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August 15, 2014

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 15, 2014 Monuments From page 1A was how, when the war broke out and Uncle Sam came call- ing-even in Palestine--he ended up in Benghazi building bridges, and eventually met Capt. Pomrenze (who retired as a colonel), The recently released movie "The Monuments Men," which is loosely based on author Robert Edsel's book of the same name, is about a small team of military men who went into France behind the frontlines and found and saved sculptures and rare artwork to be returned to the rightful owners, This is only part of the story of the Monuments Men. Edsel spent many years researching this special Allied military unit. The book is a true account of the more than 345 men and women from 13 countries who rescued and returned more than 5 million articles stolen by the Nazi, many of which were to be displayed in Hitler's own museum. In early May 1945, Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, British MFAA chief at General Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters, proposed that U.S forces quickly prepare buildings in Germany so that they might receive large shipments of artworks and other cultural property found in the numer- ous repositories. By July 1945, U.S. forces had established two central collecting points within the U.S. Zone in Germany: Munich and Wies- baden. Secondary collecting points were also established in various German towns. One of the more critical of these secondary collecting points was at Offenbach, where Sami and his staff, under the direc- tion of Bencowitz, processed 2.5 million Nazi-looted books, archives, manuscripts, Jewish objects such as Torah scrolls, and property seized from Masonic lodges. Three freight cars of 578 cases of books and catalogs of paintings were brought from Heilbronn salt mines in Wurttemberg-Baden where they were kept since stolen from Italy. The complete library of the monumenta Germaniae Hestorica were brought from Castel Pommersfeld, Bavaria, where the Nazis stored this llbraryafter itwas looted from Rome, and the list goes on. Because the OAD housed the largest collection of Jew- ish cultural property in the world, including the entire holdings of the Rothschild Library in Frankfurt and cultural objects from Masonic lodges, restitutions were corn- Lee and Rouben Sami Christine DeSouza Capt. Isaac Bencowitz There were more than 600 Torah scrolls recovered and returned. plicated. Identification of the millions of books, religious objects and other materials was tedious. Bencowitz had developed an innovative system of identifying and sorting based on photographic records of ex libris--bookplates, stamps, and other mark- ings--found in each book. The photographswere indexed by country. As books traveled down a conveyor belt, sort- ers removed those marked with their assigned ex libris, thereby organizing books by their places of origin. Here Sami was, a corporal in the U.S. Army, and he had his own driver, secretary and many people who reported to him. "I was amazed that even lieutenant colonels saluted me," he saidwith a remember- ing smile. Sami kept the records of everything done in the facil- ity. This included the work of the sorters, who handled 30,000 books per day and also the packaging of items. More than 10,000 books per day were sorted by means of Bencowitz's photographic reproduction of library mark- ings. As many as 50 boxes, ap- proximately 10,000 books per day, were packed and sealed. Wetbooks and manuscripts were dried before packing, and minor tasks of restora- tion prior to shipment were undertaken in the Care and Preservation Room. More than 5,000 various library markings in more than 20 different languages were photographed. Of these, more than 50,000 positives were made. A French rabbi, Grand Rabbi Maurice Liber, the directeur de l' Ecole Rabbi- nique de France came to the OAD to help identify Hebrew manuscripts. Sami noticed that the rabbi wasn't eating because there was no kosher food available to him at the de- pot. Sami searched the town and finally found sardines the PAGE 15A Capt. Isaac Bencowitz A map of the distribution of the 2,500,000 books sorted and cataloged at the Offenbach Archival Depot and returned to more than 20 destinations. Capt. Isaac Bencowitz The initial step in the depot operations. This photo shows books and other archival material as they arrived. rabbi could eat. So the rabbi lived on sardines while he was working there. As a result of this kindness, Rabbi Liber later brought Sami a small Torah scroll, which he and Lee still have. Of the items restored and returned: 55 percent were Hebrew books; 9.3 percent were German language He- brew religious and historical subject books; 7 percent were German llanguage classical literature; 2 percent were Russian language, Jewish cultural subjects; 8.6 percent werevarious language, Jewish cultural subjects; and 8.1 per- cent general subjects, various languages. Many of the owners had be- come victims of the Holocaust leaving no one alive to pursue claims. There were 300,000 unidentified books, waiting final sorting and unknown ultimate destinations. The facility was closed in 1948 and its remaining unclaimed items were transferred to Wiesbaden. Sami is now 93, in fact, his birthday is today, Aug. 15. The Samis remained friends with Col. Pomrenze until his death in 2011, often visiting him and his family in Washington, D.C. Bencowitz died in 1972, but not without leaving Sami two photo albums, chronicling the work done at OAD. One album was destroyed in a fire, but the second album is in very good condition in the Sami's possession. In addition to all the re- search Edsel did for the book, he also founded the Monu- ments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. The Foundation was one of 10 recipients of the 2007National Humanities Medal, an honor which was presented by Presi- dent Bush during a ceremony held in the East Room of The White House. The National Humanities Medal is the highest honor given by the United States for excellence in the Humanities field, and honors individuals and groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped pre- serve and expand Americans' access to important resources in the humanities. On June 9, 2014, President Barack Obama signed Con- gresswoman Kay Granger's (TX-12) Monuments Men Rec- ognitionAct into law officially awarding the Monuments Men of World War II with the Congressional Gold Medal; Congress' highest recognition for distinguished achieve- ments and contributions. At the moment the Monu-' ments Men Foundation web- site shows there are six living Monuments Men, but there is about to be a seventh added to that list--Rouben Sami. The Heritage contacted the Foundation to inform them that there is one more man living who served his country as one of the Monuments Men. We received a response from Elizabeth Hudson, coordina- tor of historical research, who after some research, ac- knowledged that Rouben Sami should be added to the list. She also informed us that Edsel would like to visit with the Samis as he has visited all the other living Monuments Men. As for the album? That is up to the Samis as to where it will go. The Foundation is working with the National World War II Museum on a the permanent Monuments Men exhibit, scheduled to open in 2017 and they are in the pro- cess of collecting artifacts for the exhibit. The album would fit in perfectly there. Cohen From page 4A goals of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. The second one concerns its future relations with the U.S. Both are closely related, but all indications suggest that Jerusalem re- gards the first as more press- ing than the second. A growing chorus of influ- ential voices in Israel, from right-wing Jewish Home party leader Minister Naftali Bennett to the respected historian Benny Morris, is arguing that Israel needs to finish the job in Gaza. What that means, ultimately, is the defeat of Hamas militar- ily and politically. The Israel Defense Forces is reported to have made good progress in destroying the network of attack tunnels constructed by Hamas beneath the ground in Gaza (at the same time, as much of the Hebrew press has recently noted, that the general realization dawned that successive Israeli gov- ernments had misread the strategic threat posed by these below-the-surface cor- ridors). Egypt, too, has joined the Israeli efforts to choke Hamas, destroying tunnels connecting the Sinai and Gaza. In these circumstanc- es, it is hardly sensible to allow Hamas the breathing space that a cease-fire would afford. Instead of permitting Hamas to regroup and re- build, the logic goes, strike the killer blow in the com- ing days. This is not a conclusion that the Obama administration wants Israel to reach--and that, ironically, provides another reason for the Israe- lis to bring Hamas rule in Gaza to an end. Given that this administration has over two years left in office, Israel wants to avoid another Gazan firestorm, say six months from now, that would lead to yet more demands from Washington for an immediate cease-fire and more oppro- brium against the IDF's field operations. With Hamas out of the picture, Israel is in a much better position to talk about peace and Palestinian state- hood. Moreover, there will be an understandable desire among the battered Gazan population for a new author- ity to fill the vacuum left by Hamas, and that outcome can't be secured without Israel's consent. I don't believe that much diplomatic progress will be made while President Barack Obama remains in the White House. Trust between the Israeli andAmerican govern- ments has declined sharply, to the point where questions are being raised about Sec- retary of State John Kerry's personal commitment to the alliance with Israel. All I'll say for now is that there is reason to doubt Kerry's com- mitment-he hasn't taken Israeli concerns over Iran sanctions at all seriousIy, he has warned apocalyptically that Israel faces boycotts and isolation, and he was ami- ably cooking up a cease-fire proposal with the Turkish foreign minister just days after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan de- clared that Israel was worse than Hitler. Three to five years from now, the twin absences of the Hamas military threat and Obama's bungling diplomacy may propel genuinely mean- ingful negotiations. In large part thatwill depend on who is in the White House. For now, though, Israel's first priority is its national security. That is how it should be. Ben Cohen is the Shill- man analyst for and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, "Haaretz, and other publica- tions. His book, "Some Of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Cen- tury Antisemitism" (Edition Critic, 2014), is now available through Amazon.