Bad Arolsen Archive Releases Millions of Holocaust Documents

This article was originally posted in the LA Times on May 21, 2019. Click here for the original article.

German Holocaust archive puts millions of documents online

Gary Mokotoff

By ERIK KIRSCHBAUMMAY 21, 2019 3:55 AMReporting from BERLIN —  

Sixteen women at the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp were forced by the SS guards to work as prostitutes for 86 other inmates on the night of Aug. 7, 1943.

Stahlheber, Zange, Rathmann, Fischer, Kolbusch and Zimmermann — the last names of some of the women — embodied a painful story long kept from the general public. They are stolen lives, listed on a single page labeled “Bordel Receipts” — part of more than 13 million Holocaust-related documents retrieved from concentration camps at the end of World War II and uploaded online Tuesday in digital form by the International Tracing Service in Germany.

The international organization, which also announced Tuesday that it is rebranding itself the Arolsen Archives – International Center on Nazi Persecution, hopes that by making the documents widely available to the public it will help researchers and relatives learn more about the Nazi death machine. It’s the first time the massive volume of documents has been put online. Arolsen Archives is located in the north-central town of Bad Arolsen, Germany — about 90 miles north of Frankfurt.

The “Bordel Receipts” page, which also lists the number of fellow inmates — ranging from three to nine — each woman engaged with that night, was written in English on May 4, 1945, presumably by an Allied investigator as the war ended.

The list also details how much the women collected — 2 reichsmarks per customer, or just under $1, based on prewar exchange rates — and how much of those receipts they had to turn over to the prison camp guards named Fricke, Koch and Gust: more than three-fourths of the 172 reichsmarks they took in that night.

Arolsen Archives announced it had uploaded a vast trove of original documents that includes names and other information about 2.2 million people — those deported to concentration and forced-labor camps, death reports and postwar testimonies from many survivors. It will continue uploading more of the remaining two-thirds of the documents in its collection about many more millions of people in the months and years ahead.

There are also documents relating to some whose lives and work later helped enlighten postwar generations about the unfathomable darkness of the Holocaust: German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who tried to protect Jews from being deported and is credited with saving about 1,200 lives; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel; and a young German girl named Anne Frank, who wrote “The Diary of a Young Girl,” published after she perished in the Bergen-Belsen death camp.

Run by the Red Cross after the end of World War II, the organization was long criticized for keeping extremely tight controls on the archives. The documents were recovered from Nazi death camps across Europe by Allied forces and deposited in the archives. Considerable pressure from the United States later helped force the partial opening of the records in 2007, an important milestone ahead of Tuesday’s full opening at the institution.

“These archives are the witness to the Nazi atrocities,” said Floriane Azoulay, the director of the Arolsen Archives, in a telephone interview with The Times. “It’s a very rewarding day for all those who have been fighting relentlessly for decades to have these archives opened. The survivors, their children and grandchildren who come here always tell us: ‘Don’t ever let these archives be buried. Keep them safe and show the world.’ This is what we’re doing today.”

Azoulay, a Frenchwoman who is 49 and has served as director for three years, said she hopes the worldwide publication of the first third of its documents would help scholars and survivors as well as the public at large to learn more about the magnitude of the Holocaust — thanks in part to the meticulous record keeping by the Nazis under Adolf Hitler. The records also serve, tacitly, as a bulwark against those who now try to deny the Holocaust ever happened — which, despite constitutional guarantees of free speech, is considered a serious crime in Germany and punishable with long prison sentences.

“Before 2007 the archives were not truly accessible for researchers or the public,” Azoulay said, noting that requests for information from survivors or scholars often took a long time and original documents not made available — because, it was argued, of Germany’s strict data protection and privacy rules.

The files — one of the largest collections involving Nazi persecutions held anywhere in the world — would stretch to 16 miles in length if lined up and are kept in four large buildings in Bad Arolsen, a small spa town with a population of 15,000.

“Before 2007, it took a lot of time and the institution was not always fully forthcoming or transparent about the results of searches for information,” she added. “It was difficult for relatives of victims or survivors to get information. At the time, it was under the control of the Red Cross and it was their decision to keep the archives mostly closed for privacy reasons. Fortunately, that all changed.”

Pressure from the United States and in particular at a hearing in Washington by a House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2007 helped get the archives opened for scholars and victims’ relatives later that year.

The Arolsen Archives, which was first set up in 1943 to help trace missing people, includes almost the entire collection of documents recovered from the two main Nazi death camps in Germany: Dachau and Buchenwald. The organization also collaborates with Israel’s Yad Vashem and the Holocaust museum in Washington.

The Arolsen Archives is larger but less known in Germany than another agency, the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in the southwestern town of Ludwigsburg. It was created in 1958 to deliver Nazi criminals to justice and oversees 1.7 million records of suspects, places and SS military units.

“Arolsen is one of the world’s most important collection of archives on the Holocaust and shows just how massive and methodic it all was,” said Hajo Funke, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University and author of a new book, “The Struggle Over Memory,” about waning interest in studying the Nazi era in Germany.

“The documents were hidden away and inaccessible for far too long,” he said in an interview, adding there was only limited interest in postwar West Germany to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. “It’s very good news that they are opening it all online to the world.”

Kirschbaum is a special correspondent.


Jewish Hartford: European Roots Educator Blogs

August 9th, 2019

Our HERO Center Director, Kimberly Ballaro, participated on an incredible journey to Lithuania and Poland last month. Led by Professor Samuel Kassow, the group visited sites significant to the Holocaust and pre-war Jewish life. Kimberly was fortunate to have received a full educator’s fellowship, made possible by the Coppa Konover Fund, and will serve as a fellow for the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut.

As part of this fellowship, each educator on the trip was asked to record and document the trip with photos, reflections and questions, and post entries meaningful to them and our community. To see all of the travel blogs posted, please go to the following link: Travel Blogs: Journey to Lithuania and Poland, July 15-26, 2019. To see Kimberly’s blog on its own, please see her posts on our website: HERO Center Journey to Lithuania and Poland.

Places visited included Vilnius, Ponar, Bialastok, Lodz, Warsaw, Treblinka, Krakow and Auschwitz. We hope you will take a look and enjoy the meaningful reflections of each educator. If you have any questions, you can reach Kimberly at herocenter@ctvoicesofhope.org.


Statement on the Attack on Congregation Chabad in Poway, California

Published Monday, April 27, 2019

We have been attacked yet again. A gunman with an anti-Semitic agenda has entered our house of worship to murder innocent people. An attack on any place of worship is an attack on all places of worship. This heinous act occurred on the last day of Passover, when Jews around the world retell the story of freedom from oppression. That freedom is fragile, and oppression in the form of hate is on the rise.

Places of worship should remain safe, welcoming and peaceful spaces of prayer and reflection. Worshippers at Congregation Chabad came under fire while celebrating their freedom and during Yizkor as they remembered loved ones. Lori Gilbert-Kaye, Z”L, was among those worshippers who lost her life while saving the life of another, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. May her memory be a blessing. We pray for a speedy recovery of those injured and for all the Chabad congregants who witnessed yet another horrendous act of hatred.

Today, as we approach Yom Hashoah, we at Voices of Hope are filled with sorrow and anger over the attack on Congregation Chabad in Poway, California. Exactly six months ago, we offered our prayers for those lost in the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue. These anti-Semitic attacks shake us to our core because we have pledged to ensure, as an educational organization, to teach our students to appreciate diversity, to practice empathy and to take a stand against hate, bias and intolerance.

The world needs to recognize the dangers of violent bias and hatred. We all need to take a stand, and Voices of Hope will continue our work to educate future generations to understand why “Never Again” is so important. 


Morocco To Include Holocaust Education in Schools

Original Post from The Jerusalem Post can be found here!

King Mohammed VI of Morocco ordered to incorporate Holocaust studies into the country’s high school curriculum.

BY JULIANE HELMHOLD  OCTOBER 5, 2018 12:23

Moroccan Jewish pray at a synagogue in Tetouan, March 16, 2008.

Moroccan Jewish pray at a synagogue in Tetouan, March 16, 2008.. (photo credit: RAFAEL MARCHANTE / REUTERS)

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office MK Michael Oren on Friday welcomed the decision of Morocco’s King Mohammad VI to include Holocaust education into his country’s high school curriculum.

“Morocco’s King Muhammad V (sic) sent a profound moral message to the world. Anti Semitism & Holocaust denial is rising in the West, the leader of a proud Arab country is introducing Holocaust education into Moroccan schools with the goal of fighting anti-Semitism. There is indeed hope,” he wrote on Twitter.

Morocco’s King Muhammad V sent a profound moral message to the world. Anti Semitism & Holocaust denial is rising in the West, the leader of a proud Arab country is introducing Holocaust education into Moroccan schools with the goal of fighting anti-Semitism. There is indeed hope.— Michael Oren (@DrMichaelOren) October 5, 2018

On Wednesday, the Moroccan news website Le Desk reported that King Mohammed VI of Morocco ordered to incorporate Holocaust studies into the educational program.

According to the report, the message was delivered via his Education Minister Said Amzazi in a high-level round table discussion on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Antisemitism is the “antonym of freedom of expression,” the message from the King explained. “It manifests the negation of the other and is an admission of failure, insufficiency and inability to coextist.”

“This is the anachronistic return to a mythical past. Is this the past that we want to leave as a legacy for future generations?” the sovereign questioned.

“For all that, the battle against this plague can not be handled carelessly. [The battle] is fought neither with the military nor with money, it above all depends on education and culture,” he added, explaining that, “This battle has a name: education. And in the interest of our children, it is important for us to win it because they will be the beneficiaries and our ambassadors in the future.”

According to Le Desk, as early as 2008 the need for revision of the religious content of school textbooks to include Morocco’s Jewish history and Holocaust education had been acknowledged, but little had been achieved in practice.

In 2016, a partnership agreement between the Archives of Morocco and the Holocaust Memorial Center in France was signed in order to establish “cooperation on all topics related to the history of Jews and Judaism in countries of North Africa, in research and exchange of archives and cultural and scientific events,” Le Desk cited.

In 2017, Morocco approved a proposal to work with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to educate on the Holocaust and to counter intolerance.

This April, a member of the Moroccan royal family, Princess Lalla Joumala Alaoui, emphasized the commitment of her country to its Jewish history in a letter to the Moroccan Jewish community in New York City.

“Morocco’s Jewish heritage continues to be part and parcel of our lives and who we are. His Majesty King Mohammed VI is committed to follow in the footsteps of his forefathers and spares no effort in the preservation of this shared heritage,” the letter read.

“It is thus a great source of great pride and joy to witness the upholding of Moroccan Jewish traditions beyond our borders.”

The letter marked a significant overture that some see as part of a continued shifting dynamic in attitudes towards the region’s Jewish community that may extend towards warming relations with Israel.

Israel is not officially recognized by Rabat, in line with a wider Arab-League boycott of the country. However, reports of clandestine relations between the two countries have swirled for years, especially among its security services.

Unlike most Arab countries in the region, Israelis can visit Morocco during certain times of the year if they obtain a travel visa. 

Daniel J. Roth contributed to this report.


Local Survivor Ruth Weiner Speaks at WNE University

The Holocaust How Did It Happen?

From Western New England University. See the original post here.

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2019 – 9:30 AM

Western New England University students got a lesson in one of the darkest chapters of human history, as Holocaust survivor Ruth Weiner spoke on campus Tuesday, February 19.

A native of Vienna, Weiner described witnessing the annexation of Austria by Germany’s Third Reich and experiencing the horrors of rising Anti-Semitism firsthand. As a child, she lived through the burning of synagogues and the destruction of Jewish businesses during Kristallnacht, and would eventually escape Austria on the Kindertransport, arriving in England at the outbreak of World War II.

As a prelude to Weiner’s talk, Western New England alumna Amanda Poris ’16 recounted her recent trip to Poland, including visits to historic sites including Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp. Pianist Larry Picard and cellist John Hanifin lent their talents to the program, playing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and the “Theme from Schindler’s List” by John Williams.

Weiner’s appearance was sponsored by Western New England University’s Office of Spiritual Life and The Holocaust Education Resource and Outreach Center.


CPTV’s Home Movies: Elizabeth Deutsch

Take a look at this wonderful short episode focusing on Fairfield-based Holocaust survivor, Betty Deutsch. An active speaker in the state of Connecticut since 1980, Voices of Hope honored Betty with the Chesed Award for her incredible acts of loving kindness.

Click here to see this episode of Home Movies from CPTV!


ADL: Why We Need Legislation to Ensure the Holocaust is Taught in Schools

Originally published February 21, 2019 at www.adl.org. Find the original post here.

Holocaust Education

One would think that teaching the lessons of the Holocaust in schools would be a given in the United States. After all, it is an essential component in learning about world history, the rise of fascism, World War II, and genocide, all of which are already part of any respectable high school history curriculum.

But recent incidents of students appropriating and abusing Holocaust imagery have served as a reminder and a wake-up call for the need to teach the universal lessons of the Holocaust to help ensure that the next generation is getting the fullest understanding possible of the implications of the Nazi genocide of six million Jews and millions of others in Europe.

Last November, a shocking photo surfaced of at least 60 high school boys in Baraboo, Wisconsin making Nazi salutes on the steps of a local courthouse before their high school junior prom. At a time of rising hate crimes and anti-Semitic incidents, these boys’ thoughtless, nonchalant gesture reminded us not to be complacent about the need to teach the universal lessons of the Holocaust, and the consequences of bigotry and hate. And a recent national survey revealed that Americans are forgetting – or never knew — basic facts about the Holocaust.

To date, only 11 states across the country currently have laws mandating Holocaust education; other states recommend inclusion of Holocaust education themes in the curriculum. Unfortunately, every law is different.

The most comprehensive state laws provide funding and age-appropriate educational resources, specifically defining the time parameters of the Holocaust and the targets of the Nazis genocidal policies.  The best state laws would provide guidance on how instruction about the Holocaust can be integrated within state mandates for history, social studies, and other language arts courses.

Fortunately, there is new energy now behind federal and state initiatives to promote Holocaust education.

At the federal level, longtime Holocaust education champion Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) recently introduced the Never Again Education Act, legislation which would create a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Education to provide teachers across the U.S. with the necessary resources to teach about the Holocaust in their classrooms. 

The legislation is designed to assist teachers with overcoming the many obstacles teachers face when teaching the Holocaust, including a lack of awareness of where to find resources; a lack of funding to take advantage of these resources and training programs; and a lack of knowledge for how to incorporate the subject into their curricula.

ADL supports this bipartisan legislation because we believe strongly that learning about the Holocaust and lessons of unchecked anti-Semitism and racism is one of the best ways to fight prejudice and discrimination, and to help ensure that genocide and such atrocities never happen again.

By encouraging curriculum experts at the Department of Education to work with private Holocaust education centers and other experts, this bill provides an innovative forum for competitive grants, regional workshops, valuable training programs, curriculum and other resources.

Here’s three reasons why teaching about the Holocaust provides an opportunity for teachers to elevate a number of important learning objectives:

  1. Respect for Differences: The Holocaust began because average German citizens had anti-Semitism reinforced in their homes, religious institutions and broader society. They were taught that one group of people were worth less than others.  This hateful and false lesson enabled the average German citizen – and many of their fellow Europeans – to see Jews as not worthy of living among them as Jews, then as not worthy to live among them, and finally as not worthy to live at all. 
  2. Understanding Where Prejudice Can Lead: Teaching the Holocaust can help students learn about the underlying ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping.  The Holocaust is a dramatic warning about the capacity of human beings, who, when prodded and backed by state power, are capable of the murder of millions of innocent people. The murder of six million Jews — including 1.5 million children – and millions of others by their fellow Europeans was possible only because many millions of other people accepted narratives of hate about other people, ignored their desperate pleas for help, and, in some cases, were actively complicit in their torture and murder.
  3. The Fragility of Democracy: It has been said that the Holocaust began not with gas chambers, but with words. Studying the Holocaust also has the potential to teach us how precious and how fragile democracy can be. The Nazis had to first destroy democratic values and civil rights before they could legally discriminate, demonize, dehumanize, and then murder 6 million human beings based on the fiction of race superiority and the use of racial hatred.  The Holocaust is a case study in how much the life of a democracy depends on its citizens and their willingness to stand up to anti-democratic forces. 

To complement Holocaust education laws for schools, we should work to ensure that Holocaust education is being offered in our communities, too.   To that end, ADL offers several educational programs to teach about the Holocaust. 

ADL’s flagship Holocaust education program, Echoes and Reflections, has taught hundreds of thousands of middle and high school students around the United States about the Holocaust. Another ADL program, Bearing Witness, has trained over 2000 Catholic school educators across the country, equipping these educators with tools and techniques to teach about the Holocaust. 

In addition, using the lens of the Holocaust, in partnership with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ADL developed Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons from the Holocaust, a core values training program for law enforcement authorities.  After a docent-led tour of the Museum, police participants look at law enforcement’s role – active and passive – in failing to uphold democratic principles and in propagating atrocities in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. 

Since its establishment in 1999 in Washington, D.C., more than 130,000 law enforcement officers have participated in LEAS trainings.  Now, every new FBI Special Agent goes through this training, which has also become standard protocol for several major metropolitan police forces, the Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“Learning about the Holocaust is one of the best ways to fight prejudice and discrimination,” – Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO, Anti-Defamation League.


Researchers unlock the mystery of Polish diplomats who rescued Jews

Link to the original Jewish Telegraphic Agency article: Researchers unlock the mystery of Polish diplomats who rescued Jews

AMSTERDAM (JTA) – Growing up, Heidi Fishman knew that she was alive thanks to her grandfather’s Paraguayan passport.

A Jewish author from Vermont, she was told as a little girl that Heinz Lichtenstern’s passport was the only reason that her maternal grandparents and mother managed to avoid being sent to a Nazi death camp in occupied Europe.

But only long after his death did Fishman, 56, begin to wonder how the passport got to her grandfather, a Germany-born Jew with no known ties Paraguay.

“I never knew where the passport came from,” she said earlier this month at a lecture about her family’s survival story. “I just accepted the story from my mom: We had a Paraguayan passport. But where did it come from?”

This question last year led Fishman and others to lift from the shadows one of the most remarkable and large-scale Holocaust operations of its kind.

Partly thanks to the power of social networks, she learned last year that the passport was one of thousands of forgeries that a group of six Poles in Switzerland had risked their lives to prepare and distribute. Hundreds of recipients used the life-saving documents to escape genocide in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Known as the Bernese Group, the group operated in such secrecy that their actions remained undocumented for decades after the Holocaust. Yet they left enough evidence behind to allow researchers to compile a very detailed understanding of their efforts, according to Jeffrey Cymbler, a New York lawyer who has spent decades putting together a puzzle that was completed last year.

The six Bernese Group members “never told anyone about what they had done,” Cymbler said. “For decades, we knew only half the story.”

The full story, put together by Cymbler and a research team with help from the Polish government, involves four Polish diplomats in exile in Bern, Switzerland. They had conspired to make fake South American passports for Jews in Poland and beyond, and then delivered the documents, with help from two Polish Jews, to close to hundreds of recipients.

For the conspirators, the operation required bribing South American diplomats at the risk of being deported and handed over to the Nazis by the Swiss authorities — who were on to the rescuers’ game and not happy about it.

Cymbler has known since the 1980s about attempts to give Paraguayan passports to Jews from his family’s ancestral town of Bedzin in Poland. But he had no evidence of anyone using such passports to survive the Holocaust, said Cymbler, a genealogist and founder of the Bedzin-Sosnowiec-Zawiercie Area Research Society.

Jeffrey cymbler examining documents tied to the Bernese Group in Switzerland in 2017. Courtesy of Jeffrey Cymbler

Jeffrey Cymbler examining documents tied to the Bernese Group in Switzerland in 2017. (Courtesy of Cymbler)

That changed last year, when he found on Facebook descendants of people like Fishman, who were actually saved thanks to the passports.

“Up to that point, I had basically thought the passports arrived too late to help anybody escape,” said Cymbler. His own great uncle tried to obtain a Paraguayan passport but perished with his family during the liquidation in 1943 of the Bedzin ghetto.

As evidence of the Bernese Group emerged, in declassified Swiss archives and elsewhere, the Polish embassy in Switzerland under Ambassador Jakub Kumoch set up a small research team. For  the first time it documented how the passports were produced, delivered and used to save people from right under the noses of the Nazi occupation forces and Swiss authorities.

The forgeries were made on genuine blank passport pages purchased illegally by the Bernese Group from diplomats like Paraguayan honorary consul Rudolf Hügli. Each blank passport cost hundreds of dollars, paid by the recipients. The Bernese Group, however, did not make any money off of the effort, Cymbler’s research showed.

A key Bernese Group member in this stage of the process was Konstanty Rokicki, a Polish vice consul in Bern, who was not Jewish. He filled out recipients’ details and forged other parts of the fake passports.

Rokicki had three Polish diplomat co-conspirators: Ambassador to Switzerland Aleksander Ładoś, his deputy Stefan Ryniewicz and attache Juliusz Kühl, who was the only Jewish diplomat in the group.

The diplomats obtained the names and at least some of the money for buying the blank passports from two Polish Jews living in Switzerland: Abraham Silberschein, a World Jewish Congress representative, and Chaim Yisroel Eiss, a Zurich-based businessman and activist for the haredi group Agudat Israel.

Contact with recipients was conducted by Alfred Schwarzbaum, a Jewish rescue activist from Bedzin who had managed to flee to nominally neutral Switzerland in 1940. Eiss, Silberschein and Schwarzbaum had the passports smuggled to recipients.

“Schwarzbaum, who helped the Bernese Group, used coded letters to run an important part of the passport forgery factory right under the German censorship’s nose,” Cymbler said.

One letter, written by Cymbler’s great uncle to Schwarzbaum, feigned familiarity to him in order to send him passport photos without raising the suspicion of German censors, who would open and read all correspondence to and from the Bedzin ghetto.

“Dear Alf, how are your wife and kids? All is well with us, we’re well, working. To remember us, we’re sending you our photographs,” read the letter. The prints had on the back the names of the people pictured.

In some letters, recipients used Yiddish words to secretly keep the Bernese Group abreast of developments inside the ghetto.

“Uncle Geirush is coming this week,” one letter read, using the word for deportation. “We are awaiting the imminent arrival of our friend Malachamavet,” another read, meaning “the angel of death.”

For Cymbler’s great uncle, his wife and their two children, the passports came too late. They were killed during a deportation to Auschwitz. But hundreds used the passports either to escape the Nazi occupation or obtain foreign prisoner-of-war status that kept them out of the death camps.

Newly-declassified files from Schwarzbaum’s interrogation by Swiss police indicate that they had the Bernese Group firmly in their sights. All of its members has been detained for questioning at some point, raising the prospect of their deportation to occupied Poland by the Swiss, who were neutral but anxious not to anger the Germans.

The Bernese Group had gradually undertaken providing passports from additional South American states beyond just Paraguay to Jews in occupied Netherlands and even Germany itself. They were the center of an international conspiracy which the Germans would no doubt have crushed with the full force of the ruthless Gestapo secret police.

Any member of the Bernese Group sent back to occupied Poland would have almost certainly been executed, merely for being either Jewish or associated with the Polish government in exile, whose headquarters in London continued the struggle against the Nazi Germany.

The risk required such secrecy that many recipients of Bernese Group passports had no idea who made them, or even that they were fake.

This was certainly the case in the family of Heidi Fishman’s mother, Ruth. Deported in 1944 from Amsterdam to the Theresienstadt Ghetto with her father and mother, the family was withdrawn from death camp transports after showing a copy of their Paraguayan passport.

Before obtaining the exemption, Ruth’s father embraced her and wept in front of her for the first time in her life, in what he thought was a last goodbye, Heidi Fishman said.

The current Polish embassy’s interest in the case coincides with a broader effort by Poland to highlight the efforts of Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Critics of that effort say it is whitewashing the actions of Poles who betrayed Jews to the Nazis or killed them.

The debate on Polish complicity — which was exacerbated by the passing last year of a law making it a crime to blame the Polish nation for Nazi crimes – was raging as Cymbler, Fishman and others were discovering the truth about the Bernese Group, Fishman said.

She said that at first she was “uncomfortable” working with officials representing Poland’s right-wing government, which some critics accuse of Holocaust revisionism.

“I didn’t want to be used as a puppet, as a Jew who says Poles did only nice things during the Holocaust,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. But so far, she added, “I have seen no attempt to use the Bernese Group story to push any narrative.”

Cymbler, the Jewish lawyer from New York who started researching the Bernese Group in the 1980s, says he does not think of his discoveries in the context of the current debate at all.

“It’s simply a question of learning the truth,” he said.

Although the Polish government in exile knew about the Bernese Group’s actions and endorsed it, Cymbler said, “This is not a story about any Polish government. It’s a story about six Polish citizens, three of them Jews. It was about human beings trying to save other human beings: Jewish ones, not necessarily Polish, throughout Nazi Germany.”

Kumoch, the current ambassador to Poland, has a different view. Whatever his wartime predecessor, Aleksander Ładoś, did, Kumoch said, “he did in the name of the Polish State. The State that fought the Nazis and tried to rescue its Jewish citizens.”


Fox 61 report on Voices of Hope’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day event


Rabbi Lazowski and Avinoam Patt on NPR’s Where We Live