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November 6, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 06, 2009 PAGE 19A By Ruth Ellen Gruber ROME (JTA) A row of empty shoes where Jews were shot dead on the bank of the Danube River in Budapest. The image of a grand synagogue chiseled into stone at the place it once stood in Bratislava. A museum, a wall of names and a vast symbolic field of ashes at the site of the Beizec death camp in Poland. A giant menorah and the statue of a tortured figure at a corner in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. These are just a few of the monuments to victims of the Holocaust that have been erected in Eastern Europe in the 20 years since the fall of communism opened the way to a dramatic, often painful and still ongoing confrontation with history in that region. Under communism, Jewish suffering in the Holocaust generally was subsumed as part ofoverallsuffering during World War II. Most Holocaust or World War II memorials in communist Europe even at deathcamps such as Auschwitz and Buchenwald honored generic "victims of Nazism" or "victims of Fascism." But over the past two de- cades numerous new memori- als have been built, countless plaques have been affixed, edu- cational programs have been instituted. Holocaust muse- ums have been established. andanumber of countries have adopted an annual Holocaust Remembrance Day to serve as a focal point and commemoration. "Education is asiow process, and changing inherited and Ruth Ellen Gruber Stairs lead down to the Wall of Names section of the vast 5-year-old monument at the site of the Nazi death camp in Belzec, Poland. accepted concepts and beliefs is a difficult task in any context." said Samuel Gruber, president of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments. "In this light, I think we can look at amazing progress over the past two decades." But the process has been far from smooth, and far from complete, and it varies widely from country to country and locale to locale. "The way that the Holocaust is remembered is agoodindica- tion of the health of a nation," said Warren Miller, chairman of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, which has sponsored a number of Holo- caust memorial projects. "When the Holocaust is denied, freedom is under as- sault," he said. "Where the Holocaust and its victims are remembered, freedom is secure." Some states, particularly those that were themselves victims of the Nazis, have taken many measures to confront their history and recognize local culpability in the deporta- tion and murder of Jews. In Poland, for example, th~ memorials and museums at Holocaust sites such as Aus- chwitz and Belzec have been revamped to provide both fac- tual information and context. New memorial plaques have been put up throughout the country, and numerous public and private education projects on the Holocaust and Jewish history have cropped up. "But when the subject focuses on questions about the Polish role as collabora- tors with the Nazis or merely Polish self-expressions of anti-Semitism, it is still quite controversial," said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee's director of international Jewish affairs. In some countries, national- ism, local pride and complex political and other legacies have put up obstacles to an honest evaluation. "Progress is relative," Gru- ber said. "These are still fledgling democracies. Some countries are much further along the path to historical ac- countability and sincere com- memoration than others, but many have had further to go." countries such as Stova- kia, Hungary and Romania, which were allied with the Nazis, honest evaluation of the past means acceptance Of direct local participation in the Holocaust. Education is vital, said " Maros Borsky, director of the SlovakJewish Heritage Center. "The evil that happened in society will not be healed, but the next generation must learn about it," Borsky said. In the countries that once formed part of the Soviet Union, the problems are com- pounded by other issues. In the Baltic countries in particular, nationalists long have regarded the Nazis as the lesser of two wartime evils "liberators" against the Russians who occupied their countries. In 2002, for example, Lat- vian President VairaVike-Frei- berga had to intervene directly to ensure that the inscription on a monument to 25,000 Jews killed in the Rumbula Forest near Riga included mention of Latvian collabarators as well as Nazis among the perpetrators. "She said this is a place of national shame," Miller said. "Itwas a huge step forward and an example for other European leaders to follow." In Ukraine, nationalist aspirations after decades of Russian domination have eclipsed the memory of Jew- ish suffering, particularly in westernUkraine.which before WoddWar IIwas partofPoland and hadacomplexmultiethfiic profile. "Generally speaking, Jew- ish issues, including the Holocaust, are still notseenas part of one's own history," said Tarik Cyril Amar, academic director of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe in Lviv. The high-profile dedication Oct. 8 of a national Holocaust memorial in the Romanian capital Bucharest illustrated many of these points. Under Marshal IonAntones- cu, Romaniawasan ally of Nazi Germany, and deportations of Jews ordered by Antonescu resulted in the deaths of some 280,000 Jews. Even after the fall of communism, this fact was largely ignored or mini- mized, and Antonescu is often viewed as a hero by Romanian nationalists. "Six years ago there was no difficulty in getting Romanian leaders to acknowledge that there was a Holocaustin their country, but they only under- stood this as what Hungarians did to Jews in Romanian ter- ritory under their control." Baker said.. Construction of the monu- ment and marking Oct. 9 as Holocaust Commemoration Day were mandated by an international commission on the Holocaust in Roma- nia, headed by Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. which released a 400-page report in 2004 as Romania was prepar- ing to enter the European Union. Political dignitaries, Holo- caust survivors and religious leaders from Europe, Israel and the United States attended the ceremony, and Romanian President Traian Basescu spoke. The Romanian state and Romanian society, Basescu declared, "reaffirm their deci- sion to assume the blame for the past and to uncover the historic memory in the spirit of truth." The memorial, said Baker, who attended the ceremony and is a member of the Ho- locaust Commission. can be seen "as a culmination of the process of getting Romanians to confront their own Holo- caust history." Nonetheless, he added. "It was still ironicthatwhile Presi- dent Basescu spoke very dearly in his dedication remarks about the role of Antonescu in the Holocaust, he told me later that same day that he believes over 50 percent of the Romanian population still views Antonescu positively." "So much has been done," Baker said. "but there is still much to do." By Ben Harris LINZ, Austria (JTA)They shuffled along the uneven cobblestones on Schweden- platz, a group of elderly Ho- locaust survivors in Vienna bound for a bus waiting to ferry them two hours west to Linz, Austria's third-largest city. The occasionwas the open- ing Oct. 26 of a photo exhibi- tion at the Linz Wissensturm cultural center depicting Jew- ish life in prewar Europe. It's part of a much larger collec- tion of oral histories complied by Centropa, a Vienna-based nonprofit dedicated to pre- serving Jewish memory that has interviewed 1,262 elderly Jews and digitized more than 20.000 family snapshots over the past nine years. The ex- hibition runs until Dec. 11. A procession of public fig- ures attended the opening, including the president of the Austrian parliament and the governor of the state of Upper Austria. of which Linz is the capital. Referring to her govern- ment's support of Centropa, Barbara Prammer, the parlia- ment's president and a Linz native, told JTA, "We have to do it. It's our responsibility." Prammer's view is fairly common today among main- stream politicians in Europe, where declarations of re- sponsibility to remember the murder of Europe's Jews and Ben Harris Austria National Council President Barbara Prammer speaks Oct. 26 at the opening of an exhibition of prewar Jewish photographs in Linz. educate younger generations about the evils of the past are generally uncontroversial. These days, interest ap- pears to be growing not only in memorializing the victims but in remembering the vibrant Jewish societies that were incinerated by the Holocaust. Like Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin. the Centropa ex- hibition focuses not'just on how Jews died in Europe but on how they lived. "What had not been done was to go to these same people and ask them to paint a picture of how these people lived." said Centropa founder and director Edward Serotta, explaining the motivation for his group's creation. The exhibit in Linz is the first to cull material from the 15 countries where Centropa operates. Among the bus riders from Vienna was Heinz Bischitz. the son of an amateur photographer whose photo of Bischitz as a young boy standing in the snow is among the 200 or so on display in Linz. A few panels down is a photo of Jewish Hungarian soldiers gathered in uniform in the Dohany Street synagogue in Buda- pest. Others show children at play, mothers and fathers by the seashore, shopkeepers posing proudly with their wares and Jewish soldiers heading off to war. "Most of the timewhen they hear about Jews in the 20th century, it's all about Holo- caust. Holocaust, Holocaust," said Andreas Heider, a high school teacher in Linz whose students participate in educa- tional programs organized by Centropa. "This is something different. It's about Jewish life from several countries in Europe, and that's something new and interesting for the students.'" Of course, the subtext behind the photos is the un- derstanding that the world depicted in them was de- stroyed forever. That gives the images, noteworthy mainly for their quotidian depictions of ordinary life, a particularly potent kind of power. "Of course the program is about the Holocaust," Serotta said, "and we pretend that it's not." A ceremony Oct. 26 at the Wissenstrum featured the screening of a short film as- sembled by Centropa staffers from the family photographs of Kurt Brodmann. In the film, Brodmann narrates the story of his father, a well- known actor who fell in love with his mother after spotting her in the front row of one of his performances. Afterward, the gathered politicians took turns as- serting their dedication to the preservation of Jewish memory and its importance for modern Austria. "If we don't learn these les- sons. then history can repeat itself," Upper Austria Gov. Josef Puhringer said. "This is why an exhibition like this one is an investment in the future.'" On the bus back to Vienna, Serotta was fired up. "When you saw these hard- edge politicians stand up and get emotionally shaken after watching what is just a sweet story that you would hear sit- ting on the sofa next to your Jewish grandmother, it really does mean that Centropa is creating very new ways of looking at the Holocaust and Jewish history," he said. But several of the survivors Ben Harris Heinz Bischitz poses Oct. 26 next to a photograph of himself as a child in prewar Austria, part of a collection of photos now on display at the Linz Wissensturm cultural center. were less certain of the signifi- cance of what they had seen. "It's a nice feeling that the world will 'remember' us,!' Bischitz said, making air quotes with his fingers. Bischitz fled Vienna for Budapest as a child and said he is angry not at Austria. where he was never persecuted or experienced anti-Semitism, but with the Hungarian SS who deported his parents. "I am not a patriot," Bischitz said. "The only national an- them I hear is 'Hatikvah' and I feel something." Lilly Tauber. 82, whose photo of her grandparents' shop in Prein an der Rax. Austria. is included in the Linz exhibition, also said she wasn't moved by the speeches. As a child of 12. Tauber was placed in a Kindertransport from Vienna's Westbanhof train station and survived the war in England. She had never traveled anywhere alone before and still remembers waving goodbye to her parents on the platform. Itwas warm. she recalled, and her mother was wearing a light summer dress. Tauber never saw either of them again. "I can't forget what hap- pened 70 years ago. whatever they say," she said. "I'm sure some [politicians] mean it honestly. But with some people, I'm not so sure if they mean it or if they say it's enough talking about it already."