Grapevine: One man who made a difference

There are many people who have influenced or reversed the course of events simply because they clung to a belief – regardless of ridicule, rejection and seeming hopelessness.

YITZHAK ELDAN, second from left, with Israeli high school students and friends at Hyde Park following the lighting of the hanukkiah. (photo credit: YITZHAK ELDAN)
YITZHAK ELDAN, second from left, with Israeli high school students and friends at Hyde Park following the lighting of the hanukkiah.
(photo credit: YITZHAK ELDAN)
There are many people who have influenced or reversed the course of events simply because they clung to a belief – regardless of ridicule, rejection and seeming hopelessness. One such person is Salo Muller, a Dutch child Holocaust survivor, whose parents were deported to Auschwitz and murdered.
Muller, a former psychotherapist to Ajax, the Dutch football club, decided that Dutch Holocaust survivors and their immediate heirs were entitled to some form of compensation from the NS Railway, which had collaborated with the Nazis, deporting Jews in cattle cars from Amsterdam to Westerbork and from there to Auschwitz.
Of 107,000 Dutch Jews transported to Westerbork and from there to Auschwitz and Sobibor as well as to other camps, only 5,000 survived. Muller’s wife’s parents were also on one of those cars and were murdered in Sobibor.
When Muller embarked on his compensation crusade, friends who were also child Holocaust survivors told him to forget about it because there was no chance that he would succeed. His meetings with NS Railway executive personnel yielded expressions of sympathy but no action.
Undeterred, Muller went in search of a lawyer who would be prepared to take up his cause. He found one, but didn’t have the means to pay for her services. When he asked friends for financial aid, some were happy to be involved in his project, but others scoffed and refused to shell out.
Against all odds, Muller won and in the last week of November, the Dutch National Rail company announced that it would set up a commission to explore the compensation issue in order to see how Dutch Railways might on moral grounds offer compensation to individual victims or their direct descendants.
It will be too little too late. There is no sum large enough to compensate for the murder of a loved one, but it is a victory of principle, of the battle to make nations, organizations and individuals take responsibility for their involvement in of the most despicable atrocities against mankind.
IN AN unrelated Dutch event in Israel, Dutch Ambassador Gilles Beschoor Plug will host three inspiring Israeli female human rights defenders who will share their experiences in short TED-style presentations. The three are: 1) Leah Krauss, who together with two colleagues in Haifa, founded and runs a mentoring and empowerment program for primary school girls to introduce them to female role models in high tech; 2) Alona Abt, founder and CEO at Hop! Media Group, who will speak about her involvement in the “Road To Recovery” organization, in which as a volunteer she drives to the Gaza border to bring patients – mainly Palestinian children – to Israeli hospitals for essential medical care; and 3) Pnina Pfeurrer, the haredi coordinator for the Darkenu peace movement, who is also a board member of the municipal Yerushalmim Party. The event at the Netherlands Embassy on December 10, will be attended by ambassadors of EU member states, human rights NGOs and guests invited by the speakers.
IT’S CUSTOMARY at diplomatic receptions celebrating the independence day of any given country for the ambassador of that country to give a speech, after which a representative of the Israeli government responds. Environment and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin was scheduled to represent the government at the Kazakhstan Independence Day reception, but when he failed to show up more than half an hour after the reception commenced, Kazakhstan Ambassador Doulat Kuanyashev decided to go ahead with the formal part of the evening anyway.
While there were many ambassadors, former diplomats and former politicians present, conspicuous by their absence were MKs Avigdor Liberman and Sofa Landver, who separately and together were fixtures at nearly all such events of countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. Fortunately former international judo champion, Yesh Atid MK Yoel Razvozov, who chairs the Israel Kazakhstan Parliamentary Friendship Group was present, and stood in for Elkin. He also had a prepared speech in Russian, which he read from his cell phone.
It’s quite strange. Most of the countries that were once part of the Soviet Union go to great pains to promote their own languages and to sweep Russian under the carpet. At the Kazakhstan reception, a marvelous Kazakhstan singer sang the Kazakh national anthem in her own language, after which she presented one of the most moving renditions of Hatikva that this writer has ever heard. But when it came to the speeches, Kuanyashev spoke in English and Russian and Razvozov in Russian and Hebrew. The Russian speech was much longer.
Prior to the speeches, there was a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony conducted by Rabbi Shlomo Kook. Both he and Kuanyashev highlighted the fact that this year, for the first time, there was a public lighting of a Hanukkiah by the Pyramid of Peace in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana. Kuanyashev said that there were also Hanukkah services in Kazakhstan’s seven synagogues. Essentially he and Razvozov each underscored the constantly developing good relations between Israel and Kazakhstan. Kuanyashev also spoke of Kazakhstan as a country that promotes tolerance and acceptance of the other, and of Kazakhstan’s continuing economic success.
He was half-way through his speech when former prime minister Ehud Olmert walked in and Kuanyashev paused momentarily to welcome him and to note the presence of former foreign minister Sylvan Shalom. After the formalities, Kuanyashev stepped down from the stage and he and Olmert embraced. Many of the guests, including ambassadors, crowded around them and wanted to be photographed with Olmert. Later ambassadors engaged him in conversation. The ones who spoke to him for the longest period were from African countries.
Elkin arrived after a third of the guests had already left, and those who remained were invited to come and listen to him as he spoke on behalf of the government. He recalled his visit to Kazakhstan with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two years ago, and said that Jews would never forget how the Kazakhs had given shelter to Jews fleeing the Holocaust and had taken them into their homes. Members of Elkin’s own family had been the beneficiaries of such kindness.
 He voiced the hope that Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev would come on an official visit to Israel in 2019 so that Israel could reciprocate the warm hospitality that its representatives had enjoyed in Kazakhstan.
ISRAELI HIGH school students who are studying public diplomacy get to put theory into practice in tours to countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations. The tours are arranged and conducted by Yitzhak Eldan, a former ambassador and also a former chief of protocol at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This week he took a group of 24 teenagers from Kadima Tsuran and Blich High schools to London.
The timing for the visit was perfect. The young Israelis heard the final debates around Brexit, celebrated Hanukkah, had meetings in parliament with Lord Turnberg of the Labor Friends of Israel, and MP Andrew Percy from the Conservative Friends of Israel and with each of them discussed the Brexit impact on Israel, as well as Operation Northern Shield. Israel’s young “ambassadors” asked their hosts to promote support for Israel in its fight against Hezbollah and received assurances from both parliamentarians.
There were also important meetings with the Jewish community in light of the rise of antisemitism and the feelings of insecurity experienced by many British Jews.
One of the most emotional events during their visit was the Holocaust memorial ceremony at the Hyde Park Holocaust memorial site. The ceremony was based on the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport. Before the event began on the second night of Hanukkah, the Israelis lit their hanukkiah near the memorial. Their presence at the site, together with the kindled hanukkiah, was acutely symbolic of the light banishing the darkness.
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