Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Jewish Giant

On Monday, I referenced this famous Diane Arbus photograph of Eddie Carmel, "The Jewish Giant." BB reader Christopher Washer pointed me to a terrific Sound Portraits profile of Carmel, who died in 1972. The documentary was produced by Jenny Carchman, who first say the Arbus photo as a little girl and couldn't get it out of her mind. From the description of the program, titled "The Jewish Giant":

The Jewish Giant began with Jenny's search to uncover a story that has remained a secret for 25 years. Eddie was normal sized until he became a teenager, when he began to grow uncontrollably (he suffered from acromegaly, a then-incurable condition resulting from a tumor that had developed on his pituitary gland). According to The Guiness Book of World Records, Eddie grew to be 8'9". As an adult, the only work he could find involved exploiting his freakishness. He starred in B-grade monster movies (The Brain that Wouldn't Die), made two 45 records ("The Happy Giant" and "The Good Monster") and was billed in the Ringling Brothers Circus at Madison Square Garden as "The Tallest Man on Earth." Eddie died in 1972 at the age of 36 in Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. His coffin was custom made.

The Jewish Giant is a story of suffering, of not fitting in, of the body betraying itself, and of the bizarre life-twists that can subsume a family. It's a story about what it's like to be a regular person looking at the world from inside a not-so-regular body.

Raoul Wallenberg -Angel of Mercy

Thanks to Steven Spielberg's epic "Schindler's List" millions learned - or were reminded - that there were people during World War II who risked their lives to save Jews. In that dark chapter in human history there was perhaps no greater example than Raoul Wallenberg.

Raoul Wallenberg not only saved 100,000 lives - he saved our faith in humanity ...

Raoul Wallenberg was born in 1912 to a prominent Swedish family that had produced generations of bankers and diplomats. He studied in the United States and graduated with a degree in architecture in 1935. He then worked as a foreign representative for a central European trading company. In 1944, at the request of President Roosevelt and The United States' War Refugees Board, he was sent by the Swedish Foreign Minister to Budapest in an attempt to save the Jewish community of Budapest - the last left in Europe.

Adolf Hitler's plans for the annihilation of the entire Jewish population in German-occupied countries became widely known. Hungary, which had joined forces with Germany in its war against the Soviet Union beginning in 1941, still had about 700,000 Jewish residents as of early 1944.

Raoul Wallenberg's tactic was to issue as many Hungarian Jews as possible with Swedish passports, which normally saved them from deportation to the death camps. Several tens of thousands of Jews were that way saved by Wallenberg or by the embassies of neutral countries inspired by Wallenberg's work.

One of his helpers, future Congressman Tom Lantos, accompanied Raoul Wallenberg to the trains, where Jews were being packed together like animals for their journey to a certain death, and helped the Swede pull people off. "He bluffed his way through," said Tom Lantos. "He had no official authorisation. His only authority was his own courage. Any officer could have shot him to death. But he feared nothing for himself and committed himself totally. It was as if his courage was enough to protect himself from everything."

Raoul Wallenberg even had a number of face-to-face confrontations with Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Nazis' "Final Solution" for the Jews in Hungary. After asking Eichmann: "Look, face it, you've lost the war. Why not give it up now?", the German replied that he was staying to complete unfinished business - the extermination of the Hungarian Jews, and Wallenberg himself. "Don't think you're immune just because you're a diplomat and a neutral!" he threatened. Wallenberg's car was attacked a few days later ...

Holocaust - The Shoah is the systematic slaughter of 11 million people whose lives were cut off because of racism and hate, all in a period of 11 years. The Holocaust was the extermination of people not for who they were but for what they were. Groups such as handicaps, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, political dissidents and others were persecuted by the Nazis because of their religious/political beliefs, physical defects, or failure to fall into the "Aryan" ideal.

Raoul Wallenberg did not use traditional diplomacy. He more or less shocked the other diplomats at the Swedish Legation with his unconventional methods. He successfully used everything from bribery to threats of blackmail. But when the other members of the Legation staff saw the results of Wallenberg's efforts, he quickly gained their full support.

Armed only with courage, determination and imagination, Raoul Wallenberg saved approximately 100,000 Jews from slaughter. He was able to issue thousands of protective passes, purchase and maintain "safe houses" and soup kitchens, secure food, medicine and clothing for the new "Swedish citizens" and the many children orphaned by the Nazi violence. A master of diplomacy, organization, threats, bribery and charm, he brought people back from death trains and death marches.

Raoul Wallenberg

January 1945 Raoul Wallenberg received information that Adolf Eichmann planned a total massacre in the largest ghetto. Wallenberg sent an ally, Szalay, to find General Schmidthuber, the Commander of the German Army in Hungary - the only one who could stop the slaughter. Szalay delivered a note to Schmidthuber explaining that the general would be held personally responsible for the massacre and that he would be hanged as a war criminal after the war was over.

General Scmidthuber cancelled the order at the last minute thanks to Wallenberg's action and more than 70,000 Human lives were saved. Two days later, the Russians arrived and found 97,000 Jews alive in Budapest's two Jewish ghettos. In total 120,000 Jews survived the Nazi extermination in Hungary.

So the Jews did survive the liberation but shortly after this event, Raoul Wallenberg disappeared, never to be seen again. Russian units entered Budapest in 1944 and Wallenberg had to report to Soviet Army Occupation Headquarters in eastern Hungary.

But Wallenberg refused to respond to pleas from his closest colleague to stop risking his life and go into hiding in the Budapest area with other members of the Swedish legation. Wallenberg explained: "For me there’s no choice. I’ve taken on this assignment and I’d never be able to go back to Stockholm without knowing inside myself I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible."

Wallenberg said this on January 10, 1945. Exactly one week later, on January 17, 1945, Wallenberg, then 32, was arrested by the Soviets. The Soviet army took Wallenberg and other diplomats into "protective custody" to Moscow.

Half a century after he disappeared into the Soviet prison system, the fate of Raoul Wallenberg remains a mystery. During the late 1940's and 1950's, foreign officials captured by the Soviet Union began returning home. Raoul Wallenberg was never released. The Soviets claimed that he died of a heart attack in 1947 but there were reported sightings of him in Soviet prison camps over the years.

On February 6, 1957, the Soviets announced that they had made extensive inquiries and had located a document which probably concerned Raoul Wallenberg. The handwritten document stated that “the prisoner Wallenberg, who is known to you, died last night in his cell.” The document was dated July 17, 1947, and was signed Smoltsov, head of the Lyublyanka prison infirmary. The document was addressed to Abakumov, Soviet minister of state security.

But eyewitness and secondhand reports placed Wallenberg in the Soviet Union decades after 1947. The location repeatedly cited: Vladimir prison, 120 miles northeast of Moscow.

President Ronald Reagan approved in 1981 a special Act of Congress making Wallenberg a honorary U.S. citizen, a recognition shared only with one other foreigner - Winston Churchill.

In 1989, on the eve of a visit by Wallenberg's kin, the Soviets surprised them by handing over Wallenberg's personal belongings, including passport, money, a daybook and a permit to carry a pistol. But not his personal papers. The belongings had suddenly been discovered, the Soviets claimed, when a worker happened upon a plain envelope in a storage room ...

In 1990, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, KGB files were opened to an international commission investigating his case, but no conclusive elements were found. The Raoul Wallenberg file had been destroyed, thereby eliminating any evidence to support the Kremlin's claim that Wallenberg died in prison in 1947.

In a ceremony April 1997 at The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, located on Raoul Wallenberg Place, Raoul Wallenberg was honored by the U.S. Postal Service, which April 24 issued a postal stamp bearing his likeness. Over 96 million stamps were printed, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

April 2000 The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation asked the Russian government and the Vatican to release all files concerning "Missing Persons" - among them Raoul Wallenberg's. The Foundation intended to exhaust all resources to arrive at the information regarding Raoul Wallenberg's whereabouts. The Foundation was working closely with Raoul Wallenberg's family and its actions were supported by U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, whose wife is Raoul Wallenberg's niece, and by politicians worldwide.

On Friday December 22, 2000, Russia formally rehabilitated Raoul Wallenberg, saying the Swedish diplomat had been a victim of Soviet repression. The general prosecutor's office said in a statement it had decided to rehabilitate Wallenberg and his driver. It said the men had been 'unjustifiably arrested by non-judicial bodies and deprived of their freedom for political reasons, as socially dangerous individuals, and without being charged with concrete offences.'

The prosecutor's office said the two men should have benefited from diplomatic immunity and should not have been held as prisoners of war as Sweden was neutral during World War Two. It said they had been held for more than two and a half years on suspicion of spying for foreign intelligence 'until their deaths in a Soviet prison.'

In Israel, in Jerusalem, there is a memorial to the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during WWII - Yad Vashem, erected in 1953. A street called “Avenue of the Righteous” runs through the area. A steady breeze blows through the leaves of the 600 trees that line the street in straight rows. They were all planted to honor the memory of non-Jewish individuals who risked their lives to save the Jews from the Nazi executioners.

One of these trees bears the name of Raoul Wallenberg - an honor awarded to him in 1966 for his most noble principles of humanity by risking his life to save Jews during the Holocaust ...

Mystery of Holocaust hero - Raoul Wallenberg

Scholars run down more clues to a Holocaust mystery

By ARTHUR MAX and RANDY HERSCHAFT, Associated Press Writers Sun Apr 27, 3:51 PM ET

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Budapest, November 1944: Another German train has loaded its cargo of Jews bound for Auschwitz. A young Swedish diplomat pushes past the SS guard and scrambles onto the roof of a cattle car.

Raoul Wallenberg saved 1000s from the Nazis then vanished after World War II.

File photo of Raoul Wallenberg (AP)
This undated file photo shows World War II hero Raoul Wallenberg. (AP Photo/FILE) Ignoring shots fired over his head, he reaches through the open door to outstretched hands, passing out dozens of bogus "passports" that extended Sweden's protection to the bearers. He orders everyone with a document off the train and into his caravan of vehicles. The guards look on, dumbfounded.
Raoul Wallenberg was a minor official of a neutral country, with an unimposing appearance and gentle manner. Recruited and financed by the U.S., he was sent into Hungary to save Jews. He bullied, bluffed and bribed powerful Nazis to prevent the deportation of 20,000 Hungarian Jews to concentration camps, and averted the massacre of 70,000 more people in Budapest's ghetto by threatening to have the Nazi commander hanged as a war criminal.

Then, on Jan. 17, 1945, days after the Soviets moved into Budapest, the 32-year-old Wallenberg and his Hungarian driver, Vilmos Langfelder, drove off under a Russian security escort, and vanished forever.

And because he was a rare flicker of humanity in the man-made hell of the Holocaust, the world has celebrated him ever since. Streets have been named after him and his face has been on postage stamps. And researchers have wrestled with two enduring mysteries: Why was Wallenberg arrested, and did he really die in Soviet custody in 1947?

Researchers have sifted through hundreds of purported sightings of Wallenberg into the 1980s, right down to plotting his movements from cell to cell while in custody. And fresh documents are to become public which might cast light on another puzzle: Whether Wallenberg was connected, directly or indirectly, to a super-secret wartime U.S. intelligence agency known as "the Pond," operating as World War II was drawing to a close and the Soviets were growing increasingly suspicious of Western intentions in eastern Europe.

Speculation that Wallenberg was engaged in espionage has been rife since the Central Intelligence Agency acknowledged in the 1990s that he had been recruited for his rescue mission by an agent of the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, which later became the CIA.

About the Pond, little is known. But later this year the CIA is to release a stash of Pond-related papers accidentally discovered in a Virginia barn in 2001. These are the papers of John Grombach, who headed the Pond from its creation in 1942. CIA officials say they should be turned over to the National Archives in College Park, Md.

In February, the Swedish government posted an online database of 1,000 documents and testimonies related to Wallenberg's disappearance. In a few months, independent investigators plan to launch a Web site with their nearly 20-year research into Russian archives and prison records. Russia is building a Museum of Tolerance that will feature once-classified documents on Wallenberg. And the CIA last year relaxed its guidelines to reveal details of its sources and intelligence-gathering methods in the case.

Despite dozens of books and hundreds of documents on Wallenberg, much remains hidden. The Kremlin has failed to find or deliver dozens of files, Sweden has declined to open all its books, and The Associated Press has learned as many as 100,000 pages of declassified OSS documents await processing at the National Archives.

The Russians say Wallenberg died in prison in 1947, but never produced a proper death certificate or his remains.

But independent research suggests he may have lived many years — perhaps until the late 1980s. If true, he likely was held in isolation, stripped of his identity, known only by a number or a false name and moving like a phantom among Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric institutions.

In 1991, the Russian government assigned Vyacheslav Nikonov, deputy head of the KGB intelligence service, to spend months searching classified archives about Wallenberg.

"I think I found all the existing documents," Nikonov e-mailed The Associated Press last month. The Soviets believed Wallenberg had been a spy, he said, but unlike many political detainees he never had a trial.

Nikonov's conclusion: "Shot in 1947."

Later in 1991, Russia and Sweden launched a joint investigation that lasted 10 years but failed to reach a joint conclusion.

The 2001 Swedish report said: "There is no fully reliable proof of what happened to Raoul Wallenberg," and listed 17 unanswered questions.

The Russian report bluntly said, "Wallenberg died, or most likely was killed, on July 17, 1947." It named Viktor Abakumov, the head of the "Smersh" counterintelligence agency, as responsible for the execution and cover-up. It said the Russians consider the Wallenberg case "resolved."

Unsatisfied, independent consultants and academics have kept digging, analyzing, reassessing old information and pressing for the Kremlin to release missing files.


Wallenberg arrived in Budapest in July 1944. With the knowledge of his government, his task as first secretary to the Swedish diplomatic legation was a cover for his true mission as secret emissary of the U.S. War Refugee Board, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a belated attempt to stem the annihilation of Europe's Jews.

In the previous two months, 440,000 Hungarian Jews had been shipped to Auschwitz for extermination. They were among the last of six million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust.

Of the 230,000 who remained in the Hungarian capital in mid-1944, 100,000 survived the war.

After the Red Army arrived in January, Wallenberg went to see the Russian military commander to discuss postwar reconstruction and restitution of Jewish property. Two days later he returned under Russian escort to collect some personal effects, then was never seen in public again.

And what did his country — or his influential cousins — do about it?

Looking back a half century later, the Swedish government acknowledged that its own passive response to the detention of one of its diplomats was astounding, and that it had missed several chances to win his freedom.

"The worst mistakes were done in the first two years," said Hans Magnusson, the Swedish co-chairman of the 10-year investigation with the Russians. Sweden felt intimidated by the mighty Soviets and unwilling to challenge them, he said.

In the mid-1950s, the Swedes pursued the case more aggressively, prompting a memorandum from Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in 1957 that Wallenberg had died of heart failure in detention 10 years earlier — at age 34.

As more testimony came in that Wallenberg was still alive, Stockholm periodically raised the issue with Moscow — but without results, said Magnusson, interviewed in the Netherlands where he is now ambassador.

Sweden could have pushed harder, he said, "but I doubt it would have achieved more."

"It is inconceivable," says Wallenberg's half-sister, Nina Lagergren. "Here is a man sent out by the Swedish government to risk his life. He saved thousands of people — and he was left to rot."


Some time around 1994, Susan Mesinai, who had by then been researching the Wallenberg case for five years, visited Lucette Colvin Kelsey, Wallenberg's cousin, at her home in Connecticut. After lunch, Kelsey caught up with Mesinai as she got into the car and told her: "Raoul was working for the highest levels of government."

"So I said to her, 'How high? Do you mean the president?' And she nodded her head," Mesinai said, disclosing to AP a conversation she had kept confidential for 14 years.

Kelsey's father, Col. William Colvin, had been the U.S. military attache in the Swedish capital around the time of World War I. Wallenberg spent vacations in the 1930s with the Colvin family while he earned a degree in architecture at the University of Michigan. Kelsey, who was a year younger than her cousin, died in 1996.

Rather than clarify anything, Kelsey's cryptic remark only deepened the fog.

Wallenberg's rescue mission inevitably placed him in a vortex of intrigue and espionage involving the Hungarian resistance, the Jewish underground, communists working for the Soviets, and British, U.S. and Swedish intelligence operations. He also had regular contact with Adolf Eichmann and other Nazis running the deportation of Jews.

Whether or not he himself was passing on intelligence, Russia had plenty of reason to suspect him of spying, either for the Allies or Germany — or both.

"Wallenberg had ties to all the major actors in Hungary," says Susanne Berger, a German researcher who collaborated with the Swedish-Russian research project.

The Stockholm chief of the War Refugee Board, Iver C. Olsen, was also a key member of the 35-man OSS station in the Swedish capital, and it was he who recruited Wallenberg, who in turn kept the U.S. connection secret by sending his communications through Swedish diplomatic channels.

Olsen's OSS personnel file — unpublished until the AP viewed it at the National Archives — revealed that the American was cited for using his position at the War Refugee Board "in gathering important information for the OSS and for the State Department."

In 1955 Olsen denied to the CIA that Wallenberg ever spied for the OSS, and Mesinai and Berger offer a different likelihood: that the Swede was a source for the Pond, which was a rival to the OSS known only to Roosevelt and a few insiders in the War and State Departments.

A small clandestine intelligence-gathering operation, the Pond relied on contacts in private corporations and hand-picked embassy personnel. It worked closely with the Dutch electronics company N.V. Philips, "which had access to 'enemy' territory as well as a far-flung corporation intelligence apparatus in its own right," said former CIA analyst Mark Stout who wrote a brief unofficial history of the Pond.

So far, no evidence has emerged that Wallenberg worked for the Pond, and Stout said in an interview he had not seen Wallenberg mentioned in any papers he has reviewed.

But their circles of contacts intersected at several points, including members of the Hungarian resistance and possibly the Philips connection.

"The Pond was centered around President Roosevelt's office and rumors of a special mission, intelligence or otherwise, for Raoul Wallenberg have persisted through the years," said Berger, who suspects the Soviets knew about the agency.

It may have been just one more reason for Stalin to order his arrest, she said. Regardless of whether Wallenberg was involved, "the Pond's activities clearly would have served to enhance Soviet paranoia about Allied activities and aims in Hungary."

Hungarian historian Laszlo Ritter, of the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said the Philips company also was providing cover for Britain's MI6 intelligence service. One of its crucial agents in the Balkans was Lolle Smit, who was knighted after the war by both Britain and his native Holland.

One month before Wallenberg arrived, Smit fled Budapest for Romania, from where he continued to control his network, Ritter said, but he left his family behind.

Smit's daughter, Berber Smit, worked with Wallenberg in his rescue efforts — and "had a romance with him," according to her son, Alan Hogg.

Ritter said Hungarian war files show no direct tie between Wallenberg and Smit, or between the diplomat and British intelligence. At the same time, MI6 used the Swedish legation at least twice to smuggle out information, and helped give false papers to Jews and the anti-fascist resistance, he said.

When the OSS wanted to dispatch a radio to the Hungarian underground leader Geza Soos, it sent the transmitter with a Swedish intelligence officer and told him Wallenberg would know how to contact Soos.

Wallenberg's very name may have been enough to arouse Russian distrust. Throughout the war, his cousins Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg, the czars of a banking and industrial empire, had done business in Germany, producing the ball bearings that kept its army on the move.

The Wallenbergs also were involved in discreet, unsuccessful peace efforts between the Allies and Germany, which Stalin feared would leave him excluded — a foretaste of global realignment that would lead to the Cold War.


In December 1993, investigator Marvin Makinen of the University of Chicago interviewed Varvara Larina, a retired orderly at Moscow's Vladimir Prison since 1946. She remembered a foreigner who was kept in solitary confinement on the third floor of Korpus 2, a building used both as a hospital and isolation ward.

Though it was decades earlier, the prisoner stood out in Larina's memory. He spoke Russian with an accent and "complained about everything," she said. He repeatedly griped that the soup was cold by the time Larina delivered it. Prison authorities ordered her to serve him first.

"This is very unusual," Makinen said in an interview. Normally, such complaints would condemn an inmate to a punishment cell. "The fact that he wasn't means he was a very special prisoner."

When shown a gallery of photographs, Larina immediately picked out Wallenberg's — one never published before, Makinen said.

She recalled he was in the opposite cell when another prisoner, Kirill Osmak, died in May 1960.

That was enough for Makinen and Chicago colleague Ari Kaplan to roughly pinpoint the cell of Larina's foreigner. Creating a database of cell occupancy from the prison's registration cards, they found two units opposite Osmak's that were reported empty for 243 and 717 days respectively.

Normally, cells were left vacant for a week at most, Makinen said. The researchers concluded that those two cells likely held special prisoners, namelessly concealed in the gulag.

Mesinai and others reviewed hundreds of accounts over the decades of people who claimed to have seen or heard of someone who could have been Wallenberg. They established a pattern of sightings, even though many individual reports were considered unreliable, uncorroborated, deliberate hoaxes or cases of mistaken identity with other Swedish prisoners.

Some stories, like Larina's, ring particularly true.

One compelling account came in 1961. Swedish physician Nanna Svartz asked an eminent Russian scientist about Wallenberg during a medical congress in Moscow. Lowering his voice, the Russian told her that Wallenberg was at a psychiatric hospital and "not in very good shape."

The Russian, Alexandr Myasnikov, later claimed he had been misunderstood, but Svartz stood firm. His remark, she later reported, "came spontaneously. He went pale as soon as he said it, and appeared to understand that he had said too much."

A few years later the Soviets sent out feelers for a possible spy swap. Envoys indicated Moscow was ready to "compensate" Sweden if it freed Stig Wennerstromm, a Swedish air force officer who had spied for the Kremlin for 15 years.

Though Wallenberg's name was never mentioned, he was considered the only prize worth exchanging for such a high-value spy. The intermediary was Wolfgang Vogel, an East German lawyer who engineered many Cold War prisoner exchanges. But years of halfhearted negotiation ended in no deal.


Nina Lagergren keeps a small wooden box in the cellar of her comfortable Stockholm home. The Russians gave it to her in 1989 when she visited Moscow. It contains her half-brother's diplomatic passport, a stack of currency, a Swedish license for the pistol he bought but never used, and two telephone diaries. Among the entries are Eichmann and Berber Smit, the daughter of the Dutch spy.

They also gave the family a copy of Wallenberg's "death certificate," handwritten and unstamped.

"They anticipated that I would get very moved and understand there was no more hope," Lagergren said.

Instead it reinforced her belief that Wallenberg had lived beyond 1947 and perhaps was even then alive. "This proved we could go on," she said. Today he would be 95, and she concedes he must be dead.

If indeed Wallenberg's death in 1947 was a lie, the question remains: Why was he never freed?

The 2001 Swedish report speculated that the longer he was held, the harder it was for the Soviets to release him. Still, "it would have been exceptional to order the execution of a diplomat from a neutral country. It might have appeared simpler to keep him in isolation," the report said.

The search continues.

Berger, the independent researcher, has submitted a new, detailed request to Moscow to release files on prisoners who shared cells with the missing diplomat and on other foreigners in the gulag; Mesinai hopes to study psychiatric facilities where Wallenberg may have been confined; Ritter, the Hungarian researcher, is tracing the British spy network of Lolle Smit; and historians are awaiting the release of the Pond papers.

Whatever any of this reveals, a 1979 State Department memo puts these questions into perspective: "Whether or not Wallenberg was involved in espionage during World War II is a moot point at this stage in history. His obvious humanitarian acts certainly outweigh any conceivable 'spy' mission he may have been on."


A medley of Klezmer favorites played by Clarinetist Tom Puwalski, with the worlds largest klezmer band, The United States Army Field Band. These were the final notes I played as an active duty member or the US Army

Samy El Maghribi et l'orchestre d'Oujda

Doctor Heads List of Wanted Nazis

BADEN-BADEN, Germany (April 29) - Karl Lotter, a prisoner who worked in the hospital at Mauthausen concentration camp, had no trouble remembering the first time he watched SS doctor Aribert Heim kill a man.
It was 1941, and an 18-year-old Jew had been sent to the clinic with a foot inflammation. Heim asked him about himself and why he was so fit. The young man said he had been a soccer player and swimmer.

Then, instead of treating the prisoner's foot, Heim anesthetized him, cut him open, castrated him, took apart one kidney and removed the second, Lotter said. The victim's head was removed and the flesh boiled off so that Heim could keep it on display.

"He needed the head because of its perfect teeth," Lotter, a non-Jewish political prisoner, recalled in testimony eight years later that was included in an Austrian warrant for Heim's arrest uncovered by The Associated Press. "Of all the camp doctors in Mauthausen, Dr. Heim was the most horrible."

But Heim managed to avoid prosecution, his American-held file in Germany mysteriously omitting his time at Mauthausen, and today he is the most-wanted suspected Nazi war criminal on a list of hundreds who the Simon Wiesenthal Center estimates are still free.

Heim would be 93 today and "we have good reason to believe he is still alive," said Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's top Nazi hunter. He spoke in a telephone interview from Jerusalem ahead of the center's plans to release a most-wanted list Wednesday, and to open a media campaign in South America this summer highlighting the $485,000 reward for Heim's arrest posted by the center along with Germany and Austria.

According to an advance copy of the list obtained by the AP, the most wanted, after Heim, are: John Demjanjuk, fighting deportation from the U.S., which says he was a guard at several death and forced labor camps; Sandor Kepiro, a Hungarian accused of involvement in the wartime killings of than 1,000 civilians in Serbia; Milivoj Asner, a wartime Croatian police chief now living in Austria and suspected of an active role in deporting hundreds of Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies to their death; and Soeren Kam, a former member of the SS wanted by Denmark for the assassination of a journalist in 1943. His extradition from Germany was blocked in 2007 by a Bavarian court that found insufficient evidence for murder charges.

The hunt for Heim has taken investigators from the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg all around the world. Besides his home country of Austria and neighboring Germany where he settled after the war, tips have come from Uruguay in 1998, Spain, Switzerland and Chile in 2005, and Brazil in 2006, said Heinz Heister, presiding judge of the Baden-Baden state court, where Heim was indicted in absentia on hundreds of counts of murder in 1979.

Thousands of German war criminals were prosecuted in West Germany after World War II. In the 1970s Western democracies began a hunt in earnest for Eastern European collaborators who had fled West claiming to be refugees from communism, and the end of the Cold War gave access to a trove of communist files in the 1990s.

"All of a sudden there was pressure on countries like Latvia and Estonia to put these people on trial," Zuroff said. "So two times in the past 30 years we've been given a tremendous infusion of new energy and new possibilities."

The Wiesenthal Center's previous annual survey counted 1,019 investigations under way worldwide. The number is lower this year and inexact because not all countries responded, but new investigations were up from 63 to 202, Zuroff said.

Still, a lack of political will in many countries, and what Zuroff called the "misplaced-sympathy syndrome" — reluctance to pursue aging suspects — has meant that few people have been brought to trial and convicted.

Lotter, the witness to Heim's atrocity, was in Mauthausen because he fought with the communists in the Spanish Civil War. His statement from the 1950 arrest warrant was viewed by the AP at the National Archives in College Park, Md.

Now that the necessary evidence is in place, numerous witness statements have been taken and Heim has been indicted, all that's left is to find him.

Born June 28, 1914 in Radkersburg, Austria, Heim joined the local Nazi party in 1935, three years before Austria was bloodlessly annexed by Germany.

He later joined the Waffen SS and was assigned to Mauthausen, a concentration camp near Linz, Austria, as a camp doctor in October and November 1941.

While there, witnesses told investigators, he worked closely with SS pharmacist Erich Wasicky on such gruesome experiments as injecting various solutions into Jewish prisoners' hearts to see which killed them the fastest.

But while Wasicky was brought to trial by an American Military Tribunal in 1946 and sentenced to death, along with other camp medical personnel and commanders, Heim, who was a POW in American custody, was not among them.

Heim's file in the Berlin Document Center, the then-U.S.-run depot for Nazi-era papers, was apparently altered to obliterate any mention of Mauthausen, according to his 1979 German indictment, obtained by the AP. Instead, for the period he was known to be at the concentration camp, he was listed as having a different SS assignment.

This "cannot be correct," the indictment says. "It is possible that through data manipulation the short assignment at the same time to the (concentration camp) was concealed."

There is no indication who might have been responsible.

The U.S. Army Intelligence file on Heim could shed light on his wartime and postwar activities, and is among hundreds of thousands transferred to the U.S. National Archives. But the Army's electronic format is such that staff have so far only been able to access about half of them, and these don't include the file requested by the AP.

Heim was relatively well-known, however, having been a national hockey player in Austria before the war, and there were plenty of witnesses from his time at Mauthausen.

Austrian authorities sent the 1950 arrest warrant to American authorities in Germany who initially agreed to turn him over, then told the Austrians, in a Dec. 21, 1950 letter obtained by the AP, that they couldn't trace him.

What happened next is unclear, but in 1958 Heim apparently felt comfortable enough to buy a 42-unit apartment block in Berlin, listing it in his own name with a home address in Mannheim, according to purchase documents obtained by the AP. He then moved to the nearby resort town of Baden-Baden and opened a gynecological clinic — also under his own name, Heister said.

In 1961 German authorities were alerted and began an investigation, but when they finally went to arrest him in September 1962, they just missed him — he apparently had been tipped off.

Heim continued to live off the rents collected from the Berlin apartments until 1979 when the building was confiscated by German authorities.

Proof that he is alive may lie in the fact that no one has claimed his estate. Heim has two sons in Germany and a daughter who lived in Chile but whose current whereabouts are unknown.

In Frankfurt, Heim's lawyer said he still officially represents the fugitive, but has not heard from him for 20 years and has "no clue" to his whereabouts.

Asked in a telephone interview if Heim was dead, Fritz Steinacker said only: "I don't know."

Ruediger Heim, one of the sons, would not comment when telephoned at his Baden-Baden villa.

"All I can say is that it has been implied that I am in contact with my father, and that is absolutely false," he said. "The rest is speculation, and I can't enter into that."

Associated Press investigative researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report from New York and Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Yossi Harel, commander of Exodus, dies at 90

The man who commanded the clandestine operations that brought in four ships carrying some 24,000 illegal immigrants between 1945 and 1948, Yossi Harel, died yesterday in Tel Aviv at the age of 90.

The writer Yoram Kaniuk, a friend of Harel, told Haaretz that when the ships he commanded sailed past the coast of Turkey, Harel would think of the Armenian village in Franz Werfel's novel "40 Days of Musa Dagh," which described the Armenian genocide. "He loved the Armenian people and felt close to them," Kaniuk said, adding that he wanted to mention Harel's sensitivity to the Armenians as a sign of the great humanitarianism and compassion that were central to his Harel's character.

Harel was born in 1919, a sixth-generation Jerusalemite. He joined the Haganah at age 15 and later became part of the unit commanded by Orde Wingate, where he earned a reputation for bravery. Kaniuk related that David Ben-Gurion and Shaul Avigur (commander of the Aliyah Bet illegal immigration campaign and founder of Shai, the Haganah intelligence service) had marked him out as suitable to command the clandestine immigration ships because in addition to his leadership skills and fighting prowess, "there was something very hevreman [sociable] about him. He was not the kind of clap-you-on-the-back hero. He was a man of manners, the type who didn't raise his voice. He was a man of conscience and a daring fighter." He was also sensitive, and showed special care for women about to give birth on the ship, Kaniuk said.

Kaniuk also said, "Many of the sabras were snobs. They felt like heroes and did not show great sensitivity to the [Holocaust] survivors. It was hard for them to get in touch with their Jewishness. To Yossi, his Jewishness was important, as someone who had grown up in Jerusalem and not in Tel Aviv or on a kibbutz."

Harel commanded the major clandestine immigrant operations, including four ships: Knesset Israel, The Exodus, Atzma'ut and Kibbutz Galuyot. By the time he was 28 he had been responsible for about 24,000 immigrants had come in under his command, more than one-third of those smuggled into the country secretly between 1945 and 1948.

The Exodus, whose captain was Yitzhak "Ike" Aharonovich, went down in history for its heroic voyage from France in July 1947, carrying 4,500 Holocaust survivors, and the fight for months to keep it from being turned back by the British. Eventually the ship was forced back to Europe and sailed to Hamburg, Germany.

But the high point in Harel's career was not the more famous Exodus, according to an earlier article in Haaretz by historian Dr. Aviva Halamish. It was the two-and-a-half week voyage of the Knesset Israel. The ship set sail in November 1946 from Yugoslavia with 4,000 souls on boad. According to Halamish, this voyage brought to the fore the contrasts between the Yishuv, the Jewish community in pre-state Israel, and the clandestine immigrants, who were Holocaust survivors and "carried their struggle with them." Inspired by the story of the Knesset Israel, the poet Natan Alterman wrote in the newspaper Davar of the "division of labor" between the two groups.

Harel later went on to study mechanical engineering in the United States. He was called back by Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Dayan to command Unit 131, the intelligence unit that operated the Israeli spy ring that collapsed in Egypt in 1954. Eventually, Harel left the army and went into business.

Harel is to be buried tomorrow at Kibbutz Sdot Yam, near Caesarea.

A Jewish refugee remembers

his letter was written by Leon Wahba who lives in Louisville, Kentucky. I am but one of nearly 1 million Jewish refugees from the Arab world who were compelled to leave their homes, separate from their families and emigrate to distant and unknown new lands. Anti-Jewish riots and discriminatory government measures during and directly following the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, '56 and '67 resulted in a huge exodus of Jews from Arab countries throughout the region. As the tension between Israel and its Arab neighbors intensified, confiscation of private property, limitations on employment and incitement to violence against local Jewish communities was the norm.

We were a close-knit extended family that had been living in Cairo, Egypt, for generations. When we arrived in Louisville in 1959, we were warmly greeted at the train station by members of the local Jewish community, and through the Jewish Community Federation of Louisville we were provided with housing, jobs and assistance in settling into our new home. It was this kind assistance that I have tried to pay back over the last 49 years.

My cousins from the Cairo of my childhood now live in Israel, Australia, Canada, France, Belgium, Italy, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela, as well as the United States. In each case, their stories greatly resemble mine; local Jewish families helping their fellow Jews from all parts of the world. Today, thanks to the generosity and support of fellow Jews, I and each and every one of the nearly 1 million Jews from Arab countries, have all been safely and comfortably settled. We are loyal, patriotic and contributing citizens of each of the democratic nations that provided us a haven from Arab anti-Semitism. Today, not a single one of us lives in a hate-breeding, squalid refugee camp.

The recent resolution passed in the U.S. Congress (H.R. 185) acknowledging the injustices committed against Jews from Arab lands was long overdue. Neither I nor the resolution, however, asks the government of Egypt or any other Arab country for any direct compensation or other financial reparations for myself or my community.

I would much prefer instead for the Arab world, much of it rich in oil money, to provide their Palestinian brethren with the same kind of compassion and support that the Jews from around the world so generously provided their co-religionists from Arab countries.

The Bigio Family Versus Coca Cola

Coca Cola spokeswoman Crystal Warwell Walker has refused to accept questions relating to its years-long struggle with a Jewish family, the Bigios, who seeking compensation over an anti-Jewish asset seizure that benefited the cola conglomerate.

By way of background, the Bigio family, Egyptian Jews now residing in Canada, owned land and assets for decades in Egypt until they were confiscated and nationalized in the 1960s during the illegal anti-Semitic excesses of the Nasser regime. Those nationalized and confiscated assets were woven into a larger company called the El Nasr Bottling Company or ENBC. Decades later, in 1994, ENBC was sold to Coca-Cola during a privatization move that allowed Coke to reap millions in annual profits.

However, an examination of company correspondence and other documents related to the case by this reporter revealed that Coke officials were amply warned by the Bigios that the cola giant was about to embark upon a multi-million acquisition which included illegally confiscated Jewish assets. Coca-Cola attorneys were in fact negotiating with the Bigios for compensation throughout the first months of 1994 prior to the firm’s sudden $142 million acquisition of ENBC and the Bigio’s assets, corporate documents show. An international lawsuit against Coke by the Bigios ensued and continues to this day.

The Zionist Organization of America took up the Bigio cause in 2007, threatening a boycott and protest. But Coca-Cola officials persuaded ZOA executive director Mort Klein to postpone his protest and allow good faith negotiations to proceed. A year of inaction followed, according to Klein.

Google for Jews

By using ISROOGLE instead of GOOGLE as your search engine, every visit to a website will award one penny from Google to Isroogle. These funds, in turn, will be used to support organizations in Israel, such as Magen David Adom, Zaka, Ezer Mizion.

Check out the site:

Monday, April 28, 2008

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Haikus for Jews by David M Bader

In the ice sculpture
reflected bar mitzvah guests
nosh on chopped liver

The sparkling blue sea
beckons me to wait one hour
after my sandwich

Cherry blossoms bloom.
Sure, it's beautiful, but is
it good for the Jews?

Is one Nobel Prize
so much to ask from a child
after all I've done?

Monarch butterfly,
I know your name used to be

Five thousand years a
wandering people – then we
found the cabanas.

How soft the petals
of the flower arrangement
I have just stolen.

Enough already.
Would it kill you to buy a
copy of the book?

The Jewish Pirate

This article is about the most famous Jewish Pirate, Jean Lafitte.Anonymous portrait said to be of Jean Lafitte in the early 19th century, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas

It was written by a former professor from Temple University, Professor Bernard Glick:**

Many of the pirates of the Caribbean were Sephardic Jews who turned to piracy to get revenge on the Spanish Catholics who expelled them from Spain in 1492, murdered their families and stole their property.

Six of Barbarossa's chief officers were Jewish! This article sheds light on one of The most famous Jewish Pirates: Jean Lafitte the Jewish Pirate.

One of the things I do since I retired from Philadelphia's Temple University is lecture on cruise ships. My signature talk is the 50-century old history of piracy whose practitioners I call the Seafaring Gangsters of the World.

A few weeks before my first gig, I sent a draft of the talk to my history buff sister, Phyllis. She liked it, but was very unhappy that I had not mentioned Jean Lafitte. I told her I didn't include him because I intended to deal with the economics, the sociology, and the politics of piracy.

She said I simply had to talk about Lafitte because he was unique.
He was a Sephardic Jew.

Anonymous portrait said to be of Jean Lafitte in the early 19th century, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas

In his prime, Lafitte ran not just one pirate sloop but a whole fleet of them simultaneously. He even bought a blacksmith shop in New Orleans, which he used as a front for fencing pirate loot. And he was one of the few buccaneers who didn't die in battle, in prison, or on the gallows. Though I didn't lecture about Lafitte at first, a circumstance of serendipity has made me do so ever since. I was flying to Norfolk, Virginia. The man in the seat next to me wore a skullcap and he began chatting with me in Gaelic-accented English. Though born in France, the friendly passenger now lives in Switzerland. We quickly established that we were both Jewish and that both of us had taught in Israel.

Then we had the following conversation: What are you doing on this plane? I asked. *
*I'm a mathematician. I work for an American company and I'm flying to Norfolk today because it has the US Navy's largest naval base and my company is trying to get a Navy contract. Now, what are you doing on this plane?

My wife and I are picking up a cruise ship in Norfolk.

Taking a vacation?*

*Not entirely. I'll be giving lectures on the ship...... as many, in fact, as there are full days at sea. *

*What do you lecture about?

Since cruise lines frown on controversial topics. I have talked about Israel once or twice, but I usually talk about Latin America, which is my second specialty, or the Panama Canal or Mexico's Isthmus of Tehantepec, or the voyages of Captain Cook to the South Pacific.

But I always begin a cruise with a lecture on pirates. The kids love it and the old folks like it too.

Are you going to talk about Jean Lafitte?*

*No. And I repeated what my sister had told me.

He pulled out his wallet and handed me a business card. It had Melvyn J. Lafitte written on it.

Then he said, I am a direct descendent of Jean Lafitte. Your sister, Phyllis, is absolutely right. Our family, originally named Lefitto, lived in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries.

When Ferdinand and Isabella re-conquered Spain and expelled the Jews in 1492, most of the Jews fled to North Africa. Others went to the Balkans or to Greece and Turkey. But some Sephardic Jews, my ancestors among them, crossed the Pyrenees and settled in France, where Jean was born in about 1780. He moved to French Santo Domingo during the Napoleonic period. However, a slave rebellion forced him to flee to New Orleans.

Eventually he became a pirate, but he always called himself a privateer because that label has a more legal ring to it.

*** In 1814, the British sought his aid in their pending attack on New Orleans.
However, he passed their plans to the Americans and helped General Andrew Jackson beat them in 1815. A grateful Jackson, not yet President, saw to it that Lafitte and his family became American citizens. And, by the way, did you know that there is a town of Jean Lafitte, as well as a Jean Lafitte National Historical Park in Southwestern Louisiana?*

*I was flabbergasted, not so much by the saga of Jean Lafitte as retold by a proud descendant, but by the fact that the two of us had met so coincidentally in the skies over Georgia. Melvyn Lafitte lives in Genevaand I live in Portland, Oregon.
These cities are 5,377 miles apart.

Unlike him, I am mathematically challenged, so I don't know what the statistical probability is that a descendant of the Franco-Jewish-American pirate Jean Lafitte would board an airplane and sit next to me as I was agonizing over whether to mention his famous ancestor in my forthcoming talk.

Jewish history is replete with vivid coloring*


Friday, April 25, 2008

Seder in Mali

Here is a recounting of a seder in Mali complete with lettuce hanging from trees, torrential rains, mango-based charoset, and several haggadot shipped from the united states. Jess and Ari, our seder-leading beacons of light, can make just about anything accessible to anyone by identifying the core themes and creating gateways while staying true to the source. It’s really amazing.

Jessica and Ari's Seders in Mali

As Jess was taking a shower to prepare for the first night of Hag, she heard Ari from inside the latrine walls talking with our host sister Djeneba. “I be se k’an ka farini ani buuru be san?” he asked her in a serious voice. (Can you buy all of our flower and bread goods?) “Seli a be na ani an ka kanka farini ani buuru be feeri,” he explained (We’re about to start our holiday and we need to sell all of our flour and bread things”). There was silence. “Djeneba?” Ari prompted. “You want me to buy all that from you?” she asked. “Are we going to put it all in my room? Or in our host mom’s room? And what are we going to do with all of it?” She didn’t question why Ari would want to sell these items to her, but she was concerned about how the logistics would work. “We’ll just leave all of the stuff in my room,” Ari reassured her. “Wait a second,” Djeneba said. “Let me make sure I understand. You’re saying you want me to buy it from you so you can leave it in your room?” “Yes,” he replied. “You’re going to buy it from me and you’re going to leave it in my room.” “So,” she said, “it’s going to be in your room but it’s going to be mine, not yours?” “Exactly!” Ari explained, “and I’ll sell this entire bucket full of wheat products to you for 10fcfa” (i.e., 2 zuzim).

Ari and Djeneba drew up a formal contract, but selling our Hametz was the least of our challenges. Because the first Seder fell on a Saturday night, we needed to figure out how to prepare the Seder meal without cooking and also without access to refrigerators, electricity, hotplates, or coolers. This had to happen in the middle of the hottest point of the hot season in Mali, where the heat rises well above 100 degrees every day. For the first Seder, we decided to prepare one of our favorite meals in Mali: salad. We preordered the vegetables and hardboiled eggs. We knew we would have many guests, so we ordered an enormous tub of lettuce, which arrived in a big wagon that was wheeled to our house by a neighbor who showed up with a big smile. Several women from the neighborhood gathered to help us wash the vegetables for the salad. As is the custom here, where there are no salad spinners, all of the lettuce was wrapped in a huge piece of thin, clean, cotton fabric and hung from a clothesline so that the water could drip out. By this point, it was well over 100 degrees. Derik, who is a small golden puppy who lives with us is an expert at finding the coolest spots in the courtyard area of our host family’s home naturally settled right below the enormous sack of dripping lettuce. Jessica, who was also rather warm by this point, went to join Derik under the lettuce, peeling onions while water ran down her head.

As the salad was drying, we got out the ingredients to start making the charoset, but just as we were about to start, the winds came. High speed winds tearing branches off of the trees and overturning everything quickly brought with it torrential rain, one of the first rains of the year. We scrambled quickly to take the salad down from the clothesline and brought it inside so that it would not get caught in the whirlwind of dust and rain. Jessica and Derik were overjoyed at the sudden change in temperature and refused to seek cover, standing in the rain until they were soaked. Finally, when they came inside, we started preparing the charoset as the winds roared around the house, and the entire courtyard got flooded. For the charoset, we decided to use mainly local ingredients: fresh mangoes, dried lemon mangoes, cashews, dried cashew apples, dark local honey, lime juice, and a few apples from South Africa. We sat on a mat on the ground with our host mom Nana and sister Seytou, cutting up ingredients for the charoset.
We prepared for the Seder using three different haggadas: the yellow-and-red traditional one that was mailed to us by Ari’s parents from Maryland, the Reconstructionist Haggadah of Northern Virginia, which came from Jessica’s first-year advisor at Brown, and a Haggadah prepared by our friend Frances for a Seder she led in Jordan several years go. Each provided inspiration for relating Yetziyat Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt, to modern day inequalities and injustices.

These three haggadahs, though they were from different backgrounds and traditions, all shared the common introductory proclamation, “All those who are hungry, come and eat! All those who are oppressed, come and make the Passover Seder with us!” From that point on, however, the haggadahs we consulted referred to the hungry, suffering, marginalized, and enslaved as though they were not present at the Seder. For ourselves, this was the first time we would be discussing the Jew’s freedom from slavery in Mitzrayim with friends and neighbors who are still bound by great adversity on a daily basis. All the haggadahs instructed us to view ourselves as if we were personally slaves in Mitzrayim on our way to freedom, but although they expressed solidarity with those who are suffering, they also contained the implicit assumption that everyone involved in the Seder would be engaging in an act of creative memory, conducting the Seder from a place of relative freedom and comfort.

For our Seder guests, however, slavery, oppression, marginalization, hunger, and daily suffering would not be a distant historical memory. How would we frame the narrative of Yetziyat Mitzrayim? Most other years, we struggle to capture the immediacy of slavery and the struggle for freedom, but this year, we had the opportunity to think with our friends and neighbors about the existence of slavery, marginalization, and suffering in a very intimate and visceral way, and to discuss what it means to be free.

The first night, we told the story of the Exodus from Mitzrayim with more than thirty people at our Seder—our host family, friends, neighbors, and women who participate in Project Muso’s education program. Since there were no other Jews at our Seder—everyone else was Muslim or Christian—we began the story with Abraham, to explain who Jews are, and that we all, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, share a common ancestor and are from the same family. Everyone engaged in the story with rapt attention and appreciated the retelling. To our great surprise, though no one at our Seder had met a Jew before us, some of the children already knew parts of the story because they had seen “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston on Malian television. (Though there is not electricity where we live, some families rig up batteries to power old televisions.)

The second night many of the same people came back, and again we had more than 30 guests. We were able to get deeper into discussing the story and the challenging questions it raises about slavery and oppression in our world. Several of our guests talked about poverty as a form of slavery. Our friend Daouda said that poverty keeps him bound, and that those who are poor are slaves in this way. He said that if everyone in the world, poor and not poor, shared their resources and efforts in solidarity with each other, that poverty would end and slavery would be abolished. Daouda is living with AIDS and has recently started on antiretroviral therapy, thanks to a life-saving referral from a Project Muso Health Promoter and free ARVs from the Global Fund, which has allowed him to continue working. At his job, he earns $1-4/day, which he uses to support his mother and seven younger siblings. He and his older sister, who sells cakes on a bus stop for a few penny profit, are the sole income earners for their family.

A local Bamanan proverb here teaches, “bolo fila be nyogon ko ka je,” or, “two hands must wash together for either to become thoroughly clean.” Referencing this proverb as everyone ritualistically washed their hands at the beginning of the Passover Seder, we explained the Jewish mandate to have solidarity with all of those who are slaves, marginalized, and oppressed because we were slaves in mitzrayim. With each ritual of the Seder we discussed the significance to the story of the exodus. For maror, we used the only bitter plant we could find in Mali, which is a bitter eggplant called goyo. For karpas, Jessica talked about how the salt water represents tears and urges us to confront suffering while the bushy green stalks of celery we used represent life, renewal, and hope.

While preparing for the second Seder, all of our host-mother’s grandchildren came out to help peel onions: 9-year-old twins Awa and Kadja, 8-year-old Fatimata, 4-year-old Ya, 5-year-old Aminata, 4-year-old Bazu, and 3-year-old Tonton. Tonton was absolutely filthy but demanded that he be included in the onion peeling. Tonton really just likes making mischief but since everyone else was involved he had to be included. Jessica spent 10 minutes washing him up so he could participate, but then he wiped his hands on his filthy shirt and rubbed his onion covered hands in his eyes and after screaming for a while decided he didn’t want to be involved any longer. Ya helped grind the choroset with the mortar and pestle.

We think it is safe to say that the food was a hit. Upon tasting our charoset, our little brother Papuse whispered to Ari: “Ni, a kadi a be se ka ne faga de!” which means in English: “This stuff is so good it could kill me!” Everyone liked the salad the first night and the shakshuka that Ari made from his mom’s recipe the second night. Everyone loved the enormous cauldron of matza ball soup that Jessica made, and everyone kept saying “Vitamini caman b’a la!” which means, “There are a lot of vitamins in this stuff!” referencing all of the fresh local vegetables that she included. Although many of our friends and neighbors were used to sharing grape juice with us on Friday nights, our 3-year-old host-sister Mamani liked the grape juice so much that she collected the empty grape juice boxes and, holding up the boxes in her hand, whispered sincerely to her grandmother, “Ne be t’a feere”, meaning, “I’m going to go sell it.”

But what we never expected was the reaction to the matza. After making hamotsi and the blessing over the matza, we passed around two pieces of matza, imagining that everyone would want to have a little taste. Yet we were entirely unprepared for the mad rush on the matza that ensued. Everyone asked politely for seconds, thirds, fourths, and extra pieces to put in their bags to take home to their families and relatives. Throughout this week, the mere appearance of a matza box brought children running to us, saying, “feti buuru jalan a diarra!” meaning, “that dry holiday bread is good!”

Harbin's Jews: Isle of calm for embattled nation

By Shiri Lev Ari

HARBIN, China - "In history more than 20,000 Jews settled in Harbin in order to escape prosecution (sic) and prejudice." This quote, attributed to Henry Kissinger, rests on a perspex plaque in the foyer of the city's former main synagogue, now housing the permanent Harbin Jewish History and Cultural Exhibition.

"The fact that the Harbin people treated the Jews kindly, as a result of the broad mind of the nation, is a glorious record of world humanitarianism."

At the end of January, a group of Israeli journalists arrived at the sub-provincial city of Harbin, capital of the Heilongjiang Province in Northeast China. It was 3 to 17 degrees below zero in the city near the Russian border, with a population of 9.7 million, located an hour and a half's flight away from the lively capital Beijing.

The history of Harbin's Jewry, which reverberated in Israel following Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's recent visit to China, is unusual. It does not have a tragic ending. Even in the snow and ice, Harbin seems like a little island of calm in the bloody history of the Jewish nation.

The invitation to the Israeli journalists was not accidental. The Chinese wish to expand cooperation between Israel and China and to place Harbin on the map for Israeli and Jewish tourists. This week there were news reports that two Shanghai synagogues are to be rehabilitated as part of the celebrations marking the city's Jewish heritage. It appears that Jewish history in China could serve the trade ties between the two countries, and may provide an answer to China's constant search for a doorway to the West .

The Chinese have always treated the Jews with respect, sometimes bordering on admiration. Their behavior can almost be described as reverse anti-Semitism. They tend to see the Jews as clever, educated, rich, savvy in business, observant of family values and respectful of their parents. At one meeting, the Chinese host told the reporters how the Chinese ambassador in World War Two Austria managed to obtain visas to China for Europe's Jews.

The Harbin Jewish community, which came as part of a large migration of Russians to the region, existed for a total of 65 years. During this period the Jews turned the small fishing village (Harbin is originally a Manchu word meaning "a place for drying fishing nets") into a large, industrialized, modern city.

A few years ago the Harbin authorities, the government of the Heilongjiang Province and the province's Social Sciences Academy decided to preserve the city's Jewish heritage. They invested some $2.5 million into refurbishing the synagogues, the Jewish cemetery and other remaining Jewish institutions.

Political and economic haven

The first Jews arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe in 1898, with the beginning of the construction of the trans-Siberian railway linking Moscow and Beijing. They fled the daily pogroms and anti-Semitic incidents and found a political and economic haven in Harbin.

After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, increasing numbers of Jews migrated to Harbin. At its peak the community, which usually numbered 10,000 inhabitants, reached 25,000 people. It experienced its golden age between 1917 and 1930. Olmert's grandparents lived there and his parents were born there. So were the parents of MK Effie Eitam, the father of poet Daliah Ravikovitch, Israel's former UN ambassador Yosef Tekoa and many others.

Harbin's Jews lived under four central political regimes - Tzarist Russia (1898-1917), the Chinese government (1917-1931), the Japanese (1931-1945) and then the Red Army.

The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 forced many Jews, who suffered under Japanese fascism, to flee the city. Various Zionist movements flourished in Harbin and many Jews moved to Israel. But the most difficult period for the Jews was at the end of World War II, under the nine-month rule by the Russian government. Zionist activity in the city was stopped, many were exiled to Russian forced labor camps and many Jews left Harbin.

Gradually the Jews of Harbin scattered to Shanghai, Israel and other countries. In 1963 the Jewish institutions in the city were officially closed down. In 1985 the last Jew in Harbin died.

However, the Jewish presence in Harbin left shops; businesses; flour, candle and beverage plants; coal mines; hotels; restaurants; a hospital; schools; youth movements; a soup kitchen; daily newspapers; book publishers; orchestras and a theater.

The old synagogue, built in 1907, has become a family activity center; the Jewish high school has become a Korean girls school. Last summer the synagogue, which was built in 1917, became a museum, exhibiting the history of Harbin's Jewry. A film on the Holocaust, with Chinese subtitles, is screened on a large television screen at the foyer.

The building's two floors are filled with large black and white pictures documenting Jewish life in the city: the soup kitchen, the Beitar youth movement, the women's welfare organization, shops and plants, the library, the orchestra, Jewish singers, Jewish athletes, ski and horse races and Cafe Miniature of 1926, which doubled as an art gallery of Russian miniatures.

An entire wall is devoted to photographs of the Olmert family. His parents, Bella and Mordechai, immigrated to Israel in 1930. Mordechai was active in the city's revisionist movement. He studied in a Chinese high school and spoke Chinese. An adjacent wall displays pictures of Yosef Trumpeldor. After being wounded in the Russia-Japan war in 1905, Trumpeldor was brought to Harbin's hospital for treatment. From there he was sent to a Japanese prison and after his release, he returned to Harbin to found a farming cooperative.

The Jewish cemetery, with 583 tombstones engraved in Russian and Yiddish, was built in 1903 in the city center and was transferred outside the city in 1958. In 1992, after the establishment of relations between Israel and China, it was renovated.

In 2004 Olmert, then deputy prime minister, and his brother visited their grandfather's grave in Harbin. The Harbin community's rabbi, Aharon Shmulevitz Kissilov, is buried there, as are Effie Eitam's parents.

"These sites are testimony to the friendship between the Jewish and Chinese people, and are intended to contribute to strengthening the ties between the two states," says Professor Ko Wey, head of the province's Academy of Social Sciences. "Both the Chinese and the Jews are ancient nations, with a long history. They both suffered persecution and torture. They are both very wise, they have scientists, inventors and important philosophers," he says. He also emphasized that the work of Jewish intellectuals like Lenin or Marx still guides the Chinese in their life and that the Jewish and Chinese nations are like brother nations.

The relations between the Jews and the Chinese have a long history. It all began with the Kaifeng Jews, who arrived in China in the 12th century and were so well received that they rapidly assimilated into Chinese society. They grew a braid, wore a skullcap, built pagoda-shaped synagogues and disappeared.

Over the years Chinese intellectuals delved into Jewish texts - especially the Bible and scripts of the Fathers. They found similarities in the values cherished by both societies, such as respecting parents or edicts guiding interpersonal relations.

Beijing's only Kosher restaurant mulls second branch ahead of Olympics

Beijing and the Olympics are going Kosher.

The capital's only Kosher restaurant opened 10 months ago, drawing the small Jewish expatriate community, tourists, curious Chinese and even a few Muslims. Business has been so good at Dini's Kosher Restaurant, that part-owner Lewis Sperber is talking about setting up a second branch closer to the Olympic venues in northern Beijing.

Like many restaurateurs and bar owners, Sperber is hoping to benefit with as many as 550,000 foreigners expected to descend on Beijing for the August 8-24 Games.
"What we've thought about is preparing sandwiches and other items at a venue closer than we are now to the Olympic sites," Sperber said. "If people leave the Olympics and want a Kosher meal, we could have a place for them."

However, there is a real boom in the number of Chinese factories being certified to export Kosher products. This is driven partially by recent food safety scares in China involving contaminated seafood, pet food and

Kosher certifications in China conducted by the Orthodox Union - the best-known certification body - have doubled to 307 in the last two years. The total number of Kosher certifications is about 2,000, exporters working to reach the world Kosher market.

"I think business will be very overwhelming during the Olympics," said Minette Ramia, who manages Dini's, a modern, pastel-colored eatery located on Super Bar Street, an aptly named alleyway lined with restaurants and bars just down the street from the Israeli embassy.

"From the hygiene side, whether someone is Kosher or not, Jewish or not, people will want food from here because it is considered cleaner and more hygienic being that we're in China," Ramia said. "A Muslim woman came in recently because she can't eat meat anywhere else."

The staff and cooks at Dini's are nearly all Chinese. Waiters bring new Chinese customers a handout to explain Kosher, which is called Jie Shi in
Chinese - clean food.

When Chinese come, I don't think they know what to order, said Zhao Haixia, the assistant manager. Normally they just rely on us to tell them what's good.

The menu features both Ashkenazi and Sephardic food traditions. Mainstays like matzo ball soup, chopped liver and Gelifte fish are seldom chosen by Chinese, who more often go for Kosher beef dumplings (Jiaozi) or sizzling beef - Kosher style.

"Gelifte fish is a hard sell. In China eating cold fish doesn't sound so good," Zhao said.

Like Beijing's noxious air, China's food safety is one of the most sensitive issues surrounding the Olympics, carrying the potential to ruin China's $40 billion preparations to use the Games to show off a modern nation removed from its agrarian roots.

One food poisoning case, like one positive doping test - particularly by a Chinese athlete - could grab headlines for weeks and ruin the public relations effort by the communist government.

Following a string of food scandals last year, Beijing organizers launched an aggressive campaign to showcase a new way of monitoring aimed at tracing products from the field to the table.

The government also unveiled the Olympic Food Safety Command Center to deal with food emergencies.

"Precautions must be taken to avert any trace of a terrorist attack on our food supply chain," said Zhang Zhikuan, head of the Beijing Industry and Commerce Bureau.

Concern centers on the safety standards of meat, and stimulants used to boost yields. Some fear drugs used in animal feed could trigger positive doping test among athletes.

At least one of the new monitoring systems - coding on packaging to trace the source of production - has long been required for Kosher certification.

"The fact that there is another set of eyes coming through the plants on a regular basis - such as the Kosher auditing or Kosher supervisors - means that the companies, the factories are more careful about hygiene and sanitation," said Rabbi Mordechai Grunberg, who examines Chinese factories for the Orthodox Union.

China's Kosher exports are composed almost exclusively of food additives, spices, vegetables and candies.

"It's like any other product coming out of China," Rabbi Grunberg said. "Outsourcing has gotten easier, quality has gotten higher and the price is cheaper."

Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, who also inspects for the Orthodox Union and owns a part interest in Dini's, said American-based food companies are asking him to conduct non-Kosher inspections of their operations in China. He called them 100 percent related to recent food scandals in China.

"They don't necessarily want it for Kosher purposes," he said. "They just want to make sure they can guarantee that the standard promised by the company is what's being produced."

The Jewish population in mainland China is only a few thousand and exclusively expatriates - 1,500 in Beijing, 1,000 in Shanghai and 500 in Guangzhou. Several thousand more are scattered in small cities with 4,000 in Hong Kong. Historians suggest a small Chinese Jewish community existed centuries ago in the central city of Kaifeng.

Grunberg is optimistic a domestic Kosher market will develop in China, fueled partly by hygiene issues.

"I think there will be a big market here, and a big market could mean just a fraction of a percent of 1.3 billion. With only that you'll have a bigger market than we have for Kosher in the United States."

Both Kosher and Halal - food prepared following Islamic religious rules - will be available at the Olympic Athletes Village, a requirement of the
International Olympic Committee. The Philadelphia-based company Aramark is running the catering operation and will serve 17,000 athletes and officials at dining rooms capable of feeding 6,000 at once on a 24-hour schedule.

The Olympic Kosher kitchen is being lined up by Rabbi Freundlich, the rabbi of Beijing's Jewish community.

"I would be the overall supervisor of the kitchen and have a number of
colleagues helping me maintain the Kosher standard throughout the Olympics," he said. "We'd expect to serve 300-400 meals a day, more than twice what I'm told was served in Athens."

Sourcing of most Halal and Kosher products in China is easy - except for meat. No factory has been certified to export Kosher meats from China. Many factories are certified to produce Halal, though exporting Halal meat from China is difficult with some Islamic countries suspicious of Chinese certification.

China is estimated to have a Muslim population of 1-2 percent of its 1.3
billion people, most living in the west of China.

"Normally it's easy to export Halal non-meat products from China, but meat products certified in China are more difficult," said Ray Chueng, a Shanghai businessman who helps factories get Halal or Kosher certification.

"I think even Chinese Muslims are not so careful with Halal things," Chueng added. "They know what you can eat and can't eat, but they are not very careful if things are labeled Halal."

Penny Xiang, deputy director of the Game Services Department for the Olympics, said 36 food suppliers have been picked for the Games, all under very close supervision. She declined to offer extra details. In general, Beijing organizers are careful talking about food suppliers, citing security reasons.

"I think the government's food security committee has formulated a special standard for the Olympic Games compared with national standard and World Health Organization standard," she said. Asked how the new standard compared, she replied: "It's probably higher."

She said daily food consumption at the Athletes Village would reach 100,000 kilograms with daily rubbish weighing 50,000 kilograms.

"Sometimes it's the easiest and simplest things that makes the most complex job," Xiang said. "People think preparing food is so natural, so easy. It comes to you every day and you are so used to it, so you don't think there is any complexity behind it.

Xiang said many of China's most influential politicians going right to the top, wanted the Olympics to showcase only Chinese cuisine in the Athletes Village. Several proposed preparing 2,000 Peking roast ducks - the capital's specialty - for athletes before the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.

Presumably some would have been Kosher ducks.

"It was ruled out," Xiang said. "We'd need to serve all of this just before the biggest moment for commotion and confusion. Just imagine how that would have been."

For the first time since WWII, Shanghai Jews celebrate wedding inside synagogue

A glass was smashed, and a cheer went up. After months of careful negotiations with the Chinese government, Shanghai's Jewish community celebrated a revival last month as a historic synagogue opened for its first wedding in about 60 years.

Shanghai has special meaning for the global Jewish population after it took in tens of thousands of Jewish refugees during World War II. The city's Jewish community and the foreign community at large soon faded away, however, after the communists took over in 1949 and heavily restricted both business and culture. For decades, the practice of religion was discouraged, and places of worship were torn down or given secular uses, such as storage spaces for grain.

But China's largest city is regaining its cosmopolitan reputation as the country continues its dramatic rise, and the Jewish community of foreigners now numbers more than 2,000.
Maurice Ohana, the president of the current community, still knew, however, it would be hard to get access to the Ohel Rachel synagogue for his daughter's wedding. Judaism isn't one of officially atheist China's five recognized religions, because of the lack of native Jews, and the community worships quietly, in local apartments.

Ohel Rachel, built in 1920 by an earlier Jewish community of businessmen with roots in Iraq and India, remains in the hands of Shanghai's education ministry. Once used as storage and now used from time to time as an auditorium, it was named one of the world's 100 most endangered sites by the World Monuments Fund in 2002 and 2004.

Almost all of its Jewish decoration have disappeared, except for a plaque outside the door, a star of David carved at the top of a dusty stairway and a sign inside in Hebrew that says, "Be aware in front of whom you're standing." It has opened just a few times a year for major Jewish holidays after being rededicated 10 years ago.

Ohana, a Moroccan businessman, decided to ask local Chinese academic Pan Guang for help. Pan, the dean of the Center of Jewish Studies Shanghai, began a monthslong discussion with the government.

"We tried to explain the importance to the Jewish community," Pan said after the wedding, as the crowd of about 400 in evening dress swirled by. Some in the new Jewish community have family connections to the past, he added.

Some were at the wedding. "My father was a Russian Jew in Shanghai," said Jim Kaptzan, a U.S. businessman who said his father came after fleeing the 1917 communist revolution in Russia. "He used to always tell me Shanghai was the place to be. It's heartwarming to be in the place where my father prayed freely."

Shanghai was famously cosmopolitan in the years before the communists took over, and the Jewish community had its own schools, newspapers and at least seven synagogues. However, "I would say from the middle of the 1950s to the middle of the 1990s, there was no Jewish presence here," said Dvir Bar-Gal, an Israeli art gallery owner who hosts tours of Jewish Shanghai.

Now Shanghai's other remaining synagogue, Ohel Moishe, is a Jewish history museum.

Finally, with Pan's help, the Chinese government agreed to open Ohel Rachel for the wedding. The synagogue was full, with warm conversation in French, English and Chinese. The consuls for Israel, the United States, France and Argentina and the Moroccan ambassador took their places on the men's side of the aisle as young Chinese women in traditional red silk gowns passed out delicate head coverings for the women.

"For us, being here tonight is a moving and very exciting event, and we hope we will have many more events in this place," the Israeli consul, Uri Gutman, said.

Rabbis from Singapore and Beijing helped Rabbi Shalom Greenberg with the wedding, while small boys with candles stood in front of the chuppah, or the canopy where the ceremony took place.

Ohana, the father of the bride, welcomed the guests in French but then changed to English for a single sentence. He looked at Pan in the audience and said, "We will never forget what you have done for us."

Jewish woman to head Bahraini watchdog

A Bahraini Jewish woman, Huda Azra Noono, has been elected to head the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, making her the first non-Muslim to head a human rights watchdog in the country. (Acknowledgements: normblog)

"I am honoured to be elected the secretary-general of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, and I will do my best to help promote human rights in the country," Noono yesterday told Gulf News.

"We will work together as a team to ensure that people's rights in all areas are preserved," she said following the board elections.

Mrs Noono is one of 30 Jews still living in Bahrain, the remnant of a 450-strong community founded in 1904. The article paints an idyllic picture of Muslim-Jewish coexistence.

It is true that Bahraini Jews enjoy full rights and live in harmony with their neighbours. But the article chooses not to mention that the synagogue was destroyed, two Jews killed and several injured in rioting in 1947; and that petrol bombs were thrown at Jewish homes in 1967.

Beth Shearim

Rabbi Judah the Prince (HaNasi) headed the Sanhedrin from about 160-200 CE. He was based in Beth Shearim until ill health forced him to move to Zippori. Despite the move, he was buried in Beth Shearim according to his request. Thereafter, Beth Shearim became a popular burial place. In Greco-Roman Israel, people were buried initially in a sarcophagus in a cave. After a year, when the body had decomposed, the bones were re-buried. At Beth Shearim there is an enormous cave with many corridors and rooms, each with a beautifully decorated sarcophagus. The ornamentation includes symbols from the pagan world, such as a mask of Zeus, as well as generic decorations like flowers.

Beth Shearim was discovered by accident by Alexander Zaid in 1936 while laying the foundations for his family home.

A God Who Remembers by Elie Wiesel

April 7, 2008 · I remember, May 1944: I was 15-and-a-half, and I was thrown into a haunted universe where the story of the human adventure seemed to swing irrevocably between horror and malediction. I remember, I remember because I was there with my father. I was still living with him there. We worked together. We returned to the camp together. We stayed in the same block. We slept in the same box. We shared bread and soup. Never were we so close to one another.

We talked a lot to each other, especially in the evenings, but never of death. I believed — I hoped — that I would not survive him, not even for one day. Without saying it to him, I thought I was the last of our line. With him, our past would die; with me, our future.

The moment the war ended, I believed — we all did — that anyone who survived death must bear witness. Some of us even believed that they survived in order to become witnesses. But then I knew deep down that it would be impossible to communicate the entire story. Nobody can. I personally decided to wait, to see during 10 years if I would be capable to find the proper words, the proper pace, the proper melody or maybe even the proper silence to describe the ineffable.

For in my tradition, as a Jew, I believe that whatever we receive we must share. When we endure an experience, the experience cannot stay with me alone. It must be opened, it must become an offering, it must be deepened and given and shared. And of course I am afraid that memories suppressed could come back with a fury, which is dangerous to all human beings, not only to those who directly were participants but to people everywhere, to the world, for everyone. So, therefore, those memories that are discarded, shamed, somehow they may come back in different ways — disguised, perhaps seeking another outlet.

Granted, our task is to inform. But information must be transformed into knowledge, knowledge into sensitivity and sensitivity into commitment.

How can we therefore speak, unless we believe that our words have meaning, that our words will help others to prevent my past from becoming another person's — another peoples' — future. Yes, our stories are essential — essential to memory. I believe that the witnesses, especially the survivors, have the most important role. They can simply say, in the words of the prophet, "I was there."

What is a witness if not someone who has a tale to tell and lives only with one haunting desire: to tell it. Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.

After all, God is God because he remembers.

Independently produced for All Things Considered by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick

Historical Sephardic/Ladino Synagogue in Philadelphia

Not only is this one of the oldest synagogues in America, it is also the only Sephardic house of worship in Philadelphia. It was founded in 1740, and is the sister congregation to New York's own Shearith Israel, established almost 100 years before.

Nathan Levy seems to have been the first Jewish settler who requested a burial ground which would meet the requirements set forth by our religious beliefs. Up until that time, Jews used to congregate in homes for services.In

1780, Hazan Gershom Mendes Seixas came from New York to organize and set up the "sephardic/ladino" format, which apparently is still in use today. For a listing of the people who made Mikveh Israel what it is, click here.

I recently read an article relating to the dwindling of the use of Ladino in sephardic rituals and prayers and this particular instance spoke of a family in the tri-state area as well, who had donated a Torah to the Mikveh Israel Synagogue of Philadelphia. They had gathered (all 80 of them) in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, which is a stone's throw from Philadelphia, to celebrate their Seder. They also spoke of another family with a similar tradition, who originated from Turkey, and who was in the habit of conducting their rituals in Ladino.

Then came the lament about the disappearance of Ladino as the language of the Sephardim, and the inevitable comparison to Yiddish and its prominence amongst the Ashekenazi Jews. My assumption, and I will stand corrected if someone tells me otherwise, is that the majority of Sephardic Jews did not keep Ladino alive unless they were immersed in it completely. Taking my father as an example, who apparently was fluent in Ladino, - he conducted all of the prayers in Egypt and the USA in perfect hebrew. Ladino never came into play or even into discussion. Most of the Sephardim that I knew and know adhere to Hebrew as the language of prayer and other traditional rituals.
Just like I've never heard a Seder in Yiddish or the kaddish in Yiddish. Another factor to take into consideration is that the number of Sephardic Jews in the world is not even half that of the Ashekenazi.

The Silent Exodus - Jews Thrown Out from Arab Lands

The other refugees
By David Suissa
Is there a more loaded word in the Arab-Israeli conflict than "refugee"? Is there anything more visceral or emotional than the sight of millions of Palestinians living in miserable refugee camps for three generations?

If any one thing has symbolized the Palestinian cause and put Israel on the defensive, it is this image -- this powerful and constant reminder to the world that Israel's creation 60 years ago came with an "original sin," and that Palestinians deserve the "right of return."

You can debate the fairness of this claim, but in our world of easy sound bites, the image of Palestinian suffering has become an albatross around Israel's neck. The fact that few Jews would ever agree to this right of return -- which would erode Israel's Jewish character -- has made this an enormous obstacle to any reconciliation between the two people.

But here's the question: Will Israel ever be able to claim the high ground when it comes to justice for refugees?

This week in Montreal, where I am spending Passover with my family, I met a man who thinks the answer is yes. He is one of the leaders of the Jewish community here, and he is actively fighting for justice for Middle Eastern refugees.

Jewish refugees, that is.

As Sylvain Abitbol explains it, the expulsion and exodus of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little-known injustices against humanity of the past century. For hundreds of years, and in many cases for millennia, Jews lived in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Lybia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. In several of these countries, the Jewish population was established more than 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. From the seventh century on, special laws of the Dhimmi ("the protected") subjected the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa to prohibitions, restrictions and discrimination -- not to mention harsh conditions of inferiority. Still, many Jews managed to prosper despite these circumstances.

Things took a turn for the worse after the birth of Israel in 1948. Between the 1940s and 1980s, the Jews of Arab countries endured humiliation, human rights abuses, organized persecution and expulsion by the local governments; Jewish property was seized without compensation; Jewish quarters were sacked and looted and cemeteries desecrated; synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed; and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms.

To this day, Arab countries and the world community have refused to acknowledge these human rights violations or provide compensation to the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to abandon their homes, businesses and possessions as they fled those countries.

But activists like Abitbol are fighting back, all the way to the White House and the U.S. Congress. Abitbol, the first Sephardic Jew to lead the local Jewish Federation in Montreal and now co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, connected with this movement a year ago when he joined the board of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). Together with other organizations like the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), the movement, which is officially called the International Rights and Redress Campaign, toiled for years in obscurity.

A few weeks ago, they hit the jackpot.

That's when the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the first-ever resolution to grant recognition as refugees to Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. House Resolution 185 affirms that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be treated equally, which means it will now be official U.S. policy to mention "Jewish refugees" whenever there is mention of Palestinian refugees in any official document.

It's a huge victory, but only a beginning. The United Nations and the world media are the next fronts in this battle for Jewish justice. Abitbol, a sophisticated man in his mid-50s who's fluent in French, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish, has no illusions about Israel's precarious image in the world. But he's far from being a cynic. He's passionate about fighting for the rights of Jewish victims, and he is also a Jewish refugee (from Morocco). Yet he hardly acts like either a refugee or a victim.

Over tea at my mother's house, he reflected on the major influences of his life. One of the things that stuck with me was something Abitbol said he learned early in his career, when he was in sales. Abitbol, who has two engineering degrees and is chairman of an innovative software company called uMind, calls the technique "listen and adapt:" You adapt your strategy and your communication to the values of your audience.

He gave me a fascinating example. While in Dubai recently on business, an Arab businessman confronted him on the situation in Israel. Abitbol, seeing that the man was a devout Muslim who believed that everything comes from God, gently explained -- in Arabic -- that if Israel has survived so many wars over 60 years, maybe it's because it is "Inshallah" (God's will). Abitbol got the other man's attention.

Same thing when he spoke recently at a United Nations conference in Geneva on the subject of Jewish refugees. Directly facing representatives of Arab countries, he used the language of indignation and human rights that Arabs have used so successfully against Israel for so many decades, only this time it was on behalf of Jews.

Of course, he added that there is one major difference: Jews didn't put their 850,000 refugees in squalid camps so they could have a powerful image on the evening news. They helped them resettle, so that one day, one of them would learn five languages and fly to Geneva to speak up on their behalf.