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In landmark ruling, US court allows heirs of Jewish art dealers to sue Germany for restitution

WJC, A district court in the United States on Friday granted permission to the descendants of Jewish art collectors to sue Germany in the United States over objects allegedly obtained from their ancestors under duress during the Nazi era.

The ruling comes three years after a German commission ruled that the owners of the collection – known as the Welfenschatz, or Guelph Treasure – were not forced to sell it by the Nazis. the Washington DC District Court ruled that claims regarding the collection – which Dresdner Bank purchased on behalf of Hitler’s deputy, Hermann Göring, in 1935 – can be filed in a US court.

Lawyers for the complainants hailed the ruling. It is the first time that an American court has held that Germany can be sued for the return of Nazi-looted art and artifacts under the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

For several years, heirs to the consortium of Jewish collectors that bought the 82-piece collection in 1929 as an investment have been demanding the return of the portion sold to Göring, estimating its value today at approximately US$ 227 million. The treasure is on display at Berlin’s Bode Museum and currently held by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Attorneys filed the suit in the US in February 2015, one year after the Limbach Commission, the German advisory board for Holocaust-related claims, rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the 1935 sale had been forced.

In its ruling last week, the court rejected the German defendants’ contention that the Limbach Commission recommendation bars later litigation in a US court. It also agreed with the plaintiffs that the sale may be considered a taking of property in violation of international law.

Reacting to the ruling, Hermann Parzinger, head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, said in a statement that he did not believe the case belongs in a US court. He said the foundation would “look at the decision carefully and consider further steps.” Parzinger also emphasized that the foundation does not believe evidence shows that the sale was forced.

Lauder calls German court's rejection of ban of neo-Nazi party 'disconcerting'

Lauder calls German court's rejection of ban of neo-Nazi party 'disconcerting'

Jewish leaders expressed disappointment Tuesday at the ruling of Germany's supreme court which rejected a ban of the extreme-right National Democratic Party (NPD).

In its verdict, the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe found no legal grounds to ban the NPD, arguing that it lacked sufficient power to overthrow its anti-democratic aims. The NPD is an anti-foreigner, anti-EU party whose leaders often belittle the Holocaust.

Under the German constitution, the Basic Law of 1949, only the Constitutional Court can disband a party if it is found to actively undermine the democratic order.

A 2003 attempt failed after court learned that government informants had themselves instigated some of the allegedly unconstitutional activities.

Lamenting the decision, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said the verdict “allows the NPD to pursue its destructive, anti-democratic activities and to spread more anti-Semitic and racist hatred. This sends the wrong signal, all the more so as the court made it very clear that the NPD indeed strives to overthrow the democratic order and shares many of the aims of Hitler’s Nazi party.”

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish communities of Munich and Bavaria, said she respected the decision but “I deeply regret it.” Knobloch, who also is the World Jewish Congress commissioner for Holocaust Memory, said that while she could understand the legal argument that there were“no concrete threats”, a ban of the NPD would have been important “primarily due to German history, and also given the background of increased right-wing populism and right-wing extremism today.”

The latest hearings began last year, after the German states joined to make the request. It is extremely difficult to ban a party in Germany, due to post-Nazi era laws designed to safeguard free speech.

The court found that while the NPD’s attitude was inhumane, racist, and similar in orientation to National Socialism, it did not have the potential to overturn German democracy.

Though the NPD has never made it into the German federal parliament, in 2014 one of the party’s most notorious members, Udo Voigt, was elected to the European Parliament, which has a lower vote threshold for winning seats.

NPD representatives have been elected into two state parliaments in the past decade by barely passing the 5 percent vote minimum in Germany. Election success earns the party federal taxpayer money.

The court said that it would be possible for lawmakers to amend legislation in order to withhold such funds from the party.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and a vice-president of the WJC, said in a statement: “For the Jewish population and other minorities, as well as everyone who does not fit into the worldview of this party, a ban would have been very important and encouraging. It also would have given a boost to all those civil society activists who have been opposing the NPD for years."

Schuster also urged those in government, both federal and state, to use all the legal tools at their disposal to have public funds withdrawn from the party. He said the court’s statement was not a success for the NPD, since the court laid bare the party’s true face, including its anti-Semitic attitudes.

WJC President Lauder warned that it did not take long for Hitler’s Nazi party to achieve its aims. “The situation today may be different, but there is absolutely no reason to be complacent,” he added. “Germany must continue to combat the neo-Nazi movement vigorously.”

Israel and Germany mark 50th jubilee of relations

Alongside memories of the past and a complex and variegated history, Israel and Germany share common values and a vision for the future, and are working to increase cooperation in a wide variety of fields.

On Wednesday, in Berlin, the Israel Foreign Ministry officially launched the events marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. The event took place in the residence of Israel Ambassador Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, with the participation of German President Joachim Gauck, who joined the ambassador in lighting the Hanukkah candles.

This event is an important landmark in the deep relations between the two countries. Alongside memories of the past and a complex and variegated history, Israel and Germany share common values and a vision for the future, and are working to increase cooperation in a wide variety of fields. Today, the special relations between the countries is expressed in many areas, including policy-making, diplomacy, business, science, culture and more.

Speaking at the ceremony, German President Gauck said: "We have begun the 50th jubilee year, during which Israeli President Rivlin will come to Germany for a state visit in May. While we will certainly not forget the past, more importantly: We will look forward, we will work together to ensure that our special, friendly relations continue to deepen. Germany will always stand on the side of Israel, with a friendship that has been proven even in difficult times."

Dozens of events in many fields will be held during the 50th anniversary year, both in Germany and in Israel. To this end, the government of Israel has allocated a special budget of NIS 4 million. These events, led by the Israel Foreign Ministry in coordination with other government ministries, are guided by the desire to strengthen the ties of the young generation in Germany to the State of Israel and Israeli society.

These events will include, for example, a visit to Israel by a delegation of promising young people from Germany, and an art exhibit by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to be displayed at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum in Berlin. The annual book fair in Leipzig will be dedicated to Israel, and a children's theater festival in Berlin will focus on Israeli plays.

The jubilee program also includes official events and ceremonies. President Rivlin will visit Berlin in May to mark the anniversary of the establishment of relations with Germany (May 12), a joint event on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a joint Israeli-German postage stamp, and more.

Beyond these events, the year 2015 will provide an opportunity to launch new long-term cooperative projects, in order to further strengthen the ties between the two peoples. One such project is the "New Kibbutz", in which young Germans from Bavaria will spend several months as interns in Israeli high-tech companies. This project, which promises to be economically profitable while forging ties between young Israelis and Germans, is a good example of the varied and intentisve activity which we can expect to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany.

Ronald Lauder: "All of us, Jews and non-Jews, stand together as one people."

Judaism is an integral part of Germany's identity, Chancellor Angela Merkel told thousands at a rally against anti-Semitism near Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate on Sunday. "Jewish life belongs among us. It is a part of our identity," Merkel said, adding that the anti-Semitic abuse earlier this year had been appalling.The rally was organized amid shock in Germany at crude anti-Semitic slogans shouted during summer protests against Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Here is the address by Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress.

For the last 70 years, Jews and Germans have lived together in peace.

Jews have prospered as Germany has prospered. Jews have become part of German society again.WJC President Ronald S. Lauder addressing the rally

We are your neighbors and your friends. We all share the same values, we hold the same beliefs.

Part of my family originally came from Mainz, over 600 years ago.

I remember as a young boy in the early 1960s, going to the synagogue to lay flowers on the front door in memory of the Jewish people who died in the Holocaust.

I remember also seeing non-Jewish Germans coming there to do the same thing… to lay flowers as a way to say they also remember, as a way to say this should never happen again.

Since 1945, Germany has been one of the most responsible countries on earth. The world looks to Germany for political, for economic and for moral leadership.

But something has changed. This summer, all of the progress of the last 70 years has been darkened by a rising tide of anti-Semitism. There are some places I might expect to see this - but not here in Germany.

There are places where Jews cannot live openly as Jews - but not here in Germany.

There are places where governments actually promote the hatred of Jews – but that is definitely not here in Germany.

Since the end of the war, Germany has strongly supported a Jewish rebirth, and since Konrad Adenauer, Germany has been Israel’s ally and friend. So why has all this good work been darkened by the medieval stain of anti-Semitism?

I believe there are three reasons:

First, when the economy declines, people become fearful and often they look for a scapegoat. Throughout history, that scapegoat has been the Jews.

Second, we have seen some of the vilest anti-Jewish propaganda coming out of the Middle East and it has spread across the Internet and it is now coming into mainstream thought.

And third, there are political agitators determined to spread misinformation and lies for the sole purpose of instilling anti-Semitism.

Let us not allow this group of agitators to tear down 70 years of good work. We all know too well that a group that instills fear and hatred may start small but can grow into a large and dangerous tidal wave.

In the end, these people don’t want to just hurt Jews – they intend to hurt every free, democratic country in the world.

Let us all stand together. Let us stand strong and united. Let us make it very clear that this intolerance has no place in Germany, or anywhere else.

The very fact that you, President Gauck, Chancellor Merkel, Mayor Wowereit and the heads of the churches are here today, tells the world that we stand together as one.

And this is our message: We will never accept anti-Semitism, here in Germany, or anywhere else.

We will never allow our children to live in fear because of their religion.

Let this be the story that comes from this day: That all of us, Jews and non-Jews, stand together as one people.

We stand together and say no to intolerance, no to bigotry and no to anti-Semitism.

Thank you all for coming here today!

Holocaust survivors born after 1927 to get one-time payment

WJC, The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany has reached an agreement with the German government for additional financial assistance for child survivors of the Holocaust.

The Finance Ministry in Berlin reportedly agreed Wednesday to one-time payments of € 2,500 (US$ 3,270) for Jewish children who were in concentration camps, ghettos or in hiding for at least six months.It was not immediately clear how many victims would qualify for the payments and the Finance Ministry made no immediate statement. “Child survivors” are defined as Nazi victims born on or after 1 January 1928.

The agreement comes as part of annual negotiations on who should receive funds. It still needs German parliamentary approval.

“The joint fund will recognize survivors worldwide who were in camps, ghettos, hiding and false identity for psychological and medical trauma caused during their deprived childhoods,” said Claims Conference President Julius Berman.

“Jewish children were in constant fear of death during the Holocaust. As you can imagine, this distress and the horrors of the Shoah have permeated so many aspects of their lives,” added the former US deputy secretary of the Treasury, Stuart Eizenstat, who serves as Claims Conference special negotiator.

The fund is expected to become operational on 1 January 2015, and details will be made available after approval by the German Bundestag and the Claims Conference.

World Jewish Congress to meet in Berlin in wake of growing anti-Semitism

WJC, A sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks and the growing hostility towards Israel will be among the subjects to be discussed at a meeting of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in Berlin, which will take place from 14 to 16 September 2014. The WJC Governing Board will be chaired by David de Rothschild and attended by 150 heads of Jewish communities, delegates and young Jewish diplomats from around the world. Among the guest speakers will be Germany's Economics Minister, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

In tribute to his lifetime efforts for reconciliation between Germans and Jews, and between Germany and Israel, the WJC’s Theodor Herzl Award will be bestowed posthumously on the late publisher Axel Springer, whose widow Friede Springer will receive it at a dinner at Berlin’s Jewish Museum on Monday, 15 September 2014.

The participants will also take part in the rally against anti-Semitism organized by the Central Council of Jews in Germany in front of Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate on Sunday, 14 September 2014, at 3 p.m., where German President Joachim Gauck, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and many other German leaders are expected.

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, who will be one of the speakers at the rally, said the WJC meeting in Berlin came at an important moment: “After the terrible hostilities against Jews we witnessed in the last eight weeks in Europe, following Israel’s legitimate action in the Gaza Strip, we are faced with a fundamental question: What needs to be done to ensure that the next generation of Jews has a future in Europe? This eruption of anti-Semitism has been an eye-opener for many people, and it would be wrong to go back to doing business as usual. Instead, we expect politicians and societies to address the root causes of this hatred, and to take appropriate action against it.”

Reports will be given about Hamas and about the threats posed by jihadist fighters returning to their Western countries of origin. Another focus of the WJC meeting will be visits of the delegates to important Holocaust-related sites in Berlin, including the Wannsee Conference Memorial Exhibit, the ‘Gleis 17’ train platform at Berlin’s Grunewald Station from which many German Jews were deported to the Nazi death camps, and to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe near the Brandenburg Gate. This will take place in the morning of Tuesday, 16 September 2014. At ‘Gleis 17’, there will be a short ceremony and Kaddish will be recited.

Jews "On the Edge" - 1944: Between Annihilation and Liberation

Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day 2014

Yom Hashoah is a It is a solemn day, beginning at sunset on the 27th of the month of Nisan (April 27, 2014) and ending the following evening, according to the traditional Jewish custom. Places of entertainment are closed and memorial ceremonies are held throughout the country.

The central ceremonies, in the evening and the following morning, are held at Yad Vashem and are broadcast on the television. Marking the start of the day - in the presence of the President of the State of Israel and the Prime Minister, dignitaries, survivors, children of survivors and their families, gather together with the general public to take part in the memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem in which six torches, representing the six million murdered Jews, are lit.

The following morning, the ceremony at Yad Vashem begins with the sounding of a siren for two minutes throughout the entire country. For the duration of the sounding, work is halted, people walking in the streets stop, cars pull off to the side of the road and everybody stands at silent attention in reverence to the victims of the Holocaust. Afterward, the focus of the ceremony at Yad Vashem is the laying of wreaths at the foot of the six torches, by dignitaries and the representatives of survivor groups and institutions. Other sites of remembrance in Israel, such as the Ghetto Fighters' Kibbutz and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, also host memorial ceremonies, as do schools, military bases, municipalities and places of work.

The central theme for Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day 2014 is Jews "On the Edge" - 1944: Between Annihilation and Liberation, reflecting the situation of the Jews in 1944 - exactly 70 years ago. The expression "on the edge" is taken from Nathan Alterman's poem Joy of the Poor, which so aptly expresses the feeling which prevailed that year among the Jews of Europe. While cities from east to west, such as Vilna and Minsk, Warsaw and Riga, Belgrade and Sofia, Paris and Rome, were being liberated from the yoke of Nazi Germany, the Jews of Hungary were sent to Auschwitz, the Lodz and Kovno ghettos were liquidated, the last of their former inmates were deported and murdered, and death marches were initiated from the liberated territories to the heart of what remained of the "Third Reich".

In March 1944, the Germans invaded Hungary and immediately commenced preparations for the swiftest and most organized deportation any Jewish community had ever witnessed: From the middle of May, over 430,000 Jews from Hungary were sent almost exclusively to Auschwitz, where the vast majority was murdered in the space of two months.

In June, the "Auschwitz Protocols" were disseminated around the world. This detailed account, written by Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, two young Jews who managed to escape from the infamous concentration and death camp, exposed for the first time the central role of the camp in the extermination system.

In October, an uprising in Auschwitz was staged by the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners tasked with the unspeakable job of handling the bodies of the murdered victims. They blew up one of the gas chambers with the help of explosives smuggled in to them by a group of young Jewish women.

These events are at the heart of the tension between annihilation and liberation, a tension that was literally a question of life and death for the Jews at that time, who were living on the very edge.

"Unto Every Person There is a Name"

Six million Jews, among them 1.5 million children, were murdered in the Shoah while the world remained silent. The worldwide Holocaust memorial project "Unto Every Person There is a Name" is a unique project designed to perpetuate their memory as individuals and restore their identity and dignity, through the public recitation of their names on Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day. By personalizing the individual tragedies of the Jewish victims of Nazi Germany and its collaborators, this project counters persistent efforts by enemies of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to deny the reality of the Holocaust and cast it as history’s seminal hoax.

"Everyone has a name" - Poem by Zelda
[translated from Hebrew]

Everyone has a name
given to him by God
and given to him by his parents.
Everyone has a name
given to him by his stature
and the way he smiles.
and given to him by his clothing
Everyone has a name
given to him by the mountains
and given to him by the walls.
Everyone has a name
given to him by the stars
and given to him by his neighbors.
Everyone has a name
given to him by his sins and given to him by his longing.
Everyone has a name
given to him by his enemies
and given to him by his love.
Everyone has a name
given to him by his holidays
and given to him by his work.
Everyone has a name
given to him by the seasons
and given to him by his blindness.
Everyone has a name
given to him by the sea and
given to him
by his death.

"Unto Every Person There is a Name" is conducted around the world in hundreds of Jewish communities through the efforts of four major Jewish organizations: B'nai B'rith International, Nativ, the World Jewish Congress and the World Zionist Organization. The project is coordinated by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, in consultation with the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and enjoys the official auspices of the President of the State of Israel Shimon Peres. In Israel, "Unto Every Person There is a Name" has become an integral part of the official Yom Hashoah commemoration ceremonies, with the central events held at the Knesset and at Yad Vashem with the participation of elected officials, as well as events throughout the country.
The names of the Holocaust victims

Huge cache of art works seized by Nazis discovered in Munich apartment

WJC, A cache of works, many by artists the Nazis considered “degenerate,” has been discovered in a moldy storage room in Munich. The 1,500 paintings, prints, sketches, engravings and etchings are estimated to be worth billions of dollars. They were hoarded by an elderly man who sold some of them to cover every day expenses.
Included in the cache are works by such artists as Pablo Picasso, Max Beckmann, MarcChagall, Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka, Paul Klee and Henri Matisse. It is believed that they were confiscated or stolen by the Nazis from Jewish owners. The Nazis regarded Impressionist, Cubist and Modernist pieces as ‘degenerate art'.
The magazine ‘Focus’ reported that official searches had been underway for at least 200 of the works. An art historian is now tracing provenance and estimating values.
Reportedly, an art dealer snapped up the works in the 1930s and 1940s. Cornelius Gurlitt's father HildebrandtGurlitt had in the run-up to World War II been in charge of gathering up 'degenerate art' for the Nazis. For 50 years, Cornelius apparently hoarded the works in a dark storeroom in his home in Munich, on homemade shelves. They were found by customs officials alongside rotting food and trash. According to ‘Focus’, investigators made the discovery already in 2011, but the authorities kept silent while searching for more information.
“Now we need to quickly find out whether there are legitimate owners or heirs. Belated justice is better than none,” Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, told the newspaper ‘Bild’.
The works have not been publicly identified by investigators, who are working to reunite them with the families of their rightful owners. However, one painting is known to have been 'The Lion Tamer' (pictured left), by German artist Max Beckmann. Cornelius sold it through an auction house for nearly US$ 1 million shortly before the collection was seized. Another is a portrait of a woman by the French master Matisse that belonged to the Jewish connoisseur Paul Rosenberg.
Rosenberg had to abandon his collection as he fled Paris when France fell to the Nazis in 1940. His granddaughter Anne Sinclair, ex-wife of former IMF bank chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been fighting for decades for the return of her grandfather’s pictures, but is said to have not known of the existence of this painting.


German Jewish leader: Burial of Nazi secret police chief in Jewish cemetery 'a terrible iniquity'

WJC, Heinrich Müller, the notorious head of the Nazi secret police Gestapo, was buried in a Jewish cemetery in central Berlin, the German newspaper 'Bild' reports, citing Johannes Tuchel, the director of the Memorial German Resistance. Tuchel told the newspaper that according to new documents found in different archives, Müller was interred in 1945, in the last days of the war, in a mass grave of the Jewish cemeteryBerlin-Mitte. It is apparently unclear why the prominent Nazi was buried there.
Contrary to the belief held by Western intelligence agencies, Müller did not survive the war, Tuchel said. "Müller's corpse was found in August 1945 near the former Reich Ministry for Aviation", he told 'Bild'. According to documents, the body was clearly identified at the time and Müller was wearing the uniform of a general in which his Gestapo pass bearing a photo of him was discovered. In 1963, a gravedigger told police that he had buried Müller personally, and that he had seen Müller's face. While his statement was not confirmed at the time, it turns out now that he was telling the truth.
Müller became Gestapo chief in 1939 under Reinhard Heydrich, and was involved in the planning and execution of the Holocaust. Adolf Eichmann, who headed the Gestapo's office of resettlement and the Office of Jewish Affairs, was Müller's immediate subordinate. Once World War II began, Müller and Eichmann planned key components in the deportation and then extermination of Europe's Jews. Müller was last seen in Hitler's bunker in Berlin on 1 May 1945 and has so far been the most senior figure of the Nazi regime who was never captured or confirmed to have died.
Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, called the discovery that Müller was buried in a Jewish graveyard "horrific". Graumann said: "That one of the most brutal Nazi sadists is buried in a Jewish cemetery, of all places, is a terrible iniquity."


PM Netanyahu meets with German FM Westerwelle

PM Netanyahu: Germany is a friend of Israel. We both want the same thing – to achieve peace. We’re committed to peace and we’re working for peace. I look forward to discussing with you how, bilaterally and other ways, we can advance peace together. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, and said at the start of their meeting:
"Welcome to Jerusalem. You’re a friend; Chancellor Merkel is a friend; and Germany is a friend of Israel. We both want the same thing – to achieve peace. We’re committed to peace and we’re working for peace. I have to say, on a sad note, that I think Europe, the European guidelines by the EU have actually undermined peace. They’ve hardened Palestinian positions, they seek an unrealistic end that everybody knows is not going to happen, and I think they stand in the way of reaching a solution which will only be reached by negotiations by the parties, and not by an external dictate. I think this is something that you know very well, and I look forward to discussing with you how, bilaterally and other ways, we can advance peace together."
German Foreign Minister Westerwelle said, "So let me just wish you the very best, personally and of course for the upcoming direct talks. We encourage everyone to stay on this track. We will support you."

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