Thursday, August 27, 2009

German Newspaper Gives Blueprints for Nazi Death Camp to Israel

Berlin, Germany - Sketched on yellowing parchment, the 29 blueprints presented to Israel's prime minister Thursday lay out the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in chilling detail, with gas chambers, crematoria, delousing facilities and watch towers drawn to scale.

"There are those who deny that the Holocaust happened," Benjamin Netanyahu said as he accepted the documents as a gift to Israel's Holocaust memorial, where they will go on display next year. "Let them come to Jerusalem and look at these plans, these plans for the factory of death."

Netanyahu lingered over the large sheets spread on a table. Stamped with the Nazi abbreviation for concentration camp "K.L. Auschwitz," one of the largest featured multi-colored sketches, with barracks and even latrines drawn in detail. Other smaller sheets showed architectural designs of individual buildings, drawn from various angles.

The Israeli leader was accompanied by his wife, Sara, whose father was the only member of his family to survive the Nazi genocide that killed 6 million Jews during World War II. She watched somberly as the documents, which date from 1941 to 1943, were unfolded.

Also present was Yossi Peled, an Israeli Cabinet minister and former general whose father was killed by the Nazis and whose mother survived Auschwitz in one of the barracks detailed in the blueprints. Peled himself was hidden until age 7 by a family in Belgium who raised him as a Christian. He discovered his Jewish roots in 1948 and was taken to Israel two years later.

In Germany for a visit that combined talks on the Mideast conflict with acknowledgments of the painful past that binds the two countries, Netanyahu drew a clear parallel between the events of the Nazi era and the present day. The world did not do enough to stop the murder of Europe's Jews, he said, and must be careful now to take rapid action against "armed barbarism."

"We cannot allow those who wish to perpetrate mass death, those who call for the destruction of the Jewish people or the Jewish state to go unchallenged," Netanyahu said.

Though he did not explicitly mention Iran, his comments were a clear reference to the Tehran regime and its nuclear program, which Israel sees as a grave threat and wants blocked by stronger international sanctions. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be "wiped off the map."

Axel Springer Verlag, the publisher of the mass circulation Bild newspaper, obtained the Auschwitz blueprints last year from a German man who said he found them when cleaning out an apartment in what was formerly East Berlin.

The publisher and Germany's federal archive have confirmed the documents' authenticity.

Numbering found on the back of the plans indicates they may have been taken from an archive, possibly the collection of documents on the Third Reich kept by the Stasi.

The documents were displayed for several weeks earlier this year in the lobby of Bild's headquarters in Berlin. The newspaper's editor, Kai Diekmann, said the publisher decided to give the sketches to Israel to ensure that as many people as possible could see them.

"These plans have an important function — they remind us of a crime that, with the passing of time, seems ever more incomprehensible," Diekmann said. "It is of the utmost importance to continue to be reminded of it."

While they are not the only original Auschwitz blueprints that still exist — others were captured by the Soviet Red Army and brought to Moscow — they will be the first for Israel's Yad Vashem memorial, its chairman, Avner Shalev, told The Associated Press.

"This set is a very early one, which was found here in Berlin, from the autumn of '41," Shalev said. "It brings a better understanding of the whole process, and the intention of the planners of the complex, and from this perspective it is important."

Shalev said the sketches will be on display in Jerusalem beginning Jan. 27 as part of a special exhibit marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The blueprints include general plans for the original Auschwitz camp and the expansion of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, where most of the killings were carried out. They were initialed by the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, and Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess.

One of the drawings, dated Oct. 14, 1941, shows plans for construction of a "Waffen SS prisoner of war camp" with rows of what appear to be barracks. A notation in the bottom right says it was drafted by a prisoner identified only by his number: "Nr. 471."

German historian Ralf Georg Reuth, who reviewed the documents after they were discovered, noted that it was common to have prisoners draw up the plans for gas chambers where they would later be killed.

More than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died in the gas chambers or through forced labor, disease or starvation at Auschwitz, which the Nazis built after occupying Poland.

Later Thursday, Netanyahu visited a house on Berlin's Wannsee Lake that was the site of an infamous Jan. 20, 1942, meeting at which top Nazis formalized plans for the systematic killing of Europe's Jewish population.

Germany and Israel, which was established three years after the Nazi defeat, today enjoy close ties. On Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined Germany's special commitment, saying it was her country's obligation to "defend Israel always."

After those statements, she and Netanyahu shared a spontaneous and warm handshake.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Fatah: PA Will Take All of Jerusalem – by Peace or by Force

The Fatah party headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, re-elected in the fractured party convention in Bethlehem Saturday night, concluded all of Jerusalem is a “red line” for the PA.

"Fatah will continue to sacrifice victims until Jerusalem will be returned, clean of settlements and settlers," according to a Fatah “all-or-nothing” policy paper, which did not distinguish between the part of the capital that was restored to Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967 and the section that was recognized by the United Nations as part of Israel in the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

Abbas, who previously has said he will not extend his term of office as head of the Palestinian Authority, which Fatah leads, was re-elected unanimously for another five-year term. He was the sole candidate who stood for the position. The de facto Hamas government in Gaza prevented Fatah delegates from leaving the region for Bethlehem, but several of them voted by telephone.

The convention, marked by scuffles and mud slinging, is being extended to Tuesday as it tries to rejuvenate itself following years of corruption, which opponents say remains rampant.

Abbas warned at the opening of the convention that Israel faces violence from the PA if it does not agree to its terms for a new Arab state on the land of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. He claimed that attacks on Israelis are valid under international law.

“Although we have chosen peace, we maintain the right to launch an armed resistance, which is legitimate as far as international law is concerned." he told approximately the 2,000 delegates.

At-Tayyib Abdul-Rahim, a member of Fatah Central Committee, said following Abbas's re-election, “Fatah is still a liberation movement, and since we have not achieved our goals, we have popular resistance.... If peace efforts are thwarted, there will be no security, nor stability in the region.”

Terrorists Plotted to Kill Israeli Envoy to Egypt

Egyptian officials have uncovered a plot by three Al-Qaeda linked terrorists to assassinate Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Shalom Cohen and to bomb Muslim and Christian sites, the Arabic-language Cairo-based Almasry Alyoum newspaper reported. However, it is not known if the terrorists’ confessions were voluntary or were made as a result of torture.

The cell’s Al-Qaeda connection was a terrorist using the name of Abu Hamdan al-Libi, who apparently is in Iraq after having left Egypt. Other members of the cell also fled Egypt.

The Egyptian State Security Prosecution said that its personnel have been tracking potential terrorist targets. It said the terrorists were unable to break through the tight security around Ambassador Cohen’s home and the embassy.

Relations between Israel and Egypt have been chilly despite the diplomatic ties that were established three decades ago. The United States government reportedly intervened to make sure that Egypt invited Cohen to U.S. President Barack Obama’s “reaching out to Muslims” speech at Cairo University in early June. Cohen attended despite threats by university lecturers that they would block him from entering the campus.

Egypt also recently delivered a strong message to Cohen over the eviction of illegal Arab residents at the Sheikh Jarreh property that is owned by Jews. The envoy’s explanation that the homes in question have been owned by Jews for more than 80 years did not satisfy the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, which insisted that Israel was “dispossessing Arabs of their property."

Friday, August 7, 2009

Kosher Subway

What’s the largest kosher restaurant chain?

Mendy’s? Six branches, seven if you count the meat and dairy counters at New York City's Grand Central Station.

Dougie’s? Five branches in New York and New Jersey.

Don’t even bring up Nathan’s Famous -- it stopped making kosher hot dogs altogether.

The dark-horse winner is Subway, the made-to-order sandwich giant poised to open its ninth kosher franchise Aug. 18 inside the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center in North Miami Beach, Fla. New Subways opening in Indianapolis and Skokie, Ill., will make it 11 by the end of the year. Five more are planned for next year.

Subway is not the only fast-food chain with kosher branches. Dunkin’ Donuts, the world's largest coffee and baked goods chain, has 33 kosher franchises, mostly in New York, according to company spokesman Andrew Mastrangelo. They serve dairy breakfast sandwiches, but not full meals.

Subway, the second largest fast-food franchise in the world, didn’t set out to be No. 1 in the kosher market. Staffers at company headquarters in Milford, Conn., seemed bemused by the news.

“Really?” laughed Kevin Kane in the marketing department.

Sure, 11 kosher stores pales in comparison to the 22,000 non-kosher Subways in the United States, or to the hundreds of halal Subways in England and the Arab world. But it’s more than anyone else is offering.

And it’s a creative solution for Jewish community centers that want to offer kosher food but don’t want to take the financial risk themselves. Some would rather offer no food than violate kosher law.

“There are very few JCCs that run successful food establishments,” says Eric Koehler, director of the JCC of Northern Virginia, which has never provided food services in its building. “In this economy, it doesn’t make sense to have something that loses $20,000 to $30,000 a year.”

That’s why the Mandel JCC in Cleveland rented space to the country’s first kosher Subway in May 2006. The center had offered only kosher dining options since it opened in 1986, but none lasted very long. When Michael Hyman arrived in 2004 as the center’s new director, he closed the building’s last struggling cafe without knowing whether he could replace it.

In stepped Ghazi Faddoul, a Lebanese Christian who had opened 100 Subways in Cleveland and was willing to give kosher a try with the clout of a global chain behind him.

Ham and bacon were removed from the menu, the “cheese” is made of soy, and the Seafood Sensation sandwich is filled with imitation crab. Two microwaves and toaster ovens ensure that fish and meat are kept separate, a consideration for more observant Jews. There is a full-time mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, and the restaurant is closed on Shabbat.

“It’s been wildly successful,” Hyman says.In June, the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville, Md., picked up on Cleveland’s experience, opening a kosher Subway in a space formerly filled by a kosher Dunkin’ Donuts. Executive director Michael Feinstein says the center has been getting much more foot traffic since it opened, particularly from Orthodox Jews.

“There aren’t that many kosher restaurants in the D.C. area, so it’s nice for the community to have this option,” Feinstein says. “And it’s great for us because it gets people into our building who might not otherwise be there.”

The Miami Beach JCC also looked to Cleveland’s example. The center’s director, Gary Bomzer, notes that the building already has an in-house kosher caterer, but no sit-down restaurant.

“Bringing in a national chain gives us real credibility,” he explains. “A brand name like Subway provides more than a cup of coffee.”

The remaining kosher Subways are freestanding stores: two in New York City, in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as one in Cedarhurst in the city's Long Island suburbs; and one each in Los Angeles, Baltimore and Kansas City.

The U.S. stores are the only kosher Subways. Israel opened the world’s first kosher Subway in 1992 but the operation, which reached 23 stores at its peak, shut down in 2004 after the original manager died.

Subway spokesman Les Winograd says the company used its experience with halal, the Muslim standard, to learn how to deal with kashrut challenges such as sourcing specific meat and following strict dietary laws. The first halal Subway opened in Bahrain in 1984, followed by branches in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Zambia and other countries with large Muslim communities. England alone has nearly 60 halal branches.

Kosher Subways are more difficult to keep open, Winograd says. Some open and shut, like one that lasted for about a year in Livingston, N.J., and a Wall Street branch that closed last winter when the economy collapsed.

While Winograd receives lots of inquiries from potential franchise owners in other countries who are interested in the kosher option, none have panned out.

“The population has not always been there to support the business,” he says.

Subway serves meat, so a kosher store requires full-time kosher supervision -- an extra expense added to ingredients that already cost more than their non-kosher equivalents.

Maurice Lichy, owner of the new Miami JCC Subway, says he’s trying to keep his prices “competitive” and hopes to charge no more than $1.50 extra per sandwich.

Will he offer a kosher $5 Footlong?

Lichy hesitates.

“No," he says, "but I’ll try to manage a $6 Footlong. Probably tuna or turkey; not the corned beef.”