Uncovering a Family’s Lost Holocaust History

March 10 2022

Over the course of the pandemic, Jessica Shaw took on a project: identifying and retracing the route through which her father escaped Paris during the Holocaust. She writes:

By the time my father was born in 1934, the Jewish population in Paris had grown to about 200,000, most of whom, like my grandparents, were immigrants from Eastern Europe. Yes, there was anti-Semitism throughout the country (the Dreyfus Affair, when a Jewish soldier was wrongly convicted of treason, wasn’t that far in the past), but there was also a Jewish socialist prime minister in Léon Blum. Even as Hitler amassed power to the east and Kristallnacht shattered any notion that Jews would be safe in Germany, many Jews in France felt safe enough.

But by June 1940, Hitler’s army had defeated France, and with the Franco-German Armistice, the country was divided into the German-controlled north and the Vichy-controlled south, which, though independent, collaborated with the Nazis. The persecution came swiftly: in October that year, the military lay the groundwork of “Aryanization”: taking away Jewish businesses. The next year, six synagogues in Paris were bombed in one night. The Jews who stayed in France were ordered to wear a yellow star marked “Juif” by 1942, if they were not among the approximately 76,000 who were deported, primarily to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland.

The French government recognized the best-known Pyrenees crossing, the “Chemin de la Liberté” or “Freedom Trail,” 50 years after the war ended, as an official path of escape during World War II. Several adventure-travel companies in Europe now offer guided group trips across the route, often for those wanting to commemorate a relative’s journey. The hikes begin in Saint-Girons, France, in the Pyrenees foothills, about 50 miles south of Toulouse, and meander through forests, boulder fields, and the occasional snowy mountain top to altitudes of 8,000 feet before crossing the border into Vielha, Spain.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: French Jewry, Holocaust, Vichy France

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia