Grapevine: A woman true to her word

Anglo-Israeli couple reflects on Margaret Thatcher's 1965 Israel visit; "'Iron Lady' had a heart of gold."

JAY SHULTZ with his mother, Sabina Shultz, (photo credit: Courtesy)
JAY SHULTZ with his mother, Sabina Shultz,
(photo credit: Courtesy)
THE DEATH of a famous person usually sparks a spate of anecdotes, and the passing this week of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was no exception. Norman and Pamela Spector of Kfar Saba have fond memories of her visit to Arad in 1965. Norman was working on a building site and Pamela was home looking after their two-month old baby. Curious as to whether there were any English people in Arad, Thatcher was taken to the home of the Spectors – one of two English families living there at the time. Thatcher admired the baby and was interested to learn the Spectors were from Finchley, her constituency. When Norman, who had come home, told her that his parents were still living there – though he neglected to say they hadn’t voted for her – she offered to phone them when she got back to London. She was true to her word, telling the senior Spectors how beautiful their new granddaughter was. Norman wonders whether in those days at least, the “iron lady” had a heart of gold.
THIS EVENING, Wednesday, at 7 p.m., an art auction to benefit the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center will be held at the capital’s Mamilla Hotel. Forty works of art have been donated by various galleries as well as by the artists themselves. The most famous artist in the catalogue is Menashe Kadishman. Singers Yehuda Poliker and David D’Or, who also dabble in other art forms, have each donated a painting for which the asking price will be at least NIS 4,000. Filmmaker, writer and actor Assi Dayan has also donated a painting, priced at NIS 3,000. While actor and singer Chaim Topol has long been known as a portraitist as well as an actor, his self-portrait in his most famous and long-running role as Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye has the relatively modest minimum price of NIS 2,500. A NIS 3,000 painting by Aliza Olmert has already been sold.
There will be no commissions on sales and all proceeds will go direct to the Rape Crisis Center, which hopes to close the evening with at least NIS 150,000 in sales.
It is possible that bidders will offer more for some of the works, and organizers will be supremely grateful if they do.
CONGRATULATIONS ARE in order to Israel’s fifth President Yitzhak Navon, who yesterday, April 9, celebrated his 92nd birthday. If one goes according to the Jewish calendar, he actually celebrated his birthday a month ago. Navon was born on the first day of the month of Nissan, which in ancient Israel was the date of the New Year for Kings.
POLAND’S CHIEF Rabbi Michael Schudrich would be delighted if the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw, where he has his office and pulpit, would be even half as full every Shabbat as it was last week, with early arrivals for the March of the Living crowding in on Friday night to participate in services. Yoram Dori, a longtime adviser to President Shimon Peres – who accompanied the president to Poland in 2008 for the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – recalls that the Nozyk Synagogue was almost filled to capacity when Peres attended a Jewish community reception there.
But last Friday night, there was simply not enough room to hold everyone who wanted to get inside. Dori, who traveled to Poland take part in this week’s March of the Living, reported there was such a huge crowd that they had to have three consecutive minyanim of between 500-750 people at each. March of the Living chairman Dr. Shmuel Rosenman said that the stubborn determination to participate in Shabbat services with singing and dancing, specifically in Warsaw – where before World War II, one in every three residents was Jewish – was an expression by the participating youth of the pride they felt in the creation of the State of Israel, and the ability of the Jewish people to survive and establish their own sovereign state.
Next week, on April 19, the date on which Poles commemorate the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Nozyk Synagogue will likely host a huge congregation once again. Many Jews who were born in Warsaw and survived the Holocaust are expected to come with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to participate in the 70th anniversary ceremony, to prove with their progeny that the “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem” did not succeed. Several cultural events, including a concert of songs from the Warsaw Ghetto, are planned to remind visitors and Warsaw natives of the enormity of the terrible tragedies that took place in Poland’s magnificent capital.
WHOEVER NURSES doubts about the legacy of the Holocaust being transferred to future generations after the generation of survivors is no more, would have had all such fears dispelled by attending the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Jerusalem’s Fuchsberg Center.
Close to 300 young immigrants from English-speaking countries crowded into its theater-style auditorium, which was designed to hold a much smaller audience.
They came trailing in from all over Jerusalem as well as from Tel Aviv, Safed and elsewhere. Many were third-generation Holocaust survivors, and at least one was both a second- and third-generation survivor. Some told stories of grandparents who had survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and who in doing so, had given their grandchildren a stronger sense of Jewish identity.
While the evening was largely devoted to memory and identity, it was also the launch of the Jerusalem branch of Adopt- A-Safta, a project initiated in 2011 by Tel Aviv-based Jay Shultz, formerly of New York and a grandson of Holocaust survivors.
Shultz, who came to Israel seven years ago, is president of the Am Yisrael Foundation, which together with the Israel Forever Foundation, the Jerusalem Municipality, Nefesh B’Nefesh, Ruach Hadasha, Moishe House Jerusalem, Jerusalem Village and the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, ensured the strong attendance.
When he arrived in Israel, Shultz literally knew no one. He had neither family nor friends here – at least no family of whom he was aware. So he decided to take a good look at his family tree and discovered that Csilla Dunkleman, a Holocaust survivor who was a second cousin to his grandfather, lived in Haifa. Shultz was over the moon at having found a blood relative, however distant. He wasted no time in calling on her to introduce himself, and thus began a close kinship in which they spoke regularly on the phone. He called her every Friday to wish her Shabbat Shalom, and if he was running late, she called him so neither would miss out on the precious connection. Shultz gained a lot from his contact with her, discovering things about his family background, and felt that she too gained from having him around to dispel some of her loneliness.
Realizing there must be many new immigrants like him, arriving without family or friends, and inspired by his relationship with Dunkelman, who died three years ago, he founded Adopt-A-Safta, to bring cheer and comfort to lonely survivors and a sense of extended family to new immigrants in their 20s and 30s.
Some who were already involved in the program spoke of what it meant to them to meet regularly with a Holocaust survivor – to go shopping for them, read together or just shmooze. One young man who has been in Israel for a year said that his adopted Safta is forever making chicken soup for him, even though she knows he’s a vegetarian. A young woman told of her adopted safta who has no one to talk to all week, but who can’t stop talking once her young visitor arrives.
Although some of the audience arrived in pairs or in clusters, they weren’t there to network and were genuinely interested in making life more pleasant for survivors in their twilight years. There was absolutely no doubt that just as the Haggadah is retold from generation to generation, the stories these young people will hear from their adopted saftas will also be passed on.
ARGUABLY, THE most common language among both victims and survivors of the Holocaust was Yiddish. Indeed, in some Diaspora communities where the Holocaust was commemorated not only on one special day a year, but on many different days, the language used at such ceremonies was Yiddish. In places like the US, Canada and Australia, where there were large pockets of Jews from different parts of Poland, each landsmanschaft, as they called themselves, held additional ceremonies to commemorate the people from their city, town or village who died or were murdered during the Holocaust.
In Israel, even the landsmanschften tend to conduct their memorial ceremonies in Hebrew. However, the Yiddishpiel Theater has for several years held its Holocaust Remembrance Day events in Yiddish, which somehow makes them more emotional and authentic. This year’s commemoration, which focused not only on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising but also on life in the ghetto and its diverse demographic mosaic, was particularly moving and dramatic because the texts were based on diaries and memoirs written by people that were there. They told of how the Germans rounded Jews up for deportation to the death camps and sometimes shot them point blank, of the starvation, of the children who sold cigarettes to make enough money to buy bread, of the efforts to maintain some degree of normalcy and humanity, of resistance to the Nazis and ultimately, of the liquidation of the ghetto.
They mentioned heroes of the resistance such as Yitzhak Zuckerman, who worked on the Aryan side to procure arms; his wife Zivia Lubetkin, who was one of the organizers of armed resistance; Mordechai Anielewicz, who was the commander of a left-wing Jewish resistance group; and Pawel Frankel, the leader of the Revisionist resistance group, whose efforts have been recognized only in recent years.
The readings were interspersed with songs that had been sung in the ghetto, and the set consisted of six white folding chairs which were constantly rearranged by the six players: Israel Treistman, Annabella, Yuval Rapaport, Monica Wardimon, Toronto-born Amitai Kedar and Elian Debal-Shor. The backdrop consisted of a large video screen on which historic footage of the deterioration and eventual liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto added to the somber atmosphere in the darkened auditorium.
At 10 a.m. on Monday, Jerusalem’s 970- seat Sherover Theater was more than three-quarters full, mostly with senior citizens, many of who were Holocaust survivors and some walking painfully with the aid of canes and walkers. There was also a group of uniformed soldiers and a good sprinkling of people in their 20s to 40s. On stage was a large, black, menorah-shaped candelabrum with six branches.
For obvious reasons, six was the dominant number throughout. The six candles in memory of the 6 million Jews whose lives were snuffed out by the Nazis and their cohorts were lit by Annabella, one of the more veteran actresses of the Yiddish stage. Though she usually goes by her first name only, this time she was introduced as Annabella Kellner, a Holocaust survivor who was born in Czernowitz and who as a child was sent to the notorious Transnistra killing fields with her family. She was liberated by the Red Army in 1944 and after training for the theater in Romania, came to Israel in 1963.
Whereas most memorial events involve speakers directly addressing the audience, in this case it was if all the players had experienced the same terrible trauma in contemporary Jewish history, and were reminding each other of what had taken place. Thus, they were essentially talking to each other – rather than to the audience – in the most beautifully enunciated Yiddish.
It was mainly when they sang that they actually faced the audience. “The Partisan” song, which has become one of the hymns of the Holocaust, is frequently sung at Yad Vashem events – but in Hebrew, where the absence of Yiddish nuances deprive the lyrics of the full force of their meaning. This time it was sung in the original Yiddish and the audience rose to their feet to join in, after which they sang “Hatikva.” The transition from one to the other said it all.
ANYONE WHO happens to be in Monte Carlo on May 5 should try to get a ticket for the Violins of Hope concert, organized by l’Association des Amis de l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo at the Grimaldi Forum, Salle des Princes. The Violins of Hope come from a collection of violins that belongs to master violinmaker and repairer Amnon Weinstein, who learned the craft from his father, Moshe, and now works with his son, Avshalom.
When the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was formed in 1936 by violin virtuoso Bronislaw Huberman, he brought firstclass Jewish musicians from Europe, mainly Germany, to Tel Aviv. These musicians had all played in major orchestras which dispensed with their services after the rise of Nazism. Had it not been for Huberman, many if not all of these musicians would have been among the victims of the Holocaust.
When the violinists came to Israel they went to Moshe Weinstein for repairs.
Violinists who remained in Europe and survived the war, later coming to Israel, also called on Weinstein. Some time in the 1990s Amnon Weinstein decided that the violins which had been lost or damaged in the Holocaust were important components of Jewish history. He made it his life’s mission to look for them, renovate them and exhibit them as reminders not only of lost life, but lost culture.
Where possible, Weinstein has collected the stories of each of the violins, which he shares with students and musicians. Most of the violins had been silent for many years, preserved as keepsakes of another era. Weinstein, who lovingly restored them, wanted music lovers to hear their sound again and shared his dream with his good friend Shlomo Mintz, an internationally acclaimed violinist. Mintz became equally enthused, so much so that in 2008, he took a restored violin that had been used in the Auschwitz Orchestra back to the death camp, and stood in the exact spot where its original owner had stood – near the entrance to the Auschwitz barracks.
He played it hauntingly, but in freedom and in tribute to those musicians who did not survive.
Mintz plays in all the Violins of Hope concerts, and will do so again in Monte Carlo, where he will be appearing for the first time. Conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti, meanwhile, was so profoundly moved by the story of the Violins of Hope that he wanted to compose a work specially dedicated to the project. Called “Ke’ev” (pain in Hebrew), it will have its world premiere at the concert, from which proceeds will be donated to the Hebrew University’s Center for Brain Research.
In Weinstein’s household, the Holocaust is a constant presence not only through the violins, but because his wife Assi, a journalist and author, is a direct descendant of the famous Bielski partisans who conducted daring rescue and resistance missions during the World War II.
ANOTHER MUSICAL reminder of Holocaust history is the Ramat Gan Children’s Harmonica Orchestra founded by the late Shmuel Gogol, who survived both the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz. Gogol had been one of the children in the famed Jewish orphanage run by educator Janusz Korczak, who encouraged the curiosity and creativity of the children in his care by giving them small rewards. Gogol, who had displayed a talent for music, had been the recipient of a harmonica that saved his life when he was chosen to play it in the Auschwitz Orchestra.
Twenty years ago, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin went to Poland for the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and was accompanied by a delegation of Holocaust survivors that included Gogol – who once more played the harmonica in Auschwitz, this time not as a persecuted Polish Jew but as a proud Israeli. Gogol played a tune that the Auschwitz Orchestra would not have dared to play so many years earlier: “Hatikva.”
It rang out loud and clear – despite the fact that all the Jews assembled there sang with him. Rabin turned to his wife and said: “Sing loud, Leah. In this place we have to sing ‘Hatikva’ louder than anywhere else.”
Gogol died a few weeks later, but the Ramat Gan Children’s Harmonica Orchestra continues to perform and is always in demand at Holocaust-related events – memorializing both its founder and Korczak.
THERE IS such an abundance of Holocaust- related literature that no single individual could get through it all in a lifetime.
For sociologists and psychologists, it is often interesting when perusing such literature to learn of the different ways members of the same family reacted to their situations.
One such book, Thirty Four, published in November 2009 and researched by Australian author William Hastings Burke, illustrates just how wide a gap there can be in the outlook of two brothers raised in the same family. While Hermann Göring was one of the most powerful and influential figures in the Nazi Party, his brother, Albert, who had a reputation as a bon vivant, was staunchly anti-Nazi.
Albert not only saved Jews from certain death, but actually employed on their behalf what could only be described as foolhardy courage. Only his family connections saved him from execution, and he so blatantly defied the Nazis that several readers of Burke’s book have suggested that Yad Vashem recognize him as Righteous Among the Nations.
The book, which received long and positive reviews in the British media, was the product of a personal odyssey by its author. Just before graduating from the University of Sydney in 2005, Burke came across a documentary alleging that Hermann Göring had an anti-Nazi brother.
Burke’s curiosity was piqued, and instead of doing his expected post-graduate studies, he went on a fact-finding mission about Albert, Before undertaking his three-year research in Germany, Burke went to Washington, where in the National Archives he came across a list of the 34 most prominent Jews who had been saved by Albert. The list’s title ultimately became the title of Burke’s book.
At the end of the war, Albert, like his brother, was arrested and spent two years in prison because his interrogators would not believe in the innocence of someone with his last name. The two actually met before Hermann evaded the noose by swallowing a concealed cyanide capsule, and Hermann had the last-minute grace to apologize to his brother for being the cause of his problems. Despite his heroism and humane principles, Albert was shunned in Germany after the war.
Athough the Görings had once been a very affluent family, he died a pauper in December 1966 and was buried in the family plot.
NOT ALL Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies were centered on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The joint ceremony of the Jerusalem-headquartered B’nai B’rith World Center and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund focused on the heroism of the rescuers of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.
The ceremony at the Martyrs’ Forest in the Scrolls of Fire Plaza honored the rescue activities of Otto Komoly, president of the Zionist Federation in Hungary during the Holocaust years, whose actions saved the lives of thousands of Jews.
Komoly was abducted by agents of the Arrow Cross fascist regime on January 1, 1945, barely two weeks before the liberation of Budapest, and all contact with him was lost. It is presumed that he was murdered and his body dispatched into the Danube River along with thousands of other Jews. (A total of over 600,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.) Jewish Rescuers Citations sponsored by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust and the B’nai B’rith World Center were conferred on a group of some 30 rescuers, who operated in the underground Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary. Forty citations have been presented to date to rescuers who were involved operations in France, Germany, Holland and Hungary.
The award in Komoly’s name was presented to his granddaughter, Orna Barnea, and grandson, Oded Furst.
Guests of honor at the ceremony were former science minister Daniel Herschkowitz, whose grandfather collaborated with Komoly in the Hungarian Jewish underground; Hungarian Ambassador Zoltan Szentgyorgyi; KKL-JNF world chairman Efi Stenzler; and B’nai B’rith World Center chairman Haim V. Katz.
Prior to the ceremony, at which Barnea was one of the speakers, an emotional meeting took place between soldiers and survivors, who presented personal testimonies.