Anger and dismay at ‘insane’ Orthodox Holocaust protest

On Saturday night, the ultra-Orthodox community staged a demonstration in Jerusalem’s Kikar Hashabbat (Sabbath Square), where they dressed in prisoner uniforms with yellow badges with the word “Jew” written in German, to protest at what they see as their exclusion from Israeli society. The demonstrations have been sparked by secular Israelis refusing to accept gender separation as demanded by the Orthodox.

One ultra-Orthodox man was charged with sexual abuse after he spat at a female soldier on a bus, called her a “prostitute” and demanded she move to the back of the vehicle.

The dispute plumbed new depths on Monday when images of Jerusalem police commander Niso Shaham Photoshopped as Adolf Hitler appeared online. Accompanying the images of Shaham, dressed in SS uniform, was a caption that read: “Adolf Niso Shaham: mass murderer.”

About two weeks ago, Shaham spoke at the entrance to the Meah She’arim neighbourhood, saying Jerusalem police would not tolerate the exclusion of women. “The act of excluding women is terrible,” said Shaham. “Anyone who acts to exclude women from the public sphere will be stopped, even if it is embedded in their DNA.” According to Shaham, police entering Mea She’arim were attacked by residents standing on balconies, who shouted “Nazis”, poured water on them and threw shreds of paper at the officers.

Minister-without Portfolio Yossi Peled, who is a Holocaust survivor, said: “Some things are inconceivable, like taking the horrifying picture of the little boy facing the Nazis with his hands up. Regardless of whether the struggle is justified or not, it points to something insane, irrational, immoral. I saw the picture and the blood froze in my veins. We’ve lost something in our moral barriers. We’ve lost shame.”

The head of Germany‘s Jewish community on Tuesday expressed “shock” and “shame” at the demonstrations. Dieter Graumann said the protests were all the more disturbing coming from Jews. “The pictures shocked me. And I was even ashamed that Jews of all people should do such a thing, giving a distorted image of the Holocaust. Jews in Germany always say one should never abuse the memory of the Holocaust. If now Jews are doing that, it is particularly disgraceful.”

The Anti-Defamation League expressed outrage at the use of Holocaust imagery, saying: “The costumed demonstrators violated basic decency and good sense which bind societies together.”

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Kosher meat victory

Representatives from the 27 EU member governments including Britain rescinded May’s European Parliament (EP) decision in which MEPs narrowly voted for amendment 205, calling for meat which is “slaughtered without stunning” to be labelled.

Shechita UK, which has lobbied European governments alongside counterparts in other countries to get the amendment removed from a general food labelling bill, welcomed the outcome of Tuesday’s Council of Ministers meeting.

Its chairman Henry Grunwald said: “I would like to thank all the communal organisations with whom we work, as well as the thousands of individual members of our community who wrote to their MEPs, for the way in which they have joined together in our campaign to protect shechita in an active and disciplined fashion.”

The bill, which is at draft stage, now goes to second reading at the EP next year where amendment 205 could still be reintroduced.
Conservative MEP for London Syed Kamall, who voted against the amendment when it was proposed in the EP seven months ago said: “This is a good result but the amendment could easily be re-tabled at the second reading, so the debate is not necessarily over.

“It is important now to engage with the European Commission over the drafting of new animal welfare legislation because if labelling is introduced in a discriminatory way then I can foresee circumstances where it becomes uneconomical for shechita to be practiced in the future.”

He added: “Shechita itself could come under threat if the British government decided not to exercise its derogation rights which means that the practice of kosher slaughter is protected under British law.

“The government will be consulting on whether to remove the current safeguards in due course and I will urge them to maintain the status quo.”
Shechita UK’s campaign director Shimon Cohen said: “Our campaign is far from over, but we are making satisfactory progress, given the assault on shechita that was launched earlier this year by some members of the European Parliament.”

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Ecclestone Sorry For Hitler Praise

The comments stoked immediate reaction from European Jewish leaders, with calls for a boycott of this Sunday’s Formula One German Grand Prix and demands that he resign from his position in motor racing.

The controversy centred on the billionaire’s quotes in a Times news story, saying that Hitler “could command a lot of people, (he was) able to get things done”.

Ecclestone went on to say: “In the end he got lost, so he wasn’t a very good dictator because either he had all these things and knew what was going on and insisted, or he just went along with it… so either way he wasn’t a dictator.”

Insisting the statements questioned “the basic principles of modern democracy”, WJC President Ronald Lauder said: “A person showing such contempt for democracy should not be allowed to run such an important and universally popular sports series… Such a man is obviously not suited to continue as Formula One boss.”

Calling for fans and teams to boycott Sunday’s race at Nurburgring, Vice-President of the Central Council of Jews Dieter Graumann said: “No team should work with him any more. A boycott would now be more than appropriate”, adding the racing giant was “either empty headed or unbelievably malicious – probably both”.

Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, added: “Hitler was a tyrant responsible for the deaths of over six million Jews and Ecclestone’s praise for his ability to ‘get things done’ is absurd and extremely offensive.”

Gunther Ottinger, premier of the southern state of Baden-Wurttemberg, has also reportedly cancelled a meeting with Ecclestone which would have taken place during the Grand Prix.

Reacting to the criticism, Ecclestone issued a statement, in which he said: “I would like to apologise unreservedly for remarks I made regarding Adolf Hitler in an interview and I am very distressed and embarrassed that they have been construed as suggesting that I support him or Saddam Hussein.

“I never have and never would support such people. I don’t imagine you would find anybody in the world who would support atrocities that were carried out under them.”

He added: “I was foolish to have been drawn into this discussion but the fault was entirely my own and I deeply regret it.”

In a piece in The Times on Tuesday, Ecclestone wrote: “I have no complaints about the quote – it is what I said – but it was not what I meant to say… Those who don’t know me think I support Hitler’s atrocities; those who do know me have told me how unwise I was to articulate my points so badly that it should have been so widely misunderstood.”

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Nazi chess sets on sale

The figures of Third Reich soldiers, including Adolf Hitler as the king, were found in the Grand Bizarre of Istanbul, the Turkish capital, by the holidaymaker last week.

He told TJ: “I was shocked, angry and outraged.

“The Turkish people that we met were all very nice, we learnt how some of them managed to save a few Jews from the Nazis and they have good relations with Israel.

“One day Turkey may be welcomed into the Common Market but, before that happens, much more sensitivity to the realities of the Holocaust and the evil symbolism of the swastika should be appreciated. In my opinion, such material should not be put on public display.”

Lord Janner said: “These chess sets are revolting. They trivialise the Nazi murderers and show a total lack of sensitivity to the memories of their victims. I am contacting colleagues in Turkey and hope that pressure can be brought so that these so-called games will be taken off sale as soon as possible.”

It comes as an Indian furnishing company agreed to withdraw a line of bedspreads called the Nazi collection after complaints from the Jewish community.

Although the owner Jagdish Todi insisted the name stood for New Arrival Zone for India and had nothing to do with the Third Reich, the logo for the line was a swastika. He has since issued an apology and scrapped the name.
Meanwhile a Dubai property company has been criticised for using an image of Adolf Hitler to promote Real Estate.

The advert, which appeared in a daily newspaper in the United Arab Emirates contained a picture of the Nazi leader alongside the phrase “Conqueror, the world is yours.”

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Nazi loses work permit after protests

Members of Rome’s Jewish community protested outside the offices of 93-year-old Erich Priebke this week after a military court granted permission for him to go to work despite being under house arrest.

Around 100 demonstrators gathered outside the law firm in Rome on Monday shouting “Murderer” at the former SS officer who was jailed for life in 1998 for killing 335 men and boys during World War Two.

A military court ruled last Wednesday that Priebke, who is serving his sentence under house arrest for health reasons, can leave his home to go to work for his lawyer.

The ruling allowed him to travel to and from the office “every day, freely” and “go out to satisfy, at nearby places and for the time strictly necessary, the indispensable necessities of life.”

But the court suspended the order on Monday claiming Priebke had not informed judges when he would be foin to work.

The court’s initial decision was condemned by Italian politicians and Jewish campaigners at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre describing it as an “insult to the family and friends of those murdered by Priebke.”

Priebke was extradited to Italy in 1995 from Argentina where he had been hiding since the end of the war. He was convicted of shooting 335 men, including around 75 Jews, in the 1944 Fosse Ardeantine massacre. The massacre, in caves just outside Rome, was believed to have been ordered by Adolf Hitler as a reprisal for an attack by Italian resistance fighters which killed 33 German soldiers.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Israel director Efraim Zuroff, described the decision as “outrageous, senseless, and insensitive.”

He said: “Any decision which grants privileges to a convicted and unrepentant Nazi war criminal like Priebke is outrageous because it is based on a totally false assumption that as an elderly person Priebke deserves a measure of sympathy and even privileges.

“But the passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of Holocaust perpetrators and people like him, who had no mercy for their victims, do not deserve any sympathy themselves. The decision is senseless since there is no basis to grant Priebke privileges and the fact that he has reached an elderly age does not turn a murderer into Righteous Gentile. It is insensitive since it insults the family and friends of those murdered by Priebke and his cohorts.”

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Germany Backtracks On Denial

The country had also proposed making the use of Nazi swastikas illegal under new anti-racism laws in the European Union.

Instead, Germany, which has just begun its presidency of the EU, has left the decision to prosecute Holocaust deniers up to individual member states.

It also abandoned plans to ban the Nazi swastika after European Hindu groups protested, saying it was a religious symbol thousands of years before Adolf Hitler’s rule.

Meanwhile the United Nations has approved a resolution condemning Holocaust denial. The motion, proposed by the US and backed by 103 states, said: “To deny the Holocaust is tantamount to approval of genocide in all its forms.” Iran was the only country to reject it.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “Denying historical facts, especially on such an important subject as the Holocaust, is unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, a German panel on Nazi looted art has ruled against returning a valuable collection of posters to the heir of its original owner.

Peter Sachs expressed shock at a decision by the Limbach Commission which claimed his father had previously agreed to compensation for a collection of 12,500 paintings worth up to £25 million.

The works of art will now remain on display in Berlin’s Deutsches Historisches Museum, where it is claimed Hans Sachs wrote a letter accepting 225,000 German Marks compensation for keeping them in Germany.

But his son disputes the ruling, claiming his father, who died in 1974, thought the paintings had been destroyed.

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There’s Nothing Funny About Hitler

The facts are these – the Shoah happened when a civilised nation willingly adopted a system based on the inversion of all moral principles. A society was created based on race and blood and eliminated those whom it deemed unfit for life. As a holocaust educator, devoted to understanding the Shoah’s moral lessons and trying to teach them, the question for me is – can such an event be fictionalised? Should it be fictionalised at all?

Because this month the comedy Mein Fuhrer: the Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler opens in Germany. Directed by Dani Levy, a Swiss born Jew, it portrays the last months of Hitler’s life. Josef Goebbels, the Reich Minister for propaganda finds Grünbaum, a Jewish concentration camp inmate and voice coach who helped the Führer learn to speak in public. Hitler is depicted as a neurotic depressive. We see Hitler in his bath playing with mock battleship and barking like a dog.

The director’s stated intent was to use comedy to try to understand how the Germans followed Hitler and the use of comedy in portraying evil is not new. Charlie’s Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) and Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not To Be (1942), both mock Nazism with humour. So why am I so appalled by the first offering of humour on the Shoah from Germany?

It is because I am ambivalent about feature films depicting the Shoah. There are too many problems in the filming. Where does learning end and voyeurism – and indeed, profit – begin? Some touch me – the Pawn-broker, about a survivor, played by Rod Steiger; Judgement at Nuremberg, the story of a judge’s ambivalent response to the trials at Nuremberg and Schindler’s List. Although this film is flawed – Spielberg, in my view, reached too hard for redemption at the end it was a brave attempt and it was seen the world over. The Pianist is another film on the Shoah that had a world wide impact.

But then there is Life is Beautiful, a love story set around the deportation of the Italian Jews to the camps. I saw this film with a group of survivors and I received a letter from one of them afterwards, recalling the pain he saw in his own father’s eyes when he could not protect him from the Nazis. ‘Voyeuristic,’ he said. ‘Evil is never banal or funny’. Another survivor said, ‘if this film was all that people knew of the Shoah they would know nothing. It was no comedy’.

Even Ernst Lubitsch said if he had known the truth about the camps, he would not have made To Be or Not To Be and Charlie Chaplin also regretted making the Great Dictator. We should have the courage to study the Shoah in the media that are fit for it – history, documentary and, above all, testimony. We can look to high quality film and literature for insight but this must always be in conjunction with the serious disciplines. For me, comedy leaves too bitter a taste.

Dani Levy admits that he subscribed to my opinion before he saw the film ‘Life is Beautiful’ and he was influenced by what he saw as a poetic fairytale. He believed that child like fantasy was indestructible. The tragedy is that it is not. All one has to do is think of the millions of children who died in the Shoah. Dani Levy may be a brilliant film maker, but his subject matter is for me totally tainted.

In addition one should consider the problem of a comedy from Germany at a time when the ultra right are taking comfort from Holocaust denial seminars in Tehran and that the level of anti Semitic activities are increasing throughout the western world. Many Germans have well learnt the lessons of the Holocaust and some of their educational programmes on the Shoah are amongst the best in the world.

I do not believe that guilt should be passed down through the generations, but I do believe that responsibility should. The country of the perpetrators still has a duty of care. It ill behoves a Jewish film director to become part of a dangerous game.

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Warning Over Hitler Film

Mein Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler, released in Germany this week, depicts the Nazi leader as a depressed bed wetting neurotic who seeks the help of a Jewish actor to help him regain control of the Third Reich.

Stephan Kramer, the General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said laughing at Hitler is still a taboo issue in the country.

He said: “The Holocaust was invented in Germany. Hitler was not an irresponsible joke figure with tragic childlike experiences, he does not earn mitigating circumstances or compassion. The industrial murder of millions of humans in completely Europe cannot be separated from the person of Hitler.

“This type of humour is not funny. It may be dangerous for anti-semitism.”

The film, from award-winning Swiss director Dani Levy, has also been greeted with scepticism by the German media, with the press largely claiming it’s not funny and actually makes the audience sympathise with the tyrant.

The Welt am Sonntag newspaper says the more fails to pick up on more obvious areas of Hitler humour such as the Nazi salute.

“Levy has managed to make these revealingly grotesque traits of Hitler human and understandable, so that one is left thinking, oh well, things weren’t always easy for Adolf Hitler either,” the paper writes.

The Die Tageszeitung newspaper asks if cinemagoers should be allowed to laugh about Hitler, “Should one be allowed to cry about him, to embrace him posthumously and comfort him for having had such a bad childhood?

“Sixty-five years ago you were thrown in a concentration camp if you made jokes about Hitler. And it still seems as though you need a license to laugh.”

Die Zeit recommends the internet as a better place to find Hitler humour.
Trudy Gold, chief executive of the London Jewish Culture Centre, described the concept of the film as appalling and questioned whether an event such as the holocaust should be trivialised.

Writing in the TJ this week, she said: “Where does learning end and voyeurism – and indeed, profit – begin?”

Defending the movie, Levy said: “The story and circumstances related in Mein Fuhrer are fictitious, in terms of the existing factual knowledge of that time.
“I don’t want to give these cynical and emotionally devastated people the honour of a realistic image.”

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Adolf Hitler: The Comedy

The new film, which is released in Germany next week, comes from award-winning director Dani Levy, the man behind last year’s hit comedy Go for Zucker – the story of Jewish brothers separated by the Berlin wall.

Mein Fuhrer, subtitled ‘The truly truest truth about Adolf Hitler’, has sparked debate about the treatment of the former Nazi leader in fiction.

But Levy, a Swiss-born Jew living in Berlin, has insisted that comedy was the best way to understand how Hitler was able to command the loyalty of ordinary Germans.

Mein Fuhrer is released in Germany on 11 January.

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