Friday, June 18, 2010

Israel plows new ground in exotic crops

A tomato breeder has created a crop worth more than its weight in gold. The seeds for the yellow cherry tomato, a fruit researchers feared might turn off consumers, now sell for $160,000 a pound.

Reporting from Berurim, Israel — —

If Willy Wonka had a farm, it would fit right in here in Israel.

Want a lemon-scented tomato or a chocolate-colored persimmon? How about some miniaturized garlic cloves for the home chef who doesn't have time to chop, or a purple potato that tastes buttery when cooked?

There are no chocolate rivers or edible teacup flowers on Israeli farms, but you will find carrots shaped like potatoes, strawberries shaped like carrots, star-shaped zucchini and "watermelon" tomatoes — dark green on the outside with a juicy red flesh.

There are also specially bred red peppers with three times the usual amount of vitamins, and black chickpeas with extra antioxidants. Not to mention worm-shaped berries and blue bananas.

Though some mock such colorful crops as "frankenfruit," an Israeli tomato breeder, Hazera Genetics, has created a boutique crop worth more than its weight in gold.

The former kibbutz supplier developed a yellow cherry tomato that its own researchers feared might turn off consumers. Instead, the hybrid became a hit in Europe, where the seeds sell for about $160,000 a pound.

Bolstered by Hazera's success, a growing number of Israeli farmers, agricultural companies and government-funded research institutions are jumping into the market for freaky fruits and designer veggies, hoping to stumble upon the next big thing.

"It's fun, it's interesting and it brings in the customers," said Uri Rabinowitz, a Tel Aviv-area farmer who has developed a national following for his strange-looking crops, including elongated strawberries and round carrots. "You can charge twice as much."

Rabinowitz and other Israeli farmers grow exotic fruits and vegetables from imported seeds, including the chocolaty persimmon from Latin America (which makes a tasty ice cream) and the buttery potato from the Netherlands.

Some are trying to create new foods in the lab. A team of Israeli and U.S. scientists created the lemon-scented tomato by splicing genes from lemon basil into tomatoes, producing an aroma and taste of lemons and roses.

Efraim Lewinsohn, who has helped lead the project to develop the lemon tomato at Israel's Volcani Agricultural Research Institute, said the goal was to inject a little spice into tomatoes that had become bland from years of mass production.

"People complain that tomatoes don't taste like they used to," Lewinsohn said. "That's the driving force behind this project: attempting to restore the flavor of the past."
But because of consumer concerns about genetically modified crops, many in Israel are sticking with old-fashioned cross-pollination in which, for example, two tomato varieties — one known for its fast growth and the other for its long shelf life — are pollinated by hand to create tomatoes that grow quickly and last longer.

Israel isn't the only country pushing agricultural boundaries. Japan is producing square watermelons (easier to pack) and kumquat-sized grapes (good for giant raisins). The Netherlands and the United States are also leaders in innovative crops, such as yellow tomatoes and miniature watermelons.

But thanks to its warm climate and advanced research facilities, Israel is becoming a player in the emerging market for agricultural oddities.

"Israelis are a naturally curious people," said Avi Almogi, head of Israel's Exotic Fruit Assn., standing beside a display of fuzzless peaches at his trade group's recent exhibition at Kibbutz Givat Brenner in central Israel. "We take fruits, even things that may not be from here, and we play with them to make them better."

A few years ago, Israeli farmers imported a Chinese orange tree and cross-pollinated it with other breeds to make the fruit more colorful and easier to peel. "Now we are selling the seeds back to China," Almogi said.

Hazera made a splash internationally in the 1990s by breeding a tomato that could be vine-ripened and that stayed red three times longer than ordinary tomatoes. Its seeds were sold around the world.

Since then, the firm has been "diving into tomatoes," said Alon Haberfeld, Hazera's senior tomato product manager. The company pumps about 15% of revenue into research and development, a level he said was comparable to the pharmaceutical industry's.

Drawing on ideas from supermarket owners, farmers and chefs, the company's breeders can devote years to developing a single hybrid. Researchers pollinate the plants by hand and must wait months to see what grows.

Hazera's mini-watermelon was created in response to consumer complaints that standard specimens of the fruit were too big to finish.

Most of the company's research is targeted at specific goals, such as developing a tomato that tastes sweeter or whose vine has a high yield. But sometimes Hazera encourages its breeders to pursue whims.

"We let them go crazy," Haberfeld said. "We tell them to surprise us."
The results aren't always pretty. A snow-white tomato looked "terrible" and was quickly abandoned, Haberfeld said. A teardrop-shaped tomato tasted great but looked unappetizing to consumers.

So when a Hebrew University professor approached Hazera with a golden-hued cherry tomato, made by breeding regular cherry tomatoes with a rare yellow variety, she was greeted with skepticism.

The hybrid, eventually dubbed Summer Sun, had about three times the sugar level of ordinary tomatoes and high acidity, giving it a unique taste.

Researchers thought the flavor held promise. But would consumers bite?

"It takes time to educate people to eat yellow tomatoes," Haberfeld said.

With the rising popularity in the West of cooking shows, healthier eating and gourmet restaurants, Hazera started marketing its products the way other companies sell sports cars and fancy watches.

"It's all about lifestyle," reads a company brochure, depicting attractive young people at the beach, playing tennis, meditating and, of course, munching on tomatoes. "A moment of sensual pleasure. A moment to relax and pamper ourselves."

But in Israel, Hazera tried a different strategy, showing the yellow cherry tomatoes dripping in honey to emphasize their sweet flavor and gold color.

To Israelis, the fruit didn't look ripe. Only one supermarket chain carries them here.

The breakthrough came in Europe, where consumers prefer sweeter produce. Now the yellow tomatoes are showing up on salad plates in France, Britain and Austria, where buyers are willing to pay as much as $11 a pound.

Hazera has sold its yellow cherry tomato seeds to a San Diego-based grower for production this summer.

That motivated Hazera scientists to redouble efforts to develop what they hope will be their next big hybrid hit: the purple tomato.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Matisyahu performs "One Day" on Jay Leno's show

The DNA of Abraham’s Children

Analysis of Jewish genomes refutes the Khazar claim.

Jews have historically considered themselves “people of the book” (am hasefer in Hebrew), referring to sacred tomes, but the phrase is turning out to have an equally powerful, if unintended, meaning: scientists are able to read Jewish genomes like a history book. The latest DNA volume weighs in on the controversial, centuries-old (and now revived in a 2008 book) claim that European Jews are all the descendants of Khazars, a Turkic group of the north Caucasus who converted to Judaism in the late eighth and early ninth century. The DNA has spoken: no.

In the wake of studies in the 1990s that supported biblically based notions of a priestly caste descended from Aaron, brother of Moses, an ambitious new project to analyze genomes collected from Jewish volunteers has yielded its first discoveries. In a paper with the kind of catchy title you rarely see in science journals—“Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era”—scientists report that the Jews of the Diaspora share a set of telltale genetic markers, supporting the traditional belief that Jews scattered around the world have a common ancestry. But various Diaspora populations have their own distinct genetic signatures, shedding light on their origins and history. In addition to the age-old question of whether Jews are simply people who share a religion or are a distinct population, the scientific verdict is settling on the latter.

Although the origin of the Jews has been traced, archeologically, to the Middle East in the second millennium B.C.E., what happened next has been more opaque. To sort it out, researchers collected DNA from Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Ashkenazi Jews around New York City; Turkish Sephardic Jews in Seattle; Greek Sephardic Jews in Thessaloniki and Athens; and Italian Jews in Rome as part of the Jewish HapMap Project. (All four grandparents of each participant had to have come from the same community.) As the scientists will report in the next issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, the analysis shows that “each of the Jewish populations formed its own distinctive cluster, indicating the shared ancestry and relative genetic isolation of the members of each of those groups.”

Jewish populations, that is, have retained their genetic coherence just as they have retained their cultural and religious traditions, despite migrations from the Middle East into Europe, North Africa, and beyond over the centuries, says geneticist Harry Ostrer of NYU Langone Medical Center, who led the study. Each Diaspora group has distinctive genetic features “representative of each group’s genetic history,” he says, but each also “shares a set of common genetic threads” dating back to their common origin in the Middle East. “Each of the Jewish populations formed its own distinctive cluster, indicating the shared ancestry and relative genetic isolation of the members of each of those groups.”

The various Jewish groups were more related to each other than to non-Jews, as well. Within every Jewish group, individuals shared as much of their genome as two fourth or fifth cousins, with Italian, Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi Jews the most inbred, in the sense that they married within the small, close-knit community. In general, the genetic similarity of any two groups was larger the closer they lived to one another, but there was an exception: Turkish and Italian Jews were most closely related genetically, but are quite separated geographically.

Historical records suggest that Iranian and Iraqi Jews date from communities that formed in Persia and Babylon, respectively, in the fourth to sixth centuries B.C.E., and the DNA confirms that. The genetic signatures of these groups show that they remained relatively isolated—inbred—for some 3,000 years. The DNA also reveals that these Middle Eastern Jews diverged from the ancestors of today’s European Jews about 100 to 150 generations ago, or sometime during the first millennium B.C.E.

That’s when the Jewish communities in Italy, the Balkans, and North Africa originated, from Jews who migrated or were expelled from Palestine and from people who converted to Judaism during Hellenic times. During that period Jews proselytized with an effectiveness that would put today’s Mormons to shame: at the height of the Roman Empire, as the Roman historian Josephus chronicled, mass conversions produced 6 million practicing Jews, or 10 percent of the population of the Roman Empire. The conversions brought in DNA that had not been part of the original gene pool in the land of Abraham.

The DNA analysis undermines the claim that most of today’s Jews, particularly the Ashkenazi, are the direct lineal descendants of converted Khazars—which has angered many in the Jewish community as an implicit attack on the Jews’ claim to the land of Israel, since it implies that today’s Jews have no blood ties to the original Jews of the Middle East. Instead, find the scientists, at most there was “limited admixture with local populations, including Khazars and Slavs ... during the 1,000-year (second millennium) history of the European Jews.”

Of the non-Jewish Europeans, northern Italians were most genetically similar to the Jews, followed by the Sardinians and French. The Druze, Bedouins, and Palestinians were closest to the Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian Jews. That is evidence of “a shared genetic history of related Middle Eastern and non-Semitic Mediterranean ancestors who chose different religious and tribal affiliations.” Adds Ostrer, “the study supports the idea of a Jewish people linked by a shared genetic history. Yet the admixture with European people explains why so many European and Syrian Jews have blue eyes and blond hair.”

Southern Europeans were the closest genetic cousins of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Italian Jews, reflecting the large-scale conversion of these Southern European populations to Judaism some 2,000 years ago, when European Jewry was forming. The Sephardic groups share genetic makers with North Africans, probably a result of marriages between Moors and Jews in Spain from 711 to 1492.

Several details of the Ashkenazi genome imply that centuries ago, the population experienced a severe bottleneck, in which the size of a group plummets, followed by a rapid expansion. That jibes with the historical record showing that the Jewish population in Western and Eastern Europe bottomed out at about 50,000 in the Middle Ages and then soared to 500,000 by the 19th century, growing at twice the rate of non-Jews—something called “the demographic miracle.”

Analysis of Jewish genomes has been yielding fascinating findings for more than a decade. A pioneer in this field, Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona, made the first big splash when he discovered that genetics supports the biblical account of a priestly family, the Cohanim, descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses: one specific genetic marker on the Y chromosome (which is passed on from father to son, as membership in the priestly family would be) is found in 98.5 percent of people who self-identify as Cohanim, he and colleagues reported in a 1997 paper in Nature (the PBS science series Nova did a nice segment on that work, summarized here). The Cohanim DNA has been found in both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, evidence that it predates the time when the two groups diverged, about 1,000 years ago. DNA can also be used to infer when particular genetic markers appeared, and suggests that the Cohanim emerged about 106 generations ago, making it fall during what is thought to be the period of the exodus from Egypt, and thus Aaron’s lifetime.

Sharon Begley is NEWSWEEK’s science editor and author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hatikva-The National Anthem of Israel

Jews, Poles & Nazis: The Terrible History

by Timothy Snyder

Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp
by Christopher R. Browning
Norton, 375 pp., $27.95

The sisters Renia, Rosalie, and Chanka Laks, from a prominent Jewish family in Wierzbnik, Poland. Rosalie Laks—whose testimony appears in Christopher Browning’s Remembering Survival—said that when their father was pushed into a gutter and kicked repeatedly by a German during the early days of the Nazi occupation, ‘This was the first time I understood what the war was all about.’ All the sisters survived the war and are still alive.

The hangings took place on the last day of August 1941, on the town square of Wierzbnik, in what had once been central Poland. Two years had passed since the joint German-Soviet invasion that had destroyed the Polish state; ten weeks before, the Germans had betrayed their ally and invaded the Soviet Union. Wierzbnik, home to Poles and Jews, lay within the General Government, a colony that the Germans had made from parts of their Polish conquests. As Poles left church that Sunday morning, they saw before them a gallows. The German police had selected sixteen or seventeen Poles—men, women, and at least one child. Then they ordered a Jewish execution crew, brought from the ghetto that morning, to carry out the hangings. The Poles were forced to stand on stools; then the Jews placed nooses around their necks and kicked the stools away. The bodies were left to dangle.1

Demonstrative killing of civilians was one of several German methods designed to stifle Polish resistance. The Germans had murdered educated Poles: tens of thousands in late 1939, thousands more in early 1940. Since June 1940, the Germans had been sending suspect Poles to Auschwitz and other camps. Polish society was to be reduced to an undifferentiated mass of passive workers. German policy toward Jews was different, though the nature of the difference was not yet clear. Jewish elites had been preserved; some of them as members of the Judenrat (Jewish council) or as policemen directing the local affairs of Jews in a way that suited Germans.

Although fatality rates in some ghettos were high, Jews in summer 1941 had little idea that they had been gathered into ghettos in preparation for a “Final Solution.” The Germans had first planned to deport the Jews to a reservation in eastern Poland, or to the island of Madagascar, or to Siberian wastelands. As these schemes proved impracticable, the Jews remained in the ghettos. It was in that final week of August 1941 that the German “Final Solution” was taking on its final form: mass murder. Two days before the hangings at Wierzbnik, the Germans had completed their first truly large-scale murder of Jews, shooting some 23,600 people at Kamianets-Podil’s’kyi in occupied Soviet Ukraine.

“I knew I hanged the right people,” one of the Jewish hangmen in Wierzbnik recalled more than fifty years later. He thought that those who were executed belonged to the Polish Home Army, and as such were guilty of murdering Jews. The people in question died, of course, not because Poles were killing Jews, but because Poles were resisting German rule. The hangings at Wierzbnik were a typical German reprisal, aiming to spread terror and deter further opposition. If it were not for the testimonies of the Jews from Wierzbnik, this particular event would have been lost. For most of them, it was a first stark demonstration of German mass murder, if only a small foretaste of what was to come.

In his magnificent and humane microhistory, Christopher Browning has drawn on the “written, transcribed, and/or taped accounts of 292” Jewish survivors, most of them from Wierzbnik, who shared a similar experience of the war. He treats these testimonies as historical sources, believing that according them “a privileged position not subject to the same critical analysis and rules of evidence as other sources will merely discredit and undermine the reputation of Holocaust scholarship itself.”

Here, in recounting how a Jew forced by Germans to kill Poles blamed the Poles for their fate, Browning reaches the problem of Polish–Jewish relations.2 While he is quite aware that this particular testimony must be subjected to scrutiny, his analysis consists mainly in the comparison of multiple Jewish testimonial sources. Addressing the evidence of the Jewish hangman, Browning characterizes the Home Army as a “conservative nationalist underground movement” that did indeed kill Jews, but perhaps not at early as 1941. This description may reflect a consensus among surviving Wierzbnik Jews; it does not fit the historical Home Army.

Interestingly, the “Polish underground” makes several appearances in Browning’s book, usually behaving in ways that are remembered positively: shooting Germans, attacking camps, helping Jews. The Home Army, meanwhile, appears in this negative light, as murderous and anti-Semitic. There is a problem here: the Home Army was the Polish underground. Aiming to restore Polish independence from German rule, it united hundreds of resistance groups. It represented a very wide spetrum of opinion, excluding only the communist left and the extreme nationalist right. And it was not just an underground movement: it was an integral part of the Polish armed forces, under the command of the exile government in London, allied with Great Britain and the United States in the war against Nazi Germany.3

Although the Home Army’s enemy was Nazi Germany, anti-Semitism was indeed a problem in its ranks. On Rosh Hashanah, three weeks after the hangings in Wierzbnik, Polish Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski sent his good wishes from London to the Jewish citizens of Poland via the BBC. Stefan Rowecki, the commander of the Home Army in Warsaw, was irritated; such gestures, he thought, made “the worst possible impression” among Poles. This revealed a basic tension, apparent throughout 1941, between the Polish exile government and its underground army. Anti-Semitism, Rowecki seemed to think, was so pervasive that the Jewish issue should be tabled until war’s end. Many Poles had been inclined to support anti-Semitic parties in the 1930s, and the experience of German and Soviet occupation had not helped.4

Some Poles claimed to resent the Jews who had taken up positions of authority in the Soviet occupation apparatus in eastern Poland between 1939 and 1941, after the Soviet invasion of that part of the country. Other Poles were corrupted by having taken over Jewish houses or apartments when Jews were forced into ghettos in 1940 and 1941. Throughout 1941, Poles were debating the political and civic status that Jews should have in Poland after the war. The exile government took the view that postwar Poland would be a democracy without racial discrimination. Within the government, however, nationalists questioned this position.

Polish wartime debates about the “Jewish question” ceased only when Adolf Hitler’s answer became clear. The condition of Polish Jews became a pressing question for the exile government and the Home Army when the Germans began to gas Jews in the final weeks of 1941. In early 1942, Polish leaders believed that news of the shocking German campaign would prompt action from Great Britain and the United States. The Home Army thought that the revelation of the existence of gassing facilities would force the Germans to stop. It transmitted to London the documentation about the death factory at Chełmno that had been gathered by the ghetto historian Emanuel Ringelblum. This led to BBC broadcasts about the mass extermination of Polish Jews. The Polish government in London, though always presenting Jewish suffering as part of a larger story of Polish martyrdom, gave the mass murder of Jews as a reason for the British and the Americans to carry out retributions against German civilians. In vain: the Germans were not shamed by the publicity, and the Western allies took no meaningful action.5

In 1942, in Operation Reinhard, the Germans deported some 1.3 million Polish Jews from ghettos in the General Government to death factories at Treblinka, Bełz˙ec, and Sobibór. The asso- ciated mass deportations of the Jews of Warsaw, which began on July 22, forced the local Home Army into action. It supplied false documentation to Jewish survivors, supported Z·egota, the Polish government organization that aided Jewish survivors, and assisted Jews within the Warsaw Ghetto who were planning an uprising. Operation Reinhard reached the town of Wierzbnik on October 27. As Browning shows, an unusually high proportion of Wierzbnik Jews, some 1,200 men and four hundred women, were selected for labor. Browning provides a heartrending depiction of the selections that separated those who would work for the Germans from the nearly four thousand who would be gassed at Treblinka.

This scene was repeated thousands of times in occupied Poland, but rarely if ever has it been rendered in such detail from so many perspectives. Some families were forced apart. Others divided themselves, not knowing which group was the better one. Some people left their families behind. Others stayed with their families when they might have saved themselves. Others still contrived to take their families with them into labor duty. Browning gently evokes the kinds of morality that could function in such a situation of extremity. He does not expect his sources to provide an example of ethical behavior: “We must be grateful for the testimonies of those who survived and are willing to speak, but we have no right to expect from them tales of edification and redemption.” But he does draw attention to the loyalties that did function: the bonds among families, lovers, and friends.

The Wierzbnik Jews selected for labor were in an exceptional position. By late October 1942, more than two million Polish Jews were already dead, shot in what had been eastern Poland or gassed at Treblinka, Bełz˙ec, Sobibór, or Chełmno. In 1943 and 1944, as hundreds of thousands more Polish Jews were gassed at Auschwitz or shot in the East, Wierzbnik Jews continued to live and work. They owed their survival to an accident of geography: their homes were very near the Polish arms factory at Starachowice, now taken over by the Germans. Jewish labor at Starachowice was important to the German war effort. The Starachowice camps were not under the direct authority of the SS, but rather run by a private business, operating within a larger holding company. As in the Wierzbnik ghetto, daily authority over Jews in the Starachowice camps was in the hands of a Jewish council and Jewish police force. These institutions, which drew heavily from families that had been prosperous before the war, distributed labor assignments on the basis of connections and bribes. German personnel were few, and the guards were stationed outside the camps.

There was little need to guard the camps: in 1943 in occupied Poland, Starachowice was a place Jews escaped to, not a place they escaped from. When Jews from Majdanek were transferred to Starachowice, they could hardly believe their eyes. The place was filthy and the work was dangerous, but Jews remained alive in large numbers, sometimes even with their children. Some were able to supplement their minimal food rations by selling belongings that they had left for safekeeping with Wierzbnik Poles. Jews at Starachowice bribed camp guards to accompany them to Wierzbnik, where they would carry out these transactions. Then they returned to the camps with the food. To escape from Starachowice would be to court death. Jews found by Germans would be shot. Although thousands of Poles aided Jews despite the death sentence they faced for doing so, it would be an extraordinary gamble to trust any given Pole. In this part of occupied Poland there was no underground army that Jews knew would accept them, and no Jewish armed force that could protect them.

The major Jewish armed rebellion against German rule in the General Government, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April–May 1943, had aimed not at survival but rather at the choice of the manner of death. It had involved a certain alliance between Poles and Jews, but one that did not endure. The Warsaw branch of the Home Army had given Jews a substantial part of its modest weapons cache. Seven of the first eight armed actions taken by the Home Army in Warsaw were in support of the ghetto. This was symbolic: as everyone knew, the Home Army in Warsaw could not have saved the Jews of the ghetto in April 1943, even had it devoted all of its troops and weapons to this purpose. After the Ghetto Uprising was crushed, Home Army commanders failed to enlist surviving Jewish fighters. Thus even Jews with combat experience found themselves hunted in occupied Poland in 1943. Jews had to fear not only the Germans, but also local units of the Home Army who (on several documented occasions) shot them as bandits or (on a few documented occasions) shot them to steal their belongings.

From the perspective of the Home Army, 1943 was the year of an irresolvable dilemma: the Germans were losing the war, but the Soviets were winning it. In February the Red Army had dealt the Wehrmacht its first major defeat, at Stalingrad. Henceforth, the Home Army had to resist the Germans while preparing for the arrival of the Soviets. German propaganda drove the point home that April, revealing that the Soviets had shot thousands of Polish officers at Katyn. Stalin used the revelation of his own mass murder as a pretext to break diplomatic relations with Poland.6 This was an unmistakable sign of imperial ambition. If Stalin would not recognize the legitimate Polish government during a common war against Nazi Germany, why would he endorse Polish independence after a Soviet victory?

Some Home Army commanders feared that arming Polish Jews would ease the spread of Soviet power. Though this sometimes took the form of an anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jew as Communist, the concern was not entirely unjustified. The Polish Communist party was part of the Jewish Combat Organization, which the Home Army had supplied with arms. The man who negotiated those arms transfers, Aryeh Wilner, was also negotiating with Communists. The Jewish representative within the Polish government department charged with rescuing Jews, Adolf Berman, was also in touch with the Communists. (His brother Jakub would later preside over the Communist security apparatus that would persecute Home Army veterans—including those who had aided Jews.)7 For the Home Army, the Soviet advance meant the arrival of a dubious ally against the Germans as well as an impending threat to Polish independence. For Jews it meant life. This basic difference in perspectives, a result of the Holocaust, was difficult to overcome.

For Jews at Starachowice, only labor counted. As Browning masterfully reconstructs daily life within the factory camps, he reveals what Jews knew about their fate and the limits of their local perspective. When typhus broke out, for example, the Germans at first simply shot the Jews who were infected. So long as Jewish labor was available for rent from the SS, shooting sick Jews was the economically rational thing to do. As the war continued and the number of living Jews plunged, the Germans treated sick Jews rather than killing them. Jews remembered this as a change in the camp regime; Browning recalls the larger causes.

In late 1943, Heinrich Himmler liquidated most of the camps in the General Government where Jews were used as labor, and had tens of thousands of Jewish workers shot. The directors of Starachowice sacrificed some of the women and children to Himmler, but preserved the men. Because their business was making arms, they could evade the policy of murdering all Jews. Only the Red Army’s successful offensive in June 1944 forced the closure of the factory camps at Starachowice. In July the Jewish laborers at Starachowice were sent to Auschwitz. Mortality rates in one of the railcars was high, but not only because of the transport conditions: some of the stronger prisoners took the opportunity to beat the members of the camp council to death.

The Red Army was disarming Home Army units as it entered eastern Poland. The Home Army’s only hope seemed to be an uprising against the Germans in Warsaw, timed to exploit the Soviet advance but precede the actual arrival of Soviet troops. The aim was to liberate Warsaw from German occupation by Polish efforts, and to install a Polish government before the Red Army arrived. In late July 1944, as the Wierzbnik Jews were sent to Auschwitz, the Red Army approached Warsaw. On August 1, 1944, the Warsaw Uprising began. The Home Army fought the Germans there for eight weeks: a longer battle than either the Polish campaign of 1939 or the French campaign of 1940, and with casualties comparable to both. As Dariusz Libionka and Barbara Engelking demonstrate in their pioneering study, Jews took part in the battle, most of them in the Home Army.8 Some of these were people of Jewish origin who regarded or presented themselves as Poles and had been in the Home Army all along. Others were veterans of the Ghetto Uprising. More were survivors who left their places of shelter in Warsaw in order to fight, seeing it as self-evident that they would help Poles fight Germans. As Michał Zylberberg put it, “The Poles had risen to fight against the mortal enemy, and it was our obligation, as victims and as fellow citizens, to help them.” The Warsaw Uprising was a major example of armed Jewish resistance to the Germans during World War II. Indeed, it is quite possible that more people of Jewish origin took part in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 than in the Ghetto Uprising of 1943.

The Warsaw Uprising, like the Ghetto Uprising before it, was defeated. The Home Army, like the Jews the previous year, fought essentially alone. Stalin forbade Allied air drops when they might have helped. The Germans held the line at the Vistula River, and the Red Army halted. Some of the most brutal German SS and police formations defeated the Polish resistance in Warsaw, killing at least 120,000 Polish civilians.

These people perished not only because German forces were ordered to kill them, but also because Joseph Stalin allowed them to die. The Red Army was indeed halted by the stubborn German defense at the Vistula, but its encampment there for five months must be understood as a political act. It doomed the Poles (and the Jews) who were fighting the Germans in Warsaw. The Germans killed people who, as Stalin knew, would also have resisted the imposition of Communist rule.

The Germans were able to empty not only Starachowice, but also the last ghetto in occupied Poland, in Łódz´. In July 1944, Łódz´ Jews knew that the Red Army was nearby, and thought they could be liberated in a matter of days. Some 67,000 Jews were transported from Łódz´ to Auschwitz while the Warsaw Uprising was taking place. Whereas the Wierzbnik Jews were not subjected to a selection at the ramp at Birkenau, most of the Łódz´ Jews were gassed upon arrival.9

By the time the Red Army finally reached Warsaw in January 1945, the Wierzbnik Jews, Łódz´ Jews, and other Jews were being marched from Auschwitz to labor camps in Germany, where they would remain until the end of the war. This ordeal was deadlier for the Wierzbnik Jews than Starachowice and Auschwitz; hundreds died in a matter of a few months. After the Red Army took Berlin in May, Polish- Jewish survivors found their way to displaced-persons camps in Germany. A few dozen Wierzbnik Jews were able to return to Poland and their hometown, where they were greeted with ugly threats from the Poles who had stolen their houses. In June a few returning Wierzbnik Jews were murdered by Poles. One Jew was beheaded. In Poland as a whole, hundreds of Jews were murdered by Poles in the months after the war was over.

Browning concludes from this horrible finale that the goal of the Polish underground was the end of Jewish life in Poland. He adds that the Polish nation was defined in opposition to an enemy image of the Jew. As Browning acknowledges, it is not at all clear that members of the Home Army committed the murders and robberies in Wierzbnik; the Jews upon whose testimony Browning relies could not have known this. However that may be, it is misleading to discuss Polish political aims only in the light of these events. If Polish patriotism was simply a matter of hating Jews, why did the Home Army fight the Nazis with such determination?

Officially, the Home Army was fighting for constitutional liberal democracy and equal rights for all citizens; what its victory or indeed what democratic elections would have brought to Poland we will never know. After intimidation campaigns and faked elections, Poland became a Soviet satellite governed by a Communist regime. We owe the description of the Home Army as a reactionary nationalist clique to Soviet and Polish Communists, whose forces defeated its stubborn remnants, tortured its best officers, and hanged its last commander after a show trial.

In Stalinist Poland, only Communist resistance to the Germans was recognized as such; everything else was fascism. Communists had no difficulty whatsoever in conflating the people who had fought the Nazis with the Nazis themselves. The Ghetto Uprising was celebrated as Communist (though it was not); the Warsaw Uprising was denounced as fascist (though it was not). Yet we owe the stark separation of the two events to national as well as to Communist politics. The Ghetto Uprising is a founding myth of the State of Israel, and the Warsaw Uprising is a founding myth of today’s post-Communist Poland: this, too, keeps the two events further apart in memory than they were in history.

Though the record of the Home Army toward Jews is ambivalent, the dark legend must be abandoned. Important as Jewish testimonial material is to the history of the Holocaust, the recollections of Jews who spent years in camps cannot serve as the basis for historical reckonings with the Home Army. If its history were to be written from Jewish perspectives, these would have to include those of people such as Chaja and Estera Borenstein, who volunteered as nurses at the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising, or Marian Mendenholc, who died trying to rescue Polish comrades right at its very end. It would have to allow for the experiences of Jews such as Stanisław Aronson. Fighting in the most celebrated unit of the Home Army in the Warsaw Uprising, Aronson stormed Umschlagplatz, from which he himself had been deported to Treblinka two years before. Then he and his Polish comrades liberated a concentration camp on the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, and freed several hundred Jews.

That said, the pristine legend of an unblemished Home Army, cultivated by Polish veterans and patriots, is also unsustainable. There was distance between soldiers in the field and declarations from London, variation among regions and units, reluctance to see Jews as part of the Polish nation, insensitivity to the particular dangers faced by Jews, and occasional outright murder. Getting the balance right is not just a matter for Jews and Poles. The Home Army was the most significant non-Communist resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Europe. Those who regard opposition to Hitler as a measure of morality will have to take its history seriously.

Friday, June 4, 2010

‘Vatican to accept that Mt. Sinai is in Negev, not Egypt’

‘I‘m sure Karkom is the real mountain of God,’ Prof. Emmanuel Anati declares. ‘Israel should be proud.’

It has taken him more than a decade, but Italian-Israeli archeologist Prof. Emmanuel Anati now believes his controversial view that the biblical Mount Sinai is in Israel’s Negev desert rather than Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula will soon be adopted by the Vatican.

On Friday, he presented his theory in the form of a new book at a seminar at the Theological Seminary in the northeastern Italian city of Vicenza.

“Actually it’s not a theory, it’s a reality. I’m sure of it, Anati told The Jerusalem Post by telephone from his home in Capo di Ponte. “My archeological discoveries at Har Karkom over many years and my close reading of the Bible leave me with no doubt that it is the real Mount Sinai. I’m now sure that Karkom is the real mountain of God.”

In 2001, Anati published the English edition of a book that was first issued in Italian two years earlier and titled The Riddle of Mount Sinai – Archaeological Discoveries at Har Karkom. In the book, he postulated that Karkom, 25 km. from the Ramon Crater, was probably the peak at which Moses received the Ten Commandments – and not the summit in southern Sinai where Santa Catarina (Saint Catherine’s Monastery) stands.

“I know this is revolutionary,” he conceded. “I’m not only changing the location, but I’m moving Mount Sinai to Israel, and I’m sure it will anger the Egyptians. But Israel should be proud of this. The Negev is empty and should be developed.”

“I’m also changing the date of the Exodus from Egypt to some 1,000 years earlier than previously thought,” he added. “I know this will drive everyone crazy. But I am right. I’m sure of it.”

Anati reasoned that if the account in the Book of Exodus was historically accurate, it must refer to the third millennium BCE – and more precisely to the period between 2200 and 2000 BCE.

Jewish tradition puts the Exodus around the year
1313 BCE. According to Catholic tradition, Helena of Constantinople – the mother of Emperor Constantine credited with finding the relics of Jesus’s cross – determined the location of Mount Sinai and ordered the construction of a chapel at the site (sometimes referred to as the Chapel of Saint Helen) in about 330 CE.

According to Anati, however, an abundance of archeological evidence showed that Mount Karkom had been a holy place for all desert peoples, and not just the Jews, which substantiated his case.

He said more than 1,200 finds at Karkom – including sanctuaries, altars, rock paintings and a large tablet resembling the Ten Commandments – indicated that it had been considered a sacred mountain in the Middle Bronze Age. In addition, he said, the topography of its plateau perfectly reflected that of the biblical Mount Sinai.

Finally, he concluded, the biblical tale clearly
backed up his geographic argument.

“When the Children of Israel left Egypt, they reached the Arava. They couldn’t have been in Santa [Catarina], because it says in the Bible that they reached Nahal Tzin, and moved on to Hebron,” Anati said. “The whole story of receiving the Torah must have taken place in the Negev. The Children of Israel wandered in the north and not the south, in the Negev and not the Sinai.”

He was just as certain that the Holy See would officially sanction his stance, and that millions of Catholic pilgrims could soon be visiting Mount Karkom instead of Mount Sinai.

“Actually, they have already accepted my theory,” he said. “They are already organizing pilgrimages. There is already a plan, and I have meetings scheduled with theologians and others, including the Vatican pilgrimage office. They want to start pilgrimages to Karkom as soon as next year.”

Anati said he was aware that he had his detractors, especially among archeologists in Israel, several of whom were interviewed refuting his claims on a Channel 1 Mabat Sheni documentary aired on Wednesday night.

“I know there are all kinds of people – including professors – who resist my theory, and it’s natural that this occurs,” he said. “I urge them all to read my book and study the evidence before criticizing me.”

Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Israel Finkelstein, a world-renowned expert on the subject, said he could not accept Anati’s hypothesis.

“I do not see any connection between the third millennium BCE finds at Har Karkom and the Exodus story. The latter was put in writing not before the 7th or 6th centuries BCE, and as such depicts realities which are many centuries later than the finds of Har Karkom,” Finkelstein told the Post. “Roaming the desert with the Bible in one hand and the spade in the other is a 19th-century endeavor which has no place in modern scholarship.”

Anati said it had taken the Catholic Church several years to be persuaded by his argument, and recognition had been a slow process.

“About three-and-a-half years ago, I had a telephone call from the Vatican that a priest of high standing wanted to meet with me, and he arrived here with a driver. I live 500 km. from Rome, and he sat with me for a whole day and asked me a lot of questions,” Anati recalled.

“Then he disappeared, and after about a year, a group of theologians from the Catholic Church appeared and wanted to investigate the matter more deeply. Seven theologians sat here for the whole day, and I later met with them four times.

“Six months ago they spent four days with me at Karkom, and as a result of this, the Vatican publisher – Edizioni Messaggero Padova – asked me to write up my findings. I revised and updated my book, and they have now published it in Italian, changing the title to The Rediscovery of Mount Sinai.”

“Twenty years ago, I had a hunch that Har
Karkom was the real Mount Sinai,” Anati said.
“Three years ago I was convinced I was correct. Today I know I’m right.”

There was no official Vatican response to Anati’s claims, nor was there an immediate reaction from the Egyptians.

Anati was born in Florence in 1930 to Jewish
parents, and soon after the establishment of Israel, he moved to Jerusalem and received a bachelor’s degree in archeology from the Hebrew University. He later became a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard and was awarded a doctorate at the Sorbonne.

Fluent in Hebrew, he taught prehistory at Tel Aviv University and conducted extensive research in the Negev.

Upon his return to Italy, he founded the Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici in Capo di Ponte in 1964, and he remains its executive director today. It is believed to be the only institute in the world that specializes in prehistoric art.

Anati’s study of rock paintings in Valcamonica
spurred UNESCO to include the alpine valley in its list of World Cultural Heritage sites.