Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Applying Asterix to Israel

 The year is 2024 and all of Palestine is occupied by the Jewish state. All of Palestine? No. One corner, Gaza, is holding out...

or should it be:

The year is 2024 and all the Middle East is governed by Fascist states or Monarchies. All? No. In one corner a single Liberal Democracy is holding out...

or perhaps:

The year is 2024 and all the Middle East is ruled by Arabs. All the Middle East? No, in one corner a Jewish state is holding out...The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not  entirely... : r/nostalgia

That of course is one of the issues. Israel and the region is an onion of conflicts inside conflicts, all feeding off each other.

But that is not what I wanted to write about.  This is:

In Asterix and the Roman Agent, Julius Caesar notices an unpleasant chap in Rome who causes conflict wherever he goes. Wherever he is, people start to argue and fight with each other and Caesar thinks this man could be useful. He hires the man and sends him, as a secret agent, to the Gaulish village, where soon the entire village is at each other's throats and falling apart. 

I sometimes think that Netanyahu is like that agent. He prospers by sowing conflict within Israel. It has to be said that it's not difficult. The saying goes, "Two Jews, three opinions" and the joke says that every Jew needs two synagogues: The one he prays in, and the one he refuses to set foot in.

Even now, with all the conflict and war in Gaza, nothing has changed. Israelis continue to fight and argue. In the Asterix story the village faces a terrible crisis, until the Romans invade and then they miraculously come together and fight back.

 Durotriges Project on X: "In memory of the indomitable René #Goscinny and  Albert #Uderzo here's my favourite image from what is (in my opinion) the  best #Asterix - Asterix and the Roman

The other story is Asterix in Britain. In that book, the Romans invade Britain and discover that the Britons pause fighting every day at five o'clock to drink hot water and that they also refuse to fight at weekends. So Caesar orders the Roman armies to fight only at weekends and between 5 and 6 on weekdays and soon all Britain is occupied, except for one small village which appeals to the Gauls for help.

 Review – 'Asterix in Britain' by Goscinny & Uderzo – Dundee Comics Creative  Space

The Israeli Army does not train on Saturdays or public holidays, so perhaps it was inevitable that in 1973, the neighboring Arab states chose Yom Kippur to invade. Its a day when many/most Israeli Jews fast. There is no traffic, no TV etc. 

In October 2023, Hamas chose a date close to Yom Kippur to attack: Simchat Tora. Depending on which calendar you use, it was almost 50 years to the day from the Yom Kippur war. 

Orthodox Jews read the five books of Moses (the Torah) every year. Simchat Torah is the day they finish the books and start again and there are various celebrations. Once again, the Israelis were caught napping. 

In the Asterix version, the Gauls go to England with a barrel of magic potion which they lose on the way, so their Druid adds some leaves to the Britons hot water and tells them its a magic potion. Thanks to the powers of suggestion, it gives the Britons the power to fight off the Romans. The leaves are, of course, called tea. It was always my favorite Asterix.

 So there you have it. some aspects of Asterix apply to modern Israel.  All that's missing is Obelix tapping his head and going "these people are crazy!".



Tuesday, May 21, 2024

An eye for an eye and a genocide for a genocide

 “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”. An eye for an eye is mostly known from Exodus 21, but that is quoting the Hammurabi Code (Babylon 1800 BC). It sounds bad, but its simplicity and promise of retribution may be preferable to no laws at all: Saying it leaves the whole world blind doesn't offer an alternative and alternatives may be worse. The code of the 15th Century Catholic Empires allowed the enslavement of anyone who wasn't a Christian. In the early 20th Century slavery was banned, but you could demand forced labor in African and Malaysian colonies and slavery was sometimes preferable as a slave has monetary value: A forced laborer can be worked to death. According to Adam Hochschild (King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa), the British and Belgians used this system but took care to destroy any physical record of their activity. Only in King Leopold's Congo (death toll 8 to 10 million) was evidence found and even then it was sparse.

The Nazis did not support "an eye for an eye" preferring "the strongest prevails" instead and used colonial principles against the Jews in Europe, killing anyone who couldn't work and working the remainder to death.

 A few years ago I read a World History of War Crimes by Michael Bryant. It left a lot of questions, but it was a good introduction. Two weeks after I finished it, I found some heavy books on the "Laws of War" which someone had left in a local open air library. 

Tel Aviv is full of open air libraries - when you want to throw a book out, you leave it at these public shelves and if you live in a good area, you may find some excellent books.  I lived near a neighborhood with a strong communal management committee which had set up a large give-and-take library and had volunteers who organized the books. One of these laws of war books contained a recommendation letter for what I assume was the former owner, applying for a job on the Sierra Leone war crimes cases.

In April 2024, following accusations directed against "Israel" (more about this later) I decided to read the UN Genocide convention.

Most signatories to the convention (Israel joined the UN in 1950 and approved the convention in 1951), specifically said they would not agree to the ICJ (International Court of Justice) prosecuting on this matter. I think Israel withdrew from the ICJ at some point.
I also read an article on prosecutions and their results. It's not that easy to get a conviction.
Article 2 of the convention says:
"genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:  
(a) Killing members of the group;  
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;  
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;  
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;  
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.  "
A case can against Israeli leaders regarding article 2(c) though how deliberate/intentional it was is debatable. I don't think it was planned, the Israeli government lashed out in anger but the conflict was initiated by Hamas., who planned and invaded with probable intention to commit genocide. Article a is a bit general and so can be applied to anything. 
Article 3 says:
"The following acts shall be punishable:  
(a) Genocide;  
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;  
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;  
(e) Complicity in genocide.  "
Article 3a is also open to interpretation.  Leaders of Hamas and Iran are, in my opinion, clearly in violation of Articles 3 b,c and d.  Senyora specifically Article 3a. Iranian leaders have been inciting genocide for years. I think the same point can be made about many academics and perhaps many demonstrators in Western Universities. 
The interesting part is article 4:
 "Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals. "
Only individuals can be punished
Although not stated, to accuse a nation, religion, people, ethnicity etc of genocide is clearly equivalent to (or is) racism and may itself be incitement to genocide or indicative of intention to commit genocide.
The rules and prosecutions are very clear on this: Only individuals can be held responsible for genocide.
Although not immediately relevant, acquisition or threatening to use nuclear weapons would also seem to be a violation, which is a whole area for debate.
Iran has provided Hezbullah with 150,000 rockets over the years: one for each 60 or so Israelis (including Moslems).  I use the word Moslems rather than "Arabs" because for Hamas, Iran, Hezbullah (and many Israelis) the conflict is religious.  Many Jews are arguably, Arabs: You sometimes hear Arabs saying they can't be anti-Semitic because they are Semites, I suppose that the flip side of that is that Israelis can't be racist against Arabs because so many Jews are Arabs. 
"Genocidal rape" was added to the convention some time later and Hamas leaders are probably in violation of this. Israeli media reported early on that during interviews with captured attackers they found some that had been deliberately prepared/instructed by religious authorities to commit rape and perform atrocities:  They were also equipped with personal cameras to record the atrocities.


My impression is that when Israelis get slaughtered there's a lot of rejoicing and people saying we deserved it.  I think these attitudes have "previous" such as before the 1967 war many people were delighted that the Arabs were finally about to destroy Israel. 
Israel is condemned for using collective punishments by people who demand that Israelis are collectively punished. It is condemned for genocide by people demanding that Israel is exterminated. Condemned for failure to respect human rights by people who either don't believe in human rights (if they are far left) or say that they don't apply to Israelis.

Israel is an easy target and useful face saver for countries who want to distract attention from their human rights abuses. UN bodies focus on Israel while ignoring everyone else. Its very easy to send journalists to Israel and its a nice place for them.  They will get kudos for demonstrating Israel's evils and the sack or demotion for denying them.  Its easy to recruit Palestinians, though some clearly also work for Hamas. It is a lot harder going to Darfur or Congo. Hamas followers hate the UK, yet Gaza gets more aid then the far more UK aid then much more populous Congo or Kurdistan. Gaza had more hospitals per person then most African states. 36 for 2 million people - This aid did not go through Hamas. The UK has a slightly better hospital ratio but it's not a huge gap. 

Netanyahu seems to have figured it was cheaper to let money flow to Hamas then to fight a war with them, so he encouraged payments. He was right, but the problem was that Hamas didn't use the inflow to build hospitals or schools or mosques (others did that for them), it used the money to prepare for conflict so Netanyahu's policy ultimately backfired.  

In Darfur the Arab Janja-Weed have murdered hundreds of thousands of Africans. Millions have fled their homes. Janja-Weed have rebranded and now have a nice acronym: RSF - the Rapid Support Forces. Their tactics are reminiscent of Hamas. The UN has a budget of  about a few million dollars a year to help Darfuris even thought the scale of atrocities is tens of times worse. None (or few) journalists go there. Only the occasional story appears: It is not reported daily. There are no support groups.  Evidence for war crimes on a massive scale is abundant but nobody cares very much.

In January, General Mohamed Dagalo, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces, met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Pretoria.  There was nothing covert about it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PT0U5jW-9EY&ab_channel=SABCNews

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Remembering the Yom Kippur war (October 1973)

 In October 1973 I was 9 (nearly 10) and living in a small house my parents had bought in what was then an immigrant neighborhood at the West end of Ra'anana, a small Israeli town of 30,000 or so (its larger now). 

Yom Kippur in Israel is a remarkable day, there are no cars on the roads, no TV, no radio broadcasts. The airports and ports and border crossings are all closed. In those days there was no internet and Israel had only a single, black and white TV station. I have quite a vivid memory of the day. I was reading the Lord of the Rings. I was so deep in the book that it took a while for me to notice that the air-raid siren was going off (I evidently knew what it was). Eventually, I put down my book and went outside to see what was happening.

My parents and other neighbors were wandering around wondering what was happening.  Nobody was aware of any tension.  Eventually my father went in and turned on the radio: There was music. 

"Something must have happened" he said, "There shouldn't be radio on Yom Kippur".  The TV was the same. Eventually a radio news broadcast said that Israel had been attacked by Syria and Egypt. The announcer gave astonishing figures: hundreds of tanks destroyed on the fronts (Egyptian, Syrian and Israeli), I don't remember precise numbers but I remember that they were huge: Many hundreds.  At the time, these were the largest tank battles since the Second World War.

Our house was next to a bomb shelter, which served all the houses in our alley. The shelter entrance was a door with a slope behind it, the slope covered stairs going underground, leading to a sizeable underground chamber with an emergency exit. The door and the emergency exit were the only visible features. The emergency exit was a concrete bulge with a window from which one could escape.

The shelter in 2023, the emergency exit is red, the door is on the other side of the far structure.

 In 1973, the area round the shelter was all sand.

The bomb shelter was locked and nobody had the key.  My father got a hack saw and started sawing at the padlock. After 10 minutes a large Russian man appeared with a hammer, waved him away and with one blow smashed the padlock.

Me and my friends used to play on the bomb shelter. The slope was a bit like a slide, it had an element of danger, but was not high enough to cause major issues. The younger brother of my friend David Wiseman, once peed on him from the top. David's family were immigrants from South Africa and they lived in the expensive neighborhood near ours.  His father was on the Israel cricket team and had opened the first Burger restaurant in Israel: The Burger Ranch (it still exists under different ownership). Another friend was Eli, whose family were religious. Eli's family lived close by; His parents were Moroccan immigrants and he had about 7 siblings. Their house had only 2 or 3 bed rooms: They had double beds everywhere and he shared his bed with one or two brothers.

The slope of the bomb shelter in 2023

Before the war, when we were playing, Eli had suddenly needed to shit, he didn't ask to use our toilet (we were only 8) and I didn't think to offer, so he simply climbed into the shelter's emergency exit and shat there. We never told anybody. The emergency exit had a latch at the bottom so you couldn't get into the shelter from outside, but you could climb into the shaft.

So, when the adults went into the shelter, one of the first things they found (and had to clean) was Eli's shit. 

I went over to Eli's house in the first couple of days, two of his brothers were in uniform listening to the radio which was broadcasting codes: Instructions for soldiers of where to go. There was a lot of hissing and my parents later told me this was "jamming" attempts to disrupt radio signals.

The first night of the war, we watched Golda Meir on the TV and my parents blacked out our windows (against bombers) and put tape on them (against flying glass). They were very cheerful about this: They said it reminded them of the Blitz. They also set up a little bag of stuff to take to the bomb shelter, should we need it.

They must have been worried, because the next day they left me with a family they knew from the British Consulate who had a child my age. He had a huge house, with a massive garden and lots of toys and for a while I went there regularly. The boy (I think his name was Daniel) had a hearing problem and at some point I teased him about it, after which I was no longer invited.

We had some rather odd neighbors, who were from the American mid-West.  A family of blonde haired, blue eyed Americans  who in the excitement of the post-Six Day war era had converted to Judaism and moved to Israel. My parents said that in the first days of the war, the family had listened to the BBC World Service which religiously relayed Arab announcements as facts. The Syrian government announced that "Haifa was burning" and they freaked. It was nonsense. The BBC still relays such  announcements as fact, usually disregarding Israeli news. I think they have a lot of Arabic speakers and no Hebrew speakers.

Nobody had a phone - The waiting time for a phone was about a decade, unless you were a doctor or high ranking military. There was a single payphone by the little shopping center which served the whole neighborhood. My mother told a story about how it malfunctioned once, giving free phone calls and generating a long queue of people who phoned all over the world.

My friend Yossi Abu-Salem (whose parents were immigrants from Morocco) told me that a jeep drew up outside his father's Synagogue on the morning of Yom Kippur and soldiers took him away. I think Yossi's father must have been in a commando unit, because he also told me that at some point his father came home on leave and when he took off his shoes, a massive knife fell out. Abu-Salem is Arabic for "father of peace".

My best friend at this time was Gur, who lived in the fancy neighborhood that bordered on ours - The houses were detached with nice gardens and terracotta roofs. Gur's parents were born in Israel: Generally the kids in my school whose parents were born in Israel lived in that neighborhood. Gur's great-grandfather Norman Bentwich was a British lawyer who moved to Palestine in the 1920s and designed the British Mandate's legal system: Its the British system but without juries (Ottoman rules remain valid unless new laws replaced them). It evolved into the Israeli legal system.

Gur's mother would stick the map of the front on their fridge and we used to study it, to see how things were going. By the end of the war, the Israeli army had crossed Suez and was visibly heading for Cairo, about 80 kilometers I think. In the North it was heading for Damascus and was less than 50 kilometers from Damascus.  

We had no school for a couple of months. Most of the fathers were in the Army, but mine was too old. Because my father was an actor, he had no work for months: All the theatres and movies etc. were closed. 

During the war, Israeli troops crossed the Suez canal into mainland Egypt and it became common to see military trucks with "Africa" written in large letters, proudly advertising their destination. The Suez canal is a long drive from central Israel. 

Gur's father was a Maths professor with complete disrespect for authority. He came home from the army with a bag of "toys": Bullets and a broken pistol.  We played with the bullets. Bullets have two parts - A copper jacket containing gunpower and a smaller lead shot (the actual bullet) which is wedged into the jacket. When a hammer hits the back of the metal jacket, a spark ignites the gunpowder causing a massive gas expansion which forces the bullet out at speeds which can pass the speed of sound. Me and Gur used pliers to pull out the bullets and then poured the gunpowder out of the jackets.  If you did this to a few bullets and lit the gun powder they create a firework like flame and a satisfying bang.  We did it on wasteland between our neighborhoods where no grown-ups could see us. 

After the war, Gur's mother handed the bag of tricks into the local Police station. Many homes had momentos of the war, mostly military sleeping bags and rain coats.  Tank and artillery shells are basically very large bullets and people would use the empty artillery jackets as umbrella stands or flower pots. Ammunition boxes became flower pots or storage boxes and I once saw a clock that had been welded onto a dead hand grenade. Occasionally the Army would declare an amnesty so people could hand back all the military hardware they had acquired over the years.

Over 2,000 Israeli soldiers died in the war and the government published a book with a list of the names that I remember viewing. As school slowly got back to normal, I remember large groups of children "enacting" battles and throwing clods of earth at each other. 

Every night we watched the news in Hebrew on the one and only (black and white) TV channel. I remember lots of articles about the Suez canal and about friendly interactions between Israeli and Egyptian soldiers.  That and Henry Kissinger meeting Gold Meir, I remember them joking in English together and the impression of genuine affection between the two. 

Almost everybody in our neighborhood was an immigrant. I knew the kids in the local school better than any kids in any school I ever attended. I have never felt I belonged anywhere as much as I did in that neighborhood, maybe it was my age, maybe it was the school or the effect of the war which brought us together.

Most of the kids were children of Russian or North African immigrants. Both groups tended to arrive in Israel with nothing. Russians were allowed to take two suitcases when they emigrated and asking to leave was dangerous for them: People lost their jobs and were treated as potential enemies. Some of the Russians had highly educated parents, while others were clearly working class. I remember Arye Pukan, who told me that he read the Encyclopedia for fun and that he hadn't been circumcised in Russia because it was banned. I think he had it done after they immigrated. I also remember watching Stella's mother separate grits from rice. Stella's family home was simple and had no books.

Moroccans usually emigrated illegally, leaving their homes behind and bringing very little.  Among them, there were those who were educated in religious seminaries, those with a secular French (Jewish school) education and those from the mountains who had little education. My friend Yossi had a French speaking father who worked as a welder. He had a single sister but most North African families were 7 or 8 kids. There were many girls in my class who had religious parents, their brothers went to the religious school and then the girls came to ours. Perhaps the parents felt that the religious schools didn't educate the girls properly, or perhaps there just wasn't a school for religious girls. 

After the war Yossi's family emigrated to Montreal. The all-American blonde family from the mid-West left Israel and returned to the USA but their eldest daughter Debbie stayed. Debbie was my baby-sitter. She was gorgeous and I adored her.  She had fallen in love with a dark-skinned Orthodox boy of Moroccan origin. They got married in a huge wedding which we attended, I don't think her family were there (but then flights were very expensive in those days). They moved to Kfar Habad, a Haredi Lubavitch community, we also attended their first child's circumcision.  

I was the only British born child in my year. There were other kids who were the only ones from their country: I was the only Briton, there was an Australian, a Persian, an Argentinian, a Turkish girl and a girl whose parents were from Syria.

In general the only kids one identified by their origin, were the ones born abroad. Kids like me, often had a slight accent and spoke a different language at home.  There were also native Israelis - kids with parents who were born in Israel and they all lived in the wealthy neighborhood, where houses were detached and had tiled roofs: Except for most of the Yemenites. 

The first people to live in our part of Ra'anana were Yemenite immigrants, I think that they had arrived before Israeli independence. They owned land and worked as farmers. Shmuel's family had a stand selling watermelons by the main road, and in the watermelon season he would sometimes sleep in the watermelon stand. The Yemenites, all lived in one street at the start of our neighborhood, which was the first street of the area. They had the nicest houses, big detached houses with flat roofs and large gardens. Many of them became very wealthy: Land in Ra'anana is very valuable. In those days Ra'anana was mostly farmland and orange groves, but now it is a small city 20 minutes from Tel Aviv. One of the Yemenite men was an alcoholic, who used to hang out in the little shopping center.

One North African family near our house bought a sheep, which grazed round the bomb shelter, then the son had a bar-mitzva and the sheep was slaughtered. Next to them was an unmarried Dutch woman who had lots of dogs. Her house is now a 24 hour veterinary surgery. I think she must have died and left it as a free site for vets. Our most immediate neighbor was Kadosh, an 80 year old Orthodox Russian who came with his son, a talented 50 year old artist (he left his wife in the USSR). The Jewish Agency built a massive art studio for the son, just next to the house. The son built a huge sculpture that decorated the main Herzliyya post office for many years. He eventually emigrated to the USA and my parents told me he did very well there. The older Kadosh taught me to ride roller-skates. My parents had bought me a pair but neither of them knew how to use them, so 80 year old Kadosh showed me  how to slide my feet at angles. I remember him inviting me into his house; I was fascinated by the massive samovar that stood on his dining table and he was delighted. He showed me how it worked and poured me some tea.

The studio in 2023 - It is now a local authority center for the elderly

Further down were Tommy and Tanya from Czechoslovakia (as it was then called), he was doing a Phd in Physics and she was studying medicine: They had left (Soviet-controlled) Czechoslovakia in the middle of their studies and continued them in Israel - in Hebrew. An unimaginable challenge. Many years later they migrated to the UK and settled in Cambridge. They remained close friends of my parents.
The experience of living in the neighborhood inspired my mother to write a TV series for Israeli educational TV which taught English. Some scenes were shot in the neighborhood. My father acted in that series and it made him famous in Israel, but that is another story.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

How I met a notorious anti-Semite and found myself alone with a hundred neo-Nazis.

 In the early 1980's I attended the University of Sussex, near Brighton on the South coast of England. On my first week at Sussex I attended something called "The Freshers Week", which was a sort of fair in the main hall of the Student Union, where various student societies presented what they stood for and touted for new recruits. Each society was given a table and you made your way through an aisle of tables. 

Some Englishman with a perverse sense of humour had placed two tables, on either side of the entrance: The Iranian Students Society and the Iraqi Students Society. The two countries were then at war, as Saddam Hussein had invaded Iran. The occupants of the two tables sat and glowered at each other, while presumably feeling relieved that they were not in their respective countries.

I recall chatting to the Bahais who told me that the Iranian government was seizing their children and then reaching the Palestine Solidarity Campaign where two very English looking fellows sat along with a pamphlet they were selling, the cover of which you can see below:

As I looked at their magazine, one offered to infiltrate the Jewish Society. The other guy shushed him and I asked if he was the author of the pamphlet: Tony Greenstein. He was. I bought a copy and still have it. 

The very last table (as far as possible from the Iranians and Iraqis?) was the Jewish Society. I joined, partially inspired by the conversation I had heard. I occasionally attended Jewish Society events but coming from a very anti-Religious Socialist-Zionist family, did not feel comfortable there. 

According to his Wikipedia page, Tony Greenstein is a co-founder of the PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign), which I understand to be active all over the UK and when I was at Sussex, he was a regular at student events (he lived nearby in Brighton)  although he did not study at Sussex and so far as I know never did more than a BA in Chemistry.  

In the Summer of my first year at Sussex, I sub-rented a room in a beautiful house in Brighton from some architecture students who were away for the summer. The student who rented me her room holidayed in Peru where she was shot in the shoulder by the Maoist Shining Path terrorist group. The house had a working juke box in the huge kitchen - It was a lovely house and I have a vivid memory of watching snails copulate on the glass door to the garden (they moved surprisingly fast when sex was involved). My room had an ensuite bathroom with a sunken bath (something I had never previously seen). It was great.

I shared the house with Tony Greenstein's girlfriend. I think she was called Kathy. I don't think he ever came to the house. Kathy had spent some time in Israel and had stayed with Palestinians on the West Bank. We got friendly and I showed her a book of pre-1948 Israeli newspaper cartoons that I had.

At some point Kathy told me that the "National Front", a British Neo-Nazi organization was holding a demonstration in Brighton that weekend and that an "anti-Fascist" counter demonstration was planned.

So, a few days later I went into the center of Brighton.  It emerged that the National Front had rented Brighton library under a false name and were holding their AGM there. They had provided a false location for the demonstration and all the anti-Fascists had gone there  A  few tough skin heads were sent out to cause a rumpus while they sneaked into the library.  Brighton was a center of Neo Nazi activity in those days and rather curiously, they were funded by Colonel Gaddhafi and advertised his "Green Book" (see here and here). I arrived late and found that the police had cordoned off the library and although there was a lot of noise, there was nothing happening.  So I went back to the railway station to go home.

Near the station I went down a side road back towards the library and found myself facing about a hundred mostly young Neo-Nazis, including many skinheads in steel-toed Doc Martin shoes, silently marching behind a policeman who was leading them to the railway station. He laughed when he saw my expression and told me to move aside if I didn't want to be trampled.    

Most wore white. Since the mid-1930s it is illegal for British political parties to wear uniforms (this contributed to the failure of Fascism in Britain), so they got round it by wearing white clothes.

I made my way into the railway station after them and watched them mulling around. They seemed lower middle or working class and a bit sleazy. They seemed subdued.  

Tony Greenstein was part of a group of British Jews who made a career out of an extreme anti-Zionism that seemed to emanate from some kind of far-left ideology. The others that I encountered were Moshe Machover and Leni Brenner.  They seemed to devote their life to going round British universities giving lectures on the evils of Zionism (and sometimes Judaism).  I sometimes wondered how they made a living. 

I saw Machover's lecture at the University of Sussex where he memorably advocated for the (re) creation of an Arab Empire stretching form Turkey to Morocco (humility was not part of the group's forte). 

In 2018 Goldstein was expelled from the British Labour party because of his anti-Semitism. In 2019 the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism described him on their website as a "notorious anti-Semite". He sued, going all the way to the High Court, and lost (https://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2020/11/06/notorious-anti-semite-loses-libel-case/).
There was no doubt, the court said, that he engaged in anti-Semitic activities and the description was legitimate.  Greenstein is now bankrupt, as he cannot pay his legal expenses.

I don't think Greenstein set out to be an anti-Semite (unlike the Neo-Nazis) but his obsessive hatred of Israel led to an intolerance and belief in conspiracy theories.  His extraordinary energy in pursuing his goal of destroying Israel and his lies and distortions in promotion of anti-Zionism was a major force in creating the widespread anti-Semitism on the British left. He and a small group of fellow extremists wrote frequent letters to the Guardian claiming that allegations of anti-Semitism were untrue and that they represented a significant body of Jewish opinion. Of course if the allegations were true then Greenstein himself would be an anti-Semite. The letters were always published despite the obviously problematic nature of their opinions and their lack of a meaningful connection to Jewish communal life. 

By the way, a long time after I moved out of the house I shared with Kathy, I noticed that I had lost the book of Israeli political cartoons (by Dosh) from 1945-1950. She really liked it and I sometimes wonder if it is now in Tony Greenstein's house. 

Monday, November 1, 2021

Israeli Elections - Seen from Bnei Brak

A few days before Israel's last election, I was sent a link by an NGO dedicated to maintaining “pure elections”. The NGO, Mishmar Habhirot  Ha’ezrahi (“the civilian election guardians”) stations observers at polling stations and was looking for volunteers. I could choose from three observation shifts: 6:30 am to 12:30 pm, 12:30 pm to 18:30 pm and 18:30 to the end, including the count. I registered for the evening shift which was less disruptive for my family, and would allow me to watch the vote count. 

The NGO’s website invited me to choose a polling station to observe. Since I live in a part of Tel Aviv close to Israel's main Haredi city, Bnei Brak, I volunteered to go there. I felt that Bnei Brak is somewhere where an observer might make a difference - and that it would be interesting.  My partner suggested that I wear gloves and a mask at all times - Last year Bnei Brak had the worst Corona infection rates in Israel. 

I was sent 20 pages of instructions, telling me how a polling station is organized and defining my job - Basically my mere presence was thought to prevent any abuse, but I was asked to keep a careful eye on things while avoiding "verbal or physical violence".  As an observer, I had to be attached to a party and officially I would be a Labor party representative (selected from a random list of parties who had agreed to participate). Since I am a "natural" Labor voter, I had no problem with this. Observers have a legal status and the polling station committee was required to admit me and record my presence and personal details in the protocol.  I was provided with an official observer ID, emergency numbers to call and a link to a website where I could make reports. 

At 6pm on election day, I got on my bicycle and rode over to Bnei Brak.  Bnei Brak is the most densely populated city in Israel with 26,000 people per square kilometer (Gaza has about 5,000 and Gaza city 10,000, see also the 8th densest city in the world). It is also consistently in the ten poorest cities in Israel (source is in Hebrew) . According to the Israel statistics office, monthly income per family is less than 3,000 shekels.    

As you ride into Bnei Brak, large shopping chains vanish and are replaced by small, privately owned stores with simple storefronts. Hairdressers sell yarmulkes. The roads are full of pedestrians, lots of men in black trousers, black jackets and white shirts, many women pushing prams and there are children everywhere. Apparently, it is the third happiest city in Israel with 96% of the over 20's satisfied with their lives (Bet Shemesh, another Haredi city was first - source is in Hebrew).

The polling station I had chosen was in a primary school, deep in a local neighborhood. Most Israeli polling stations are in schools or community centers and usually, each location hosts 4 or 5 stations with each station having a list of about 500 to 750 local voters. There are about six million voters in Israel and roughly 10,000 polling stations in about 2,500 locations (Hebrew: list of polling stations).

Getting to the school required navigation through narrow winding streets. The houses and cars looked neglected and the street lighting was poor. Nobody was wearing a mask. I could hear a vehicle with loudspeakers driving around: "Get out and vote!" (it said) "Secular Jews are pouring into the polling booths!". "Lieberman is campaigning against us!" (Lieberman leads a party with heavy support by Russian immigrants and promised to restrict religious power). A few elections ago (after 4 elections in 2 years, I have lost track of which election was when), Netanyahu claimed that "Arabs are pouring into the polling stations" and the Haredis were clearly imitating this. An overweight man in the regulation white shirt and black trousers invited me to come and join evening prayers (Haredi men pray three times a day). He looked disappointed when I refused.  I got a little lost in the side streets and arrived a few minutes late.

The school was a small "Torah School". Haredi schools are independent of the state system and this school did not look good, although nothing ever looks good in the Haredi world as they are impervious to appearances.
The courtyard had prefabricated (possibly temporary) classrooms, two of which were being used for voting.
There was almost no play area, only a narrow courtyard around the school with much of the space taken by the prefabricated classrooms.  I did not take photos because it is illegal to photograph a polling station.
The small street approaching the school is pedestrian only, which is a nice feature.  The street was overflowing with children, many mothers and a few men.  Two parties were on constant display: Agudat Yisrael (the Ashkenazi Haredi party) and Shas (the Sephardi Haredi party).  Many children asked me if I supported Shas. Nobody asked if I supported Aguda. In most cases, I could not tell who was Sephardi and who was Ashkenazi.

Inside the school, I saw no children's art. There were some old murals on the wall, one depicting a coastline and the others showing Orthodox men. My polling station was in the "gym", a very long classroom with many damaged floor tiles and damaged ceiling tiles. The room was split by dividers and the other side was another polling station. I saw about five large mattresses of the kind used for floor exercises and a vaulting box lying to one side.

Israeli polling stations are manned by 3 to 6 people: There is a secretary who cannot be a member of any of the 38 parties competing in the election and two to four committee members who represent the parties running in the election (they must all be from different parties). Two of the committee members are a chairperson and deputy chairperson (from different parties). There is also a non-party official observer - Somebody who sits there with a camera around his neck and does nothing. In addition, any of the competing parties can send an observer. No party may have more than two representatives in the polling station. All these people are for a polling station where only 500 to 700 people may vote: The school contained 4 or 5 polling stations.  There were also two young women (non-Haredi French immigrants) who were employed to periodically clean up the various polling stations at the school, at least one policeman, a desk with two people who directed voters to the correct polling station and a maintenance person.

The people staffing the polling station are paid about 1500 shekels (450 USD) for a day's work. In Bnei-Brak 1500 shekels is a big deal. Since Israeli elections are also a public holiday, there is no shortage of people able and wanting to work on election day. All buses and trains in Israel are free for the day and I was eligible for a free taxi (I preferred to cycle). 

I suppose having only two competing parties makes life simpler when it comes to representation, but when it comes to monitoring fairness, there is something to be said for having a wide range of competition. Coalitions may be awkward, but they do guard against dictatorship (no Israeli party ever won a full majority in the Knesset).

When I went in and presented my credentials to the secretary, there were four Haredi women "manning" the voting station. Three wore wigs and the fourth was a very young woman who I assumed was unmarried. There were also two Haredi men sitting to one side at a separate table: One was the official observer with the camera around his neck (earning 1,500 shekels for the day) and the other a voluntary observer like me, representing the Aguda party. I sat near the two men. In several cases, people came into the room, ignored the women, and headed straight for us men, assuming we were managing the voting station. This despite the fact that the ladies were sitting behind perspex dividers (protecting them from disease), had a ballot box in front of them and the Knesset logo displayed (a seven branch candelabra).

The NGO that sent me, provided a link to a website where I could log in and report. The website told me that the committee chairman represented Ta'al and the deputy represented Likud. I wasn't sure what Ta'al was, so I googled it. It is one of Israel's major Arab parties, headed by Ahmed Tibi.  Since all the ladies were Haredi, it was clear they weren't Arab and after a while, I went over and asked what was going on. The Secretary grinned under her wig "the chairman is wandering around, I can tell you though that he isn't what you would expect".
She pointed to one of the other Haredi ladies and said "She's the Likud representative". 

After about 45 minutes, a young Haredi man with untied shoelaces came up to me, and in an apologetic voice told me he was the representative for (Arab) Ta'al.  Apparently, his uncle is some kind of political activist and got him the job. They did a deal with Ta'al and instead of Haredis going to polling stations in Arab towns and the Arabs going to polling stations in Haredi towns, they all stayed close to home. So all the officials at the polling station were Haredi. This is a deviation from the intended diversity of the staff and is not an ideal situation for preventing ballot-stuffing.

In Israel, each voter hands a representative of the polling station their ID and in return gets given an envelope which they take behind a partition which hides them from view. Behind the partition, there are slips of paper for each of the many competing parties. You are supposed to choose the slip of paper related to your party (identifiable by 1 - 3 large letters) and put it in the envelope. Blank slips of paper are provided in case any are missing (you can write the letters on them).  You then come out from behind the partition and publicly insert the envelope (which hides your selection) into a sealed cardboard box, in front of the polling station committee.  After inserting the envelope, your ID is returned to you.

The rules require the polling station committee to cross off the names of voters.  This is done on two different lists, by two different people. They could cheat and cross off additional names, but would also have to insert the envelopes with the voting selection and a careful tally of the envelopes is maintained. Basically cheating would be complicated and would require a number of participants, including the committee members, to cooperate and insert slips of paper into envelopes and then into the ballot box. Given the large number of ballot stations, a huge number of people would be required to change the results by more than a small number of votes.  

The committee seemed serious about some aspects of their job and I saw no evidence of any cheating except for the high turnout, which at around 80% was extremely high but within the boundaries of possibility. There was much minor rule-breaking: Children wandered in and out of the voting station and occasionally went behind the partitions and took ballot slips.  The children were sill wandering around quite late in the evening. The committee chairwoman had brought her daughter to work and she too wanted to take voting slips from the polling booth. Many voters turned up with small children in prams. I had voted in Tel Aviv that morning and there the boundaries between the polling station and the public were tightly observed, although in Tel Aviv many voters were accompanied by their dogs, which is not something that happens in Bnei Brak.

One man tried to go behind the partition with his wife. He was called out by the committee and she then entered alone, spending a very long time choosing her slip of paper. I suspect she was illiterate. Very old or handicapped voters are allowed one assistant but this does not apply to illiterates. The use of 1 -3 letters to identify the lists, is designed to make it easier for illiterates. An assistant may accompany up to two different voters (handicapped or elderly) but no more and they may not be an employee of an old people's home. I assume that my presence made the committee more careful with the rules, but any failure to fully implement rules would have only impacted a handful of votes.

Official poster listing the participating parties (one withdrew at the last minute)

At precisely 10pm, the doors of the polling station were shut and we gathered around the table to watch the counting. Only the committee members could count. No one is allowed to leave or enter the room while the counting goes on and only the committee members are allowed to count. 

In the early 1980s, I lived in Brighton (UK) and studied Political Science, one of my lecturers stood as a candidate for the local elections and a friend accompanied him as he signed up elderly voters to do postal voting. My friend said that on one occasion he saw the lecturer, forcibly push an elderly voter's hand to cross the box he wanted. My friend was disturbed by this and it left me with an enduring suspicion of postal voting. So I understand the US Republican party's distrust of massive postal votes. Postal voting is not allowed in Israel. In some Israeli polling stations, anybody can vote regardless of where they live. In those cases, the envelope containing your vote is inserted into another sealed envelope with your details and sent to the central administration office for counting. There were about 10 of these votes at the polling station. 

To be clear, while I sympathize with the suspicion of postal voting, I believe there should be equality in voting conditions. 

Almost all the voters I saw were Haredi. The main exception I remember, was one woman with blue hair and yoga pants (I thought: "What is she doing here?"). Of the 570 eligible voters at my polling station, 470 had voted. 
About 300 voted for the Ashkenazi Haredi party and 100 for the Sephardi Haredi party. 42 voted for an ultra-right religious party (a national surprise showing) and 14 for the Likud. One person voted for the Labor party. There was one blank piece of paper cast (regarded as a canceled vote).

As I took my bicycle and left the school, I heard someone say, "Look!, men and women are mixing at the polling station!". Inside one of the temporary classrooms that had served as a polling station, I could see attractive, smiling young Haredi men and women talking around a table, while a couple of people peeked through the corner of the windows.

At the next election, I will volunteer to observe in an Arab town.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Jewish Kingdoms Outside Israel

Over the centuries there have been quite a few "Jewish" kingdoms outside of the Land of Israel/Palestine, however these have not achieved the fame or influence of Judea/Israel and have never undermined the Jewish religion's territorial focus on the "Promised Land".
I find these minor Jewish states fascinating and thought it would be a good idea to list them. What is suprising about these kingdoms is that they lasted no less time then the Jewish kingdoms in Israel and that in some cases they covered a lot more territory. Another interesting feature is that they almost entirely date to the post-exile period and that all came into being after the Romans adopted Chrinstianity.
These kingdoms were located outside the centers of recorded history (such as Italy or Turkey) and the documentation attesting to their existence is sparse.  Why there is so little record is one question that arises and I suggest several reasons:
1. Jewish kingdoms were not "empire builders" and empires have written human history.
2. Unlike Israel, Jewish kingdoms were not in strategic locations and not on major trade routes.
3. History, West of China and India, has been written by Christians and Moslems, who attach less importance to Jews.

Major Kingdoms

1. 380 - 520 (about 140 years) The Himyarite Kingdom  (West Yemen). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Himyarite_Kingdom. See also https://www.hs.ias.edu/files/Bowersock_RiseAndFall.pdf
Image from Wikipedia
Wikipedia -
Like all the other Jewish kingdoms outside Israel, sources are sketchy, however unlike many of the others, there is archaeological evidence for the existence of a Jewish kingdom in the Yemen which used Hebrew as a medium for public inscriptions. The kingdom was involved in wars which were documented by Christian sources outside the Yemen, fighting Christian kingdoms in Ethiopia and fighting Christian tribes in Arabia. In his book, "The Throne of Adulis", Glen Bowersock suggests that these conflicts may have contributed to the emergence of a third way - Islam in the 6th Century. The Koran also mentions Jewish tribes in Arabia, which may be connected to the Himyarite Kingdom.

2. 695 - 700 Berber Jrawa tribe, ruled by queen Dihya  (North East Algeria).
Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dihya see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berber_Jews.
The Berbers are native North African tribes who are not Arab and are known to predate the Arab presence. There are a number of sources suggesting that some tribes adopted Judaism in Roman times. Queen Dihya achieved fame when the 13th Century Tunisian-Arab historian Ibn Khaldun wrote about her (500 years after her possible existence), saying that she had held up Arab Imperial progress in North Africa. It is likely that the tribe she governed had been Jewish for much longer and controlled a significant area, but there is little source material outside of Ibn Khaldun and North African oral traditions. Because the Berbers were largely nomadic and illiterate there is little scope for archeological evidence backing up the oral traditions.

3. 740 - 920 (about 150 years) Kingdom of the Khazars (Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia) .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khazars.
Image from Wikipedia

The Khazar kingdom was a buffer state between the Moslem Mongol kingdoms and the Christian Rus. The largest Jewish state ever (in territory), but the documentary evidence, while persuasive and contemporary with the time is a little sparse. The writer Arthur Koestler famously wrote about this kingdom suggesting that many Ashkenazis may carry Khazar blood (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thirteenth_Tribe).  Not much remains of Khazar Judaism, leading some to suggest that only the aristocracy and government really practised Judaism. There are a group in this area known as the "Mountain Jews" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Jews), who do sound like they might be related to the Khazars. It is also said that there are no "Cohens" (descendants of the temple priesthood) among the Georgian Jews which could also be explained by Khazar origins.

4. 900 - 1620 (700+ years) The Kingdom of Semien (North-West Ethiopia).
Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Semien. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beta_Israel#Ancient_history.
If this oral tradition among Ethiopian Jews is even partly true, then the Jewish kingdom in Ethiopia may be the longest lasting Jewish kingdom that has ever existed.  There was a Jewish traveler in Europe called "Eldad HaDani" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eldad_ha-Dani) who said he originated from East Africa. The Cambridge History of Africa (volume III page 102, 2001 edition), quotes a 10th Century Arab historian called "Ibn Hawqal" as saying that a Queen of "Hadani" defeated the Christians on the edges of the land of "Habasha".  The original text gives no statement as to her religion.
Glen Bowersock, who writes about the Jewish kingdom in the Yemen, also appears to have evidence for a Jewish kingdom in Ethiopia, but there is little details of its location and size.
Unfortunately the evidence is sparse, because written histories were rare and little if any archeology gets done in Ethiopia. Even so, it would seem to make the Ethiopian Jews a very significant feature of our collective Jewish past. .

In addition to the list above, there have been a number of cities which were briefly independent and ruled by Jews, the most notable I have seen was in Fifth Century Sasanid Persia, on the site of modern Iraq: The "Exhilarch" Mar Zutra II, who claimed to be a direct descendant of King David, proclaimed independence and governed "Mahoza" for seven years.  Mahoza is now known as Al-Mada'in.
Mar Zutra's son escaped after the rebellion was put down, and moved to Tiberias where he headed a religious seminary.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Finding my Grandmother: Hope and Horror in the Holocaust


I grew up knowing very little about my birth grandmother - not even her name - although I knew that she had been killed in the Holocaust. I call her my birth-grandmother, because my father was adopted.
In the last few years I have learnt that her name was Henny Jenny. She was 33 when my father, Heinz, was born in December 1923.  They lived in Nuremburg, Germany.
Four years later, when she was about 39, her husband Hermann Messinger died of TB (Tubercolosis), leaving her with four young children: Heinz aged 4, Ruth aged 7, Esther aged 9 and Yehuda aged 14. I don't know the precise date of Hermann's death, it could be a year later or a couple of years earlier.

Henny's next door neighbours were Max and Betty Lowenstein. The Lowensteins were wealthy and childless and liked looking after Heinz for his mother. Betty suggested to Henny that she let her adopt Heinz. Perhaps she offered a payment which would help Henny cope, while promising to give the child all the benefits of a wealthy family. In those days, before easily available birth control and fertility treatment, such arrangements were not that unusual.
Both families were Jewish and members of the Nuremburg Orthodox Synagogue. Germany had recently been defeated in the First World War and there was growing anti-Semitism and growing economic chaos.
Henny accepted the offer and moved to Frankfurt with her 3 remaining children (she was born in Frankfurt), leaving Heinz, by then aged 4 or 5, behind.

Heinz Bernard Lowenstein (as my father was now known), grew up without knowing that he was adopted. In 1931, when Heinz was 8 his (new) father, Max Lowenstein, committed suicide.
In 1939, 3 days before the invasion of Poland, Betty managed to send the 15 year old Heinz to Britain but failed to get out of Germany herself (you can read about her eventual escape here).

Heinz didn't find out that he was adopted until after the war, when he was in his 20's. He was contacted by two siblings living in Israel, who told him that his birth-mother and younger sister had been killed in the Holocaust. No one knew exactly how the two dead family members had been killed.

In the 1980's, my father was sent a box of belongings his adoptive mother had left to a friend when she died. The friend had also died and her family now sent Betty Lowenstein's few remaining papers to my father. The box included his adoptive mother's Nazi-issued passport, the text of the speech she gave at her US citizenship ceremony and also two telegrams sent from the birth-mother (Henny Messinger)  to the adopting-mother (Betty Lowenstein) after Betty reached the United States.

In 2004, while unemployed and going through a divorce, I took an MA in History at Royal Holloway (part of the University of London). The supervisor on my dissertation was Professor David Ceserani, one of the witnesses at the famous trial of Holocaust-denier David Irving (documented in the movie "Denial" starring Rachel Weisz). I took a course on the Holocaust and would occasionally look for materials on my family history.

It took me about ten years to reach my birth-grandmother. Her name, I discovered, was Henny Jenny Messinger. In 1955 my father's Israeli brother had filled out a lost relative form in Israel and supplied this photo (the report is available online).

A German government website told me her fate:

Messinger, Henny Jenny

née Westheimer
born on 03rd November 1890 in Frankfurt a. Main / - / Hessen-Nassau
resident of Frankfurt a. Main
from Frankfurt am Main-Berlin
24th/26th September 1942, Raasiku (b. Reval), killing field

Destiny: officially declared dead    
From this small entry, I started to piece together what had happened.  I learned that "Raasiku" is a train station in Estonia. Wikipedia told me that a trainload of 1,000 German Jews was sent to Raasiku at this date and all except a small group were then taken to a nearby seaside spot called Kalevi-Liiva, where they were shot. There was also a picture of the site:

The deportation date on the German website 
(24th/26th September 1942) happened to match the birthday of my daughter Shanny (25th September), and the name Henny Jenny, which I had not known when naming my daughter, was oddly similar. 

In recent years my partner and I have taken holidays in Poland, where my partner's father was born, and I was surprised to find that I liked the country. I feel safer traveling in Poland with my Hebrew-speaking family, than I do in France or Britain. My daughter turns out to look very Polish.  
After my last visit to Poland, I started to consider visiting Estonia to pay my respects at the mass grave. Two weeks later, a news item caught my eye: Holocaust memorials defaced in Estonia. It was accompanied by a picture of the memorials at Kalevi-Liiva, but this time defaced with a swastika:

I have seen images of defaced Jewish memorials over the years, but never imagined it would be related to my family. It motivated me to have another go at searching for my grandmother.

This time I realized that only one transport had gone from Germany to Estonia, which enabled me to trace it. I found more German records and a book with a two page description of the specific transport, based on eye-witness accounts given at a 1960's trial of Estonians who participated in the shooting.

This time I used the two telegrams my birth-grandmother sent to my adoptive grand-mother. The telegram on the right was sent by my birth-grandmother in May 1942.

Hope you are well. What about Heinz? [my father] Ruth [the sister who was 3 years older than my father and whose fate is unknown] left address unknown. I am engaged with dentist Rosengarten 49 years. Marriage permit not granted, because I am stateless. Intimately.

The Nazi state provided no services to Jews, so marriages could not be registered. The name is "Sara Henny" because the Nazis made all Jewish women add "Sara" to their name: Men added "Israel". 
A second telegram was sent four months later, on the 22nd of September 1942:

One last goodbye before leaving. Thanks for all dear. God bless you and Heinz. Marriage on target probably. Seek also Rosengarten. Everything is very happy.

These telegrams are life-affirming: Henny was happy and in love, but she was also concerned enough to send the telegram. She was about to take a transport and people on the earlier transports had vanished into thin air. Her daughter Ruth "address unknown", never sent anything back to her. 

Ruth Messinger with her mother, Henny
Ruth Messinger

The adoptive-grandmother (Betty), sent a reply six months after each telegram. I assume they took six months to reach her in the US, which means that by the time the first telegram arrived, Henny was dead.
Two days after she sent the last telegram, Henny got on RSHA (Reich Main Security Office ) transport DA 406 from Frankfurt's Ostbanhof station. The train departed on the 24th of September 1942 with 237 people guarded by Frankfurt police.
Survivors testified at the 1960's trial, that the passengers were allowed a suitcase and brought food with them. The train was not a cattle truck but some kind of troop train. Historian Anton-Weiss Wendt believes that this was the last transport of Jews to leave Frankfurt, implying that Henny was one of the last Jews remaining in Frankfurt.  

The following relies on material from Murder Without Hatred by Anton Weiss-Wendt (Syracuse 2009).
The train pulled into Berlin's Moabit station on the 26th of September 1942. In Berlin, more carriages were attached with an additional 812 people. This was also the only time the passengers were given water. Members of the Berlin Jewish community handed out soup after which the train was sealed shut. It was now guarded by transport police. Some of the passengers wore several layers of clothing so they could carry more clothes.  Clothes were expensive in those days and the passengers were only allowed a single suitcase. 
There were 108 children aged under 10, 354 men (average age 41) and 895 women. 
Source document 

Some of the passengers suspected they would be killed, but many were optimistic that the destination was resettlement.


The train arrived at Raasiku on the 31st of September (a 1,500 kilometer journey). Nine days after she sent the telegram and a week after leaving Berlin and receiving that last supply of fresh water.
A couple of hundred able-bodied people (mainly men) were "selected" to be slave laborers at a nearby camp called Jägala and the rest were taken in several buses to a ditch that had been dug in preparation. 

The victims were made to undress and then taken in groups of five to be shot.  The train was the second of a group of trains sent to Raasiku over a period of a couple of months for the purpose of mass killing.
After the executions, the killers looted the passenger's belongings. I find it astonishing that the killers were willing to wear the clothes of people they had murdered.

Of the 1049 Jews who were sent in the transport, 26 survived the war, 7 of them from Frankfurt. In 1944 a (Jewish) Sondercommando was sent to dig up the bodies and burn them. By that time it was common knowledge that the Nazis were losing the war, so they were hiding the evidence.

According to the testimony at the trial, most of the killing was done by the Estonian commander Karl Laak. Three other men were named: Jaan Viik, Friedrich Anijalg and Ralf Gerrets. The Soviets put these men on trial because they were the worst of this batch of murderers.  The Germans (including Otto Bovensien, Kurt Venter, Kurt Krause, Heinrich Bergmann and Karl Gehse) "only" gave orders, set up infrastructure and coordinated transportation: They let others do the dirty work. This was a pattern which repeated itself across Europe.  

My grandmother had a small piece of luck: She was not on the first transport. On that one, which came from  Theresiensdadt, the inexperienced Estonian killers made a number of mistakes: The ditches were too small for the number of people murdered, so the bodies piled up above the sides before dirt was thrown on them. Not everyone was completely dead, so there was writhing and moaning in the mass of naked bodies. 
Local people came by later to loot the site and testified (at the 1960's trial) that they found crude homemade whips lying around with bits of skin attached to them. Apparently, the killers took people with gold teeth to one side and extracted their teeth before they killed them; This led to screaming that could be hard in the local villages and was apparently stopped by the Germans who feared that Jews awaiting their "turn" would figure out what was going on.

Of the four Estonian killers who were tried in the 1960's, Karl Laak is said to have done most of the killings, and is most likely to be the man who shot my grandmother. Laak hung himself in Canada soon after the Soviet Union requested his extradition.   
It is astonishing how many of the (non-German) men who shot about 2,000,000 Jews for the Nazi "Einsatzgruppen" ended up in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In 2001, the Guardian reported that 400 Nazi war criminals settled in the UK. Each one of those 400 men may have killed hundreds if not thousands of people, personally, using rifles. One man, who lived in Scotland, killed as many as 32,000 people.
It is estimated that 40 migrated to New Zealand, 1,000 to Canada and 850 to Australia.

At some point, I tried googling images of Kalevi-Liiva. This was when I got a shock: The killers had taken photographs and they were available online, on the website of the Ghetto Fighter's Kibbutz (Lochamei HaGetaot). These are not all the photos, which can be viewed at https://infocenters.co.il/gfh/list.asp (search for Kalevii-Liva).
The remaining passengers on the train were all made to undress before they were shot and the killers had taken snapshots.

I quite literally looked into the mass grave that contained my naked grandmother and from the view point of the killers.

Most of those shot were women and it is probably no coincidence that pretty naked women (both dead and alive) are at the center of the few pictures available from this massacre.  The killers may have got a sexual thrill out of what they did and may well have had particular reason to focus on these women: Laak , who led the shootings, was known to keep prisoners for the purpose of rape.

These photos are pornographic.  There are a lot of this type of image online and it seems plausible that ISIS supporters would have been inspired by this material. Searching online turned up a lot of these photos, from a huge variety of different websites and usually giving exact details of the location where the photo was taken.  Mass produced cameras were a relatively recent phenomena in 1942 and this was the first genocide ever properly documented. Perhaps because of that, it is also the best documented genocide ever.

This part was written later: I asked myself, where the photos came from, who took them? 
In 2020 I sent a mail to the Kibbutz archive asking for information. I was told that most were donated in 1964 (perhaps following the trial?) and that the source of the donation was not recorded. 
One photo (taken long after the massacre) was given in 1998 by Benjamin Anolik of Vilna, a survivor of the nearby Klooga concentration camp, who may have donated the other photos and was a former member of the Ghetto Fighter's Kibbutz. He had represented the Kibbutz at various East European Holocaust memorializations. 
Three transports were murdered at Kalevii-Liva, two came from concentration camps, but my grandmother's transport contained mostly of women and came from Germany, so they were probably healthier than those on the other transports. The images suggest a predominance of women, and they don't look like they have been starved over a long period. Laak is said to have murdered at least one sex-slave at the site, so she could be the woman in the photograph.

Sources for the trial of the killers can be found here: https://worddisk.com/wiki/Jaan_Viik/

Recreating ancient kingdoms: Arab Nationalism vs Zionism.

Although Zionism and Arab Nationalism are at loggerheads over Palestine (or perhaps Southern Syria), the two have a certain amount in common...