My aunt had a dinner party, and then she took her guests to kill 180 Jews (& “Please look after this bear”)

July 02, 2017

Michael Bond, the author of the Paddington Bear books, has died aged 91. In interviews, Bond said Paddington was inspired by the Kindertransport children he saw at English railway stations with signs around their necks – the Kindertransport connection was not mentioned by several news outlets in their obituaries, including the New York Times


Austro-Hungarian Countess Margit Batthyany in Hamburg in the 1960s. Her Swiss nephew has received threats from family members and others for his new book about the murderous ball she held in 1945, where she invited guests to take turns to shoot dead 180 Jews on her estate in between dinner courses.


This is another in an occasional series of dispatches about the legacy of the Holocaust. The continuing anti-Semitism in many countries makes it harder for Israel to trust guarantees that international institutions will protect Israel should it be attacked after it returns to what Abba Eban called the pre-1967 “Auschwitz borders”

-- Tom Gross



1. “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
2. Professor who welcomed Jewish student’s death in North Korea is an anti-Israel activist
3. Jewish groups slam Hungarian PM for praising Hitler ally as an “excellent statesman”
4. Macron and Netanyahu to jointly mark deportation anniversary
5. Simone Veil, one of only a few French to be awarded honor established by Napoleon
6. On Finsbury Park mosque
7. “Ukraine city to hold festival in honor of Nazi collaborator whose troops killed thousands of Jews” (JTA)
8. “Christopher Wray, Trump’s nominee for FBI chief, hunted Nazis hiding in the U.S.” (Haaretz)
9. “Anti-Semitism: The bias that a college ignores?” (Inside Higher Education Magazine)
10. “My aunt had a dinner party, and then she took her guests out to kill 180 Jews” (Haaretz)


[Notes by Tom Gross]


Michael Bond, the author of the Paddington Bear books, passed away last Wednesday in London aged 91.

Bond, who was not Jewish, said in various interviews that Paddington was inspired by Jewish refugee children he saw at London railway stations with signs around their neck in the run up to World War TRwo.

From 1938-1940, 7,500 Jewish children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were allowed into Britain (without their parents and siblings, most of whom were then murdered) in what became known as the Kindertransport.

“I remember their labels round their necks as the children just sat there on the platform,” Bond told the Daily Telegraph and other papers, years later.

The Paddington story begins: Mr. and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform... The small brown bear was seated on an old leather suitcase and wearing a tag that reads: “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” He had arrived by himself from “darkest Peru”.

(The New York Times, along with other papers, failed to mention the Kindertransport in their lengthy obituary of Bond, which is why I mention it here.)

Bond also criticized the makers of the 2014 Paddington movie for turning the role of Dr. Gruber – a Jewish refugee who is Paddington’s friend and who is based on an adult German Jewish refugee that Bond was close to – into a non-Jewish character.

Paddington Bear books have sold more than 35 million copies and have translated into over 40 languages, and adapted into television series and films.


Otto Warmbier in court givng a forced confession to his non-crime



Kathy Dettwyler, a professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware, wrote on Facebook that American student Otto Warmbier (above), who went on a tourist trip from China to North Korea and was tortured and returned by the regime brain dead, “got exactly what he deserved”.

Professor Dettwyler, along with some of the other US writers and academics who have sickeningly praised or made fun of Warmbier’s death, is also a virulent anti-Israel activist and supporter of the BDS movement. She is also a signatory to “Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.” The University of Delaware has said that she will not now be rehired to teach next year.

Warmbier, whose mother is Jewish was active in Jewish cultural groups on campus, and had said one of the highlights of recent years was his “birthright” trip to Israel in 2014.

Negotiations with North Korea for his release were carried out over a 15-month period by my friend Mickey Bergman, who works with Bill Richardson, and who is a subscriber to this dispatch list.

Among media outlets that have published unsavory columns about Otto Warmbier, are the Huffington Post, and Salon.


* While Otto Warmbier Languished in North Korea, Salon and HuffPo Mocked Him for ‘White Privilege’

* Did Otto Warmbier Really Die Because North Korea Denied Him White Privilege?

* Looking Back At The Progressive Left’s Treatment Of Otto Warmbier

Prominent Jewish anti-Semites in London have falsely said Otto died because he was a “Zionist spy”.



Jewish groups have condemned Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s praise for Hitler’s wartime Hungarian ally who introduced anti-Semitic legislation and oversaw the murder of 565,000 Hungarian Jews.

In a speech as part of a nationalist campaign Orban is conducting in the run-up to next year’s elections, and to prevent voters moving to even more extreme right-wing parties, Orban called Miklos Horthy an “exceptional statesmen”.

The president of the Mazsihisz umbrella group of Hungarian Jewish organizations said in a statement that it was outraged by Orban’s statement.

Even before the Nazis arrived to help the Hungarian Fascists kill their Jewish population, Horthy deported 20,000 Hungarian Jews to Ukraine Fascists, who immediately murdered them.

The U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington called Orban’s praise for Horthy “a gross distortion of historic facts” and “the latest in long line of attempts by Mr. Orban’s government to rewrite Hungarian history.”

Orban and other rightwing polticians in Hungary have repeatedly tried to rehabilitate wartime fascists in recent years.

In 2014, Mazsihisz briefly suspended its ties to Orban’s government when a statue seen to deny Hungarian complicity during the Holocaust was unveiled in Budapest’s Freedom Square.

A poll in 100 countries commissioned by the ADL in 2014 found that 41 percent of Hungarians harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.

On Saturday Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjártó defended his prime minister’s praise for Horthy.

But Szijjártó then added in a statement: “However, it belongs in the category of historical sin that laws which discriminated against Jews were introduced during Horthy’s time in office, and that hundreds of thousands of Jews fell victim to the Holocaust.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Hungary later this month.



French President Emmanuel Macron has invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to join him in Paris on July 16 for a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the deportation of tens of thousands of French Jews to death camps by the wartime French government.

Macron and Netanyahu who have already spoken on a number of occasions by phone, met for the first time on Saturday when they both attended a memorial service for the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Strasbourg.



Simone Veil, French feminist and politician and France’s most prominent Holocaust survivor, has died aged 89.

In 2012 she was awarded France’s highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor. Less than 70 people have received the Grand Cross since Napoleon Bonaparte established it in 1802.

“May her example inspire our fellow countrymen, who will find in her the best of France,” President Macron said in a message to Veil’s family. “Her uncompromising humanism, wrought by the horror of the camps, made her a constant ally of the weakest,” Macron added.

Throughout her public life Veil helped the disadvantaged, including people with disabilities and neglected children.

Veil was born Simone Jacob in Nice, and deported to Auschwitz and then Bergen-Belsen, where she survived slave labor. Her mother was murdered in Auschwitz and her father and brother were deported to Estonia where they were murdered by Estonians working for the Nazis.

She wore long-sleeved dresses in the French parliament to cover the Auschwitz number tattooed on her forearm.



You may want to watch my short interview about the attack on worshippers near a north London mosque last month. (It was watched on YouTube over 30,000 times within two days of being posted.)



Ukraine city to hold festival in honor of Nazi collaborator whose troops killed Jews
June 28, 2017

The Ukrainian city of Lviv [Lvov, Lemberg] will hold a festival celebrating a Nazi collaborator on the anniversary of a major pogrom against the city’s Jews.

Shukhevychfest, an event named for Roman Shukhevych featuring music and theater shows, will be held Friday.

Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, in a statement called the event “disgraceful.”

On June 30, 1941, Ukrainian troops, including militiamen loyal to Shukhevych’s, began a series of pogroms against Jews, which they perpetrated under the auspices of the German army, according to Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder and other scholars. They murdered approximately 6,000 Jews in those pogroms.

The day of the festival is the 110th birthday of Shukhevych, a leader of the OUN-B nationalist group and later of the UPA insurgency militia, which collaborated with the Nazis against the Soviet Union before it turned against the Nazis.

Shukhevychfest is part of a series of gestures honoring nationalists in Ukraine following the 2014 revolution, in which nationalists played a leading role. They brought down the government of President Viktor Yanukovuch, whose critics said was a corrupt Russian stooge.

On June 13, a Kiev administrative court partially upheld a motion by parties opposed to the veneration of Shukhevych in the city and suspended the renaming of a street after Shukhevych. The city council approved the renaming earlier this month.

In a related debate, the director of Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance, Vladimir Vyatrovich, who recently described Shukhevych as an “eminent personality,” last month defended the displaying in public of the symbol of the Galician SS division. Responsible for countless murders of Jews, Nazi Germany’s most elite unit was comprised of Ukrainian volunteers.

Displaying Nazi symbols is illegal in Ukraine but the Galician SS division’s symbol is “in accordance with the current legislation of Ukraine,” Vyatrovich said.

In Russia, meanwhile, Henri Reznik, a former president of the Moscow City Bar Association, resigned his teaching position at the state-run Moscow State Law University over its inauguration of a plaque honoring Joseph Stalin, a former leader of the Soviet Union who killed millions of suspected dissidents and implemented anti-Semitic policies.

Reznik, who is Jewish, wrote in the Moscow Echo Tuesday that it was “unacceptable” for a state institution devoted to justice to celebrate the legacy of a man who flaunted judicial process and “deported entire peoples.”



Christopher Wray, Trump’s nominee for FBI chief, hunted Nazis hiding in the U.S.
Allison Kaplan Sommer
June 8, 2017

Christopher Wray’s cases included the denaturalization of the notorious former Sobibor death camp guard John Demjanjuk, which paved the way to his deportation to Germany

Christopher Wray, U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominee for FBI chief, is best known for his reputation as a white-collar criminal lawyer. But during his 2003 to 2005 tenure as assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, he also helped spearhead efforts to strip U.S. citizenship from and deport numerous former Nazi concentration camp guards living in the United States.

His cases included the denaturalization of the notorious former Sobibor death camp guard John Demjanjuk, which paved the way to his deportation to Germany.

Demjanjuk was stripped of his U.S. citizenship by a federal court in 2002, but appealed the decision. Under Wray in 2004, the Justice Department successfully argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals that the government had proved convincingly that Demanjuk had committed crimes that exploited and exterminated Jews in Poland.

At the time, Wray said that “Those, like Demjanjuk, who participated in Nazi atrocities do not belong in this country. We will take all appropriate steps to make sure that these individuals do not enjoy the privileges of U.S. citizenship.”

Demanjuk, a retired Ukrainian auto worker in Cleveland, had been famously extradited to Israel in 1986, where he was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. But the former camp guard returned to the U.S. after the Israeli Supreme Court found that reasonable doubt existed as to whether Demjanjuk was indeed the notorious “Ivan the Terrible.”

After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, however, evidence emerged that Demanjuk was a “willing” concentration camp guard who participated in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews in gas chambers. With the new evidence, Demjanjuk was charged again in 2001. He was stripped of his citizenship, but remained in the U.S. until 2009, when Germany agreed to take him in. He died in Germany in 2012, a year after he was convicted by a German court of murdering tens of thousands of Jews.

Demjanujuk was the highest profile of numerous cases in which Wray oversaw the stripping of U.S. citizenship and in several cases, successful deportation of former Nazi prison guards, or, in some cases, members of police forces in Eastern Europe who actively participated in atrocities against Jews and others. The prosecutions were pursued in partnership with Eli M. Rosenbaum, Director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, who was popularly known as the “Nazi-hunter” for his effort to track down Nazi war criminals who lived covertly in the U.S. and blocking those who tried to enter the country.

In 2005, Wray left the Justice Department for private practice.

Trump’s choice of Wray must now go before the U.S. Senate for approval. He will replace former FBI Director James Comey, who the president fired last month amid the agency’s ongoing probe into alleged Russian meddling into the U.S. election. Trump’s announcement of his selection of Wray comes just before Comey is to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Moscow’s alleged interference and any potential ties to Trump’s campaign or associates.

Ray’s two-year tenure at the DOJ’s criminal division marked a period of intensive activity identifying perpetrators of Nazi atrocities. Only one of Wray’s cases from that time remains unresolved as he returns to the Justice Department - the case of 92-year-old Jakiw Palij, a Polish man who still lives in Jackson Heights, Queens. Palij was dubbed “The Nazi Next Door” by New York tabloids when yeshiva students protested outside his home on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In November 2003, Wray announced the initiation of deportation proceedings against Palij based on his service as an armed guard at a Nazi forced labor camp in German-occupied Poland – now part of Ukraine – following the revocation of his U.S. citizenship. Wray stated at the time that, “By guarding prisoners of Nazi forced labor camps and preventing their escape, Palij and his fellow guards actively aided the Nazis’ scheme to annihilate the Jews of Europe.”

In the document charging him, it was detailed that Palij guarded the camp while armed with a rifle and prevented the prisoners from escaping. On November 3 and 4, 1943, while Palij was there, the document said, “the approximately 6,000 surviving prisoners of the camp, along with tens of thousands of other prisoners in Poland, were murdered as part of an operation to which the SS assigned the macabre code-name ‘Operation Harvest Festival.’”

When Palij applied for an immigration visa to the United States in 1949, he falsely claimed that he worked on his father’s farm and then worked in Germany. In fact, he served with the Nazi in Poland during that period. Palij denies the accusations against him and has stayed in his New York home despite the revocation of his citizenship and ordered deportatio. Neither Ukraine, Poland, nor Germany has been willing to accept him.

In an editorial this year, the Daily News called on German chancellor Angela Merkel to receive Palij and try him for his crimes. The piece counted Palij among the other undocumented criminals that Trump has advocated to force out of the country.

“President Trump has long talked about deporting people who shouldn’t be here. He should put Palij first on the list – and if Merkel won’t take Palij, dump him in Guantanamo.”



The Bias That a College Ignores?
Lawsuit charges San Francisco State allowed anti-Jewish discrimination, not intervening when events were disrupted, and that some students feel scared to walk around campus.
By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

Inside Higher Education Magazine
June 29, 2017

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat speaks to a group of San Francisco State University students in April 2016.
Jacob Mandel can remember the first time he heard the screams of the anti-Israel protesters three years ago.

The recent San Francisco State University graduate was celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, in May 2014 with other Jewish students. They had pinned up Israeli flags in Malcolm X Plaza, the central campus hub, and were dancing.

Mandel recalled the disruption – supporters of Palestine were shouting over the festivities. They had unplugged the microphone during the remarks of the president of Hillel, the Jewish student organization.

What bothered him wasn’t the groups favoring the Palestinian cause. Rather, it was that Jewish students organizing the event were disrupted and prevented from holding their event, with no one appearing to care.

“They were very hostile, and very angry,” Mandel said in an interview, referring to members of the campus group known as the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS). “I remember thinking ‘maybe this isn’t a good place for me to be.’ I was definitely scared.”

A few years later, nothing has bolstered the morale of the Jewish community at the public institution of 35,000 students. Though the university has long served as a battleground for students siding with either the Palestinians or the Israelis, past leadership of the university had soothed tensions between the two factions.

Not so in recent years, when relations between present administrators and Jewish students and faculty have collapsed, to the point that current and former students filed a federal lawsuit against university officials and the Board of Trustees overseeing the entire California State University System, claiming they perpetuated anti-Semitism and left Jewish students vulnerable because of their religion, in violation of federal civil rights statutes.

Mandel, a plaintiff in the suit, said he would find alternative routes around campus to dodge Palestinian students’ events. He said he was threatened by them. One student once told Mandel he would kill him if witnesses weren’t present. Mandel would text his friends: leave the letters of your Jewish fraternity at home. Tuck away your Star of David. Don’t be identifiable.

The Lawfare Project, a pro-Israel legal nonprofit, is representing the plaintiffs, along with law firm Winston & Strawn.

The conflict has captured the attention of those far outside the campus boundaries, politicians in California’s Legislature and Jewish supporters in San Francisco and beyond.

Critics in interviews largely lay blame on the university president, Leslie Wong, who was hired in 2012, but expressed frustration overall with a tepid response from officials to address anxieties and the wishes of Jewish students.

University representatives declined comment for this story and would not make Wong available for an interview.

Wong has issued statement after statement in response to continual disputes, affirming the university’s commitment to its Jewish population – but they ring hollow for many, and promises Wong has made, like hiring staffers to combat anti-Semitism, have gone unmet.

“The campus problems at San Francisco State won’t go away because the administration’s response is not authentic,” said Fred Astren, chairman of the department of Jewish studies. “They don’t seem to be aimed at building trust; they don’t seem to be aimed at taking a meaningful position. They offer bureaucratic responses.”

Shouted Down

A talk in April 2016 worsened the campus environment. Hillel, led by Mandel, had invited the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, to speak. No more than six minutes into Barkat’s speech, pro-Palestinian students, those aligned with the GUPS group, stood and began chanting. They repeated, among other lines, “If we don’t get no justice, then you don’t get no peace” and “Get the fuck off our campus.”

At one point, they yelled through a megaphone, a violation of university policy.

GUPS did not respond to email request for comment.

Students who wanted to listen to the mayor tightened around him in a circle, though some later told an independent investigator of the incident that it was impossible to hear Barkat. Wong commissioned an outside firm to conduct an investigation of the incident shortly after the mayor’s visit.

Despite the disruption, no student affairs officials stopped the protest, the investigator unearthed. University officials later told the investigator that they were unclear of their responsibilities. The dean of students concluded that indeed the protesters had infringed on university rules, but no one was ever disciplined. University offices ignored complaints filed by three students over the event, the investigator found.

Though the university’s chief of police moved to halt the interruption, he was ignored. He was dressed in plain clothes, not a uniform, and students said they were unaware he was connected to the university.

The investigator also chided the university for shoddy planning. Mandel said in his interview that such difficulties with administrators – uncertainty about the venue and poor or no communication – were typical.

Wong apologized, penning a lengthy letter to a local weekly Jewish newspaper, J. The Jewish News of Northern California, saying he would invite Barkat back to campus.

“I have spent considerable time thinking about the event and what it means for the future of our university,” Wong wrote in May 2016. “University campuses are not quiet spaces, and I would argue that they shouldn’t be. But the noise should come from sessions where tough and difficult ideas are confronted in a spirit of learning and respect. Bullhorns don’t do it, and the idea of silencing and preventing the marketplace of ideas is both sad and disturbing.”

This year Barkat’s return appearance, planned for April 6, was canceled. He accused the university of failing to advertise it adequately, though Wong refuted that in a statement, saying the mayor had not given the university enough notice.

“By failing to provide the necessary public forum and properly publicize my lecture, the university has contributed to the continuing marginalization and demonization of the Jewish state,” Barkat said in the statement. “If I were a representative of any other country, no institution of higher learning would have allowed my speech to be drowned out by protesters inciting violence and then bring me back to campus in a limited, secluded way.”

Indeed, the university’s response does not match those of other institutions that have dealt with protesters stifling campus speakers.

Middlebury College was the center of national outrage after students’ screams stopped a talk by controversial author Charles Murray in March. When he left, a professor with him was attacked and protesters – whom the college believe were unaffiliated with the campus – stomped on the car that had come to take him away.

The college punished at least 67 students for that incident.

Mandel said he felt as though university officials went out of their way to shield the disrupters of Barkat’s appearance. “They went out of their way to protect their free speech rights … they weren’t concerned about mine,” he said.


The university, in declining interviews, emailed a statement that had already been published to its website.

The statement condemns “all forms of hate and anti-Semitism” but said the university strongly disagrees with the legal complaint.

“Lawsuits seeking to force SF State to both protect free speech and assure diversity and inclusion are unnecessary and redundant. SF State remains committed to furthering free speech and defeating discrimination, including anti-Semitism. Rather than litigation, we welcome the plaintiffs, and any other organizations similarly committed to these ideals, to join us in pursuing that objective,” the statement reads.

It does not address the specific accusations of the lawsuit, like Hillel’s exclusion from a university fair in February. The Know Your Rights event was planned to help “vulnerable populations who may be feeling targeted in the new political climate in the country since the presidential election.” The pro-Palestinian student group, GUPS, was one of the organizers.

It featured a speaker from the American Civil Liberties Union and workshops on self-defense and legal resources. A Hillel representative received an emailed invitation to the fair, which the organizers later rescinded – he was told that the event was at capacity.

The lawsuit alleges that GUPS and other organizations changed the registration deadline to deliberately force Hillel out, and that university officials knew about it.

Again, Wong ordered an investigation, the results of which, one faculty member familiar with the inquiry told Inside Higher Ed, “will be damning.”

The mayor’s visits in particular have prompted repercussions with outside organizations, including donors.

The Koret Foundation, a Jewish philanthropic group in San Francisco, had initially promised $1.7 million to the institution, but expressed reluctance after the incident with the mayor. Wong requested Jewish faculty members join him in a meeting with Koret to reassure the donor, the lawsuit states – this meeting was confirmed to Inside Higher Ed.

Professors were uncomfortable, the lawsuit states, as they did not wish to “whitewash” the situation on campus.

And Wong has not endeared himself to faculty, particularly in the Jewish studies department. In 2014, he, flanked by two other administrators, gathered together all the Jewish studies professors and threatened to take away their status as a department, claiming it was overstaffed and not raking in enough money. Professors assert that the department actually receives five-figure gifts annually from Jewish donors, and that Wong “ignored” $7 million in departmental endowments.

“While we should have been praised as the university’s shining example of town-gown partnership, we were shamed as a group of professors who were not pulling their weight in a cash-strapped institution,” Fred Astren, professor and chairman of the department, and Marc Dollinger, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chairman in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility, wrote in J.

In a separate interview, Astren said that since he arrived on campus in the fall of 1996, he has not observed such fear – Jewish students have approached him to discuss their worries, he said.

History and Outside Response

San Francisco State has been grappling with campus clashes on the Israel-Palestine conflict for more than a decade.

In 2002, Hillel sponsored a pro-Israel rally at which the GUPS group launched a counterprotest. The two sides were separated by barricades for most of the event, but when it wrapped up, some pro-Palestine students confronted pro-Israel students, shouting at them and demanding they take down the Israeli flag they had hung.

The university received emails criticizing the pro-Palestine movement, prompting then President Robert Corrigan to release a statement and meet with Jewish students to hear their concerns.

Later that year, fliers advertising a Muslim Student Association event were passed out with the image of a baby and the caption “Palestinian Children Meat – Slaughtered According to Jewish Rites Under American License.”

Corrigan held meetings with the association, Hillel and GUPS, which was also listed on the flier, and later garnered an apology from the Muslim students. The president’s response was applauded as strong and direct at the time.

Noa Raman, the Northern California campus coordinator for StandWithUs, a national Israel education organization, said in a statement she has witnessed a reluctance from administrators to take a stand when pro-Israel events are disrupted.

“Jewish students have exercised their voice in the past and feel they are not heard. Therefore, they are pursuing other avenues to improve the climate on campus,” Raman said.

The Anti-Defamation League in a statement said the group was troubled by “serious and repeated episodes” of campus anti-Semitism.

“The league has outlined a series of actions and steps the SFSU administration should take to improve the situation for the Jewish community on campus. We continue to engage in dialogue with the university and urge the administration to take the necessary actions to ensure that all Jewish, Zionist and Israeli students are welcome,” the statement says.

The current administration’s apathy has also prompted some frustration from the Jewish Community Relations Council, which covers San Francisco, said its spokesman, Jeremy Russell. The council has met with administrators consistently but not been pleased with their lack of responsiveness, Russell said, pointing to delays in the investigation into the protests at the mayor’s talk, and the Know Your Rights fair. The council currently has no meetings scheduled with administrators.

A university spokeswoman said that a number of initiatives have been completed or are underway. A task force to judge the campus climate will be convened in August, and the probe into the Know Your Rights event will be completed no later than July 13. A series of talks by professors to discuss campus issues, and adoption of a new statement against intolerance, will come in the fall.

Attempting to assuage concerns, Wong has also talked with community groups, J. reported – per that article, Wong said that Hillel and other Jewish groups have received more of his time than any other student organization, creating the perception he favored Jewish students. Wong confirmed this conversation to the reporter.

Wong has also been attacked for a 2015 speech in which he lauded the GUPS group, saying that “they have helped me when I have to tell other community groups to mind their own business,” which Jewish organizations took as a thinly veiled slight against them.

In June, Wong released another statement after anti-Semitic materials appeared on campus, his strongest yet.

“I want to be clear: anti-Semitic attacks are not just a crime against members of our Jewish community. They are an assault on our democratic values and an offense against everyone who stands for justice. Individual geopolitical or religious views do not establish a right to harass individuals on campus.”

Russell said the council had urged a letter-writing campaign to Wong about the perceived animus toward Jewish students, which then was escalated to Timothy White, the chancellor of the California State University System. White in response declared full support for Wong.

Members of the Jewish caucus in the California Legislature met with both Wong and White two weeks ago, said State Senator Scott. Wiener, who is Jewish, said he phoned Wong about a month ago to discuss the campus issues.

In May, the chairman of the Jewish caucus and six other legislators representing other caucuses wrote to White, telling him that the leaders of San Francisco State needed to unequivocally state that Jews, Israelis and Zionists are welcome and safe on the campus.
Wiener in his interview called for an outside review of the of the problems Jewish students face. He said current administrators are not objective enough to do such an evaluation.

Right now, no lawmakers have proposed legislative remedies, Wiener said. “I want to see the administration take a much more proactive and direct approach, including communication toward welcoming Jewish students on campus.”

“We are very carefully watching what they’re doing.”



My Aunt Had a Dinner Party, and Then She Took Her Guests to Kill 180 Jews

Swiss journalist Sacha Batthyany knew he belonged to an aristocratic family, centered around his respected aunt. He didn’t know about the murderous ball held in 1945, that led to a personal quest, threats from relatives and a book

By Gili Izikovich
June 29, 2017

One morning in April 2007 journalist Sacha Batthyany was approached by an elderly colleague at the Swiss daily where they both worked at the time.

The colleague waved a newspaper clipping in front of him. It was an investigative report entitled, “The Hostess from Hell,” published by a German daily.

Glancing at the headline, Batthyany didn’t understand why he was being shown this article, but then he looked at the picture of the hostess and recognized it immediately. It was Margit, his father’s aunt – someone to whom the family demonstrated the utmost respect and also around whom they tended to tread carefully.

So he started to read the piece. In March 1945, it said, just before the end of World War II, Margit held a large party in the town of Rechnitz on the Austrian-Hungarian border to fete her Nazi friends. She, the daughter and heiress of European baron and tycoon Heinrich Thyssen, and her friends drank and danced the night away.

At the height of the evening, just for fun, 12 of the guests boarded trucks or walked to a nearby field, where 180 Jewish slave laborers who had been building fortifications were assembled. They had already been forced to dig a large pit, strip, and get down on their knees. The guests took turns shooting them to death before returning to the party. The organizer of this operation was Margit’s lover Hans Joachim Oldenberg. Margit’s husband, Count Ivan Batthyany, Sacha’s grandfather’s brother, was also at the party.

It was the first time that Batthyany, then 34, had heard about this incident. He was shocked. “Let’s set aside that it was my aunt,” said Batthyany, who visited Israel last week as a guest of the Jerusalem Book Fair. “It’s just an incredible, brutal story of this night. I mean, I know there are hundreds and thousands of other [violent stories] from the war – I don’t want to compare, but if you read what happened that night it is just unbelievable.”

In the article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the writer, David Litchfield, describes the party as a celebration of death. Killing for dessert. “I was in shock. I was shocked and surprised that I had never heard of this. And I had studied history, I knew more than the average person, but I’d never heard about this massacre or about Rechnitz, or about my family’s connection to any kind of story connected to the Holocaust.

“I remember that I had to finish a stupid assignment I was working on but all I was thinking was that I couldn’t wait to talk to my father.

“This area between Budapest and Vienna is where my family comes from, where my family owned land and castles and stuff. I remember asking him, ‘Did you ever hear of Rechnitz?’ And he said, ‘Yes, of course.’ Then I asked him, ‘Did you know about the massacre?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, yeah. I knew about it. I heard about it, of course, I’m not stupid.’ So I asked, ‘Did you know that Margit was at the party that night when it happened?’ And he replied, ‘Yes, everyone knew it.’

“So I wasn’t talking as logically as I am now, but I said more or less, ‘So you knew A and you knew B, but you never made the connection?’ And he said no. I asked him why not and he said, ‘I don’t know why not.’

“And it was this moment that was the starting point of all the emotional stuff about not drawing the connection. Why not? Who has the power to decide not to ask? He said he never thought about it. He never thought there was a connection between the people in the castle and what happened there. Everyone knew that [Margit] had affairs with Nazis, she was a German who was very much into the Nazi regime and she had affairs, but no one ever wanted to ask the questions.”

Personal upheaval

These questions led to the appearance a decade later of “A Crime in the Family,” the fascinating book that Batthyany wrote about the incident, originally in German, and translated into English by Anthea Bell. Batthyany set out that morning in April 2007 on an in-depth search.

With the caution of a sapper dismantling a bomb, he peeled away the historical details he needed to expose. The fact that he was asking questions of his aristocratic family, the fact that he was uncovering the layers of this embarrassing history demanded a great deal of courage. It was also a personal upheaval: How was he connected to this history? How had it shaped his life, his personality, and his image?

Everything is integrated in the book from several points of view. It’s not just the story of that sickening night. Batthyany also explores the connection between his grandmother, Marita, and an Argentinean woman named Agnes Mandel, a Jewish refugee from the village in which the two grew up, one as the daughter of the local nobleman and the other as the daughter of village Jews who were murdered.

He also tells the story of his grandfather, who was imprisoned for a decade in Siberia and came out a shadow of a man; of how his paternal grandparents fled with his father, then a teenager, from Soviet-occupied Hungary to the home of the wealthy Countess Margit. And he examines the family pathology, the pathology of men who were eternally grateful to Margit and who preferred never to ask any questions.

The Batthyanys were European aristocrats who lost most of their property under the Soviet occupation but who had obviously been important. Batthyany says that when he visited Hungary, his name jolted the hotel staff, who treated him with great respect and sent champagne and fruit to his room.

Growing up in Switzerland he was regarded as the slightly strange son of immigrants (“I have a difficult name and people thought I was from India”) and had no clue that somewhere there were streets, castles, parks and even a chocolate cake bearing the family’s name. He also had no knowledge of the dozens of Batthyany descendants who held periodic family gatherings in Austria or Hungary.

But what Batthyany saw in that German newspaper report changed everything. He responded like a journalist, getting his editor to agree to give him time off to investigate. He began reading and searching in archives and also began to question distant relatives whom he had never met. When some of the cousins told him about a family gathering that was to take place, he announced that he was coming and that he planned to discuss the story.

In his book he describes the meeting: A few dozen Batthyanys, eating sandwiches and drinking coffee from elegant cups, none of them too thrilled to discuss the matter. “After a while it became really nasty,” he says. “One of the old uncles said, ‘What if it’s all not true’ and ‘Who owns the media’ and about vested interests and all this anti-Semitic stuff. Elfriede Jelinek, an Austrian playwright, wrote a play about the story, and they were talking about her and it became nasty.”

He recalls that the deeper he dug, the more intense the reactions became, to the point that relatives warned him to stop. “They called me like in a Mafia movie – no joke, anonymous calls saying ‘your name doesn’t matter, I’m just telling you to stop.’” At that family gathering an uncle of his with whom he’d actually been quite close said, ‘Don’t play with the name of our family. You have no idea what could happen.’”

But Batthyany continued his search, travelling to Rechnitz three times, the first time as a tourist. “Then I talked to the mayor; the mayor was nice. I even spoke to a woman who was that the party that night, who has since died. She told me that not only was my aunt there, but also her husband, Ivan, who is directly my family. My father and Ivan were friendly.

“It took months. I was working at a magazine then and my boss at the time allowed me to focus on this, but after some weeks I realized that this was going to be different than any other investigative piece I’d done.”

Batthyany’s initial research resulted in a magazine feature, but the topic gave him no rest. Though it was only one night in the history of a family that ostensibly felt distant enough from the event to be able to suppress it, Batthyany was tormented. He continued to work, married and had a family. Today he and his wife and three children live in Washington, where he is a correspondent for the Germany daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and other publications. But what he thought would end with a magazine article continued to haunt him.

When the Soviets occupied Hungary, tens of thousands of people, including his father and grandfather, fled. But unlike others, who ended up in a Red Cross refugee camp, their journey ended when the rich aunt sent a private chauffeur to pick them up and bring them to a castle near the Italian-Swiss border. Their first meal was an elegant dinner with glasses of sherry.

Aunt Margit employed Batthyany’s grandfather in one of her factories, completely financed his father’s education and, as he later understood, was the dominant matriarchal figure in the family.

“I couldn’t let it go,” he says. “I knew what I had to know, but I wasn’t done. I understood that this was my family and the questions didn’t stop. The title of the book in German is exactly the question that intrigued me then: ‘What Does it Have to do With Me?’ I realized this was the question I was interested in, but I had no idea how to approach it and answer.”

The answer he found was complex. Batthyany started to see a psychoanalyst, and the insights he derived from the conversations with him appear in the book. There are also sections of a diary his grandmother wrote and diligently edited in the last years of her life. The grandmother talks about the Mandels, the parents of Agnes who ended up in Argentina. Batthyany found Agnes and her daughters and formed a close relationship with them based on a shared fate and shared insights.

He also traveled with his family to Siberia to trace his grandfather’s life in the gulag and to understand what happened to him during that decade no one ever spoke about.

The picture that emerges from the book is well-rounded, moving from the personal to the historic, as it emerges that the victim and the criminal are part of the same family. Batthyany’s obsession with the past, with what happened and who was involved, seems at times like a mirror image of what so preoccupies Israelis, a desire to dig deeply and to decipher the present through people who are long lost.

Batthyany writes on the last page of the book about the similarity between him and the children and grandchildren of Agnes, again like a mirror image. He says that Agnes and the daughters and even the children of the daughters “always went to Hungary to this little tiny village in the middle of nowhere.”

He recalls: “There’s really nothing there. And they always went there to – I don’t know, to look for something or just to be there, and it was always surprising to me that even the generation afterwards, is still kind of haunted and interested in their roots.”

He says that while he studied history and psychology in university, even as a journalist he never, or hardly ever did stories on Hungary or World War II. “Before [2007] I wasn’t that interested in my family’s history. I knew just that the name is a very important name in Hungary.

“It was out of the blue,” he says that he became interested, “and I really think it probably has to do with my character,” he reflects.

“But I think [the lack of interest in history] also has to do with Switzerland. I really do think that Switzerland, although it’s in the midst of everything, is some kind of historic vacuum. There’s nothing that makes it think about what happened. There are no monuments, for example. When you’re in Hungary, even the tiniest village has three, four, five monuments in the center of the village. For example, one is for the victims of the Holocaust, the other is for the victims of Stalin’s gulags, and they are still fighting about which one is higher. That’s Hungary.

“So the only thing connected to all of these things and all these dark chapters of our history is in school, when you have your teacher – but it’s all in theory, not something you share on an emotional level.”

He says most Swiss children do not ask their parents and grandparents what they did during the war. “You don’t ask because there wasn’t much,” he says. Basically, he observes, life in Switzerland doesn’t demand any confrontation with your past, or any past at all.

He recalls that his first readers were friends or journalists from Switzerland. While they liked his writing, they would also write things like ‘I don’t really understand this thing with the past,’ he says. In Switzerland, this connection with the past is considered odd, he says.

“I think I’m a bit jealous.”

Batthyany laughs and says: “I was scared because I thought I shouldn’t have done it.
“But then the book was received entirely differently in Hungary, Germany and Austria [than in Switzerland]. You always carry the past with you, it’s what you are. There are those who don’t want to be aware, but if you feel the burden of the past you will see the connection to the present, to who you are.”

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.