has done to date, he said, listing among many achievements the recording of all of the Brahms symphonies.
“I know you played with your hearts,” he said, emphasizing that he looked forward to the following day’s rehearsal for his final concert that took place last Sunday, and where Shani surprised him by joining Yefim Bronfman in playing a duet of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances.
But in the environs of Tandoori, more intimate than those of the concert hall, Mehta told the members of the IPO: “I will miss you tremendously. You gave me so much pleasure.”
He also had a special word of appreciation in Hindi for the Pushkarnas, whom he referred to as “my Israeli family.”
Mehta’s wife, who said she seldom cries, admitted to having wept at the concert in Mumbai where the orchestra had given its all in the city of the maestro’s birth. She had never heard anything of such unique and extraordinary quality, she said.
At the farewell concert, which was attended by a four-generation capacity crowd, which, together with the orchestra, gave Mehta a prolonged standing ovation, Avi Shoshani, the long-term secretary-general of the IPO, announced that henceforth, Mehta would be known as the orchestra’s director emeritus.
■ ONE THING that representatives from the Left and the Right of the political spectrum agree on is that violence against women must be eradicated. Thus, participants in an evening devoted to the subject included Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who brought his wife and children, and former Labor MK Danny Yatom as well as MK Gadi Yevarkan. Others among the 300 people present included eminent lawyers Zion Amir and Sassi Gez, Israel Bar Association head Avi Himi, comedian Nancy Brandes, singer Avihu Medina, and the mayors of Kafr Kassem, Taiba and Modi’in. The event was initiated by Eyal Madani, the CEO of Mini Israel, and was of course held at Mini Israel, with Madani conferring honorary citizenship on Elkin.
Entertainment was provided by Pirchei Yerushalyim, the angelic Jerusalem Boys Choir, which has performed all over Israel and which also has several recordings to its credit.
■ ELITE TURKISH coffee is a mainstay among Israeli beverages, and the Elite unit in the Strauss Group promotes an annual bikeathon around Tel Aviv, which not only is a popular competition, but also helps to promote the company’s Turkish coffee. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who is a keen bike rider, joined Strauss CEO Giora Bardea and members of the Elite team as well as many other participants in the bike race, just before the riders mounted their bikes.
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