English News ArchiveNews between April 24, and April 19, reversely ordered by date (i.e.: the newest can be found on top). For recent news select English News.
Anti-Semitism on rise in Germany, report says
12:38 p.m. Apr 22, 1998 Eastern
By Daniel Sternoff
JERUSALEM, April 22 (Reuters) - Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany, according to a report on hate crimes against Jews worldwide released on Wednesday on the eve of Israeli commemorations of the Nazi Holocaust.
The ``Anti-Semitism Worldwide'' report, issued by the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Tel Aviv University, said Germany bucked a trend of declining or steady occurrences of anti-Semitic incidents.
``Most alarming was the increase in racist activities in Germany, especially in the eastern part,'' the report said.
Dina Porat, one of the report's editors, said statistics compiled by the German government and private agencies indicated a 15 to 20 percent rise in anti-Semitic and xenophobic attacks.
Porat said the emergence of areas which German neo-Nazis openly boasted were ``foreigner-free zones'' was a new and particularly worrying phenomenon.
The report found that overt violence against Jews was low in 1997 but that anti-Semitic propaganda intensified as many European countries re-examined their roles during the Holocaust.
``We can really bless the fact that today there is less and less physical threat to Jews from anti-Semitism,'' said Dr Avi Beker, World Jewish Congress executive director in Jerusalem.
The report found that ``major attacks'' on Jews, defined as arson, shootings and bombings, had risen from 32 to 38 in 1997 worldwide but that ``moderate'' incidents of property damage and unarmed assault had dropped from 165 to 113.
``Even considering the increase in hard-core violence, both types are on much lower levels than 1993 and 1994, when violence was at a peak,'' Porat said.
The report found that while overt violence was mild overall, there was an ``enormous increase'' in anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying material disseminated by far-right groups in Europe and Islamic extremists in the Middle East.
The growing ability of extremist groups to use the Internet to spread messages of hate and techniques to assemble explosives signalled a disturbing potential for violence, the report said.
``Today you need only a small number of extremists to do a great deal of damage,'' said Rabbi David Rosen of the ADL.
The report said that commemorations in some post-communist Eastern European states of fascist Nazi puppet regimes and their leaders, such as the Croatian Ustasha, had spurred the spread of anti-Semitic propaganda.
It noted that two weeks after hundreds of veterans of Latvia's Nazi Waffen SS legion paraded in Riga in March, an explosion ripped through a synagogue in the capital.
The report's organisers however praised what they said were historic strides to combat anti-Semitism.
Rosen said the recent Vatican paper on the Holocaust, which has been criticised by many Jews for not adequately addressing the Church's wartime failure to speak out against Nazi atrocities, was still a very significant document.
``This document goes out to 900 million Catholics,'' Rosen said. ``In terms of combating Holocaust denial on a global level, it probably over the course of time will be seen as a very important document.''
Beker said the formation of commissions in some 20 countries to track down Jewish assets confiscated during World War Two reflected widespread ``soul searching'' which greatly aided the fight against anti-Semitism.
The committees were formed on the sidelines of a battle between Jewish groups and Swiss banks over recovery of wartime accounts.
Despite the advances and the low levels of violence, the report's drafters said the battle against anti-Semitism was far from won.
``I think that a disease that is under medical control doesn't mean we've created immunity. We are dealing with a disease which is historically quite endemic,'' Rosen said. REUTERS
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.
Poland Honors WWII Ghetto Uprising Sunday, April 19, 1998; 9:15 a.m. EDT WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek helped lay a wreath Sunday at the monument to Warsaw Ghetto insurgents to mark the 55th anniversary of the ill-fated uprising by Jews against the Nazis.
Representatives of the Israeli embassy and uprising survivors said the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, and lighted candles in homage to some 200 young Jews who decided to fight when Nazi troops began to liquidate the ghetto on April 19, 1943.
``The point was not to die in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Majdanek or Treblinka but to proudly take revenge for the blood spilled by the Nazis,'' veteran Stefan Grajek said after the ceremony.
Most of the remaining 60,000 people in the ghetto were killed during the uprising, which was crushed after three months.
On Friday, President Aleksander Kwasniewski awarded the only surviving leader, Marek Edelman, 75, Poland's highest distinction, the White Eagle Order.
In the fall of 1940, the Nazis crowded some 400,000 people on 300 741 acres. At the peak in spring 1941, some 450,000 Jews were in the ghetto.
Most died of starvation and disease or in the gas chambers of the Nazi death camp of Treblinka, where they were transported in cattle wagons between July and September 1942.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Saviours cluster to aid rudderless French right
08:17 a.m. Apr 20, 1998 Eastern
By Francois Raitberger
PARIS, April 20 (Reuters) - Saviours are popping up like mushrooms to rescue the French Right from disarray, but so far rivalries have only added to the confusion.
Launching new parties or proposing facelifts for existing ones, waves of conservative leaders are offering their own solutions to the crisis that has been deepening since the left's surprise victory in parliamentary elections almost a year ago.
``Torn, impotent, often ridiculous,'' was how the right-wing daily Le Figaro bitterly described the conservative camp on Monday after a weekend flurry of rival unity proposals.
``The methodical suicide of parties representing over half the electorate is a major first,'' it said.
In less than a year, the conservatives have plunged from the heights of power to near-panic over their future.
The disarray within the alliance between Gaullist President Jacques Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR) and the Union for French Democracy (UDF) reached a peak after dissidents defied party bans on deals with the far-right National Front following a fresh setback in last month's regional elections.
Ex-Defence Minister Charles Millon, sacked from the UDF after allying with the Front in his Rhone-Alpes region, last Friday launched a party named simply ``The Right'' to rally conservatives.
His initiative was promptly ridiculed by both the RPR and UDF, but it seemed that wherever you turned, it was ``every man for himself.'' Free-marketeer ex-Finance Minister Alain Madelin was promoting his Liberal Democracy UDF group as leader of a re-united right.
Former Foreign Minister Herve de Charette, in an interview with Le Figaro published on Monday, suggested a broad centrist union, a proposal already made by ex-Education Minister Francois Bayrou, a fellow UDF member.
Philippe Seguin, the leader of the RPR, which is the main conservative party, has rejected a merger with other parties and called for a shift to the right to try stop the rise of the National Front.
Ex-Interior Minister Charles Pasqua called for the right to rally against the single European currency, although this would appear as bowing to the ideas of the National Front.
``When the house is on fire, one doesn't ask the firemen what their religion is,'' he told RTL radio.
Perhaps the clearest sign of panic was a rebellion by former Justice Minister Jacques Toubon against Paris Mayor Jean Tiberi, a fellow Gaullist who is facing accusations of political sleaze.
Toubon said that removing Tiberi was essential to prevent the capital, a once-Gaullist stronghold, from slipping into leftist hands in the next municipal elections in 2001.
Albin Chalandon, who was a minister under then President Charles de Gaulle, said what the right needed was a charismatic leader.
``The right is not irreversibly doomed. Failing a clear doctrine, a rousing leader could spark renewal,'' the left-wing daily Liberation said.
``Where is he?'' it then asked.
Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front gloated on the sidelines, confident that the quarantine imposed on it by the mainstream parties would soon be lifted despite Chirac's condemnation of the anti-immigrant party as ``racist and xenophobic.''
``The RPR and UDF no longer exist by themselves politically. They will have to turn either to the left or the National Front,'' its chief strategist, Bruno Megret, said at the weekend.
Basking in popularity and bright economic prospects, Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin could take pleasure from the right's crisis which made divisions within his left-wing coalition over immigration and European policy look minor.
``The right-wing parties are suffering identity, strategy and leadership problems simultaneously,'' he said in an interview published on Monday in the daily Le Monde.
``In any case, I am convinced that the government is and wants to remain a beacon of stability which French politics badly needs,'' he said. ^[email protected]
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.
German Holocaust Memorial Faulted Monday, April 20, 1998; 1:53 p.m. EDT BERLIN (AP) -- None of the proposed designs for Germany's long-delayed Holocaust memorial are suitable because they do not name the victims, Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal said in comments published Monday.
``It's supposed to be a monument for 6 million innocent people who were murdered. I can't find this content in any of the projects,'' Wiesenthal wrote in the daily BZ.
A final design for the Berlin monument was to have been announced in March, following 10 years of debate, but it was delayed so Chancellor Helmut Kohl could consult with the designers of the leading proposal. No new timetable has been announced.
A design chosen by a committee in 1996 would have named the 4.8 million identified Holocaust victims on a concrete slab the size of two football fields, but it was widely criticized as a ``giant tombstone.'' Kohl rejected the design.
The leading proposal among four remaining finalists envisions a cemetery-like ``field'' of 4,000 concrete pillars. Those walking through the narrow passages are supposed to feel overwhelmed and disoriented.
Wiesenthal, who heads the Vienna-based Jewish Documentation Center, said references to victims were a deciding factor in choosing the design for that city's Holocaust memorial to its 65,000 Jewish victims. Vienna officials announced last month they would start construction soon.
``The proposals for Berlin lack these types of references, which would name the victims and the perpetrators for the future,'' Wiesenthal said.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Monday April 20, 4:12 pm Eastern Time
HARRISBURG, Pa., April 20 /PRNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge today hosted a candle-lighting ceremony in the Governor's Reception Room to recognize the ``Days of Remembrance'' in Pennsylvania and to honor those who suffered and died during the Holocaust.
``We join to recall the words, the voices, the lives of those lost amidst the terror of the Holocaust,'' Gov. Ridge said. ``We reach out with our thoughts and prayers to those who perished, those who survived, and those who courageously fought against the tide of evil. For it is through our memories, our reflections and our actions that we honor those touched by the bleak shadow of that time.''
Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, the candle-lighting ceremony included several Pennsylvanians who survived the Holocaust. Israeli Consul General Dan Ashbel also participated in the ceremony.
``We owe it to our children -- past, present and future -- never to forget the hatred, never to repeat the ignorance, never to let this story go untold,'' Gov. Ridge said. ``For our children and their children hold the potential to carry out the unfulfilled promise of all the millions of souls lost to the Holocaust.
``For we will do all we can to eradicate hate, but they will aspire to do more. We will strive to build a word free of violence, free of despair, but they will achieve it. And we will look to the past with days of remembrance like these, but they will learn the lessons from it.
``For with our help, they will always remember. They will never forget. And they will always ask why.''
Earlier this month, Gov. Ridge proclaimed the week of April 19-26 as ``Days of Remembrance,'' and Thursday, April 23, as the ``Day of Remembrance,'' in memory of the Holocaust's victims and survivors, as well as the liberators.
According to the Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, which is maintained by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, more than 1,800 Holocaust survivors currently live in Pennsylvania.
SOURCE: Pennsylvania Office of the Governor
Skinheads Charged in Canada Death Wednesday, April 22, 1998; 4:55 p.m. EDT VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- Five young men linked to a skinhead, white-supremacist group were charged with second-degree murder Wednesday in the beating death of a 65-year-old Sikh man at the temple where he worked as caretaker.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the killing occurred the same night in January that the racist group, White Power, held an all-night party for its supporters in the Vancouver region. The party took place near the temple.
The five suspects, ranging in age from 17 to 25, were arrested Tuesday without incident in three different Vancouver suburbs.
Police said an investigation into racist and neo-Nazi groups in the region was continuing and indicated additional arrests were likely.
The 65-year-old caretaker, Nirmal Singh Gill, was found beaten and bleeding in the parking lot of a Sikh temple in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey about 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 4. He died later that day in a hospital.
Those charged Wednesday were Robert Kluch, 24; Nathan Leblanc, 25; Daniel Miloszewski, 20, and Radoslaw Synderek, 22. The 17-year-old was also charged, but cannot be identified under the Young Offenders Act.
Investigators said White Power is aligned with other white supremacist groups, including the Northern Hammerskins, the Aryan Nations and the Heritage Front.
The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith estimates 600 young people in Canada are involved in these and other neo-Nazi and skinhead groups.
British Columbia is the province with the most active branches of these groups. Some of them -- as well as some neo-Nazi groups in Europe -- have established websites through an Internet provider in Oliver, British Columbia, that has become the target of a police investigation.
Gill, who emigrated to Canada several years ago to support his wife and son in India, lived on the grounds of the temple and opened it daily for early-morning worshipers.
At its peak, the investigation of his killing involved 45 police officers, including members of the regional hate-crimes unit.
Gill's slaying was not the first of its type in the area. In 1980, a young Sikh man was kicked to death by a group of racists in a south Vancouver park.
``I thought we were past all that. I thought we had made some improvements in race relations,'' said Charan Gill of the British Columbia Organization to Fight Racism.
``This ugly incident is bringing back bad memories.''
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
U.S. Worries Over Nazis in Moscow Wednesday, April 22, 1998; 1:48 p.m. EDT MOSCOW (AP) -- The U.S. Embassy on Wednesday urged Americans in Moscow to exercise caution after reports that neo-Nazi groups may have attacked foreign students.
The statement said that two young Asian women were severely beaten in an alley off a central Moscow street by a group of 20 people -- apparently skinheads -- early Monday evening.
The embassy said that skinhead groups have also allegedly threatened the lives of Asian and African students, primarily in areas near two Moscow universities with large concentrations of foreign students.
However, the embassy warned the attacks can occur anywhere in Moscow and advised ``Americans, particularly those of African and Asian origin, to exercise appropriate caution.''
A spokesman for the Moscow city police, Vladimir Morozov, said authorities had no information about the reported attack.
He acknowledged that there have been two or three attacks recently on Taiwanese students, but denied the attackers were skinheads or neo-Nazis.
``Those were cases of street hooliganism,'' Morozov said, adding that in those cases the victims had been drunk.
``It is not safe to buy vodka and be drunk at 3 or 4 a.m. in any country,'' he said. ``Conflicts, assaults happen.''
Morozov also confirmed that an official for Air India was assaulted Tuesday in the Moscow metro, but said there was no evidence the attackers were skinheads or neo-Nazis.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Survey Finds Holocaust Ignorance
By Laura Myers
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, April 22, 1998; 5:04 p.m. EDT WASHINGTON (AP) -- One of five Americans doesn't know or isn't sure Jews were killed in the Holocaust -- or that it happened in World War II -- according to a survey commissioned by a museum dedicated to telling the story of its victims.
But the Holocaust Memorial Museum took heart Wednesday in findings that showed a large majority of Americans want to learn more about Nazi Germany's murderous campaign in hopes of preventing future genocide.
Eighty percent picked the Holocaust as one of history's most important lessons -- behind the American Revolution and ahead of American Indians' struggles, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, slavery and the Cold War. And 66 percent wanted to know more about the Holocaust.
``This history is still not over. It's still unfolding,'' acting museum director Sara Bloomfield said, noting alleged war criminals are still being brought to trial and nations are reassessing wartime roles. ``I think that makes the Holocaust very relevant to Americans, especially when there's present-day genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda.''
In one provocative question, Americans were asked, ``Should we put the Holocaust behind us or continue to discuss it?'' Eighty-three percent said keep discussing it, 10 percent said put it behind us and the rest were undecided.
The museum was gratified by the response, Bloomfield said, because most Americans recognized that ``the Holocaust isn't just a tale about what the Nazis did to Jews, but it's about what some human beings did to other human beings. There's a lesson for everyone in that.''
Bloomfield dismissed survey findings that indicated many Americans don't know Holocaust history very well, saying, ``You're surprised by that in a country that doesn't know where Mexico is?''
Surveys have suggested many Americans aren't good at geography, including a Gallup poll a decade ago that found nearly half the people surveyed couldn't locate Mexico on a map.
According to the Holocaust poll:
--Twenty-one percent didn't know or weren't sure whether Jews were murdered in gas chambers, although the Nazis exterminated 6 million.
--Nineteen percent answered ``false'' when asked whether the Holocaust took place during World War II; another 19 percent weren't sure.
--Seventy-one percent were under the false impression that the United States granted refuge to all European Jews who asked.
--Asked why it is important to study the Holocaust, answers included to prevent another Holocaust, understand the dangers of persecution and hatred and learn potential consequences of abuse of power.
--While 66 percent of those asked said they wanted to learn more about the Holocaust, minorities were the most enthusiastic -- 79 percent of blacks said they wanted more information and 75 percent of Latinos.
The museum commissioned the survey as it marks its five-year anniversary this month. So far, it has received 10 million visitors.
The national telephone survey of 1,641 adults was conducted Nov. 10-15 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
Pollster Debbie Klingender said the survey didn't ask baseline questions such as whether people believed in the Holocaust. Instead, she said the museum wanted to test people's knowledge and interest.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Bombs Damage Jewish Group Offices Thursday, April 23, 1998; 11:46 a.m. EDT ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Two firebombs exploded today outside the offices of a Jewish organization, touching off blazes that caused damage but no injuries on a day when Jews commemorate the Holocaust.
A previously unknown group claimed responsibility and said the Jewish offices were the target.
The makeshift devices, constructed from gas canisters, exploded inside the building's empty elevator within seconds of each other at around 12:50 p.m., police said.
``International Solidarity'' claimed responsibility for the attack against the Central Board of Jewish Communities, the headquarters for local Jewish councils around Greece.
The Athinaikos newspaper, which received the proclamation from the group, did not provide any further information about the caller or the group he purported to represent.
``It is condemned by all Greeks,'' government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said of the attack. ``Such actions are foreign to the sentiments of our people.''
Anti-Semitic attacks are rare in Greece, which has less than 5,000 Jews in a population of about 10 million. More than 70,000 Greek Jews died in Nazi death camps or were killed during the Nazi occupation of Greece.
The attack came on Holocaust Memorial Day, marked by Jews around the world with ceremonies commemorating the 6 million Jews killed during the German occupation of Europe.
The first blast occurred as the elevator was between the fourth and fifth floors. The other canister exploded on the sixth floor. The Central Board of Jewish Communities has offices on each of the three floors.
Hachan Isaac, a spokesman for the Jewish board, said the organization had received no bomb threats this year, although they had many in 1997. In 1983, a bomb exploded outside the organization's offices.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
German Civilians' War Actions Eyed
By Gwen Ackerman
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, April 23, 1998; 1:34 a.m. EDT JERUSALEM (AP) -- When ships from all over Nazi-occupied Europe entered Hamburg port during World War II, German merchants and housewives would rush to the docks for rugs, furs and jewelry seized from Jews.
The good citizens of Hamburg were ``rapacious in grabbing this loot'' in dockside auctions, a witness wrote in her memoirs.
The account by retired Hamburg librarian Gertrud Seydelmann is part of a report raising new accusations about ordinary Germans' culpability in World War II: Many Germans were willing accomplices in their government's theft of Jewish property, the study contends.
``We can say that millions of Germans profited from that,'' said German researcher Frank Bajohr, whose study was published this week by Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.
``The fact that it was such a mass phenomenon was astonishing to me,'' Bajohr, a historian at the Research Center for Contemporary History in Hamburg, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Using Hamburg as a case study, Bajohr described how Jews were gradually stripped of their property, starting in the 1930s.
Jews were forced to sell lucrative industries and prime real estate at ludicrous prices and then coerced into paying taxes and bribes with any money left from the sale.
Bajohr cited the example of Albert Aronson, who in July 1938 was still one of Hamburg's wealthiest businessmen, worth an estimated $7 million. He owned a chocolate factory, a cigarette import firm and 36 real estate properties.
Six weeks later, he emigrated with only 1.7 percent of his wealth, after having had to sell most of his real estate at throwaway prices and pay into a Nazi slush fund.
In February 1941, the Nazi regime systematically began to auction property taken from Jewish households. Such sales took place throughout Germany, even in villages, but the center of activity was Hamburg, Germany's biggest port.
In Hamburg alone, 30,000 containers with goods from about 100,000 Jewish households were auctioned. For sale were the belongings of Jews who emigrated -- after the outbreak of the war in September 1939 they could no longer take their property with them -- and of those deported to death camps.
Some of the property arrived in ships from Nazi-occupied Holland, France, Belgium and Luxembourg, Bajohr said.
In all, about 100,000 Hamburg residents, out a population of 1.5 million, participated in the sales, Bajohr said.
Mrs. Seydelmann, the librarian, wrote of her disgust at the plundering of Jewish property in Hamburg.
``The ships with confiscated Jewish possessions from Holland were still anchored in the harbor ... I was also ordered to go down to the port and pick up some rugs, furniture, jewelry and furs for myself,'' Seydelmann wrote in her 1994 memoirs.
``I didn't want to have anything to do with it ... I had to be careful not to say out loud what I was really thinking. I could only try, with great caution, to influence a few of the women ... by telling them where these shipments full of the choicest household goods actually came from,'' she wrote.
David Silberklang, editor of the Yad Vashem Studies XXVI that included Bajohr's article, said the German historian opened ``a big can of worms'' by showing that so many benefited from the plunder.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Thursday April 23 5:09 PM EDT
By Marcin Grajewski
OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu evoked the cries of the dead at Auschwitz-Birkenau Thursday and said his country gave the sole guarantee against the slaughter of Jews.
"More than half a century has passed and still we hear the last cries and final prayers...of our brothers and sisters, our flesh and blood," he said at the former camp where Nazi Germans murdered up to 1.5 million people -- the vast majority Jews.
"The pain will not go away, it refuses to go away, it remains for ever implanted in our hearts," he told thousands of young Jews and Holocaust survivors at the site in south Poland.
Netanyahu said the Holocaust that engulfed six million people could have been prevented if the Jewish State, which marks its 50th anniversary next week, had been founded earlier.
"We know that Jewish sovereignty and power are the only deterrent and only guarantee against the slaughter of Jews," he declared in a Holocaust Remembrance Day speech near the ruins of the massive gas-chambers and crematoria at Birkenau.
"A Jewish state would have made it impossible to kill millions of Jews, indeed to kill any Jews with impunity," he added, urging nearly 7,000 young Jews from 40 countries at the event to come and live in Israel to make it strong.
Earlier Netanyahu, with Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek, led the young people and about 1,000 Holocaust survivors on a three km (two mile) March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau.
The same route was taken during World War Two by many of those who were then gassed and burned, with small children almost always selected for immediate death.
Poland's Buzek placed hope in European integration in his speech at the ceremony of poetry and prayer.
"We empathize with the unspeakable suffering that has taken place here. We have gathered in the belief that goodness and hope are stronger than evil and despair, and that these values will prevail in the United Europe," he said in a speech.
He said Poland had been a home for Jews until the Nazi occupiers of 1939-1945 made it the largest Jewish cemetery.
"We were defenseless witnesses of monstrous extermination and yet we did alarm the world that it was happening," Buzek said, recalling that Poles were made to pay with their own and their families' lives for helping Jews.
Before the march, Poland's authorities and Roman Catholic Church made statements designed to avert any disruption by local Catholic and rightist groups who are angry over Jewish calls to remove a large cross near the Auschwitz camp.
The eight-metre (26-foot) wooden cross stands near the spot where the Nazis killed many Polish Catholics. Some Jews say there should be no conspicuous symbols of any faith at the complex.
A handful of protesters met near the cross before the march with signs such as: "Leave Christ at Auschwitz."
"They should leave us in peace on this day. I would like to believe that most Poles are against this," said Shevah Weiss, a former speaker of Israel's parliament.
He said he was glad to see young Poles attend the march. "Together we must build a new world and fight together against racism."
In Israel, the wail of sirens brought to a standstill for two minutes Thursday in tribute to the six million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust and the survivors who helped build the Jewish state 50 years ago.
Traffic stopped, motorists stood by their cars and pedestrians froze in their tracks as the sirens sounded at 10 a.m. to mourn the victims of Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution."
But the echoes of anti-Semitism could still be heard. In Greece, makeshift gas canister bombs exploded at the office of the Athens Jewish Council, causing damage but no casualties.
Other voices rang out in Berlin, once the hub of Jewish life in Germany. The city marked the remembrance day by reading aloud the names of its 55,000 Jewish victims of the Nazis.
In Zurich, three Holocaust survivors who accuse Swiss banks and European insurers of hoarding their wealth held their own remembrance vigil in the heart of the city's financial district.
At Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the Holocaust victims, and in parliament Israeli leaders, rabbis and public officials read a roll call of names of relatives slaughtered by the Nazis.
Flags throughout Israel were at half mast and restaurants and all places of entertainment were closed.
But in East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after its capture in the 1967 Middle East War, Palestinians went about their business as normal, pausing only to watch Israeli policemen who stood with their heads bowed while the sirens wailed.
"This has to do with Jews. It has nothing to do with us whether they live or die. It is not important for us," said Hemeid al-Bakry, a 29-year-old worker at a cafeteria on Salah El-Din Street, one of the busiest thoroughfares.
This year's Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day in Israel honoured survivors of the genocide who made their way to what was then British-mandated Palestine after 1945 to work and fight for the creation of the state in 1948.
Netanyahu acknowledged in a speech at the start of the 24-hour observance Wednesday night that the enormity of their ordeal and their contribution to Israel's birth had not been adequately recognized by Jews already living in then-Palestine.
"This is the proper moment to express to them the gratitude of the entire nation," Netanyahu told the opening remembrance ceremony at Yad Vashem.
Native-born Jews looked down on the European arrivals as weaklings resigned to the fate the Nazis decreed for them.
They called the newcomers "sabon," or soap in Hebrew -- slang for "meek" and an horrific allusion to accounts, now disputed by some historians, that Nazis made soap out of the remains of Jews they killed in the gas chambers.
Holocaust Victims Seek Lost Family
By Robin Estrin
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, April 23, 1998; 9:55 a.m. EDT BOSTON (AP) -- Czech native Daisy Brand spent more than a year imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. She and her sister survived. She could only assume that their parents did not.
More than 50 years later, Brand still can't say precisely what happened to her parents. She's hoping the Red Cross will help her find out.
``Obviously, we knew they were not alive and they were killed, there was no question about that ever,'' said Brand, 68, of Newton. ``But I have this feeling of wanting to know what happened and when it happened and how it happened.''
That knowledge -- even all these years later -- will help her cope with the enormity of her loss, she said.
In 1990, the disaster relief agency launched the National Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center in Baltimore. Since then, the agency has helped find 651 people in the United States whose relatives presumed they were dead.
The happy reunions, however, are far and few between.
The news from the Red Cross tracing service more typically confirms what most Holocaust survivors had long known. Over the last eight years, the free service has confirmed 1,677 deaths and 3,576 deportations.
In many instances, volunteers can't certify any details about a loved one -- the paper trail is too weak. So far, Brand's request has yielded no news, although the agency did pinpoint the dates her in-laws died.
Now, her husband, Fredrick, who spent two years of the war hiding in the mountains, can honor his parents annually on the days they perished by lighting a memorial candle.
Without a death date to memorialize, many war survivors will remember their relatives Thursday for Yom Hashoa, the annual Jewish commemoration of the Holocaust.
Since 1939, the Red Cross has been helping war victims trace their relatives. For decades, however, the Nazi documentation available for searches was limited.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, however, hundreds of thousands of war era documents -- including meticulously kept ``death books'' -- suddenly opened up.
Researchers in Arolsen, Germany, sift through files to try to find names, deportation dates and hometowns that match the search requests.
No matter what information the Red Cross finds, no matter how small the detail, it is delivered in person by a volunteer, usually a social worker or psychologist.
``This is disaster mental health. It's just a disaster from a long time ago,'' said Ruth Barron, a psychiatrist and program volunteer with the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay.
The mental health issues of pain and loss that come with, say, a tornado or a fire or a hurricane -- disasters the Red Cross is well-known for assisting -- are just as true for victims of the Holocaust, she said.
Often, the meeting with the volunteer marks the first time the Holocaust survivor has talked about the genocide, said Susan Berger, a psychologist who has delivered news to the Brands of their search requests.
Berger's grandfather, for example, lost 11 siblings in the Holocaust, but she never once heard him mention what happened.
``I am hearing the stories that my grandfather might have told me,'' said Berger, a Brookline resident.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has been criticized for keeping silent while the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews. Last year, a top official with the organization acknowledged a ``moral failure'' by the agency -- the first acknowledgment from a top official that the organization could and should have done more.
``Some people, including my husband, feel the Red Cross didn't do anything when it was time to do something,'' said Daisy Brand, who was fed by the Red Cross after she was liberated from Auschwitz.
For her, the tracing service offers liberation of a different sort.
``It makes me feel good to know that I'm trying, that I'm doing something,'' she said. ``I'm speaking out and I'm searching and I'm contradicting people who deny the Holocaust.''
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
FEATURE - EU newcomer Austria races to top of class
02:04 a.m. Apr 24, 1998 Eastern
By Richard Murphy
VIENNA, April 24 (Reuters) - After three years in the European Union, Austria is still revelling in its role as the newcomer who raced to the top of the economics class.
It has comfortably passed four of the five Maastricht tests for adopting the single currency and a modest overshoot on government debt will not stop it being in the first wave of countries to introduce the euro in 1999.
Chancellor Viktor Klima's grand coalition is looking forward to Austria's first EU presidency in the second half of 1998 as a unique opportunity for this Alpine nation of eight million to shine on a world stage.
Like other EMU hopefuls, however, Austria is worried that the fun of being in the European club could be marred if too many other, perhaps less qualified, members are allowed past the portals in its wake.
While committed to enlarging the European Union to include its former communist neighbours -- with which it shares close historical ties dating back to the Austro-Hungarian empire -- Austria fears their low labour costs could damage its competitiveness.
``In the sense that the east European neighbours gain economic growth and prosperity, then it must be at the cost of the other EU members,'' Klima, a Social Democrat, told Reuters.
Austria, the third largest net contributor to EU coffers after Germany and the Netherlands, wants long transition periods and says free movement of people and services must be extended only gradually to future EU members from central and eastern Europe.
QUALIFYING FOR EMU WITH FLYING COLOURS
With characteristic enthusiasm, Austria was the first EU country to submit its ``convergence report'' to the European Commission in February, setting out its economic credentials for joining economic and monetary union (EMU).
The federal budget deficit fell to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1997 from four percent in 1996, well below the three percent maximum set by the Maastricht Treaty.
Consumer price inflation, as measured by the harmonised EU method, was 1.2 percent, below the December 1997 EU average of 1.6 percent, and long-term interest rates and exchange rates showed the required degree of stability.
Only on government debt was Austria a less than perfect Maastricht candidate. Debt as a proportion of GDP came in at 66.1 percent -- above the 60 percent Maastricht reference value, but clearly falling and no impediment to Austria's participation in the launch of EMU.
POPULAR BACKING FOR EMU EDGES HIGHER
Many Austrians undoubtedly have reservations about giving up their tried and tested currency, the schilling, which has been a bastion of stability thanks to its de facto currency union with the deutschemark for the past 19 years.
But opinion polls show popular support edging higher, if somewhat grudgingly. The European Commission's most recent Eurobarometer survey, conducted in late 1997, showed 44 percent of Austrians supported EMU, up from 40 percent in a poll conducted during the first half of 1997.
The poll showed popular opposition at a comparable 43 percent, albeit down from 47 percent previously.
The far-right Freedom Party of Joerg Haider has been conspicuous in its failure to mobilise popular opinion against the euro, suffering a humiliating defeat in December 1997 in its efforts to force a referendum on the issue.
Mainstream parties are united in their conviction that Austria will benefit from EMU membership.
A key argument is that after years of meekly following monetary policy decisions taken in Frankfurt by the Bundesbank, Austria will finally have a direct say -- through a seat on the governing council and perhaps even the board of the European Central Bank.
``With the single currency, we will maintain the advantage of stability but also win a seat and a vote in the future European Central Bank,'' predicted Austrian President Thomas Klestil.
``That means we will no longer just implement the decisions of others, as before, but will be directly involved in the decision-making process.''
The business argument, that as an exporter Austria will benefit from being part of a strong, stable currency bloc, carries considerable weight in a country whose top politicians move with ease between the boardroom and public office.
Richard Schenz, chairman of oil and gas company OMV , Austria's biggest industrial concern, believes the advantages of EMU clearly outweigh the disadvantages.
But he points out that its introduction will make wide variations in the price of everyday items, such as petrol, in different EU countries glaringly apparent.
``Our urgent wish is that the introduction of a single currency will be followed as soon as possible by a harmonisation of tax rates,'' Schenz says.
Klima's Social Democrats are also keen on tax harmonisation and would like to see curbs on ``tax oases'' such as Ireland and Luxembourg, which they believe use tax incentives to compete unfairly for foreign investment.
EU ENLARGEMENT SEEN AS MIXED BLESSING
Enlargement, which could expose Austria's high taxes and labour costs to low-cost competition, is seen as a mixed blessing.
Easier access to more than 100 million new consumers close to Austria's borders is a strong attraction, says Karl Koffler, head of the Chamber of Business in the southern province of Carinthia.
Austrian firms already have a strong foothold in the east.
``But it is also clear that eastern enlargement will not only bring great opportunities -- there are risks involved and these must be kept to a minimum,'' Koffler said.
Although Austria has toed the Bundesbank line on monetary policy, generally to the benefit of its economy, the Social Democrats lean somewhat closer to the French camp in their view of how the EU should develop in future.
Monetary stability is not seen as a virtue in isolation and considerable importance is attached to job-creation and harmonisation of social legislation.
One senior government official remarked that German policy makers ``have an almost erotic relationship with money'' and blamed the Bundesbank for destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Klima has welcomed the fact that the EU's growth and stability pact gives weight to the goals of monetary stability as well as employment.
Austria, which has been neutral since 1955, is committed to common European foreign and defence policies, but it has not joined the Western European Union, a loose European defence grouping of 28 countries.
The Social Democrats are opposed to joining NATO, unlike their conservative coalition partners the People's Party.
But all major parties are united in their insistence that the disproportionate influence which current EU structures give to smaller countries such as Austria must not be watered down.
Austria will not accept institutional reforms which cost it its seat on the EU Commission or dilute its voting power.
``We think it is part of the EU's tradition that smaller member states are significantly represented in the various bodies,'' says finance ministry state secretary Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer. ^[email protected]
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.
Diplomats Honored for Holocaust Aid
By Danna Harman
Associated Press Writer
Friday, April 24, 1998; 3:25 a.m. EDT JERUSALEM (AP) -- Manli Ho's journey to Israel started six months ago -- at the bedside of her father in San Francisco.
In the weeks before his death, Feng Shan Ho told his only daughter the saga of his experiences as the Chinese consul general in Vienna, when Austria was annexed by Germany 60 years ago.
Contrary to orders, the elder Ho issued thousands of visas to Viennese Jews so they could leave the country and escape the Nazi regime.
Ho was one of a handful of Gentile diplomats identified by Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial who saved the lives of more than 200,000 European Jews.
They did this by issuing thousands of travel permits and visas, against the official policies of their home countries and sometimes at great personal risk.
``These righteous diplomats never met,'' Yad Vashem official Johanan Bein said at a news conference this week. ``But today, we are bringing their children together for an exhibition honoring their heroic endeavors.''
The ``Visas for Life'' exhibition will open Sunday, and children of six of the 11 diplomats honored by Yad Vashem are in Israel to take part.
``My father had told me bits and pieces of the story,'' said Manli Ho, an executive head-hunter who lives in Arrowsic, Maine. ``But I never knew the extent of it. The knowledge has enriched me and made me proud ... and I really want to know more.''
Like Ho, many of the diplomats' children grew up ignorant of the role their fathers played in saving Jews from the Nazis.
One, Hiram Bingham, was a young vice consul in the U.S. Consulate in Marseilles, France, when the Nazis invaded in summer 1940.
He took part in a secret rescue, encouraged by Eleanor Roosevelt but kept secret from many of his State Department superiors, in which thousands of Jews and other political refugees were given travel papers.
William Bingham said his father never talked about the clandestine operation. Last year, 10 years after the elder Bingham's death, his son was rummaging through the family linen closet in Salem, Conn., and came across a diary and a stack of letters documenting his father's activities.
``I can't say I know everything about my father,'' said the younger Bingham, who is hoping that Jews whom his father helped will contact him to tell their stories. ``Most of him is still a mystery to me.''
John Paul Abranches, by contrast, grew up well-aware of his father's actions -- because he bore the consequences of them.
In 1940, Aristides de Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese consul general in Bordeaux, France. He defied his government's orders not to issue transit visas to Jews fleeing the Nazi occupation of France, and personally issued visas to an estimated 10,000 Jews and 20,000 other refugees.
As a result, he was called back to Lisbon, where he was vilified by dictator Antonio Salazar, denied a pension, and barred from practicing law.
``My father believed in both God and his country, but when the moment of truth came, he said he would rather be with God against his country than the other way around,'' Abranches said.
``Portugal called him a sinner, and friends of mine would gossip about him, but here today he is a hero. There is justice.''
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Jews Retrace Steps From Auschwitz
By Anne Thompson
Associated Press Writer
Friday, April 24, 1998; 4:09 a.m. EDT OSWIECIM, Poland (AP) -- Led for the first time by an Israeli prime minister, 7,000 Jews from around the world remembered the Holocaust on Thursday with a march from the Nazi death camp Auschwitz to the gas chambers where more than a million Jews perished.
This year's ``March of the Living'' had particular resonance because of the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Israel. It drew more marchers than ever before -- including some 500 Holocaust survivors, their families and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
``This is the lesson of the Holocaust, this and only this: That the existence of the Jewish people is tied to Jewish sovereignty and a Jewish army that rests on the strength of Jewish faith,'' Netanyahu said in ceremonies after the march.
Holocaust Memorial Day also was observed Thursday in Israel, where the piercing wail of sirens brought the Jewish state to a standstill for two minutes while Israelis bowed their heads in silence
Schoolchildren got up from their desks and pedestrians stopped in their tracks as the sirens blared out across the nation.
In Jerusalem's Yad Vashem's Hall of Remembrance, visitors took turns reading names of victims. Many then placed white carnations on the black stone floor covered with the inscriptions of the names of the Nazi camps. As the ceremony went on, carnations piled up high on the name of the Auschwitz death camp.
About 360,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel, constituting more than 5 percent of the population of 6 million.
In Poland, under crisp blue skies, the two-mile journey started at the Auschwitz gate that bears the cynical Nazi slogan ``Arbeit Macht Frei'' -- or ``Work will make you free'' -- and ended at the chillingly austere barracks and gas chamber ruins of the Birkenau extermination camp.
Bearing fluttering blue-and-white Israeli flags and banners from as far away as Argentina, marchers sang, prayed and hugged as they walked through the dusty, rural town of Oswiecim.
The mood of was one of mourning the Nazi atrocity and celebrating the Israeli state, of reconciliation between Poles and Jews, of older generations sharing their memories with teen-agers who until now understood the Holocaust only from textbooks.
``We knew we would have the support of all these young people. By the same token, we tell of our experiences,'' said 70-year-old Holocaust survivor Ray Berman, a Polish native who came from Miami with a high-school group.
Like most groups, Berman's will travel next to Israel for anniversary celebrations.
``By our doing this, it shows we'll remember,'' said Matthew Margolis, 18, of Beverly, Mass. ``We see so many memorials. But it's like we're a living memorial.''
In front of the ruined crematorium at the end of the march, six torches burned in memory of the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust.
While honoring those victims in his speech to the marchers, Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek reminded them that 75,000 non-Jewish Poles also perished at Auschwitz..
The dark history of Nazi-controlled Poland cast a slight shadow over the ceremonies, with American teen-agers giving their impressions of Poland as ``gloomy,'' ``uncivilized,'' and a country of ``no-Jews.''
Before World War II, Poland had a thriving Jewish population of 3.5 million, compared to the estimated 20,000 Jews in Poland today. Some marchers wondered why Poles didn't do more to save their Jewish compatriots.
Buzek tried to explain.
``There was an immediate death penalty for saving even one Jew,'' he said. ``The Nazis applied collective responsibility in such cases, and they would kill the whole family, often the neighbors. Only Poles had to pay such a high price for helping Jews.''
Many families took the risk, including the one that saved Miriam Hasson, who traveled from Tel Aviv for the march.
Mrs. Hasson was 10 when the Nazis liquidated the Warsaw ghetto. Her parents dead, she made her way to a town outside the city and to the doorstep of the family that took her in and kept her safe until the end of the war.
``It was a great danger, but they helped me gladly,'' she said, her eyes moistening, her mouth widening in a smile. ``They told me, `Now, we are your family, and we will always be your family.' And they were.''
In the distance, the throbbing, guttural song of a Hebrew cantor echoed over the crowd, ending the ceremonies with a timbre of sorrow and hope.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Friday April 24, 3:41 pm Eastern Time
In a letter to J. Brian Atwood, Administrator of the Agency for International Development; and Joseph D. Duffey, Director of the U.S. Information Agency, AJCongress President David V. Kahn, and Jack Rosen, Chair of the Board of Trustees and President-Designate, declared, ``It is not clear to us what funds and what kinds of support for these programs derive from American sources. Clearly, programs such as these are indefensible and use of American money to fund them would be wrong.''
``Certainly,'' they said, ``it makes no sense for the United States to try to bring together the two parties in pursuit of peace, while its financial resources are being used to produce programs advocating a perpetual state of war.''
A copy of the letter was sent to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
In a second letter, Kahn and Rosen wrote to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat, with whom they discussed the peace process in a West Bank meeting in February, urging him to ``use your authority to take those steps necessary to put an end to these violations of morality and decency in broadcasting.''
``Clearly,'' they told Arafat, ``the Children's Club is no Sesame Street.''
The full text of the letters is as follows:
To J. Brian Atwood and Joseph D. Duffey (with a copy to Secretary of State Albright):
We were dismayed by information suggesting that funding from U.S. sources is being used to support the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, which airs programming aimed at children advocating violence against Israelis. We encourage the use of U.S. taxpayer funds to make possible programs that would improve the educational level of Palestinian children, much like Sesame Street. Indeed, we believe that this is an imperative of American aid. But we are taken aback that shows like the Children's Club instead glorify suicide bombers.
It is not clear to us what funds and what kinds of support for these programs derive from American sources. Clearly, programs such as these are indefensible and use of American money to fund them would be wrong.
It has been suggested to us that American dollars do not go directly to produce these programs. But it matters very little if there is a direct subvention of these activities or if funds are transferred through some complicated administrative chain.
If at the end it is our support that makes it possible for programs of this nature to be maintained and disseminated, then the ultimate responsibility remains the same. Use of oblique funding is no less objectionable than direct funding if it produces such reprehensible results. Indeed, even if there is no American funding of any kind, these broadcasts warrant our urgent protest and opposition.
We are writing to ask for clarification of these funding practices. Certainly, it makes no sense for the United States to try to bring together the two parties in pursuit of peace, while its financial resources are being used to produce programs advocating a perpetual state of war. We hope that is not the case.
To Yasir Arafat:
It has come to our attention that programming of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, funded at least in part by the American taxpayer, advocates violence against Israel. We call your attention in particular to the Children's Club, which glorifies suicide bombers. Clearly, the Children's Club is no Sesame Street.
From our meetings and discussions with you, we know that you share with the American Jewish Congress a desire to bring about a better understanding between Palestinians and Israelis; we cannot see how programs such as the Children's Club and others like them can lead to this goal. Rather, they serve to foster prejudice, hatred and bigotry rather than coexistence.
We understand the need of the Palestinian Authority to maintain a free press. Nonetheless, as leader of the Palestinian people, we believe your open condemnation of these broadcasts would doubtless be influential among your people and would effectively discourage these calls for violence.
Broadcasts such as these, which are repugnant to all people of good will, do not help you and do not help Israel. These programs are seen in Israel, as you know, and do not enhance an atmosphere in which the Israeli people believe that the Palestinians sincerely want peace. These broadcasts only ensure intransigence and recalcitrance on all sides.
We urge you to use your authority to take those steps necessary to put an end to these violations of morality and decency in broadcasting.
SOURCE: American Jewish Congress
Friday April 24 8:41 AM EDT
PHILADELPHIA, Pa., April 24 (UPI) _ A federal judge has ordered an 82-year-old Pennsylvania man deported for lying about his wartime role as an officer in Lithuania so he could enter the United States in 1949.
The judge found Jonas Stelmokas of Lansdowne was a commanding officer of a platoon that prevented Jews from escaping the Kaunas ghetto where prosecutors say 9,000 Jews were killed in a 24-hour period.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports U.S. Immigration Judge Donald Ferlise took more than an hour Thursday to read his decision, calling Stelmokas ``a totally incredible witness'' who ``intentionally lied to the court.''
Stelmokas has denied taking part in any atrocities and suggested earlier this week he was being framed.
Stelmokas' lawyer said he will appeal the decision.
Prosecutors say Stelmokas was a commander in two Nazi-sponsored Lithuanian police battalions, heading a platoon in the town of Marijampole where on a single day in 1941 more than 5,000 Jews died during a Nazi-sponsored action.
The judge said: ``Five thousand and ninety people being shot, and he doesn't know about it. And again, this is in a town that only has 5,000 people.''
If Stelmokas loses his appeal at the Board of Immigration Appeals, he can contest the decision at the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take at least a year.
A federal judge ruled in 1995 that Stelmokas entered the United States illegally by claiming he was a teacher during World War II and not reporting his wartime activities. Stelmokas took the Fifth Amendment during that case.
Copyright 1998 by United Press International.