NEW YORK (WJC)–German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been honored for her work in German-Jewish reconciliation with an award from a US group founded by a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. The Leo Baeck Institute presented its first medal ever to a serving German head of government for Merkel’s work in cultivating a good relationship between Germans and Israel, and Germans and world Jewry.
Former US Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal, who is head of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, saluted Merkel for her support of Jewish cultural life and the integration of minorities in Germany. Merkel said the medal was an inspiration for continuing the work of integration and cooperation with the Jewish community. “That work, unfortunately, entails going against the anti-Semitism that crops up on a regular basis,” she said.
Merkel said Germany was prepared to use all of its leverage to help along the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. She also urged Iran to clear up any doubts about its peaceful intent with its nuclear program and to stop threatening Israel with annihilation. “Iran must know that the existence of the State of Israel will never be negotiable for Germany,” she said.
The institute was founded by Rabbi Leo Beck in 1947 to study the history of German-speaking Jewry, which it notes on its website is “inextricably linked to Europe’s cultural, intellectual and political history over the past 500 years.” Beck survived the Holocaust despite severe deprivations. Many of his family members were murdered. He died in 1956.
The Leo Baeck Institute has a library and archives in Manhattan which offer the most comprehensive documentation for the study of German-Jewish history.
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MAINZ (WJC)–German President Christian Wulff has inaugurated a new synagogue in the city of Mainz, on the very site where Nazis destroyed the previous one more than 70 years ago.
“Exactly 98 years after the opening of the last major synagogue in Mainz, the Jewish community once again will have an architectural and religious center,” Wulff said at the official ceremony. Wulff spoke of “a small miracle.” The ”revival of Jewish life in Germany is continuing” thanks to the new synagogue, he said, calling it a “blessing for our country, a blessing for Germany.”
Cologne architect Manuel Herz designed the US$ 13 million modern structure, which seats some people, and inscribed five Hebrew letters forming the word ‘Kedushah’ (holiness). The previous synagogue was burnt during the ’Kristallnacht’ pogrom in November 1938. Mainz was considered a center for Jewish culture for centuries, and some 2,600 Jews lived there in 1933, when Adolf Hitler rose to power. More than half of them perished in death camps.
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LEIPZIG, Germany (WJC)–Two Orthodox rabbinical students have been ordained by the Rabbinical Seminary Berlin in the eastern German city of Leipzig. Both men were trained at the seminary, located in the German capital and supported by the foundation of World Jewish Congress.
The seminary is the successor to the institution founded by Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer in 1873 in Berlin and shut down by the Nazis in 1938. “Judaism is alive and well in Germany,” WJC President Ronald Lauder said during the ceremony. The head of the German Jewish community and vice-president of the WJC, Charlotte Knobloch, praised the contribution of eastern European Jewish immigrants to Jewish life in Germany, which was now there to stay.
Shlomo Afanasev was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where he studied financial management and accounting. He will be working for the Jewish communities in the state of Brandenburg. Moshe Baumel’s family immigrated to Germany from Lithuania in 1991. He will be rabbi and director of Jewish studies at the Zwi-Peres-Chajes School of the Jewish Community of Vienna, Austria. In addition to pursuing ordination, Baumel has studied art history and antiquities.
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By Kathi Diamant
SAN DIEGO — Franz Kafka has gotten quite a bit of play lately. His photo has accompanied headlines in any number of newspapers, magazines, and network news websites in the past couple of months, most of which include one or more of the following words: treasure, trial, nightmare, snarled, tangled, vaults, masterpieces, secret, lost—and, lest we forget—Kafkaesque.
In the past few weeks, CBS News, Time Magazine, Salon, The New York Times, Washington Post, the Guardian, and Haaretz as well as dozens of other news outlets weighed in on the acrimonious fight over Franz Kafka’s papers in the Brod Collection. One of the most thoughtful was by Rodger Kamenetz in the Huffington Post. Coverage on the trial over the Brod Collection in Tel Aviv extends to The National, published daily in Abu Dhabi. Franz Kafka is the Arab world’s favorite Jewish writer. Who knew?
Most of the news reports have been correct, more or less. The AP story by Aaron Heller stated, “Aside from previously unknown versions of Kafka’s work, the trove could give more insight on Kafka’s personal life, including his relationship with his lover, Dora Diamant. It may include papers that Kafka gave to Diamant but were stolen by the German Gestapo from her Berlin apartment in 1933, later obtained by Brod after World War II.”
I am sad to report that the papers stolen by the Gestapo were not recovered by Max Brod after World War II. Since 1996, the Kafka Project at SDSU has led the international search for these papers, 20 notebooks and 35 letters written by Kafka in the last year of his life, which most Kafka experts agree, represent the real missing treasure, not whatever remains in the Brod Collection.
As the Director of the Kafka Project and someone who has followed the story of the Brod Collection closely since 2001, I am happy to share the straight scoop, with links to the best sources, as well as a quick cast list to the Kafkaesque drama unfolding in Tel Aviv:
Franz Kafka (whose literary leavings in the Brod collection are trapped in litigation) was a Jewish-Czech writer who died at the age of 40 in 1924, largely unpublished and unknown. After his death in 1924, with the posthumous publication of his novels, letters and diaries, Kafka rose to international fame as a literary genius, one of the founding fathers of magical realism and the modern novel. He is considered the most influential, profoundly misunderstood writers of our time. His most famous works are two unfinished novels, The Trial and The Castle and the short story, The Metamorphosis.
Kafka’s strange stories have earned their own adjective, Kafkaesque, to describe a world where mindless bureaucracy destroys the mind and body and numbs the soul.
Max Brod, Franz Kafka’s boyhood friend who became his literary executor, was also, like Kafka, a Jewish Czech lawyer and writer. Brod famously defied Kafka’s requests to burn his unpublished work, and instead gathered as much of it as he could and arranged for its publication. “As far as my memory and my strength permit, nothing of all this shall be lost,” he vowed shortly after Kafka’s death.
Brod fled Prague in 1939 for Tel Aviv, where he died in 1968. He escaped on the last train as the German army rolled into Czechoslovakia, taking with him two suitcases, one filled with Kafka’s manuscripts, letters and diaries. During the Six Day War, Brod, concerned for the safety of Kafka’s manuscripts, transferred the most valuable to Switzerland for safekeeping in bank vaults. The Brod Collection is believed to be mostly in ten different safety deposits in Geneva and Tel Aviv, as well as in Ester Hoffe’s humid, cat infested apartment on Spinoza Street.
Without Max Brod, we would know nothing of Franz Kafka. Brod saved Kafka’s writings for humanity, only to leave what he had so carefully collected and saved not to the centers of Kafka scholarship in England and Germany, where his other manuscripts are scrupulously kept, but to his longtime secretary and (most certain) lover, Ester Hoffe, who hoarded them for forty years after Brod’s death, selling off single pages of letters, diaries and whole manuscripts, at random, to the highest bidder. At one point she accepted a very large sum from a German publisher, and then never sent the manuscripts she contractually promised. She never returned the money.
Ester Hoffe, a Holocaust refugee who died two years ago in Tel Aviv at the age of 101, was generally reviled by Kafka scholars and researchers, her name an anathema. Given Brod’s lifelong dedication to establishing and maintaining Kafka’s legacy, his gift of the Kafka papers to his secretary was an unfortunate choice. When she died in 2008, her two daughters, Eva and Ruth, now in their 70s, inherited the collection and decided to sell it to the German Literature Archive in Marbach, Germany, sight unseen, for one million Euros. Headlines rang out around the world: Secret Kafka Treasure to be Revealed!
Kafka aficionados, academics and researchers were thrilled. Priceless, possibly unpublished writings by Kafka would finally be available to shed new light to understanding this most misinterpreted and beloved writer. But then, in classic Kafka fashion, the plot twisted, with no path made easy. The National Library of Israel stepped in, claiming the Brod Collection as state cultural assets, a national treasure, which should not leave the country. The legal wrangling and academic outcry has been ably covered in dozens of articles by Ofer Aderat for Haaretz, which has a financial interest in the case. (Haaretz and many Kafka copyrights are owned by Schocken Books.)
So, for more than two years, the Brod Collection trial has dragged on in a Tel Aviv family courtroom, with drama aplenty, court-ordered openings of secret bank vaults, tales of theft and deception, a nightmare for Hoffe’s daughters, as if straight from Kafka’s own imagination.
When the Brod Collection first made international headlines in the summer of 2008, I was in Poland, on a six-week Kafka Project research project for the 20 notebooks and 35 love letters confiscated from Kafka’s last love, Dora Diamant, by the Gestapo in 1933. Before I embarked on the 2008 Eastern European Research Project, I wrote an article for San Diego Jewish World, “My Quest to Find a Literary Treasure,” explaining what we are searching for, and why it’s so important.
For almost a decade, I have been waiting to see the contents of the Brod Collection. In 2001, in Germany researching the biography of Dora Diamant, I first learned about the Brod Collection, and within it, the existence of 70 letters Dora Diamant wrote to Max Brod between 1924-1952. This was information vital not only for the book I was writing, but also for the Kafka Project. In one letter, written in Berlin in April 1933, Dora described to Brod the theft of Kafka’s writings by the Gestapo. Among the list of 70 letters, a stunning, four-page letter is catalogued, with the date, the return address, and a few lines describing what was taken. But, besides the Swiss lawyer who catalogued the Brod Collection in the early 1980s, no one else has seen that letter or any of Dora Diamant’s letters, telegrams and postcards written over a twenty-five year period.
I am only one of many who are holding a collective breath. The next headline you see on Kafka’s papers in the Brod Collection might announce a happy resolution. But knowing Kafka’s dark sense of humor, I doubt it.
In the meanwhile, Kafka Project isn’t waiting. Plans are afoot to follow up the 2008 Eastern European research, collaborating with the University of Silesia, Jagiellonian University, the National Library of Silesia, and the Polish National Archives in 2012. The Kafka Project is working not only to recover a lost treasure and open a new chapter in literary history, but to repair at least one of the crimes of the Third Reich. If you want to learn more about Kafka, I am presenting a six-week survey, Kafka in Context, for the Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning at SDSU, starting Monday, September 13. To register, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s a link for more information on the SDSU Kafka Project.
Stay tuned for the next headline!
Diamant is director of SDSU’s Kafka Project, a journalist, and author.
For further reading on this case, here are a few of the best articles covering the Brod Collection’s many twists and turns:
Huffington Post: “Kafka Manuscripts: The Fight Over Kafka”
Time Magazine: “Were Lost Kafka Masterpices Stuffed in a Swiss Bank Vault?
Washington Post: “In Israel, a tangled battle over the papers of Franz Kafka”
CBS: “Lost Kafka Papers Resurface, Trapped in Trial” CBS News (AP)
NEW YORK (WJC)–Eight Muslim American leaders, who visited the sites of former Nazi concentration camps and met with Holocaust survivors earlier this month, have signed a statement condemning Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. The trip, intended to teach the participants about the Holocaust, featured visits to the Dachau and Auschwitz camps.
“We stand united as Muslim American faith and community leaders and recognize that we have a shared responsibility to continue to work together with leaders of all faiths and their communities to fight the dehumanization of all peoples based on their religion, race or ethnicity,” the statement read. “With the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hatred, rhetoric and bigotry, now more than ever, people of faith must stand together for truth.”
Marshall Breger, a Jewish former member of the Reagan and Bush administrations, launched the trip to educate those who may not have had the opportunity to learn the history of the Holocaust. Breger said this would help combat Holocaust denial among Muslims.
The leaders on the trip were five imams – Muzammil Siddiqi of California; Muhamad Maged of Virginia; Suhaib Webb of California, Abdullah Antepli of North Carolina, and Syed Naqvi of Washington DC – along with Sayyid Syeed of Washington, Sheikh Yasir Qadhi of Connecticut, and Laila Muhammad of Illinois. US government officials, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, and an official from the Organization of the Islamic Conference also participated in the trip.
According to the ‘Forward’ weekly newspaper, several of the leaders had a history of anti-Semitic comments. Laila Muhammad is the daughter of American Muslim leader W.D. Muhammad and granddaughter of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the controversial Nation of Islam. The trip was co-sponsored by a German think tank and the New Jersey-based group Interreligious Understanding.
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SINGAPORE (WJC)– At the Youth Olympics, officials of the Iranian team have reportedly forced a 16 year-old taekwondo fighter to withdraw because he was pitted against an Israeli competitor, Gili Haimovitz, in the final.
Mohammed Soleimani withdrew from the final, saying he had a leg injury. He was also absent from the medal ceremony as he claimed that he had to go to hospital. Soleimani was to stand on the silver medal position as the Israeli flag was hoisted in the highest position.
A spokesman of the International Olympic Committee said an independent doctor had confirmed that Soleimani suffered an injury: “What we know factually is that the athlete injured his ankle and was sent to the hospital for an X-ray. Tests revealed he did not suffer anything broken, and he is all right now. So unless more factual information is available, it is mere speculation.”
Germany’s badminton coach Holger Hasse said: “I heard about what happened with Iran and Israel and it’s very disappointing that the athletes must follow some political rules and I can’t understand this. This is a chance for countries to be peaceful and for the next generation to change things. Athletes are not political, they just want to have fun and meet friends.”
Nigerian coach Jones Adakole told reporters: “This should not happen here, and it’s unfair. The Youth Olympics are about unity.” Malaysian badminton coach Wong Tat Meng agreed, saying: “What’s the purpose of the Youth Olympics? It’s to get everybody to enjoy sport and they should put aside politics. They should have carried on for the good of the sport.”
Preceding provided by the World Jewish Congress