viernes, 23 de septiembre de 2016

Why Germany still pursues justice for victims of Nazis

Hubert Zafke, a former medic with the SS at Auschwitz-Birkenau, has had his trial put on hold for the fifth time. What's behind a fresh pursuit of justice for victims of the Holocaust?

In 1944, Hubert Zafke was a medical orderly at the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. This year, at the age of 95, he was supposed to stand trial for his actions during his time with the SS.
A German court announced Monday that his trial would be suspended for health reasons, the fifth such postponement since Mr. Zafke was brought in front of a judge for a first hearing in February.
The multiple postponements highlight the difficulties of putting former Nazis on trial almost 70 years after the fall of the Third Reich. In spite of the difficulties, German courts have seen a spike in prosecution attempts in the past several years. That uptick reflects a relatively recent shift in the legal framework applied in a decades-old pursuit of justice for some six million Jews killed during the Holocaust.
Zafke is charged with 3,681 counts of accessory to murder, according to The Guardian. Prosecutors allege that his unit worked near the gas chambers that killed hundreds of thousands of Jews and others at Auschwitz-Birkenau. They also claim that by providing medical assistance to SS guards, the medical staff, including Zafke, was culpable in helping the operation of the camp.
For many observers, Zafke, a single medic, represents a mere cog in the Nazi genocide machine. For much of the 20th century, following the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals in 1945 and the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, prosecutors of Nazi war criminals focused on proving a direct involvement in the atrocities committed at the various camps. For decades, guards like Zafke were allowed to remain free because of a lack of proof linking them to specific murders.
"In order to be found guilty of criminal complicity [in the Holocaust], the prosecution had the burden of proving specific involvement in acts of criminal violence against known, named individuals, and that's a very high standard," Ken Ledford, a professor of history and law at Case Western Reserve University, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "It's just very difficult to have that evidence, either in the eyewitness testimony or in documentary evidence."
All that changed with the case of John Demjanjuk, in 2011, a former SS guard who worked at the Sobibór extermination camp in Poland. For the first time, a new generation of prosecutors argued that a guard's involvement at the camp was enough to convict him, despite the lack of evidence linking him to a specific murder. In 2011, the court agreed, ushering in a new wave of prosecution of former Nazis, after such cases had largely dried up in the preceding decades.
"At a place that existed solely for the purpose of murdering people, anyone who was involved in carrying out that process was an accessory to the murder that was happening there," Elizabeth White, a historian at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum who helped the US Department of Justice investigate Demjanjuk under immigration law, told the Monitor in February. 
There are not many such criminals left. Those that are, such Zafke, are old and often ill, and some question whether it is even worth the effort after so many decades, arguing that there's nothing that such low-ranking guards could have realistically done to resist becoming caught up in the Nazi system.
"People have said 'Well, these guys who were still alive were really young. They were just small fry,'" said Dr. White in February. "But to the people, they helped kill, they were not small fry. They were not insignificant." Klaus Kabisch, the judge in Zafke's case, has faced allegations of bias for seeming reluctant to have Zafke stand trial, with prosecutors submitting a motion for him to recuse himself. A higher court overruled an earlier ruling against bringing the case to trial, because of concerns over Zafke's health, according to Agence France-Presse.
"The co-plaintiffs have abandoned all hope that a trial that is anything other than a farce will actually start one day under this presiding judge," plaintiff lawyers Thomas Walther and Cornelius Nestler said in a statement last week.
Dr. Ledford explains that, in spite of the angry remarks by the prosecution, repeated delays like this in the German legal system are not unusual, and recusals like the one called for by the prosecution only happen under extraordinary circumstances. Postponements due to health are common when prosecuting someone as old as Zafke, a major obstacle towards putting former Nazis on trial.
The Zafke trial comes after the three most recent trials of former SS members all resulted in convictions. In addition to Demjanjuk's conviction, Oskar Groening was sentenced to four years in prison, and Reinhold Hanning was sentenced to five; both men were stationed at Auschwitz.
While the sentences may seem short, the German legal system takes into account the condition of those who are sentenced. Since both men are in their 90s and not expected to live much longer, the sentences are considered harsh by German standards, according to Dr. Ledford.
But for many Germans, the conviction of former SS guards is not just about punishing the men responsible, but about educating younger generations about the atrocities committed in the past before the last members of that generation die out.
"Given Germany's crimes of the Holocaust in the Second World War, Germany has an obligation to itself, and to the world, to constantly remain vigilant," says Ledford.
"I think the victims deserve it," he adds.
Learn more about Nazism and Holocaust by reading "The Nazis and Evil", published in 4 languages.
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viernes, 2 de septiembre de 2016

The last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor has one ultimate dream

Ben Ferencz pops a cough drop into his mouth, "to loosen my ancient throat." Where to begin his improbable story?
"I was born in a small village in Transylvania in the Carpathian Mountains," he says, sitting in the living room of his modest retirement home. "It was a small house with a thatched roof, no running water, no electricity," and, he jokes, "not even a television."
Ferencz is 96. His memory astonishes, plucking dates and names from more than half a century past. He's a tiny man, barely brushing five feet, but a legal giant: the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials and a champion of international criminal law who is about to donate millions to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to promote world peace.
His Nuremberg case, which the Associated Press called "the biggest murder trial in history," defines him. It involved the Einsatzgruppen, roving extermination squads responsible for more than a million deaths during World War II. Ferencz convinced his fellow attorneys at the postwar tribunals that the Nazi officers who led the squads had to be put on trial. Fine, they said. Ben, you serve as chief prosecutor.
Ferencz was 27.
It was his first trial.
He presented precisely one witness, who certified Nazi documents that recorded the slaughter of Jews, gypsies and other civilians with a banker's efficiency.
"They were so sure they were going to win! The Germans were great at documentation, thank you very much," Ferencz says, clapping his hands.
"Death was their tool and life their toy," he told the judge in the Palace of Justice's quiet, wood-paneled courtroom. "If these men are immune, then the law has lost its meaning, and man must live in fear."
The prosecution rested after two days. All 22 defendants were found guilty.
Was he nervous? "I'm not the type," he says. "Fearless Ferencz!" Afterward, though, "my head was bursting. I never had such a headache in my life. It was high tension." Ferencz had to lie down and skip the party he threw for his staff.
The courtroom's size limited the number of defendants the prosecutors could try. "There were hundreds of people responsible," he says. "How many were put on trial? Practically none."
After the trials, Ferencz fought for restitution for thousands of World War II victims and argued for the creation of the International Criminal Court, which entered into force in 2002, headquartered in The Hague.
"My hope is that people will not be content to look at the past and say never again, and then do nothing," he says. "So I am taking the measures for preventing it from ever happening again."
That's the purpose of his $1 million donations to the Holocaust Museum for the Ferencz International Justice Initiative. The annual gift is renewable for up to $10 million.
Where did he get the money? He saved what he earned from his salary and cases unrelated to war victims. And he appears to have saved almost every dollar.
His retirement community in Delray Beach, Florida, a place he does not care for, resembles a 1970s military barracks capped with glazed pink Spanish tile roofs. His home, which he purchased 40 years ago for less than $23,000, is decorated with budget furniture that offers little comfort. Personal flourishes are few. It looks like he moved in yesterday.
"Law not war, that's my motto. Simple. Three words," he says. "It causes me pain to see the world as it is. But not to do anything, not to try, that would be wrong."
As a private who rose to the rank of sergeant in Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army, Ferencz was present at or arrived days after, the liberation of several concentration camps: Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Flossenburg, Ebensee.
"The story is basically the same for every camp," he says. "Inmates being worked to death at every camp. Conditions absolutely horrible and indescribable, unforgettable. Guards fleeing."
Ferencz has shared his stories for seven decades. "I saw the inmates beat up a guy they captured and burn him alive," Ferencz says of a German guard. "Slowly. I saw it."
He stops. His eyes pool with tears, and a linen handkerchief emerges from his pinstriped pocket.
"Excuse me," he says, "but I still see it. Could I have probably stopped it? No. Did I try? No. Should I have tried? No. You try being there."
Ferencz spends his days in a narrow office overlooking a man-made lagoon and a flock of white ibises. At his desk, crafted from a slab of plywood supported by filing cabinets, he curses the computer for failing to obey his commands. "It must be an anti-Semite," he says.
A New Yorker most of his life, Ferencz has another home in New Rochelle, where he raised four children. He has lived long enough to see them retire.
Ferencz is here, in the punishing late summer heat and humidity, only because of Gertrude, his wife of 70 years, is in failing health and prefers Florida. Her problem? "She's old!"
He lived simply, invested wisely and sat on those investments for decades. "I don't gamble. I like plain food," he says, pulling at his navy suspenders. "I like simple things." The slippers he's wearing, purchased for $5, are his fancy pair. A copy of the Kama Sutra winks from a bookshelf thick with tomes on international criminal law. He's a bit of a flirt. His indulgence is talk. For four hours he talks.
"I came into the world a poor boy. I want to go out of this world a poor boy," he says. "My resolve is to give it all back in gratitude for the opportunity I've had in the United States. I have been trying to my life, ever since I can remember, to try and create a more peaceful and humane world. And I want the money to go for that purpose. I realize it will not happen in my lifetime because I'm trying to reverse thousands of years of tradition and glorification of war."
"The recipient of Ferencz's largesse is the Holocaust Museum's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. "We're planning to make sure the fight he has waged his whole life continues after he is gone. Ben has seen absolutely the worst of humanity," says Cameron Hudson, director of the center. "He's seen it up close, and to have this kind of faith in humanity, that we can overcome our most base impulses, is amazing."
Ferencz has lived to see many more atrocities - Rwanda, Sudan, Syria. Still, he believes "we can reverse the glorification of war. We can change hearts and minds, and hold individuals accountable."
He remains frustrated that despots and terrorists are killed instead of tried in criminal courts to deter further aggression. He would have brought Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden to trial in international court.
But he is also optimistic about civilization's advances. "I have also lived through unbelievable change, that a woman is running for president, or that a man can marry a man - enormous, inconceivable transformations in my lifetime," he says.
This is how Ferencz speaks, alternating between speeches about global peace and what he calls "Benny stories," tales worthy of Sholem Aleichem if Aleichem had been raised in a Hell's Kitchen cellar and gone to Harvard Law.
The family moved to the United States when Ben was 10 months old. Ferencz's father was a janitor who graduated to house painting. His parents were in an arranged family marriage - they were cousins - and later divorced. Crime was the neighborhood's chief industry. An uncle told him, "You'll either be a good lawyer or a good crook." Ferencz attended City College, where bright immigrants went free in the 1930s. "I didn't know any lawyers. I wanted to go to the best school," he says.
Someone mentioned Harvard. OK, Ferencz said, Harvard, it is.
He wanted the best as insurance and protection, he says, to command respect. "Because I was very short. I was very small. Five-foot-two at the height of my height," he says. "It kept me out of the Air Force. I wanted to be a pilot. I couldn't reach the pedals. But, by chance, I had a very good education."
Harvard, where he began his lifelong study of war crimes, got him to Nuremberg, but not before he served as a grunt in Patton's army.
He enlisted. "In their typical brilliance, being a Harvard Law School graduate and an expert on war crimes, they assigned me to clean the latrines in the artillery and do every other filthy thing they could give me," he says. "Why? Because I was a Harvard man. I was never high and mighty. They didn't care. They were a bunch of idiots."
His low rank had its privileges. On bathtub duty, he claims, he saw Marlene Dietrich naked. As a member of Patton's forces, he was at Normandy, broke though the Maginot and Siegfried lines, crossed the Rhine at Remagen, and took part in the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne.
He was awarded five battle stars, though not, he argues, for bravery. "I was hiding under whatever truck or tank I could get under," he says. "My weapon was a typewriter."
After his return to the States and Gertrude, Ferencz was recruited for Nuremberg. Telford Taylor, his eventual boss, noted that his Army files indicated that he was occasionally insubordinate.
"That's not correct, sir. I am not occasionally insubordinate," Ferencz told his future law partner. "I am usually insubordinate. I don't take orders that I know are stupid or illegal."
After Nuremberg, Ferencz worked for years seeking restitution for individuals and organizations. "I was known as a lawyer who takes hopeless but morally well-founded cases on a contingency basis," he says. He wrote books on international law. The Vietnam War disgusted him - "crazy and should be illegal," he says. He quit his law practice to dedicate himself to peace.
"It's possible to take the most fundamental, strongly held ideas and change them. What makes people change? Sometimes fear, sometimes reason, sometimes sentiment," he says. "You have to teach people to be more tolerant, to be more compassionate, to compromise. It takes courage. Crimes are committed by individuals, not movements, and you have to hold the people responsible in courts."
Ferencz has lived long enough to participate in the first case before the International Criminal Court. At age 91, he gave a closing statement in the prosecution of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in Uganda. But he is far from satisfied and has railed at senators and former Cabinet members, urging more aggressive prosecution of war criminals.
Ferencz has been awarded a trove of medals, including the French Legion of Honor, Germany's military medal of honor and Holland's Erasmus Prize. He doesn't want to see the Holocaust Museum "just be a historical archive. It has to do something, to build on the suffering to avoid any in the future." In pursuit of peace and more teaching of international criminal law, he is working with Harvard and Cardozo law schools.
Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the Einsatzgruppen trial at Nuremberg. The last remaining prosecutor could be excused for watching a baseball game or two, or reading a mystery.
Ferencz does none of that. He performs 100 push-ups each morning, swims in his retirement community pool, cares for Gertrude at night. Otherwise, he works at his makeshift desk, cursing the computer.
Fun? Ferencz has no time for fun.

jueves, 1 de septiembre de 2016

Failed Jewish Holocaust survivor plot to kill Nazis still a mystery after 70 years

Joseph Harmatz at his apartment in Tel Aviv,
Israel, on 23 May 2016. Photograph: Tsafrir Abayov/AP
Neither Jewish ‘Avenger’ Joseph Harmatz nor a recently declassified US military report can explain why Nuremberg poison operation caused no known deaths

Seventy years after the most daring attempt of Jewish Holocaust survivors to seek revenge, the leader of the plot has only one simple regret – that to his knowledge he didn’t actually kill any Nazis.
Joseph Harmatz is one of the few remaining Jewish “Avengers” who carried out a mass poisoning of former SS men in an American-run prisoner-of-war camp in 1946 that sickened more than 2,200 Germans but ultimately caused no known deaths. A recently declassified US military report obtained by the Associated Press has only added to the mystery of why the brazen operation did not kill Nazis because it shows the amount of arsenic used should have been fatal to tens of thousands.
Still, the 91-year-old Harmatz says the message echoed into a rallying cry for the new state of Israel, established in 1948 – that the days when attacks on Jews went unanswered were over.
“We didn’t want to come back [to Palestine] without having done something, and that is why we were keen,” Harmatz said in a hoarse, whispery voice from his apartment in north Tel Aviv. He lost most of his family in the Holocaust.
Despite a visceral desire for vengeance after the second world war, most Holocaust survivors were too weary or devastated to seriously consider it. But a group of some 50, most young men and women who had already fought in the resistance could not let the crimes go unpunished. While there were some isolated acts of Jews harming individual Nazis after the war, the group, codenamed Nakam, Hebrew for vengeance, sought a more comprehensive form of punishment.

The mission was simple.
“Kill Germans,” Harmatz said flatly.
How many?
“As many as possible,” he quickly replied.
The first idea described by Harmatz was initiated by the resistance fighter and poet Abba Kovner: to poison the water supply of Nuremberg. But there were deep reservations even among the Avengers that such an operation would bring mass death to innocent Germans and undermine international support for the eventual creation of the state of Israel. Either way, when Kovner sailed for Europe with the poison, he drew suspicion from British authorities and was forced to toss it overboard.
So attention shifted toward Plan B, a more limited operation that specifically targeted the worst Nazi perpetrators.

Undercover members of the group found work at a bakery that supplied the Stalag 13 POW camp at Langwasser, near Nuremberg. On 13 April 1946, using poison procured from one of Kovner’s associates, three members spent two hours coating some 3,000 loaves of bread with arsenic. The goal was to kill 12,000 SS personnel, and Harmatz oversaw the operation from outside the bakery.
“The terrible tragedy was about to be forgotten, and if you don’t punish for one crime, you will get another,” explained Dina Porat, the chief historian at Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial, who is about to publish a book on the Avengers. “This is what was driving them, not only justice but a warning, a warning to the world that you cannot hurt Jews in such a manner and get away with it.”
Under German regulations, authorities in Nuremberg later investigated Harmatz and Leipke Distal, who worked undercover in the bakery for months, after they revealed details of the operation in a 1999 television documentary. The prosecutors eventually concluded that even though there was an attempted murder they would not file charges because of the “extraordinary circumstances”.
According to previously classified files from the US military’s counter-intelligence corps, the amount of arsenic used should have been enough to cause a massive number of deaths. The files were obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Archives.
In one memo from 1947 stamped “confidential”, investigators write that at the bakery they found “three empty hot water bottles and a burlap bag containing four full hot water bottles”. An analysis of the contents “revealed that they contained enough arsenic mixed with glue and water to kill approximately 60,000 persons”.
Another confidential report said a chemist called in to help in the investigation had determined “10 kilo of pure arsenic was present, mixed with water and glue for adhesive purposes”.
Laboratory investigators found arsenic on the bottom, top and sides of the bread, and reported that doctors said the SS men exhibited symptoms “similar to cholera and included vomiting, diarrhea and skin rashes”. The report added that the most amount of arsenic found on a loaf was 0.2 grams – which fell well within the range of 0.1-0.3 grams that would be “in most cases lethal”.
To this day, it remains a mystery as to why the poison failed to kill Nazis. The prevailing theory is that the plotters in their haste spread the poison too thinly. Another is that the Nazi prisoners immediately sensed something was off with the bread and therefore no one ingested enough of it to die.
After the attack, Harmatz, Distal and others had to flee quickly. At the border of Czechoslovakia, they were met by Yehuda Maimon, an Auschwitz survivor from Poland who lost his parents in the camps. He smuggled the group out safely, and they ended up in Palestine.
From a retirement home outside Tel Aviv, the 92-year-old Maimon looks back with satisfaction at carrying out his “duty” for revenge.
“It was imperative to form this group. If I am proud of something it is that I belonged to this group,” he said. “Heaven forbid if after the war we had just gone back to the routine without thinking about paying those bastards back. It would have been awful not to respond to those animals.”

The Angel of Death's tortured Auschwitz victims: Body parts and BRAINS from Nazi doctor Josef Mengele's sick experiments are discovered in a Munich research lab

  • Remains were found during renovations at a Psychiatric Institute last year

  • In wartime, the unit received body parts from Nazi doctor Josef Mengele

  • He was dubbed the 'Angel of Death' for carrying out horrific experiments

  • Research committee has already started to identify some of the victims

  • Body parts and brains of victims of horrific experiments by Nazi doctors - including the infamous 'Angel of Death' Josef Mengele of Auschwitz - have been found at a leading German research institute.

    The gruesome remains were discovered in jars during renovations at the Max Planck Psychiatric Institute in Munich last year but reported on by Israeli media only this week.
    In the wake of the discovery a committee has been established in order to ascertain just how the victims came to die.

    It is known that in wartime the institute regularly received human body parts from Josef Mengele, the doctor at the Nazi death camp in occupied Poland where he became infamous for carrying out horrific experiments without anaesthetic.

    The Max Planck Institute claims the samples were once used by the Nazi brain researcher Julius Hallervorden, who conducted experiments on humans during and after the rule of the Nazis.

    He even served as the head of the neuropathology department at the institute, then known as the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, in 1938.

    The research committee has already started to identify some of the victims from whom the samples were taken with the goal of eventually interring them in a mass grave.

    The institute published on its website: 'We are embarrassed by these findings, and the blemish of their discovery in the archives. 

    'We will update the public with any further information that comes to light with complete transparency.'

    Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, Israel, had not been aware of the existence of the samples.

    Professor Dan Machman, director of the International Centre for Holocaust Research at the museum, told an Israeli radio station: 'It's surprising, although not completely. We know that experiments were conducted and that not everything was erased and buried. 

  • Two years ago, bones of victims on whom experiments were conducted were found in Berlin in the trash. Next year, we're going to organise a convention about this issue.

    'This current finding is something new that was previously unknown, and joins other events that are suddenly uncovered after 70 years.'

    'Whoever thought this chapter was completely finished is mistaken. It's hard to know if these samples are exclusively from "mercy killings" - the Nazi jargon for the murder of sick people for the purposes of experimentation - or if they also derive from other sources.' 

    From 1940 to 1945, hundreds of brains from victims of the mass murder of psychiatric patients and the mentally deficient at that time were examined scientifically at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research (KWI) in Berlin.

    'Researchers at the KWI for Brain Research like Julius Hallervorden (1882 -1965), who worked at the KWI from 1938, made themselves complicit in the organised murder of patients in an unbelievable manner,' said the institute.

    'The investigation mandated now should reveal more about the possible victims as well as scientific evaluations which have been performed. 

    'In addition, the brain sections dating from the Nazi era should be buried. It has yet to be decided where the sections which arose after 1945 will remain.' 

    Victims of Josef Mengele recall the horrors at Auschwitz. Video

    Learn more about the Nazi Medicine by reading "The Nazis and Evil", published in 3 languages.
    5 Stars Reviews eBook on Barnes and Noble and Bestseller on Kobo
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    viernes, 19 de agosto de 2016

    Hitler and the Reinvention of Interpreting

    First, I want to thank Ewandro Magalhães for letting me post his article on my blog.
    The Nazis were the first to organize a mass political meeting. They did it in Nuremberg. And...
    Did you know Hitler was the first orator to be simultaneously interpreted in history?
    Did you know the Nuremberg Trials are considered the cradle of conference interpreting?
    On September 10, 1934, a speech was made in Nuremberg that would change the world forever. Thousands of fanatical German youths stood in well-trimmed phalanxes on Zeppelin Field as an awe-inspiring and eloquent Adolf Hitler brought the 6th Nazi Party Congress to a close.
    Hitler had made a series of public appearances that week, his first as the almighty Führer of the German people, who already knew him as their Chancellor. A few days prior, an unlawful proclamation–and landslide plebiscite–had granted him unlimited authority over the country and its mighty army.
    Through political cunning and the allure of promises of a far-reaching, invincible empire that was to last a thousand years he had earned the loyalty and obedience of German citizens and soldiers. With his mesmerizing presence this Austrian-born and hitherto ordinary politician, naturalized just two years before, had managed to sway a nationalistic country in his favor. By sheer force of oratory, he would soon drag millions of well-meaning Germans into what was to become the bloodiest conflict in human history. Such is the power of words.
    Something else happened that day. Across the border, some 500 miles away, radio listeners in France were amazed to hear the message in their own language just as the words were being pronounced in German. Andre Kaminker, an interpreter of legendary renown in the day, had reluctantly accepted to shadow the speech as it came, rendering every word and idea into French equivalents, in real-time. It had never been attempted, and Kaminker himself doubted that it could be done. Somehow he managed, and a new form of communication was thus born. Simultaneous interpreting had been invented.
    The significance of that breakthrough could not be appreciated immediately. Soon thereafter, the world plunged into war and the technique lay dormant for another 10 years.
    A decade later the eyes of the world once again turned to Nuremberg, as the Allies attempted to bring closure to the senseless conflict and unprecedented genocide Hitler had unleashed on Europe. Twenty-one Nazi officials charged with a variety of offenses and atrocities were brought to justice in what would go down in history as the first war crimes trial of modern times.
    As judges, prosecutors, and counselors prepared for the historic case, a practical problem arose. Every testimony and every piece of evidence brought before the court would have to be interpreted from its original language into three others. Relying on consecutive interpreting–the traditional oral interpreting technique in which speakers and interpreters take turns–would prove tedious. It would prove risky, too. U.S. Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson feared that the defendants could use the trial as a platform to justify their wrongdoings and gain sympathy for their predicament. The longer the proceedings, the higher the risk that the Germans would succeed in depicting the trial as a victor’s charade: a tribunal for which no legal framework yet existed to address deeds yet to be qualified as crimes.
    The new, untested method of interpreting–which promised to cut the duration of the trial by half–now had to be expanded and perfected. IBM had been experimenting with a “simultaneous telephonic system” and offered its equipment to be pilot-tested at no cost, thereby solving the hardware issue. The challenge of actually making this system work, using students untrained in the new technique to deliver instantaneous interpreting into German, English, French, and Russian, fell to Leon Dostert, who had formerly served as interpreter to General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
    The first professionals to be approached about the job objected fiercely to the proposed system. They resented the impersonality of being placed in an “aquarium,” and the inhuman speed required of them. Dostert, however, insisted that the new system was feasible and set about to provide whatever minimum training could be given to translators, lawyers, and judges on how to use it.
    On November 20, 1945, the inaugural session of the court was called to order. Aware of the privilege and grave responsibility with which he had been entrusted, Justice Jackson had worked for weeks on his address. He chose his words wisely:
    The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish were so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, for it cannot survive their being repeated.
    Once again, a powerful speech had set the tone. With those opening remarks, any hope of a Nazi rebuttal was seriously compromised. Jackson’s eloquent rhetoric held the courtroom spellbound for nearly four hours and successfully framed the trial as “the most significant tribute that power has ever paid to reason.”
    Divided into three groups of 12, the interpreters relieved one another every 45 minutes and rendered every word spoken in court into their respective languages, doing their best to capture the subtle figures of speech and the sentiment behind each utterance. To compensate for the overwhelming mental and psychological demands of the job, one day off was offered for every two days of work. A most welcome break after the “never-ending recital of horrors in the courtroom,” remembers Patricia Vander Elst, one of the Nuremberg interpreters. She also recalls how stressful it was to live “amidst a sullen native population in a town that was just a heap of rubble.” After just four months in Nuremberg, she said she felt 10 years older.
    Despite their unpreparedness and limited training, these pioneers managed to get the job done and impressed many. Whitney Harris, with the American prosecution staff at the trials, marveled at the new “instantaneous translation” system:
    Whatever was said on an incoming line was instantaneously translated into the other languages by wonderfully skilled interpreters. The interpretations then went into every chair in the courtroom by other telephonic wires, to be picked up through headphones for which a switch was provided to enable the listener to select the preferred language. It was the first time in history that such a system had been used in a judicial proceeding or, for that matter, in any hearing of such length and complexity.
    The trial proceeded for another 10 months, setting an important precedent in international law. Of the 21 accused, only three were acquitted. Seven were given prison terms and 12 were sentenced to death by hanging. In his summation to the court, on July 26, 1946, turning to Shakespeare for a powerful analogy, Jackson spoke of the defendants:
    They stand before the record of this trial as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain king. He begged of the widow, as they beg of you: “Say I slew them not.” And the Queen replied, “Then say they were not slain. But dead they are.” If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say that there has been no war, there are no slain, there has been no crime.
    Jackson had managed to establish “incredible events by credible evidence.” For him, the defendants had been given a trial which they, “in the days of their pomp and power, never gave to any man.” Finally, as if to reassure the world of the fairness of the proceedings, he asserted: “The future will never have to ask, with misgiving, what could the Nazis have said in their favor. History will know that whatever could be said, they were allowed to say.”
    Indeed, whatever could be said was said and heard in four languages, thanks to the men and women who dared to challenge conventional wisdom and take the hot seat behind the glass, in that far-off year of 1945.
    Nuremberg, a city so quintessentially German, had witnessed both the start and end of a vicious war. Like most, it was a war fought with guns and bayonets. And like any other before or since, one triggered and eventually crushed by outstanding speeches. Such is the power of language.
    Written by 

    TED Author | UN Staff | Chief Interpreter

    miércoles, 17 de agosto de 2016


    Photograph of Regina Jonas believed
    to have been taken after 1939. Photo: JWA

    When Sally Priesand was ordained as a rabbi in the U.S. in 1972, everyone believed that she was the first ever female rabbi in history. But because of the recent German reunification, an obscure Jewish archive in East Berlin revealed that the real first female rabbi in the world lived during the early 20th century and became a victim of the Holocaust. Her name was Regina Jonas.

    Regina Jonas was a Jewish German-born in Berlin on August 3, 1902. Her family lived in Scheunenviertel, a poor neighborhood known for its mostly Jewish population. Young Regina’s interest in Judaism is said to have been an influence of her parents who together with her brother Abraham regularly visited the Rykestrasse Synagogue. The synagogue headed by Rabbi Max Weyl is noted for its modern orthodox views. Weyl was supportive in the idea that women may receive education, celebrate the bat mitzvah and should occupy higher roles in the synagogue. The rabbi also became an influence for Regina and the two would become close friends later on regularly meeting to study rabbinic literature. 

    Jonas manifested her desire to become a rabbi early on. She went to the Judische Madchen Mittelschule. After successfully passing Oberlyzeum Weissensee’s abitur in 1923, she eventually became a teacher. But her desire did not stop at becoming a Jewish religion teacher, she want to become a rabbi. In 1924, she enrolled at the Hochschule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums, a liberal Jewish institution. Though Jonas wanted to undergo training in an orthodox or traditional seminary, she knew that her chances of being ordained as a rabbi were higher at a liberal institution. 

    In 1930, she completed her training and received a “good” grade for her treatise or thesis. But her hopes of an ordination weren’t fulfilled because of the demise of her Talmud professor Eduard Baneth. No other rabbi and professor from the Hochschule wanted to ordain Jonas so she was left with no other choice than to become a Jewish teacher. Five years later, she found Rabbi Max Dienemann of the Liberaler Rabbinerverband or the Conference of Liberal Rabbis who eventually agreed to ordain her. Rabbi Dienemann agreed to ordain Jonas because “her heart is with God and Israel, and that she dedicates her soul to her goal, and that she fears God, and that she passed the examination in matters of religious law.” 

    But even if Jonas had officially become a rabbi, there was no pulpit or congregation made available to her except for the Jewish hospitals, old age homes, and prisons. Because of the rising Nazi regime, lives of Jews in the country became much harder and desperate. Those who could afford it fled from the country. Though Jonas and her mother had the opportunity to avoid persecution, she chose to stay and serve the suffering Jews. Because many Jews and rabbis had left, it eventually gave an opportunity for her to become the rabbi of the remaining but small communities of Jews. 

    On November 6, 1942, Jonas and her mother were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, a place where Jews are forced into labor by the Nazis. Together with Rabbi Leo Baeck and psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl, Jonas continued to help the Jews primarily by giving hope, uplifting the prisoners’ spirits and serving the weak and dying. After two years on October 12, 1944, she and her mother were eventually sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp and perished in its gas chambers. Jonas’ contribution to modern Judaism is contained in the handwritten documents titled “Lectures by the only female rabbi Regina Jonas”. Jonas is also noted for her thesis at the Hochschule entitled “Can A Woman Be a Rabbi According to Halakhic Sources?” In her research, there were really no prohibitions for women from becoming a rabbi. She explained that such prohibition was just a product of rabbinical interpretations and not something divine. Jonas, later on, pointed certain Jewish female figures that held halakhic decision-making positions that are tantamount of becoming a rabbi or more.


    miércoles, 1 de junio de 2016

    I Nazisti e il Male

    “Los nazis y el Mal” now available in the Italian language. 

    “I Nazisti e il Male. La distruzione dell'essere umano”

    Get it on
    Kobo e.books

    A great translation by Daniela Giovannetti. It's a book to reflect not just on the past, but on the present.

    Nazism opened the door to the global terrorism. It drew a structural evil where nobody was saved, not even the German people. The enemy: everybody who could think for themselves in a critical and creative way, everybody who didn't live according to the Nazi rules. The Aryans were just "manufactured individuals", designed to become dehumanized automatons.
    It's a highly topical book.

    Il nazismo spalancò le porte al terrorismo globalizzato. Ideò un male strutturale dove nessuno era in salvo neanche il popolo tedesco. Il nemico: tutti coloro che pensavano con una loro testa in maniera libera e diversa rispetto a coloro che dettavano le regole naziste. Gli ariani erano solo “individui fabbricati”, ideati per la violenza, ossia automi intelligenti disumanizzati. La socializzazione del crimine attraverso la violenza diventata cultura fu uno degli obiettivi raggiunti sia nei campi di concentramento che nella società.
    Un libro che mette in luce questioni ancora oggi attuali più che mai.

    Coming soon in German, French, Portuguese, and English as well.

    miércoles, 17 de febrero de 2016

    Auschwitz trial: three survivors describe horrors of Holocaust

    Reinhold Hanning in court in Detmold, Germany.
    Photograph: Reuters

    Youngest witness, now 90, recalls the terror of selection days when SS men decided who was still fit to work and who should be killed.

    Three Holocaust survivors have testified about the horrors they experienced at Auschwitz, on the second day of the trial of a former SS sergeant on 170,000 counts of accessory to murder.
    Justin Sonder arrives at court. Photograph: Bernd Thissen/EPA
    Reinhold Hanning, 94, showed no emotion as the witnesses told of crematoria chimneys belching flames, naked prisoners being taken to the gas chambers, and people being shot.
    Justin Sonder, the youngest of the witnesses at 90, arrived at Auschwitz aged 17 and was selected to be a slave labourer for the IG Farben company rather than sent directly to the gas chambers.

    He told the court that after three or four months he was considered one of the older prisoners and feared most selection days, when SS men would look at rows of inmates – who were forced to stand in a line naked for up to four hours – and decide who was still fit to work and who should be killed.
    “I don’t have the words to describe how it was when you know that you could be dead in one or two hours, it made you sick, made you crazy,” Sonder said, his voice trembling. “I survived 17 selections.” 
    Hanning is accused of serving as an SS Unterscharführer (junior squad leader) in Auschwitz from January 1943 to June 1944, a time when hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were brought to the camp in cattle cars and gassed to death.
    When first questioned by investigators he admitted that he had served in the Auschwitz I part of the camp, but denied serving at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau section, where most of the 1.1 million victims were killed.
    Prosecutors argue that he is guilty of accessory to murder because he helped the death camp to function, even though there is no evidence of him committing a specific crime.
    Hanning has spoken only one word so far in the trial, telling the presiding judge Anke Grudda on Friday, when she asked how he was after the first day of trial, that he was “good”. Trial sessions are limited owing to Hanning’s health, and a doctor is on hand throughout.
    Hanning’s lawyer, Andreas Scharmer, said it was highly likely that his client would make a statement during the proceedings, but he would not say when or how detailed it might be.
    Sonder said he looked forward to hearing what Hanning had to say. “Perhaps he will try to explain; it would be good if he did,” he said after the session. “I hope he finds the courage to say something.”

    Erna de Vries
    Erna de Vries. Photograph: Reuters

    Another survivor, Erna de Vries, told the court that when the Nazis came for her Jewish mother in 1943 she did not have to go with her to Auschwitz, as her father was not Jewish. But she chose to stay with her.

    She had been in Auschwitz for two months when the SS took her and about 85 other people of mixed heritage to the women’s concentration camp Ravensbrück. “That was one of the worst days of my life when I was sent to Ravensbrück and my mother stayed in Auschwitz,” she said. “I never saw her again.”
    She said her mother had been happy to hear that she was going to Ravensbrück, knowing that any place was better than Auschwitz. “Auschwitz was a death camp, and she had the hope it would get better for me,” she said.
    Leon Schwarzbaum, a 94-year-old Auschwitz survivor from Berlin who was used as slave labourer to help build a factory for Siemens outside the camp, said he could not see the area with the gas chambers and crematoria from where he was kept, but everyone knew exactly what was going on there.
    “We saw the fire from the chimneys,” he told the court. “So much fire came out of the chimneys, no smoke, just fire. And that was burning people.”
    The three are among about 40 survivors and their families who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law. Not all will testify, but the trial is scheduled to hear from three more when testimony resumes next Thursday and two next Friday.

    viernes, 12 de febrero de 2016

    A 94-year-old former Nazi guard stands accused of helping to murder 170,000 people

    Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former SS guard at the Auschwitz death camp,
     leaves in car after the opening of his trial in Detmold,
    Germany, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (Bernd Thissen/Pool Photo via AP)
    Trials of former Nazi concentration camp guards in Germany have become rare in recent decades: As more and more of the perpetrators have died, prosecutors find it increasingly hard to charge those responsible for the horrendous crimes.
    The current trial of 94-year-old Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz, may be one of the last of its kind. Hanning is accused of participating in mass shootings and selecting inmates for the executions. The trial started Thursday.
    According to the prosecutor's office, Hanning may have been involved in the killing of at least 170,000 people, most of them Jews. More than 1 million people died in Auschwitz alone during World War II. During the time he was a guard at Auschwitz, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were killed by the Nazis.
    According to German news site Spiegel Online, survivors of Nazi concentration camps were among those attending the beginning of the trial in the city of Detmold on Thursday. Several are expected to testify in coming weeks.
    One of them, 94-year-old Leon Schwarzbaum, described the ordeal, the Associated Press reported: "The chimneys were spewing fire ... the smell of burning human flesh was so unbelievable that one could hardly bear it."
    Hanning denies the charges but acknowledges that he worked in the camp as a guard.
    Within the next months, two other men and one woman who are also accused of having been Nazi guards in concentration camps are expected to go on trial in Germany.
    For decades, prosecution of Nazi crimes focused on high-level officials and generals. Partially due to a lack of evidence but also given a large number of low-level perpetrators, prosecutors rarely investigated crimes committed by camp guards. That, however, changed after John Demjanjuk, a retired U.S. autoworker, was convicted on more than 28,000 counts of accessory to murder in 2011.
    Only a handful of suspects have stood trial in recent years because it has become increasingly difficult to find evidence of direct involvement in the mass killings. Many others have died before they could be charged.
    The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reminded its readers that the chances Nazi guards would be sentenced for their crimes had increased since a verdict last year.
    Previously, courts had sentenced perpetrators only if they had worked at sites that were exclusively used as death camps, such as Treblinka and Sobibor. Auschwitz was not considered such a camp, which helped many Nazi guards avoid going to jail. Last year, however, a court sentenced an Auschwitz guard to four years in jail for having helped to murder 300,000 people.