Grapevine, August 12, 2020: Stumbling stones with echoes of evil

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Israel's ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff with his wife Laura Kam and their daughter Ella (photo credit: STADT DORTMUND / ROLAND GORECKI)
Israel's ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff with his wife Laura Kam and their daughter Ella
Around a quarter of a century ago, German artist Gunter Demnig initiated a memorial project in Berlin that has since been taken up in more than 500 cities, towns and villages in Germany as well as in several other European countries. Called Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stones), the project is designed to memorialize people who were persecuted by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945.
Originally dedicated to Jews who lived in Germany at that time and who in many cases were murdered, the project now includes Sinti and Roma residents of Germany during the Nazi era, as well as people who suffered religious or political persecution or were hounded for their sexual orientation. They were no less persecuted than the Jews.
Stolpersteine are square concrete blocks measuring 10 cm. x 10 cm. that are fitted with engraved brass plates and placed on the pavement in front of buildings where Jewish, Sinti and Roma residents once lived.
In some cases, the brass plates that sit ever so slightly above the level of the pavement with the name and details of the deceased, serve as symbolic tombstones for people murdered in Nazi gas chambers and transferred to Nazi crematoria.
The Stolpersteine project has existed in Berlin since 1996.
This week, a Stolpersteine ceremony took place in Dortmund with the participation of Israel’s Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff.
The ambassador may have attended the ceremony under any circumstances, but in this particular case, he had a personal reason. His wife, Laura Kam ,is the great-granddaughter of Abraham and Rosa Hacker, who migrated from Kolomyia in Galicia to Dortmund, where Kam’s grandmother and mother were born.
The Hackers were being commemorated on the pavement in front of a kindergarten that stands on the site of their home, which was destroyed during the Holocaust.
Abraham Hacker was a successful businessman. He and his wife raised five children – four daughters and a son – in Dortmund. Kam’s grandmother Dora used to speak of the wonderful life the family had with excellent German education, many friends and weddings that lasted for three days. Kam’s grandfather Saul, who was from Hamburg, was deported to Auschwitz where he was murdered.
Anti-Jewish legislation in the early 1930s forced Abraham to relinquish his thriving brush manufacturing business. Cognizant that Germany no longer welcomed them, the Hacker siblings had the wisdom to leave before 1938, heading for the US, Belgium, Brazil and Holland, wherever they could enter as immigration regulations tightened. Although their children begged them to join them, Abraham and Rosa refused to leave their home. But on October 29, 1938 within the context of the forced expulsion of Jews of Polish origin, they were driven out of Dortmund by armed German guards and interned under extremely difficult conditions in Zbaszyn, Poland, close to the German border.
Somehow they were eventually able to return to their Dortmund home on 54 Leopold Strasse and found that it had been completely ransacked during the Kristallnacht riots of November 1938. All their personal belongings had been stolen or destroyed, and they were left without any civil rights or income.
They were subsequently arrested and confined with other Dortmund Jews to the local ghetto in subhuman conditions. Rosa died there on December 2, 1941, at age 68. Abraham was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp where he was murdered on April 19, 1943. He was 76 years old. The Hacker’s descendants now live primarily in Israel, Brazil and the United States.
It would have been emotionally draining for Laura Kam to attend the ceremony regardless of the current political situation in Germany, but Dortmund has become a hotbed of neo-Nazism, so going there was far from easy. Municipal authorities are doing all they can to quell rising antisemitism.
The Stumbling Stone ceremony was presided over by Lord Mayor Ullrich Sierau and Rabbi Baruch Babaev of the Jewish Religious Community of Gross Dortmund, who by chance happens to be distantly related to Kam’s husband. One can never quite escape Jewish geography.
Other dignitaries, including Dortmund Police Commissioner Gregor Lange, Special Representative for Diversity of the City of Dortmund Manfred Kossack, Director of the Dortmund City Archive Dr. Stefan Mühlhofer, and Alfred Landecker Foundation CEO Dr. Andreas Eberhardt, were also in attendance, as was Ella Issacharoff, one of Kam’s three children, who is a great-great-granddaughter of Abraham and Rosa Hacker, and whose presence signified the eternity of the Jewish people.
Kam said at the ceremony, “As a descendant of German Jews who experienced unbearable cruelty because of their religion, I am deeply concerned by the increase of antisemitic attitudes and incidents here in Germany and throughout much of the world. Children are not born to hate. They learn it at home and through the culture in which they live.” Kam added that she appreciates what is being done by those working to combat antisemitism
Speaking both as the ambassador of Israel and as Kam’s husband, Jeremy Issacharoff, said, “As Jews we must remain committed to never forgetting the Holocaust. As Israelis we can never forget our determination to prevent it from happening again. As human beings, we should do both.”
■ AT THE end of this month, on Sunday, August 30, another Holocaust-related event with a much happier ending, will be commemorated – even celebrated – at the Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney, Australia. It symbolizes yet another instance of Britain’s loss being Australia’s gain. Historians of the antipodes are aware that Australia was for several years a British penal colony to which men and women were deported for as dastardly a crime as stealing a loaf of bread. Some of the other criminals were much more hardened. But criminal or not, they were among the pioneers of the island continent which had immorally been wrested from the indigenous population.
From the mid to the late 1930s, with ever rising Nazi power in Germany and Austria, thousands of German and Austrian refugees, both Jewish and non-Jewish, fled to Britain.
Following the outbreak of the war, many people in the UK, including members of Winston Churchill’s government, were fearful that there were enemy agents among the refugees, who were all regarded as enemy aliens, and it was therefore decided to deport them. On July 10, 1940, 2,546 refugees from Germany, Austria and Italy were taken to Liverpool where they were put aboard the HMT Dunera troopship, whose capacity including crew was 1,600 passengers at best. They were under the impression that they were going to Canada, but the ship’s destination was Australia. Conditions were appalling and the 57-day journey was a nightmare.
The majority of those on board were Jews. Others included 200 Italian and 251 German prisoners of war, plus several German Nazi sympathizers and 309 poorly trained British guards as well as seven officers and ship’s crew. After disembarking in Sydney and Melbourne in early September, some of aliens were taken by train to internment camps in Hay, New South Wales and Tatura in Victoria. The Australian soldiers treated them much better than the British, and gave them lunch boxes, fresh fruit and cigarettes.
When Churchill later heard of the terrible conditions to which the deportees had been subjected at sea, he acknowledged that sending them away had been a terrible mistake. But it was a mistake in more than humane terms. Most of the deportees were highly educated and highly talented and included doctors, lawyers, judges, mathematicians artists, musicians, scientists, authors, historians, furniture designers, athletes and more.
Some returned to England after the war, but many remained in Australia, contributing to the country’s education, culture, economy and achievements in sport.
If any of them are still alive, in this, the 80th anniversary year of the arrival of the Dunera on Australia’s shores, the youngest, who were 16 at the time, would be in their nineties.
But their descendants, including those who live outside Australia, keep the memory of the Dunera alive. Several of the descendants live in Israel. Among them is Mary-Clare Adam, whose father, Leonhard Adam, an artist who had studied anthropology and law in Germany, was interned at the Tatura camp in Victoria. On his release, he was sent to Melbourne University where he cataloged aboriginal artifacts
Leonhard Adam is the first of the Dunera Boys to be featured a series of Emanuel Synagogue (Sydney) Zoom events, with his daughter talking about his life and his art.
Also participating in the event which includes a virtual tour of the Tatura Museum will be Dunera Association president Ron Reichwald.
Further details are available on the Emanuel Synagogue website.
■ RUMBLINGS FROM the North and rumors of the possibility of yet another war, despite the chaotic situation in Lebanon, prompted President Reuven Rivlin to travel in the direction of the northern border to view an exercise by the IDF’s Golani Infantry Brigade. Despite the tensions on the border, Israel does not seek conflict, but remains constantly alert, said Rivlin. “We have a professional army ready to act and on which we can rely.”
■ SOME PEOPLE simply can’t mind their own business. Around 15 months ago, Likud MK and former minister Gideon Sa’ar was urged by Lehava chairman Bentzi Gopstein to break up the romance between his daughter Alona and her Arab boyfriend Amir Khoury. The couple met when both were drama students, and romance blossomed.
In a written message to Gideon Sa’ar, Gopstein explained that against the backdrop of Jewish history and the preservation of Jewish tradition, it was Sa’ar’s duty to tell his daughter why she should discontinue her relationship with Khoury. He even offered the help of a team familiar with such matters. Sa’ar’s reaction was to tell Gopstein to butt out of his daughter’s life, because she is a private person.
A report in Israel Hayom this week should make Gopstein very happy: Alona Sa’ar and Amir Khoury have decided to go their separate ways – but their decision has nothing to do with him.
■ AUGUST 13 is the date for the 30th annual International Left-Handers’ Day, but it’s doubtful whether Israel’s most prominent left-hander will be celebrating. In case you hadn’t noticed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu writes with his left hand, but it’s unlikely that he would want to be noted for that. Anything left is taboo to him.
But anything related to the improvement of Israel’s economic relations at this time, would definitely have appeal. Colombia’s Ambassador to Israel Margarita Manjarrez Harrera issued an invitation to an online ceremony to launch the ratified Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and Israel with the accent on innovation and development.
Although nothing was signed on camera, the agreement was obviously of importance to both countries, with Colombia’s President Ivan Duque Marquez standing behind a lectern as he made his speech in Spanish, in which he announced the opening in Jerusalem of Colombia’s innovation representative office to a greatly pleased Netanyahu sitting alone at a table as he made his speech in English.
Herrera was not seen on camera, but Israel’s Ambassador to Colombia Christian Cantor, along with two other people, could be seen with the president. The video of the 26-minute event is on the Facebook pages of both Duque and Netanyahu, but can be appreciated only by people who understand Spanish. Netanyahu’s voice is drowned out by that of the Spanish translator. However the printed text of Netanyahu’s address has been added.
■ VARSITY, THE Independent newspaper for the university of Cambridge, this week carried a headline “Cambridge’s Israeli community join protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu.” While several British universities are engaged in projects with Israeli institutes of higher learning, it’s no secret that there’s a lot of anti-Zionist and antisemitic activity on campus.
Israelis can have all sorts of reasons for wanting to depose their prime minister, but protest, like charity, begins at home. The mass demonstrations in Israel have made headlines abroad, but there is still a difference between an Israeli living overseas, and not having voting rights in Israel, and one who lives in Israel and does have voting rights.
The ones living abroad should not participate in any activity that could be interpreted as anti-Israel, because this only serves the interests of Israel’s enemies. Even people who might present themselves as objective, use words or phrases which might suggest something else.
For instance Amy Batley and Gaby Vides, who wrote about the Israeli demonstration at Cambridge, kept referring to Israeli expatriates instead of Israelis studying in Britain. That would suggest that all the Israelis who took part in the demonstration are immigrants and not temporary residents. If there were immigrants to Britain, their demonstration was simply a farce, as were the demonstrations across America organized by Kobi Cohen in New York and Rachel Batish in San Francisco.
There were similar rallies in London, Berlin and Melbourne.
Yair Perry, who organized the Cambridge rally that attracted some 50 people, is apparently not an expatriate. A student of engineering for sustainable development, Perry told Varsity, “we are living here [Cambridge] at the moment, but we are Israelis and that’s our country. What’s been going on at the moment affects all of us and we have a say.”
Jerusalemite Benjamin Remez, who is studying for his PhD in physics, son of Gideon Remez and Isabella Ginor, who are Fellows at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Truman Institute, commented, “Israelis abroad feel very connected to what happens in their home country,” partly because many students and academics anticipate that “they will at some point return to Israel.”
■ MEANWHILE IN Jerusalem, the daily protests continue unabated, usually growing in size to mammoth proportions on Thursday and Saturday nights. Some of Netanyahu’s neighbors are so inconvenienced by the noise, the poaching of legitimate parking spots, the illegal parking on the pavement and the mess, that they have decided to move, even though they have lived in the neighborhood for years.
On the other hand, scores of the prime minister’s neighbors when opening their front doors last Thursday afternoon discovered a small, flowering pot plant with a card from Ein Lanu Eretz Acheret (We Have No Other Country), one of the hodge-podge of disparate groups and individuals that come together to create the mass of humanity that fills Ramban Street, part of Rambam and Gaza Streets, and spills into King George, Agron and Keren Hayesod Streets.
The card accompanying the pot plants (which have blossomed nicely in the space of just under a week), contained text thanking the neighbors for their patience and tolerance, and was signed “Your guests in the square.” It did to some extent indicate that some people genuinely cared that they were making life miserable, or at the very least uncomfortable, for local residents.
■ UP UNTIL 15-20 years ago, very few streets in Israel were named after women. Although the situation has improved considerably, especially over the past decade, there is still a huge imbalance
As infrequent as it is to name a street after a woman, it is more so to name a street after a living person – especially a living woman. That honor, however, belongs to Israel’s queen of stage and screen Lea Koenig, who turned 90 last November and is still going strong. Prior to the pandemic, she was performing in four different plays a week at Habimah.
Givatayim Mayor Ron Kunik decided to honor her in her lifetime, but she is not the only woman to be honored. Yaffa Yarkoni, one of Israel’s favorite singers to the troops during war and peace, grew up in Givatayim and began her career in her mother’s Tslil restaurant. Also on the list of honorees is Suzy Eban, who was the founding long-time president of the Israel Cancer Association. A street in Herzliya Pituah was several years ago named in honor of her husband, Israel’s renowned diplomat Abba Eban. The Ebans lived in Herzliya Pituah. Suzy Eban died in 2011 and Yaffa Yarkoni in 2012.
■ EIGHT FEMALE lone soldiers will benefit from an additional branch of the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, which was inaugurated last week in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood in the presence of Mayor Moshe Lion and Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who was herself a lone soldier.
The inauguration took place on what was almost the Gregorian calendar anniversary of Michael Levin’s death on August 1, 2006. An American-born paratrooper who had immigrated to Israel in 2002, Levin was visiting his family in Philadelphia when news reached him that war had erupted on Israel’s northern border. He rushed back to Israel to join his unit and fell in battle during the Second Lebanon War while fighting Hezbollah forces. He was 22 years old.
His family, friends and lone soldier comrades in arms established the Michael Levin Lone Soldiers Center to honor his memory and his courage.
Among its manifold activities on behalf of close to 7,000 lone soldiers serving in army units throughout Israel, the Lone Soldier Center maintains long-term leases on homes, where it houses lone soldiers from diverse backgrounds, thus giving them a sense of community as well as a roof over their heads when on leave from the army.
Although the overall lone soldier project is essentially in memory of Michael Levin, some supporters also honor the memories of loved ones through specific dedications. For instance, the kitchen in the new home for female soldiers was donated by the family of Natalie and Danny Hiller to honor the memory of family matriarch Lillian Kwarta, whose love and support for Israel set an example for her children and grandchildren.
The Lone Soldier Center provides services to lone soldiers who lack a family support network during their military service, whether they have come from abroad simply for the period of military service, or are immigrants to Israel or soldiers born in the country who have no contact with their families. The broad range of assistance includes housing, counseling, hot meals, overcoming military and civil bureaucracy and more. The center also operates a social club for lone soldiers.
Five apartments, such as the newest facility, already exist in Jerusalem, where members of the local communities in the various neighborhoods happily go on roster to cook Shabbat meals for the soldiers.
According to Lone Soldiers Center CEO Michal Berman, there are currently 6,317 Lone Soldiers in the IDF, of which 2,399 are women, some of whom enlist for combat. As a member of Knesset and former lone soldier herself, Cotler-Wunsh said, “It is one of my priorities to help ensure that lone soldiers receive the support they need and deserve from our country, and it is an honor to be part of the opening ceremony of this new soldiers’ house. I am grateful for organizations like the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin.”
■ MUNICIPALITIES AND various institutions are thinking out of the box in efforts to find ways to help members of the entertainment industry to perform and the general public to get a much needed infusion of live culture.
The Tel Aviv drive-in and the riverboat concerts in the city that never stops have already been well publicized, adding yet another feather to the cap of Mayor Ron Huldai.
The Jerusalem Foundation is sponsoring a series of Saturday night concerts by singers and jazz musicians to be held in the gardens and courtyards of private homes in strict adherence to Health Ministry regulations.
“We decided to give the entertainers a little air in which to breathe and the possibility to earn some money,” says Jerusalem Foundation CEO Anat Tzur. Concert dates are August 15, 22, 29 and September 5.
The Assuta network of medical centers has decided to commission Shiri Maimon, Aviv Geffen and Ivri Lider to broadcast live to patients in their health clinics and hospital beds.
Unless there is a radical change in policy regarding entertainment and the number of people permitted to sit inside a theater or in the area outside the theater, there is little doubt that many hospitals and other institutions will adopt similar measures.
But the drive-in concept is really the most effective.
It’s not that difficult to put up a tall stage and sound system in every large outdoor car park. Even if cars are bumper to bumper, and many of the concert-goers sit on the roof of the vehicle for the concert’s duration, there is still more social distancing than separation in public transportation or leaving every second seat vacant in the theater.
From a health perspective, many people who attend demonstrations simply for the sake of socializing and being part of something rather than being stuck at home in isolation would begin going to plays and concerts if theaters and concert halls were reopened. Attendance at demonstrations, with accompanying health hazards, would then be greatly reduced.
Proof of the pudding is that all the tickets for tonight’s (Wednesday’s) Cameri Theater musical event at the Mikve Israel Visitors’ Center were sold out.