Thousands of Documents Rescued from the Nazis Resurface in a Church Basement

Oct. 24 2017

After the Holocaust was well under way, Nazi officials decided to establish a center for the study of “the Jewish question” that would carry on long after they succeeded in murdering every last Jew on the planet. It would, among other things, preserve the memory of the great service Germany had done the world by rendering it Judenrein. Joseph Berger writes:

[The Germans] appointed Jewish intellectuals and poets to select the choicest pearls for study. These workers, assigned to sift through a major Jewish library in Vilna (modern-day Vilnius) ended up hiding . . . books and papers from the Nazis, smuggling them out under their clothing, and squirreling them away in attics and underground bunkers. . . . Risking death by a firing squad, this “paper brigade” rescued thousands of books and documents.

In 1991, a large part of the collection was found in the basement of a Vilnius church, and [the contents] were hailed as important artifacts of Jewish history. . . . But months ago curators at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in Manhattan, the successor to the Vilnius library, were told that another trove, totaling 170,000 pages, had been found, somehow overlooked in the same church basement. . . . Among the finds [are] five dog-eared notebooks of poetry by Chaim Grade, considered along with Isaac Bashevis Singer as one of the leading Yiddish novelists of the mid-20th century, . . . [and] ten poems handwritten in the Vilna ghetto by Avraham Sutzkever, among the greatest Yiddish poets.

When the Germans were pushed out of Lithuania by the Soviets, survivors like Sutzkever spirited some hidden treasures to New York. (The Soviets frowned on anything evocative of [Jewish] ethnic or religious loyalties.) Meanwhile, a Gentile librarian, Antanas Ulpis, who was assembling the remnants of the national library in a former church, stashed stacks of Jewish materials in basement rooms to hide them from Stalin’s enforcers.

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More about: Avraham Sutzkever, Chaim Grade, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Vilna, YIVO

 

How Israel Can Best Benefit from Its Newfound Friendship with Brazil

Jan. 21 2019

Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Brazil—the first Israeli prime minister to visit the country—for the inauguration of its controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has made clear his eagerness to break with his predecessors’ hostility toward the Jewish state, and Netanyahu has responded positively. To Emanuele Ottolenghi, the improved relations offer an opportunity for joint cooperation against Hizballah, which gets much of its revenue through cooperation with Brazilian drug cartels. In this cooperative effort, Ottolenghi cautions against repeating mistakes made in an earlier outreach to Paraguay:

Hizballah relies heavily on the proceeds of transnational crime networks, especially in the Tri-Border Area [where] Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay [meet], but until recently, Brazilian officials were loath to acknowledge its presence in their country or its involvement in organized crime. [But] Bolsonaro’s top priority is fighting organized crime. Combating Hizballah’s terror finance is a vital Israeli interest. Making the case that Israel’s and Brazil’s interests dovetail perfectly should be easy. . . .

But Israel should be careful not to prioritize symbols over substance, a mistake already made once in Latin America. During 2013-2018, Netanyahu invested heavily in his relationship with Horacio Cartes, then president of Paraguay. Cartes, . . . too, had a genuine warmth for Israel, which culminated in his decision in May 2018 to move Paraguay’s embassy to Jerusalem. Most importantly, from Israel’s point of view, Paraguay began voting with Israel against the Arab bloc at the UN.

However, the Paraguayan side of the Tri-Border Area remained ground zero for Hizballah’s money laundering in Latin America. The Cartes administration hardly lifted a finger to act against the terror funding networks. . . . Worse—when critics raised Hizballah’s [local] terror-financing activities, Paraguayan ministers confronted their Israeli counterparts, threatening to change Paraguay’s friendly international posture toward Israel. [And] as soon as Cartes left office, his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, moved Paraguay’s embassy back to Tel Aviv. . . . Israel’s five-year investment ultimately yielded no embassy move and no progress on combating Hizballah’s terror network. . . .

Israel should make the battle against Hizballah’s terror-finance networks in Latin America its top regional priority.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Brazil, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Latin America