English News Archive

News between February 22nd and February 24th, 1999, reversely ordered by date (i.e.: the newest can be found on top). For other News look into our News Archive.


Headlines

February 24, 1999:

February 23, 1999:

February 22, 1999:


TOP

Israeli defence chief says Lebanon a ``non-country''
11:21 a.m. Feb 22, 1999 Eastern

JERUSALEM, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Arens on Monday called Lebanon a ``non-country'' run by Syria.

``It is a puppet state,'' the hawkish Arens said in a speech to visiting U.S. Jewish leaders that was certain to anger Israel's Arab neighbours to the north.

``(Lebanon) has all the trappings of an independent country. It has a president. It has a parliament. It is a member of the United Nations. It has ambassadors. But it's a non-country. Decisions as to what happens in Lebanon are taken in Damascus,'' he said.

``Most of the world goes along with the charade, but everyone knows it's really nothing more than a charade,'' Arens said.

Arens, appointed defence chief after Yitzhak Mordechai -- now a centrist candidate for prime minister -- was fired last month, said Syria allowed Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrillas freedom of action against the Israeli army in south Lebanon.

``The Syrians run Lebanon in all ways, in every way and Hizbollah could not operate for a moment against the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) in the security zone without the assent of the Syrians,'' he said.

Some 35,000 Syrian troops are stationed in Lebanon, where Damascus has long been recognised as the main power broker.

Israel has controlled parts of south Lebanon since 1978 and set up a self-declared security zone in the area in 1985 with the declared aim of protecting its border from guerrilla attack.

Israeli leaders have said they were prepared to bring Israeli troops home in accordance with a 1978 Security Council resolution once the Lebanese government restores its effective authority in the south and the northern border is secure.


Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


TOP

Swiss fund to mail US Holocaust survivor payments
03:58 p.m Feb 22, 1999 Eastern

NEW YORK, Feb 22 (Reuters) - The Swiss-based Fund for Needy Victims of the Holocaust on Friday will start mailing checks for $502 to each of the 60,071 Jewish Holocaust survivors who live in the United States, according to the World Jewish Restitution Organisation.

``While the sum is largely symbolic, it is a significant humanitarian gesture from the Swiss and we greatly welcome it,'' Gideon Taylor, treasurer, said in prepared remarks.

A separate process was set up by the Swiss Fund for non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Around 40,000 survivors in Eastern Europe already have gotten checks and payments were expected to soon begin in the United Kingdom and other European countries.

The U.S. payout is more generous than the $400 given in December 1998 to each of the 3,200 Jewish survivors of World War II who live in the Ukraine.

And the aid is separate from the $1.25 billion settlement that last year Swiss banks agreed to pay to Holocaust victims.

The Swiss Fund for Needy Victims of the Holocaust was founded in March 1997. In the United States, payments will be made to Jews who are in need, are citizens or legal residents of the United States, and who lived in countries that were occupied by the Nazis or who lived in nations that were ruled by their collaborators.

The Fund at present has around 284 million Swiss francs (about $185 million), which was contributed by the three major Swiss banks, other Swiss companies and the Swiss National Bank, according to Taylor.

Additionally, the Fund has gotten at least one outside contribution. One survivor, named Mark Kanevsky wrote: ``I am not eligible for this support but I just want to thank you for your concern,'' the WJO said, adding Kanevsky enclosed a check for $30 that was earmarked for other survivors.

The deadline for applications was Nov. 30, 1998

((Joan Gralla, U.S. Municipal Desk, 212-859-1654, joan.gralla+reuters.com))


Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


TOP

WJC gives French banks deadline on Holocaust claims
01:35 p.m Feb 22, 1999 Eastern

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK, Feb 22 (Reuters) - The World Jewish Congress on Monday gave French banks an end of March deadline to resolve Holocaust claims or face the same sort of boycott threat it leveled at German and Swiss banks, according to a WJC source.

``It is likely that, under the current circumstances, there will be an authorisation of the initiation of sanctions against French banks due to their uncooperative attitude,'' the source, who asked not to be identified, said.

``It is expected that, at the end of next month, the WJC will authorise sanctions against French banks at the executive committee meeting of the WJC,'' the source said.

Such a boycott could include asking individuals not to do business with the French banks and trying to block any mergers or acquisitions the banks might try to make in North America, the WJC source said.

The banks have denied the WJC's charge that they are not cooperating.

The WJC, which has the ear of U.S. politicians, last year worked closely with New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi when he organised a network of U.S. state and local officials whose boycott threat helped persuade Swiss banks to reach a $1.25 billion settlement with Holocaust victims.

Even though Hevesi does not have the power to block bank mergers, he has called for delaying Deutsche Bank's (DBKG.F) $10.1 billion purchase of Bankers Trust (BT.N), the eighth biggest U.S.

bank, until Holocaust issues are settled. That recommendation from a high-profile official in a global financial capital helped persuade Germany's largest bank earlier this month to join a new German Holocaust fund.

A spokesman for a number of the French banks that are being sued in New York by Holocaust victims and their families had no immediate comment.

The WJC on Monday would not comment on the boycott threat, saying only that the subject of how French banks were responding to Holocaust claims was one of the topics that would be discussed at the group's coming meeting.

In denying the WJC's charge of non-cooperation, the banks point to their work with a French Commission, headed by Jean Matteoli, a concentration camp survivor, which is probing the looting and restoration of Holocaust-era assets.

Some banks are probing their own archives, but the WJC has said those internal audits should be verified by outside experts.

The list of French banks being sued includes: Caisse Nationale Credit de Credit Agricole (CNCAp.PA), Caisse Nationale unit Credit Agricole Indosuez, Credit Lyonnais (CRLPi.PA), Nantexis, Paribas (PARI.PA), Societe Generale (SOGN.PA), Banque Nationale de Paris (BNPP.PA), and Credit Commercial de France (CCFP.PA).

Although he also would not comment on any boycott threat, WJC Executive Director Elan Steinberg said on Monday the French banks were not responding to the issues as well as the Swiss and German banks.

``The issue of French banks will be on the agenda. Contrasted with the Swiss and German banks, the situation is not good,'' Steinberg said.

Unless progress is made with the French banks, the WJC likely would advise officials to try to block any mergers or acquisitions they might attempt in the United States or Canada, the source said.

``If the WJC were to authorise sanctions, it would pursue a number of approaches,'' the source said, explaining it might encourage individuals to boycott the banks and approach public officials, including the New York City comptroller.

In order to persuade the WJC to drop the boycott threat, French banks would have to broaden their investigation. ``They are not addressing the stark fact that they seized assets from German Jews, Polish Jews, Austrian Jews, and so many others throughout Europe,'' the WJC source said.

When measured in today's values, a total of $8 billion was seized from Jews in France when the country was occupied by the Nazis, and ``no more'' than half was ever returned, according to Steinberg.

This enormous sum includes a one-billion franc fine levied on the country's Jewish population during World War Two.

About 70,000 of the Jews who were held at a transit camp in Drancy, several miles north of Paris, were forced to turn over their assets to the Central Deposit and Consignment Office, a branch of the government. While only 20,000 of the 70,000 people detained were French, a total of 65,000 were sent on to their deaths at concentration camps, including Auschwitz, in southern Poland.

The WJC has a mandate to speak only for Holocaust victims who are Jewish, but the group also has helped non-Jewish victims. For example, in negotiations with the Swiss banks, Steinberg said the WJC insisted that 12 percent of the total amount of the $1.25 billion fund be dedicated to Gypsies.

((U.S. Municipal Desk, 212-859-1654, joan.gralla+reuters.com))


Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


TOP

Elderly Jew tells warcrimes trial of ghetto horror
12:23 p.m. Feb 23, 1999 Eastern

By Jill Serjeant

LONDON, Feb 23 (Reuters) - An elderly Jewish man told Britain's first war crimes trial on Tuesday how the boyhood friend with whom he used to chase pigeons had become a policeman in Nazi-occupied Belarus who ``behaved cruelly whenever he wanted.''

Ben Zion Blustein, now 76, flew from Israel to London's central criminal court to give evidence against Anthony Sawoniuk, who is charged with murdering four Jews in the small town of Domachevo following its occupation by Germany in 1941.

Sawoniuk, now 77, was a volunteer policeman in the German-recruited police force set up in Domachevo and is accused of carrying out ``with enthusiasm'' the Nazi policies of genocide against the Jews. Sawoniuk admits being in the police force but denies all four counts of murder. Identification is likely to prove crucial in the trial.

Blustein recalled in painstaking detail the deprivations of life in the Domachevo ghetto where the winter of 1941/42 was so severe that the Jews there burned their furniture to keep themselves warm. ``If someone died, people were jealous of them,'' said Blustein, speaking through a Hebrew interpreter.

He said Sawoniuk was known to everyone in the 90 percent Jewish spa town by his nickname Andrusha. ``I had known him since I was nine or 10. He bred pigeons and as children we used to play...in the summer we used to wash in the stream near his house. I therefore used to meet him almost daily,'' he said.

But Blustein told the court that once Sawoniuk joined the police, their relationship changed. ``He became a man of power, a master, a lord, and I was a Jew who had had taken away from him all the rights a person needs to live.

``He used to behave cruelly whenever he wanted and with whomsoever he wanted,'' Blustein said.

Sawoniuk, a stocky, white-haired man who came to Britain in 1946, is the first person to come to trial on war crimes charges since the British parliament made the controversial decision in 1991 to hunt down those with blood on their hands who slipped into the country after the war.

He listened impassively as Blustein -- one of the few Jews to escape the massacre of 3,000 Domachevo Jews in 1942 -- sat in the witness box. Blustein continues his evidence on Wednesday.

Sawonuik is not charged with actual participation in the September 1942 massacre but with shootings in cold blood of a number of Jews who escaped the mass killings and were rounded up later.

The judge, jury and lawyers for the prosecution and defence visited Domachevo last week to tour the sites that play a central part in the case. It was the first time that an English courtroom had travelled overseas.


Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


TOP

FOCUS-No boycott threat to French banks- WJC aide
09:29 a.m. Feb 23, 1999 Eastern

By Bernard Edinger

PARIS, Feb 23 (Reuters) - The European representative of the World Jewish Congress denied on Tuesday that it had threatened French banks with a boycott unless they resolved Holocaust claims by the end of March.

``The official position of the WJC as clearly stated by its secretary-general, Israel Singer, is one of opposition in all cases to a boycott or to economic sanctions,'' Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the WJC's European branch, told Reuters.

A WJC source who asked not to be identified told reporters in New York on Monday that the body had given French banks until the end of March to resolve Holocaust claims or face the same boycott threat as that levelled in the past at German and Swiss banks.

Cwajgenbaum did not dispute such a statement might have been made, but he insisted it did not represent the WJC's official position on the topic.

``All rumours about a call to boycott French banks are without foundation,'' he said.

``This does not mean we are happy with the banks who must still show more cooperation and transparency. The government commission investigating the subject is still awaiting much information from the banks...and so are we,'' he added. ``The French banks just do not show cooperation.''

The WJC source who spoke in New York on Monday said it was likely the WJC would initiate sanctions against French banks at an executive committee meeting of the body next month.

Such a boycott could include asking individuals not to do business with the French banks and trying to block any mergers or acquisitions the banks might try to make in North America, the source said.

The banks have denied the WJC's charge that they are not cooperating and a spokeswoman for the French Bankers' Association said on Tuesday there would be no immediate comment.

Mainly at issue are funds seized in French banks during the war, under orders of the occupying Nazis or their Vichy French collaborators, from some of the estimated 330,000 Jews then resident in France.

Those who escaped deportation generally reclaimed what they lost. But banks often held onto funds of those who did not survive the war, especially when entire families were wiped out and there was no one to claim what was taken.

Nearly 80,000 Jews were deported from France to Nazi concentration camps where all but 2,500 were killed.

Some American relatives of the victims are suing the following French banks in New York for their part in seizing of the accounts: Caisse Nationale Credit de Credit Agricole, Caisse Nationale unit Credit Agricole Indosuez, Credit Lyonnais, Nantexis, Paribas, Societe Generale, Banque Nationale de Paris, and Credit Commercial de France.

The WJC, which has the ear of U.S. politicians, last year worked closely with New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi when he organised a network of U.S. state and local officials whose boycott threat helped persuade Swiss banks to reach a $1.25 billion settlement with Holocaust victims.

Even though Hevesi does not have the power to block bank mergers, he has called for delaying Deutsche Bank's $10.1 billion purchase of Bankers Trust, the eighth biggest U.S. bank, until Holocaust issues are settled.


Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


TOP

Gypsies threaten legal action over Holocaust fund
12:02 p.m. Feb 23, 1999 Eastern

By Fiona Fleck

BONN, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Gypsy Holocaust survivors in Germany threatened on Tuesday to join U.S. class-action lawsuits against German industry unless their representatives were included in plans to establish a compensation fund.

Romani Rose, chief of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, said 500,000 European Gypsies were murdered, robbed and exploited as slaves by the Nazis during World War Two.

Rose said Gypsy organisations should be treated on a par with Jewish groups, which have been key negotiators, and accused the government of breaking a promise to include the Gypsies.

He acknowledged Gypsy survivors would benefit from the fund estimated at between two and three billion marks, but said they should help set it up and sit on any future administrative body.

``The Central Council expects a pledge from the government and industry in the next 14 days to treat the genocide of the Gypsies in a similar way to Jewish victims,'' he said, adding they would join U.S. lawsuits if their demand was not met.

He said of the 2,850 Holocaust survivors his group represented, 500 were former slave labourers. Six had U.S. citizenship and their names could be added to the U.S. lawsuits against German manufacturers and banks.

Some 23,000 Sinti and Roma from 11 European countries were sent to Auschwitz. Rose said these survivors could join lawsuits against Deutsche Bank AG, which recently revealed it had helped finance the building of the death camp.

Rose lambasted German industry saying Gypsies had campaigned for more than 10 years for slave labour compensation without success. He also said Gypsies had received less state and industry reparations than other groups in the past.

``Industry's past exclusion of our minority from compensation and our undisputed disadvantage in terms of state compensation must not be allowed to continue,'' Rose said.

Rose wrote last week to Chancellery Minister Bodo Hombach, who has coordinated the creation of the fund, in a last-ditch plea for inclusion in the compensation scheme.

He said he was still waiting for a reply.

Many German companies and banks face lawsuits over their use of slave labour, their trade in Holocaust victims' gold and their profiting from the appropriation of victims' assets.

The fund was agreed last week by big German firms including Deutsche Bank, carmaker Volkswagen AG and metals giant Degussa-Huels AG.

Hombach has said he hopes it will be launched by September.

Gypsies, known as the Sinti in Germany and the Roma in eastern Europe, were treated like the Jews as sub-human by the Nazis who believed in the supremacy of the ``Aryan'' race.

Earmarked to die, Gypsies from across Nazi-occupied Europe were rounded up, deported to camps where they were gassed to death or subjected to the Nazi's ``Extermination through Labour'' programme under which slaves survived 90 days on average.

The group, Rose said, also supports the interests of Gypsy Holocaust and slave labour survivors in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Ukraine.


Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


TOP

Festering Hate
The Number of Hate Groups Rise On the Internet

By June Preston

A T L A N T A, Feb. 23 - The Ku Klux Klan and other groups are increasingly spreading hate via the Internet and shifting their target audience from street thugs to college-bound teens, the Southern Poverty Law Center said today.
     The Montgomery, Alabama-based center, a human rights organization that tracks hate groups and their activities, said hate sites on the Internet had grown by nearly 60 percent, from 163 in 1997 to 254 at the end of 1998.
     Nearly half of the more than 500 racist groups operating across the United States are using Internet sites to spread their messages, it said in a report.
     "It has become the propaganda venue of choice," law center spokesman Mark Potok told Reuters. "It allows Klansmen who a few years ago could reach only 100 people with a poorly produced pamphlet to reach an audience in the millions."

The College-Bound A New Target
Potok said the law center had also noted a shift in the demographics of the target audience for the white supremacist message.
     "The movement is interested not so much in developing street thugs who beat up people in bars but college-bound teens who live in middle-class and upper-class homes," Potok said.
     "It is also cheap and you don't need to be literate," Potok said of the Internet. "You can steal your text from other sites."
     The law center's report identified 537 U.S. hate groups, up from 474 the year before. The number of neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups grew by nearly 40 percent, increasing from 227 to 314, the report said.

All Types of Hate Groups Rise
Of the 537 active U.S. hate groups in 1998, 163 were Klan organizations, up from 127 the year before; 151 were neo-Nazi groups, up from 100; 48 were Skinhead groups, up from 42 in 1997; and 29 were black separatist groups, compared to 12 a year earlier.
     "The growth of racial hatred is not merely hatred by whites of blacks. There are other inter-ethnic hatreds, blacks resenting Hispanics and black supremacists who hate a number of other groups," Potok said.
     The vast majority of hate groups, however, are made up of whites, he said.
     "Virtually all of the white supremacist movement feels America is being overwhelmed by dark hordes from across our borders," Potok said.
     "They play much on fears of whites becoming a minority. They are looking to blame others for their troubles, for everything from losing a union job to losing children in a divorce settlement," he said. "There's a lot of scapegoating going on."

Christian Identity Sees A Drop
Potok said a few hate movements actually declined in numbers in 1998, including Christian Identity, which saw a drop in congregations from 81 to 62 in a year marked by an extensive search for one of its practitioners, Eric Rudolph.
     Rudolph is believed to have planted a bomb that killed a police officer and maimed a nurse at an Alabama abortion clinic.
     The Christian Identity movement opposes abortion. It holds that whites are God's chosen people and must prepare for a race war.
     The law center report said Aryan Nations lost four chapters as followers of leader Richard Butler, 81, drifted away.
     Aryan Nations has been one of the most notorious U.S. hate groups for the past two decades, with adherents accused of committing crimes ranging from armored car robberies to murder, including more than 20 bank robberies staged to finance a white supremacist revolution.

Copyright 1999 Reuters.


TOP

Zurich marks 650th anniversary of Jewish massacre
10:59 a.m. Feb 23, 1999 Eastern

By Caroline Drees

ZURICH, Feb 23 (Reuters) - In a gory massacre 650 years ago, most Jews in Zurich were burnt to death in one of the darkest chapters of the Swiss city's history.

Blamed for a plague -- known as the Black Death -- that was sweeping Europe, dozens of Jews were murdered in the night between February 22 and 23, 1349. Only a handful escaped.

On Tuesday, the city of Zurich unveiled a plaque commemorating the pogrom and called on citizens never to forget.

``Today, exactly 650 years ago, the flourishing Jewish community of mediaeval Zurich was brutally extinguished. Men, women and children were murdered. Burned, beaten. And the few who survived were driven from the town,'' City Councillor Esther Maurer said as she presented the plaque.

The plaque now hangs in the narrow Froschaugasse, a quaint cobblestone street at the heart of the old city. Once the home of Zurich's Jewish community and synagogue, the ancient buildings now house antique stores, art galleries and boutiques.

Historian Ralph Weingarten said most Jews lived in and around the Froschaugasse in the 14th century. By law they were forced to work as money-lenders, a profession Christians were forbidden to practice.

``We know rather little about this community of Jews, most of whom were burnt to death,'' Weingarten told Reuters. He said there were probably several dozen Jews in Zurich before the massacre. He estimated that at the time, only a few hundred Jews lived in what is now Switzerland.

Sigi Feigel, honorary president of Zurich's Jewish community, said the ceremony was an opportunity to commemorate all persecuted minorities.

``We bow our head today in memory of the Jewish victims, and the victims of all minorities, who are persecuted based on their origin, race or religion. And we bow our head thinking about our duty to do our utmost for a better future, knowing full well that this future has already begun,'' Feigel said.

Councillor Maurer thanked Zurich's modern Jewish community for its support and help, which she said was particularly special considering Switzerland's uneasy history concerning Jews.

Home to some 17,500 Jews, Switzerland recently came under attack from critics who said the country and its secretive banks had been cold-hearted profiteers from Nazi-era suffering. The often bitter dispute at times sparked anti-Jewish sentiment in the country.

The conflict culminated in a $1.25 billion settlement last August between Swiss banks and Holocaust victims who alleged banks had hoarded their wealth.

``I want to thank (the Jewish community) for your tolerance and dignity as you accompanied us on the difficult and painful path of coming to grips with this darkest chapter in recent Swiss history. This should not be taken for granted, particularly in the banking city of Zurich,'' Maurer said.


Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


TOP

French banks next to face possible WJC boycott
01:35 p.m Feb 23, 1999 Eastern

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK, Feb 23 (Reuters) - The World Jewish Congress on Tuesday confirmed that it will consider calling for a boycott of French banks if they have not resolved Holocaust claims by the end of next month.

Responding to a denial of such a move by the WJC's European representative, WJC Executive Director Elan Steinberg told Reuters: ``The WJC will consider at the end of March proposals which include suggestions for a boycott or sanctions against French banks.''

A WJC source said that if sanctions were approved, the group likely would advise they be phased in over a period of time. The WJC, whose views are closely heeded by U.S.

politicians, might recommend first, for example, opposition to any mergers or acquisitions by French banks in the United States and Canada, the source, who requested anonymity, said.

Both German and Swiss banks have faced boycott threats from the influential Jewish group, and in both cases, the disputes were settled by creating new Holocaust funds to compensate victims.

The WJC is seeking to resolve questions over whether the French banks have fully compensated the 330,000 Jews who lived in Nazi-occupied France or the southern area ruled by Vichy collaborators.

``The factor most compelling in favour of a boycott has been the attitude of the French banks,'' Steinberg said in a television interview.

French banks have denied the WJC's charge that they are not cooperating with international efforts to settle claims made by Holocaust victims and their heirs. The banks have pointed to their work with a French commission headed by Jean Matteoli, a concentration camp survivor, which is probing the looting and restoration of Holocaust-era assets.

Some banks are investigating their own archives, though the WJC wants those audits independently verifed.

While the WJC's Steinberg made it clear that sanctions would be considered, he also stressed that no action has been taken yet. ``There is no boycott threat that has been authorised now,'' he said.

Among U.S. officials who are sensitive to the WJC's views is New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

Hevesi, who takes pride in the city's history of being one of the first entities to impose sanctions on South Africa's previous apartheid government, has organised a group of local and public finance officers to consider such matters.

Their threat to boycott Swiss banks last year helped persuade them to to reach a $1.25 billion settlement with Holocaust victims.

Similarly, Hevesi in December called for delaying Deutsche Bank's DBKG.F $10.1 billion purchase of Bankers Trust BT.N until 55-year old Holocaust claims were settled.

While the city comptroller has no authority to approve or reject bank mergers, the pressure he exerted helped convince some top German banks, which also face billion-dollar class action lawsuits filed in New York by Holocaust victims, including slave labourers, to pay for a new Holocaust Fund.

In France, one of the biggest issues is funds seized in French banks during the war, under the orders of the occupying Nazis or their Vichy French collaborators.

Those who escaped deportation generally reclaimed what they lost, but banks often held onto funds of those who did not survive the war, especially when entire families were wiped out and there was no one to claim what was taken.

Nearly 80,000 Jews were deported from France to Nazi concentration camps where all but 2,500 were killed.

Some American relatives of the victims are suing the following French banks in New York for their alleged part in seizing the accounts: Caisse Nationale Credit de Credit Agricole, Caisse Nationale unit Credit Agricole Indosuez, Credit Lyonnais, Nantexis, Paribas, Societe Generale, Banque Nationale de Paris, and Credit Commercial de France.

Steinberg declined to comment when asked if a boycott was likely to be recommended by the WJC's executive committee, when it meets at the end of March in either Europe or Israel.

On Monday, a WJC source said the group, one of the main players in what it sees as a fight to win moral and material compensation for Holocaust victims, was likely to recommend a boycott against French banks because they were not cooperating with international efforts to resolve the issues.

The WJC source, when asked Tuesday about the statement by the group's European representative, said: ``The sentiment within the Congress is that a boycott is likely.'' He declined to be named.

((Joan Gralla, U.S. Municipal Desk, 212-859-1654, joan.gralla+reuters.com))


Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


TOP

U.S. group reports sharp rise in web hate sites
06:00 p.m Feb 23, 1999 Eastern

By June Preston

ATLANTA, Feb 23 (Reuters) - The Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups are increasingly spreading hate messages via the Internet and shifting their target audience from street thugs to college-bound teens, the Southern Poverty Law Centre said on Tuesday.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based centre, a human rights organisation that tracks hate groups and their activities, said hate sites on the Internet had grown by nearly 60 percent, from 163 in 1997 to 254 at the end of 1998.

Nearly half of the more than 500 racist groups operating across the United States are using Internet sites to spread their messages, it said in a report.

``It has become the propaganda venue of choice,'' law centre spokesman Mark Potok told Reuters. ``It allows Klansmen who a few years ago could reach only 100 people with a poorly produced pamphlet to reach an audience in the millions.''

Potok said the Southern Poverty Law Centre had also noted a shift in the demographics of the target audience for the white supremacist message.

``The movement is interested not so much in developing street thugs who beat up people in bars but college-bound teens who live in middle-class and upper-class homes,'' Potok said.

``It is also cheap and you don't need to be literate,'' Potok said of the Internet. ``You can steal your text from other sites.''

The law center's report identified 537 U.S. hate groups, up from 474 the year before. The number of neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups grew by nearly 40 percent, increasing from 227 to 314, the report said.

Of the 537 active U.S. hate groups in 1998, 163 were Klan organisations, up from 127 the year before; 151 were neo-Nazi groups, up from 100; 48 were Skinhead groups, up from 42 in 1997 and 29 were black separatist groups, compared to 12 a year earlier.

``The growth of racial hatred is not merely hatred by whites of blacks. There are other inter-ethnic hatreds, blacks resenting Hispanics and black supremacists who hate a number of other groups,'' Potok said.

The vast majority of hate groups, however, are made up of whites, he said.

``Virtually all of the white supremacist movement feels America is being overwhelmed by dark hordes from across our borders,'' Potok said.

``They play much on fears of whites becoming a minority.

They are looking to blame others for their troubles, for everything from losing a union job to losing children in a divorce settlement,'' he said. ``There's a lot of scapegoating going on.''

Potok said a few hate movements actually declined in numbers in 1998, including Christian Identity, which saw a drop in congregations from 81 to 62 in a year marked by an extensive search for one of its practitioners, Eric Rudolph.

Rudolph is believed to have planted a bomb that killed a police officer and maimed a nurse at an Alabama abortion clinic.

The Christian Identity movement opposes abortion. It holds that whites are God's chosen people and must prepare for a race war.

The law centre report said Aryan Nations lost four chapters as followers of leader Richard Butler, 81, drifted away.

Aryan Nations has been one of the most notorious U.S. hate groups for the past two decades, with adherents accused of committing crimes ranging from armoured car robberies to murder, including more than 20 bank robberies staged to finance a white supremacist revolution.


Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


TOP

Wednesday 24 February 1999
I have misused television, says Oprah

By Jessica Callan, Entertainment Reporter

OPRAH WINFREY, the American chat show host, has admitted being "guilty of misusing television".

Earlier this month she said she would quit because of the trend towards confessional-style programmes, but she told this week's Radio Times that she had changed her mind despite having presented shows she "should never have put on air".

She said: "I've been guilty of misusing TV. It's a dangerous medium and is misused all the time. I thought it was my job to expose every deviant, but when I had Ku Klux Klan members on and they called me . . . 'little monkey' in the break, I realised I'm not going to change these lunatics, so I need to be more careful who I empower by giving them a platform."

Winfrey also attacked her rival Jerry Springer, whose shows she branded as "like a Roman circus". She said: "If you want me to compete against him on his terms I'll have to get out of television. He's vulgar and the level of acceptance of vulgarity has deepened."

But the presenter and actress, whose show has an audience of 100 million worldwide, said her research into slavery for her role in the forthcoming film Beloved made her re-think her pledge to quit her show. She said: "How dare I think of quitting? I've come from a people who had no voice, money, or shoes to run in but they ran away anyway. I decided I had to recreate myself and my show, so I have returned with the specific intention of using TV for the betterment of everyone who watches."

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 1999.

TOP


TOP

Britain Holds War Crimes Trial

Wednesday, February 24, 1999; 2:01 p.m. EST

LONDON (AP) -- An elderly witness at Britain's first war crimes trial testified Wednesday that he saw accused Nazi collaborator Anthony Sawoniuk among the police who tormented and stabbed an old man to death in Belarus in 1942.

The prosecution says Sawoniuk, now 77, acknowledges joining a police force set up to murder the local Jewish population after Germans overran his hometown of Domachevo in June 1941 during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

But he denies the four murders of which he stands accused.

Ben Zion Blustein, who came from Israel to testify in the Old Bailey Criminal Court, described his days in hiding in the occupied village during a massacre of thousands of Jews.

``We heard lots of shooting. We heard shouts and cries and we could understand what was happening,'' the 76-year-old witness said through a Hebrew interpreter. ``No one returned.''

After eight days he emerged from hiding to see what was going on.

He saw a policeman called Andrusha -- alleged to be Sawoniuk -- and other officers take out an 80-year-old Jewish neighbor, Shaya Idel, a scholar.

``The Ukranian police went after him and stabbed him with bayonets. They set fire to his beard and his sidelocks. I did not hear one cry from this Jew,'' he said. ``They dragged him and hit him and he disappeared from the horizon.''

Asked if he recognized any of the police, Blustein gave the name Andrusha and two others.

Blustein said the father of a friend helped to get him work taking care of the Germans' horses. After a year at a cavalry base he escaped and joined partisan troops in the forest until the Soviet Red Army arrived and the Germans retreated.

During his time at the base, Blustein said he saw Andrusha and other police taking away another Jew who had been recaptured after escaping the massacre. The Germans handed him to the police to shoot, Blustein said.

Two months later, another Jew called Mir Barlas was handed over to Andrusha and police for shooting. Blustein said he spoke to Andrusha a few days later and became aware that he had shot him, adding: ``What Andrusha said to me was that Barlas was very courageous.''

Blustein said he did not see his own family ever again.

He said the London trial was 50 years too late, but that he did not find it difficult to remember over the intervening years.

It was impossible to forget an event ``where they kill parents, children, friends and you wake up one day and you are the only one in the world,'' he said.

``I want to say that night after night I am with them, day after day I think of them. Some things are impossible to forget ... I remember and recall the names of the people to my last days,'' he said.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


TOP

Holocaust Victim Database Unveiled

By Dina Kraft
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 1999; 5:00 a.m. EST

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Shay Blum leaned over a computer screen and carefully punched in a Holocaust victim's grim data -- name, hometown in Poland, the death camp where he was killed.

Blum, a 24-year-old student who lost dozens of relatives in the Nazi genocide, is participating in an ambitious project by Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial to computerize millions of names of Holocaust victims collected over the years in its archives.

The project was being unveiled to reporters today.

At first, the list will be used to help track victims' unclaimed assets in Swiss banks. But in the long run, Yad Vashem hopes to establish a central database, to be accessible through the Internet and to boost research, said the memorial's chairman, Avner Shalev.

``It is a breakthrough,'' Shalev said. ``It will allow us to make another huge attempt -- to collect more names and testimony from Jewish families from all over the world.''

One of the centers of the operation is a former lecture hall in Givat Shaul, an industrial area of Jerusalem. Recently, students and newly discharged soldiers operated dozens of computers arranged in long rows.

They punched in names and scanned forms that had been compiled about victims by surviving relatives and friends since the 1950s. Researchers fluent in 14 different languages, including Yiddish and Greek, looked over the operators' shoulders to make sure the information is entered correctly.

The first stage of the computerization is to be completed by March. Yad Vashem hopes to hand a list of more than 3 million names to the Volcker Commission, which is tracking the victims' assets in Swiss banks. The $8 million cost of the project will be shared by the Swiss Bankers Association and the World Jewish Congress.

Shalev said he hopes that ultimately some 5 million names will be stored on computer. About 6 million Jews perished in the Nazi genocide in World War II.

``Everyone knows these are the last historical minutes. It's the conclusion of the century, the millennium, and we have to do our utmost to see how many names we can get,'' Shalev said.

Many of the names are gleaned from the ``Pages of Testimony,'' which include information provided by friends and relatives on the victims' place of birth, hometown, age and place of death.

The documents are often the only death certificates since the Nazis did not record the names of those they killed.

The pages have been stored in Yad Vashem's Hall of Names, a dimly lit long room with black walls lined with shelves. For lack of a grave site, relatives often come to the hall to chant a prayer for the dead.

Yad Vashem also plans to scan some 10,000 lists from its archives for more names. Lists would include, for example, the workers taken to a particular labor camp in a certain month.

The software used in the project can decipher different forms used by Yad Vashem over the years and distinguish between variant spellings of names and hometowns.

``It's a whole revolution,'' said Alexander Avraham, director of the Hall of Names. ``Now a computer can retrieve a name by the name of the mother or date of birth, for example.''

For Blum, the university student punching in names at the Givat Shaul lecture hall, the work was more than a part-time job.

His voice trembling, Blum said he will be looking for victims named Glickman or Gutwachs, the branches of his family killed at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald death camps.

``Look -- I shake when I talk about it -- so many of my family were wiped out,'' Blum said. ``It's bittersweet to be part of this project but to see so many names is not easy.''

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


TOP

Tokyo Will Not Track War Criminals

By Yuri Kageyama
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 1999; 9:17 a.m. EST

TOKYO (AP) -- Hakudo Nagatomi is a Japanese war criminal. And not only does he admit it, he has made telling the world of the crimes he and his comrades committed his mission in life.

``I wasn't human then,'' the 82-year-old says, recalling how he buried alive women and killed children in China during World War II. ``We just killed everyone in sight.''

Such confessions by Nagatomi and a few other veterans have generally elicited a chilly silence from their own government. Now, however, the pressure is mounting for Japan to face up to its past by identifying and tracking down those members of its military who went too far.

Despite repeated requests, Tokyo has refused to cooperate with U.S. efforts to find Japanese nationals on a Justice Department list of suspected war criminals that also includes thousands of Nazis. Japanese names were added to the list just two years ago.

The addition of the names reflects a heightened recognition in the United States of Japanese military atrocities.

But Japan has been reluctant to comply. Japanese officials have provided no information -- not even birth dates -- on the dozens of Japanese names now on the list, said Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations.

``We hope that Japan will assist us soon, so that this disagreement, this unpleasantness, can be put behind us,'' he said in a recent telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

Tokyo does not challenge America's right to track suspected war criminals, who are barred from entering the United States. But the Japanese official in charge of the issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Japan doesn't have enough documents to judge whether anyone is a war criminal and officials are worried about violating the rights of those on the list.

Japan's failure to help with such efforts is highly unusual, Rosenbaum said, adding that Germany and other nations have cooperated with tracking down suspected Nazis.

Japan has long been criticized for being too slow to apologize for, or even acknowledge, the excesses of the war machine it unleashed on Asia in the earlier half of this century.

History textbooks have been screened, politicians have repeatedly defended their country's actions and courts have regularly shot down the demands from victims in other countries seeking compensation.

Some progress has been made in recent years.

In 1992, the government finally admitted it had taken part in the systematic sexual slavery of Asian women, who were repeatedly raped by Japanese troops and euphemistically called ``comfort women.''

But a strong layer of opposition remains.

Just five years ago, Shigeto Nagano was forced to resign as justice minister after he dismissed the 1937 ``Rape of Nanking'' as a hoax. Historians say the Japanese killed as many as 300,000 people in the Chinese city in a matter of weeks.

The massacre has been so controversial here that the release of the Japanese translation of a 1997 book on the atrocity by American writer Iris Chang, initially set for later this month, has been indefinitely postponed.

Kashiwa Shobo Publishing Co. said today it won't publish the book unless Chang agrees to the simultaneous release of another book that challenges her use of evidence.

Chang said in a statement to The Associated Press that she never asked the publisher to cancel or postpone the publication of either book. The publisher said that she did demand that the second book, ``The Nanking Massacre and the Japanese: How to read `The Rape of Nanking,''' not be marketed as a supplement to her own work.

Chang could not be reached immediately for comment today.

Kashiwa Shobo has received threats from right-wing extremists contesting material in her book and demanding the cancellation of the book's release.

Still, pressure for Japan to atone is increasing.

``Don't deny history,'' said Ignatius Ding, who heads a group based in Cupertino, Calif., that has been trying to identify Japanese war criminals. ``We are asking for historical responsibility.''

Ding's Global Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II in Asia, which collects information from around the world, believes there are several hundred Japanese war criminals who are still alive.

Accounts of Japanese atrocities are chilling -- soldiers chopped up babies, conducted germ-warfare experiments on prisoners of war and civilians, burned families alive in their huts and used people tied to stakes for bayonet practice.

Nagatomi acknowledged he did not realize the implications of what he had done until he was in a Chinese prison for war criminals. He had long lost count of the people he had killed -- only that it was more than 100.

``I may try to forget, but what I did is all so horrible,'' he said. ``Inside, we can't forget. What I did won't go away. Ever,'' he said.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press


TOP

Russian Anti-Semitism Said Rising

By Jim Abrams
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 1999; 4:42 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Anti-Semitism is growing in Russia, kindled by economic distress and fueled by political parties on both the right and left, Jewish leaders told members of Congress.

``Again, history has shown the enduring appeal of anti-Semitism as a political weapon in this part of the world, especially during periods of transition,'' David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations European affairs subcommittee.

Those who testified identified bombed synagogues, desecrated cemeteries, Nazi-style demonstrations and, most ominously, blatantly anti-Jewish rhetoric from some of Russia's top political leaders as symptoms of the phenomenon.

Mark B. Levin, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said statements of hate and violence by the Russian Communist Party have ``created a tense atmosphere and growing fear of anti-Semitism in an already precarious environment.''

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, chief rabbi of Moscow, said Gennady Zuganov, leader of the Communist Party, has blamed Russia's economic crisis on Jews by noting that some ministers in the last government were of Jewish descent.

On the right, the virulently anti-Semitic Russian National Unity party has established chapters in more than a dozen cities across the country, Levin said.

He said while polls show that most Russians are not overtly anti-Semitic, many are ambivalent in their attitudes toward Jews and thereby are open to manipulation by politicians. Anti-Semitism has a long history in Russia; tsarist governments sanctioned pogroms against Jewish populations.

``All this pathetic scapegoating certainly casts a pall over our relations with Russia,'' Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said.

The subcommittee chairman, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said U.S. leaders must make clear that mistreatment of Russia's estimated 600,000 Jews will affect U.S.-Russian relations. ``We've got to make some tough calls,'' said Smith, who in the past has tried to tie U.S. aid to religious freedom in Russia.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

TOP


Back to Top of Page
Earlier News
More recent News
Back to News Main Page