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April 12, 2013

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PAGE 10A By Viva Sarah Press ISRAEL21c At midnight, most people who worked all day at an office job would be in bed. But then Gal Sharon, a superintendent with the Israel Police, has never been a cookie-cutter sort of person. At this witching hour, it wouldn't be uncommon to find Sharon on a run along Tel Aviv's beachfront. The 50-year-old mother of three boys is a sports nut. And she has used her love of physi- cal fitness to create bonds of friendship across nations. While acknowledged among peers and family for many successful forays, her name was recently propelled to a wider audience when she was elected first vice president of the International Police As- sociation-unprecedented for an Israeli and a woman. "I feel very proud to be the first vice president of this big an organization," Sharon tells ISRAEL21c. "It's chosen by secret ballot by people from all over the world. And it's a great honor." The apolitical organization represents 430,000 police of- ricers and has delegates in 69 countries. Some 850 members of the international group at- tended the IPA's 20th World Congress in Eilat at the end of 2012. By an overwhelming By Gavin Rabinowitz HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 12, 2013 World salute to Israeli police officer "The fact that I was chosen and that ! am from Israel is a message in itself,' says police superintendent Gal Sharon (r). Gal Sharon, left, with International Police Association president Pierre.Martin Moulin at the Eilat, Israel, conven- tion in 2012. majority, they voted Sharon to the prominent position. In her new role, she is re- sponsible for the social activity of the organization, emergency aid, sports, hosting and travel. She is also in charge of the World Police and Fire Games in Northern Ireland this year-- the Olympics of the police force. "Sport connects people and countries regardless of rank, sex, race, color, language or religion," says the former tri- athlon competitor, who now runs only for pleasure. "People come, participate and meet new people from all over the world. That's one of the goals of IPA-- to create bonds of friendship." Sharon is the most popular member of the National Execu- tive Commission of IPA Israel, Dr. Eran Israel, spokesman and secretary general of IPA Israel, tells ISRAEL21c. She has been with the Israel Police for 30 years and filled dozens of positions in numer- ous departments, now holding the rank of superintendent. But it is in the IPA that she really began to shine. Fmmthe momentshejoined 12 years ago, Sharon became an active member, getting mem- bers and overseas colleagues acquainted through sports activities. "The organization is like an ambassador for Israel and good for the state," says Sharon. The Israeli IPA delegation counts 23,000 members--the third largest branch in the world, after Germany and Austria. The Israel section, estab- lished in 1963, has the high- est ratio between the size of the delegation and the size of the police force. Its members include police officers, prison wardens, civil guardvolunteers and pensioners. "We have asmall country and a small police force, but our IPA branch is one of the biggestand strongest in the world. We're celebrating 50 years of IPA in Israel and I'll make sure that every new recruit to the force joins the IPA branch," said police commissioner Yohanan Danino at the Eilat event. Sharon is constantly orga- nizing and implementing new initiatives. "It has not been easy," she says. "It was a tough road but I proved myself." At the recent World Con- gress, she even scored more votes than newly elected Inter- national President Pierre-Mar- tin Moulin. The organization is overseen by an international president and three vice presi- dents. Sharonwas elected both the first VP and the chair of the International Social Com- mission. "The fact that I was chosen and that I am from Israel is a message in itself," she says, noting many of the votes in her favor came from states that have no ties with Israel. "I'm from Israel but I don't just represent Israel. The world police chose me and I represent everyone." Sharon started out as a de- tective and investigator at the Special Investigations Unit. Her long CV includes community- oriented policing services, the public council for delinquency reduction, fitness training, central recruitment bureau, publishing and marketing, the unit for the improvement of the service, and head of the public affairs unit. Now she's Holocaust trains are jewel of collection of Greek train enthus0000't00st THESSALONIKI, Greece (JTA)--It was spring in north- ern Greece, 1943. Efthymios Kontopoulos, 13, had come to Thessaloniki for the day when he saw Nazis rounding up the city's Jews. "My father brought me into town," Kontopoulos, who is not Jewish, said. "We saw them be- ing taken away. They were with their [yellow] badges." On March 15, 1943, the Nazis began deporting the Jews of Thessaloniki. Some 4,000 people were loaded onto cattle cars and shipped off to Auschwitz. Eighteen more convoys followed. By August, the Jewish community of the city, known as the Flower of the Balkans and a major center of Sephardic Jewry for 450 years, was no more. Of the 55,000 Jews in the city on the eve of the war, 49,000 were deported. Only 1,950 survived. This month, as the remnants of the Thessaloniki Jewish com- munity prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of the deporta- tions, Kontopoulos believes he has a powerful symbol of the community's destruction: four of the railway cars used in the transports to the death camps. Kontopoulos is neither a his- torian nor a Holocaust expert. He's a train enthusiast and collector who sees much of life and history through the prism of rail. Which perhaps explains his certitude in the provenance of the cars despite some doubts raised about their authenticity. "My life is the wagons as they are," says Kontopoulos, now 83 and the founder and curator of the Railway Museum of Thes- saloniki. "That is history." After the war, Kontopoulos followed his passion and joined the Greek railway, spending his career as an engineer. After he specializing in the practice of law and is a police prosecutor in Tel Aviv. "My family stands behind me in what I do and gives me a lot of support," she says. "They're happy for me because they see I achieved what I achieved by myself, and that I never relied on someone else to move forward." She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in sports and education, a law degree, various police officer course certificates, and a degree in marketing and public relations. She says her next goal is to be- come totally proficient in Eng- lish. "When I do something, I want to do it the best I can. I can speak and understand but I want to be faultless," she says. Part of her new responsibility at the IPAwas to represent Israel at the U.N., but she had to forgo thatbecause she is still an active memberofthe Israel Police. But she didn't mind passing it on to another member. After all, Sharon still sees a long, fruitful career with the IPA. "It's important for me to finish specializing in law. Noth- ing is burning. When the IPA president decides to step down, I'll consider running for the position," she says, then adds: "And I believe I will be president one day." Viva Sarah Press is an as- sociate editor and writer at ISRAEL21c. - but are they real? Gavin Rabinowitz Efthymios Kontopoulos, the founder of the Railway Mu- seum of Thessaloniki, believes he is in possession of four cars used to transport Greek Jews to Polish death camps. retired in 1985, he turned his attention to memorabilia. He convinced the city to donate an old military railway building, which he renovated and filled with his collection of photo- graphs, maps, uniform buttons, an Ottoman-era conductor uni- form and Morse code devices. There's even a bathroom set salvaged from the Greek royal railway carriage. The museum is open two mornings a week and entry is free. But it's outside where he has his pride and joy: a collection of rusty locomotives and car- riages. A few stand out in stark contrast to the others. One is an English carriage built in 1900 for the iconic Orient Express, which ran from Paris to Constantinople. A dining car with a full kitchen, bronze velvet tablecloths, rich leather seats, filigree wood panels and brass finishings, it conjures up the luxury and intrigue of the line that inspired plot lines in James Bond films and Agatha Christie mysteries. On the other side of the yard stand four dilapidated wooden carriages. Some have panels missing; in others, the floor- boards are gone. Inside one is an rusty iron ladder, a large plastic bottle of turpentine andapile of of old lumber. Sunlight comes in through one tiny, barred window and through holes in thewalls. In these, Kontopoulos believes, the Jews were sent to the gas chambers. "Everyone was loaded onto wagons designed for merchan- dise or livestock: newborns, invalids, everyone," said Paul Hagouel, whose father, Leon, survived the journey from Thessaloniki and two years in Auschwitz. "All they had was a bucket in one corner for their needs. So you can imagine many died. It was terrible." Kontopoulos gives tours Gavin Rabinowitz The Jews of Thessaloniki were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in railway cars like this one, currently on display at the Railway Museum of Thessaloniki. of his rail collection with an infectious energy and enthusi- asm, frequently skipping from topic to topic mid-sentence when something else catches his attention. But when he returns to the spartan wagons, he becomes sheepish. He has plans to renovate them and build a shelter, he says, but it's just him and a few volunteers. Since Greece's economic crisis erupted five years ago, the donations he relied upon have dried up. But he also has another problem. Due to a lack of documentation, there is isn't sufficient evidence, historians say, to prove that these cars were the actual ones used in the deportations. Kontopoulos bases his claim on institutional knowledge. Within the Greek railway, he said, it was well known that these carriages, built in Bel- gium in 1873 and having reg- istration numbers beginning with Z-l, were the ones used to carry Jews to the camps. After the war, some of them were converted to dormitory trains for railway workers. He found these four in an abandoned lot in 1996. "I feel very lucky we got them because everything else that was there was destroyed," Kontopoulos said. Historians say it's possible these are authentic Holo- caust carriages. But Greeks traditionally are not strong on paperwork and there is no official documentation to back up the claim. "We have tried to find record of the railways, but we have not found confirmation of the make of the wagons or their serial numbers," said Jason Handrinos, a historian who did research for a planned Greek exhibit at Auschwitz. "We are not even sure iftheywere Greek or German." The Jewish community is ambivalent. Because of the lack of documentation, the com- munity is reluctant to officially embrace Kontopoulos' claims. But, in an an acknowledgment of the raw power of these car- riages and their ability to evoke the horror of the transports, they take Jewish visitors to see them. "It was very moving to see those cars," said Stephanie Block of San Francisco, who was part of a delegation from the Jewish Federations of North America that visited the rail cars. "You can imagine the misery of people huddled and packed inside as well as the hatred it must have taken to engineer such a system of mass transport." For his part, Kontopoulos is unfazed by the doubts about their authenticity. Undeterred by age or lack of resources, the old collector wants to finish restoring them and put up a plaque so the cars can stand as a testimony to what he saw 70 years ago. "We have an obligation," he said, "to use the history of the wagons to show the next genera- tions the horror of that time."