Vienna school finds our what became of the 50 Jewish Pupils it expelled in 1938

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Vienna school finds out what became of the 50 Jewish pupils it expelled in 1938

Amid widespread ignorance about the Holocaust in Austria, a public high school launches a project to determine the fate of the students it booted under Nazi policies

JTA — On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a public high school in the Austrian capital corrected its own historical record.

Along with a memorial to World War II soldiers, the Gymnasium Kundmanngasse now also has a plaque with the names of the 50 Jewish students expelled from the Vienna school exactly 81 years ago. And the life stories of these pupils – some tragically cut short – are contained in a book written by teenagers now attending the school.

The dedication of the new memorial on April 25 came just as a new survey reveals a disheartening lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among adults in Austria.

But the Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study also found a profound commitment to Holocaust education among Austrians, particularly among younger adults.

What the survey found

The study was commissioned by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and released May 2, Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah.

Among the survey findings:

  • 58 percent of Austrians do not know that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust;
  • 36% of respondents said they believed people still talk too much about the Holocaust;
  • 28% said they believed that many Austrians acted heroically to save Jews, when in fact only 109 are recognized as rescuers by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and archive.
  • On the positive side, 82% of respondents – and 87% of younger ones — said they believe that Holocaust education is important.

Data was collected from a randomly selected, demographically representative sample of 1,000 Austrian adults. It was analyzed by Schoen Consulting in New York.

A plaque, reading ‘In Memory,’ at the Gymnasium Kundmanngasse commemorates 50 Jewish students expelled from the Vienna school exactly 81 years ago. (Gymnasium Kundmanngasse)

“On one hand, there are some troubling, problematic results,” Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “On the other hand, there is a recognition of the importance of learning about the Holocaust, which is very hopeful. It gives us a road map to ensure that the Shoah is taught in schools and given the proper context and support.”

The first duty of Holocaust education is “to honor the memory of those who were killed,” he said.

Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Communities in Austria and Vienna, said in a statement, “The lack of knowledge among many Austrians revealed through this study sets a mission for not only teachers and politicians but all society. A sincere handling of antisemitic incidents today and misrepresentations of the Shoah is crucial.”

Compared to Germany, Austria was notoriously late in confronting its role in the persecution and genocide of its Jewish population. What might be called willful ignorance changed dramatically in the mid-1980s, when the Nazi past of then-chancellor candidate Kurt Waldheim was put on the table. He was elected despite the questions raised about his role.

In 2000, Austria’s Ministry of Education, Science and Research established a Holocaust education program – errinern.at, or “remembrance.at” – that oversees educational projects on the national and state level with help from other foundations. Its programs reach thousands of teachers and students each year.

Today there is a “broad societal consensus that Austria has a responsibility and a share in this history,” said Martina Maschke, chair of errinern.at, in an interview before the Claims Conference survey’s release. Since the Holocaust is a paradigm for genocides, “there will never be enough Holocaust education.”

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler enters the city limits of Vienna, Austria, on March 14, 1938. (AP Photo)

That’s especially clear today, Maschke said, with the rise of the right wing and an increase in anti-Semitism from migrants “socialized in Muslim countries.”

“Of course, the administration is always one step behind the political factum, and this is something that makes me rather sad,” she said. “But I think that this goes for every society.”

In fact, Schneider said, the results of the survey in Austria are similar to those in recent surveys that the Claims Conference commissioned in the United States (April 2018) and Canada (January 2019). He said they share an “appalling lack of knowledge, and a tremendous commitment to the importance of Holocaust education.”

Changing the record

It was just such a commitment that inspired Katharina Fersterer, a history and English teacher at the Gymnasium Kundmanngasse.

Fersterer, 29, had long been interested in Holocaust history. Austria’s Ministry of Education sent her to a summer program at Yad Vashem two years ago, and she returned determined to add to her school’s historical record in time for its 150th anniversary this year.

“My principal said, ‘Yes, let’s do this,’” Fersterer recalled.

Her students found the names of 50 Jewish students forced to leave the school in April 1938, shortly after Germany annexed Austria.

“But we didn’t stop at that. We wanted to know what happened to them,” Fersterer said.

Viennese Jews behind bars at the Mauthausen concentration camp. (Courtesy Claims Conference)

It turned out that most of the former Jewish students had been able to escape Nazi-occupied Austria via the Kinderstransport, a rescue operation that brought Jewish children from Germany, Austria and then-Czechoslovakia to England in 1938-39.

“But some were also killed in concentration camps,” she said.

The students started looking for descendants of the survivors. Ultimately the project, including art and video, involved teachers and students in other departments.

That’s when Elia Ben-Ari of Arlington, Virginia, received her first Facebook message from Samuel, a 17-year-old senior in Fersterer’s class who asked that his last name not be used.

His message came “out of the blue,” Ben-Ari said in a recent interview, “from somebody who said he was a student doing a project about my father. My first reaction was, ‘Who is this person? How do I know this is legitimate?’”

Samuel had chosen to write about two students – Ernst Ratzer, who did not survive the Holocaust, and Martin Buchbinder, who was sent to safety in England in 1939 and later changed his name to Moshe Ben Ari. After living in Israel, he eventually settled on suburban New York’s Long Island with his family. He died in 2011.

Luckily, Moshe Ben Ari had written an autobiography – “My Pre-American History” – that gave Samuel enough information to go on. But it was just the beginning of his research.

“It was really a surprise to actually find a relative, and when it turned out that she was actually his daughter, I was obviously very excited and happy,” Samuel said.

A local momentum

On April 25, the school held a ceremony and dedication of a plaque remembering the 50 former Jewish students.

“We now have a kind of book with all their life stories,” Fersterer said.

That book sits alongside Moshe Ben Ari’s autobiography for anyone to read, in the room with the plaque, she said.

Moshe Ben Ari was one of the children expelled from the Vienna school. A current student at the school has been researching his life story. (Courtesy of Elia Ben-Ari)

“There is no question that there are teachers who manage to succeed, who are doing a lot,” said Richelle Bud Caplan, director of the European Department at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies and a member of the Claims Conference survey task force.

“It doesn’t have to do with funding. It has to do with support from the school administration to create a local momentum, a learning community,” she said. “We very much want people to focus on individual stories, so youngsters can connect,” and understand that “the majority of those who lived during this complex and difficult period did not survive.”

“Our school has a memorial remembering the fallen soldiers of World War II, but it didn’t have one memorial for the Jewish students,” said Samuel, who walks the same halls and climbs the same stairs that they did.

“I can imagine it was terrible,” he said. On the students’ last day, “mobs formed at the entrance of our school, where a few hardcore teachers and students were spitting and shouting names. So it was not a very kind goodbye, as you can imagine.”

As for Ben-Ari, she regrets that she could not attend the dedication ceremony. But “I think my father would have been gratified to know that somebody read his history and cared about it.”

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WJC Urges All Of Europe’s Governments To Ban Hitler Birthday Celebrations

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

The World Jewish Congress on Friday urged European governments and lawmakers to take measures against a series of planned neo-Nazi gatherings over the weekend to mark Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

The WJC statement said group events to commemorate 130 years since the birth of the Nazi leader (on April 20, 1889) were scheduled across the continent, including a two-day conference by a fascist group in Bulgarian capital Sofia, a hiking and picnic trip in Ukraine, a rock concert in Italy, two conventions in Germany and a handful of gatherings in France.

The group invited lawmakers and other to join its social media campaign raising awareness about the recent rise of neo-Nazi movements in Europe by highlighting their connection to WWII-era Nazi groups.

The organization’s CEO, Robert Singer, made a personal appeal to Bulgarian Interior Minister Mladen Marinov, asking him to do everything in his power to cancel the Bulgarian National Union’s conference scheduled to take place in Sofia on Friday and Saturday.

WJC

@WorldJewishCong

This weekend, neo-Nazis will celebrate Hitler’s birthday throughout Europe. These gatherings are a stark reminder of the past. We must do everything we can to ensure history does not repeat itself.

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Previous BNU events have drawn nationalist supporters from other European countries. In February, hundreds of supporters walked through downtown Sofia holding torches and chanting nationalist slogans to honor a WWII general known for his anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi activities.

The annual Lukov March came despite strong condemnation by human rights groups, political parties and foreign embassies. The city mayor had banned the rally but organizers won a court order overturning the ban.

Singer said BNU’s upcoming gathering was “part and parcel with the inciting and violent nature of the annual [neo-Nazi] Lukov march and should be met with the same condemnation and denunciation.”

Last year on Hitler’s birthday, hundreds of neo-Nazis massed under heavy security in the eastern German town of Ostritz for a weekend festival. Citizens and anti-fascist activists staged spirited counterprotests in the area, vastly outnumbered concert-goers.

The festivities were organized by a member of the far-right fringe German political party NPD, which is openly xenophobic and anti-Semitic but in 2017 avoided a legal ban because of its small membership and limited influence.

Members of nationalist organizations parade with torches during a march to commemorate Bulgarian General and politician Hristo Lukov, in the centre of Sofia on February 16, 2019. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP)

In neighboring Poland, around 100 people attended a Hitler birthday concert in Dzierzoniow. Days later, police raided the homes of the concert organizers, arresting two and confiscating neofascist paraphernalia including flags and banners.

The public propagation of totalitarian ideologies like fascism or communism and ethnic or racial hatred is banned in Poland, a country still grappling with the memory of Nazi occupation, and carries a penalty of up to two years behind bars.

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Shanghai refugee’s New York surprise

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA NEWSPAPER ‘SHINE’)

 

Shanghai refugee’s New York surprise

Ti Gong

Guests are pictured at a reception at Brooklyn Public Library for an exhibition recalling the life of Jewish refugees in Shanghai.

A former refugee given shelter in Shanghai during World War II got a surprise when she spotted herself in photographs at an exhibition which has just opened in New York.

The exhibition, “Jewish Refugees in Shanghai,” documents the period when about 23,000 Jewish people arrived in Shanghai between 1933 and 1941 to escape the Nazis. It tells of how they adapted to the city life and of the friendships they made with local residents.

“That young lady is me,” Betty Grebenschikoff, 90, said as she stood in front of a photograph showing her family on Lintong Road, formerly known as Macgregor Road, in Hongkou District in 1941.

A photo of Grebenschikoff and her husband, a Russian sports teacher, at the former racecourse near People’s Square in 1949 was also on display at Brooklyn Public Library, along with photos of their marriage certificate in Chinese and her residence certificate.

It was in Shanghai that Grebenschikoff met her husband, who died in 2002. The couple held their wedding in the Park Hotel in Shanghai in 1948.

Grebenschikoff, who is originally from Berlin, lived in Shanghai from 1939 to 1950. She was just 10 years old when war broke out. Her father bribed the captain of a Japanese ship to take her, along with her parents, sister and uncle, to Shanghai.

She has since been back to the city several times to visit her former home at 51 Zhoushan Road in Hongkou with her daughters. She donated her wedding dress, a classic local-style garment handmade by her husband’s mother to the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. Her third and fourth daughters wore the wedding dress when they got married.

She has also written a memoir, “Once My Name Was Sara,” which was published in English and Chinese, about her life in Shanghai.

Ti Gong

Betty Grebenschikoff (second from left), a 90-year-old former Jewish refugee in Shanghai, looks at some of the photos on display at the Brooklyn Public Library.

At the reception of the exhibition, Grebenschikoff met another former Jewish refugee who had lived in Shanghai, and both shared their memories of the city.

The exhibition, under the guidance of the Information Office of Shanghai and the Hongkou District government, was organized by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum and Brooklyn Public Library.

“The exhibition showcases the dust-laden history to US audiences, which has shocked and touched them,” a museum official said. “Some visitors appreciated the generous assistance offered by Shanghai and its citizens even if Chinese people were also suffering during that period.”

The exhibition, which is underway at the library until May 10, incorporates photographs from the time and two Shanghai-produced documentaries. Conferences and meetings between former refugees, their children and historians are also being held.

Over 70 former refugees, diplomats and officials with Jewish organizations attended the reception at the library on Tuesday.

Brooklyn has some 580,000 Jewish residents, many of them former Shanghai refugees and their children.

Ti Gong

A former refugee who lived in Shanghai shares her experiences with visitors at the Brooklyn Public Library reception.