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Extracts from the Jul 2005 Journal

Berlin Jewish orphanage for boys: second reunion

The building of the Jewish orphanage in Pankow, Berlin survived the war and the postwar period though it is no longer used as an orphanage. It was totally renovated in the late 1990s thanks to the Walter and Margarete Cajewitz Stiftung, a trust whose primary function is to provide comfortable accommodation for elderly people and chose to turn the orphanage building into a community centre for Pankow. This now comprises a public library on three floors and a centre for the rehabilitation of drug addicts on another. On the second floor is the Betsaal - the former synagogue, the ornate ceiling of which has been lovingly restored to something of its former glory. This large room is now used by the local community and by the committee 'of the association of supporters and friends of the former Jewish orphanage' for public concerts, talks and discussions. (I had my Barmitzvah in it two months before my departure from Berlin in the first of the Kindertransports.)

The Jewish Museum

The programme was an attractive mix of the enjoyable, nostalgic and poignant. Among the latter was a visit to the Jewish Museum, which I had previously seen when it was still empty. It continues to be a hugely impressive and moving building, the welter of historical exhibits, artefacts, memorabilia, videos, and interactive computer terminals detracting only slightly from its symbolic significance. The Garden of Exile, with its leaning columns, tilting gangways and foliage now forming a canopy, is as disorienting and discomforting as ever, and the largest of the 'voids', the Holocaust Tower (the only void one can enter), still utterly daunting and alienating. Three hours seemed inadequate to do justice to the exhibition (which now includes a section on some non-religious Jews such as Karl Marx), which seemed overcrowded but nonetheless gave a fascinating account of the history of German and European Jews over the last 2,000 years.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The visit to the recently opened Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was very poignant. Its 2,700 slabs of slate-coloured stone, arranged in straight intersecting rows, cover an area the size of two football pitches, right in the heart of Berlin, close to the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag. The narrow walkways between the stones, which vary considerably in height, often undulate and tilt disturbingly. The memorial had a long and stormy gestation and it has been much criticised because of its size, the absence of any plaques, its vulnerability to abuse, and the exclusion of other minorities who suffered. The fact that among the hundreds of visitors that Sunday afternoon there were some who sat on the low stones near the circumference eating ice cream did not disturb me at all. The atmosphere was contemplative and respectful and there were no graffiti.

Holocaust Information Centre

The extensive Underground Holocaust Information Centre was brilliantly devised and the exhibits movingly displayed, with stark historical facts and photographs followed by family histories from a variety of countries, eye witness accounts by survivors and non-survivors and interactive exhibits such as the computer terminals to the archives kept at Yad Vashem, permitting visitors to look up biographical details of relatives who died in the Holocaust.

Art in Auschwitz exhibition

An exhibition of Art in Auschwitz opened on the last day of our reunion in the Centrum Judaicum and we were given the opportunity to view it. This was the first major exhibition based on Auschwitz, organised in collaboration with the Museum authorities there. On the face of it, the idea that art could flourish in the camp seems incredible and bizarre, but the high quality of many of the deeply moving paintings and drawings of life in the camp, the numerous portraits of inmates as well as of some SS officers and their families (and even dogs) and some escapist and romantic landscapes was a reminder of the wealth of talent that was destroyed there.

Get-togethers and concerts

On the lighter side, we had several get-togethers, always with wonderful food, allowing us to reminisce, listen to readings from the autobiography of one man who described the harsh life in the orphanage early in the twentieth century, and watch a video of a film made at the first reunion which focused on the lives of five former orphanage pupils, including myself. We also listened to a delightfully light-hearted choral concert, with soloist singers and instrumentalists, given by a choir from the Rosa-Luxemburg Gymnasium. The concert was, appropriately, performed in the Betsaal of the orphanage building and well attended by local people. Some of the older boys and girls had volunteered to help with some of the catering and did so with great charm. [more...]

Kindertransport MBE for Bertha Leverton

Bertha Leverton, founder of the reunion of Kindertransport, has been awarded the MBE for services to the Jewish people. She has also been honoured by Germany's prestigious Foundation for Democracy and Tolerance for her many tours to address students and teachers on her childhood experiences. Germany's Interior Minister Otto Schilly presented her with the Foundation for Democracy and Tolerance award in Berlin. She was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Germany in 1993. [more...]

The General Settlement Fund - a breakthrough, of sorts

The signing of a £12.5m (€18.2m) accord at the end of May between the Austrian government and the Austrian Jewish community has once again shifted the focus in the long-running saga of the distribution of monies from the Austrian General Settlement Fund. [more...]

Germania Judaica: Cologne library of Jewish life

Germania Judaica is an academic library devoted to German-speaking Jewry in Cologne. It is funded by the City of Cologne and the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia. The Germania Judaica library and society were founded in 1959 by a group of citizens eager to create an instrument enabling people to obtain objective facts on the life, history and culture of Jews in German-speaking countries. The objective was to prevent prejudice towards Jewry. [more...]

When the war was over

After the nomadic existence of the war years - evacuation to escape from the Blitz and, later, the flying bombs - marriage put me in touch with new experiences and lifestyles. At this time, the war had not long been over. London was like a weary old lady, grey and battered and with many destroyed houses like missing teeth in the middle of terraces. There was still food rationing but at least my husband and I were able to settle in one place, a small top-floor flat in Islington. We couldn't afford to furnish it properly on his salary as assistant to a local general practitioner, but this didn't bother us too much. [more...]

The Hungarian Gold Train: a proposed settlement

In bringing a class action litigation against the US administration, plaintiffs in the Hungarian Gold Train lawsuit have forced the American government to examine its own role in the appropriation of Holocaust-era assets. Having been a moral beacon for Holocaust victims worldwide, the US now finds itself endowing a $25.5m compensation fund: the Hungarian Gold Train Settlement. [more...]

Letter from Israel

Spending a few days in Eilat in the dead of winter is almost like going to another country. Day after day the sun shines out of a cobalt sky and the sea sparkles while storms rage in the rest of Israel. [more...]

Central Office for Holocaust Claims

Swiss banks deadline

Applications for dormant accounts published on the Swiss bank website must be submitted by 13 July 2005. The 2005 Swiss list is available online at www.crt-ii.org or www.swissbankclaims.com

Swiss Banks Settlement

In assessing how any residual funds of the $1.25 billion Swiss Banks Settlement (Holocaust Victims Asset Litigation) should be spent, it has emerged that to the end of May this year $735 million has been paid out to Holocaust victims. In addition to awards to former slave and forced labourers, compensation has been paid to Nazi victims who were either denied entry into Switzerland to escape persecution or expelled from it, as well as to those who were abused in that country. By far the largest category of awards has come from the Deposited Assets class of the Settlement: more than $210m has so far been paid to approximately 2,900 applicants.

Claims Conference negotiations

Following successful negotiations with the German government, the Claims Conference has announced that Jewish Nazi victims who were incarcerated for at least six months in certain labour camps in Hungary, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria during the Second World War are now eligible to receive pension payments from the Federal government. [more...]