Under community pressure, a Richmond auction house backed down from selling a collection of Nazi memorabilia last weekend. Maynards Fine Art and Antiques was set to auction items including Nazi flags, military items and other war-era artifacts on Saturday. Two days before that, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs was made aware of the items by a member of the community.
“We spoke to the lead appraiser, the person in charge of auctioning this lot,” said Nico Slobinsky, CIJA’s Pacific region director. “We provided context and tried to explain why auctioning these items was morally reprehensible. I would love to be able to tell you that we got positive engagement and understanding at the time when we had those conversations on Thursday. We did not get that positive engagement. It was clear to us from the response from the auction house that they were going to go ahead with the auction as originally planned.”
Community members and elected officials quickly mobilized and media seized the story. Individuals messaged the auction company and politicians lined up in opposition to the sale. Two members of the legislature from Richmond, Jas Johal and John Yap, spoke out, as did Andrew Wilkinson, leader of the B.C. Liberals.
Mike Sachs, past president of the Richmond congregation the Bayit and a Jewish community activist in Richmond, mobilized his contacts – even while vacationing in Mexico. He said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie not only spoke out against this incident but promised to proclaim Holocaust Awareness Day in January 2020.
“People were just disgusted that Maynards would do such a thing,” said Sachs. “As a whole, we all agree enough of profiting off Jewish blood. Enough. We’re not going to accept it anymore.”
Sachs and Slobinsky praised community allies who spoke up. They both believe that historical artifacts like these should be in museums or educational institutions, where they can serve as educational tools in proper context.
CIJA is asking Maynards for an apology and a donation to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. The organization extended an offer to the undisclosed owner of the items to assist in placing them in an appropriate venue.
Dr. Michael Hayden delivers the keynote address at the annual Kristallnacht commemorative program Nov. 7. (photo by Al Szajman)
In the 1930s, German Jews were required to register all precious metals in their possession, a prelude to having them confiscated. In Hamburg alone, the Nazis collected 20 tons of silver, much of it Judaica. Of this, they melted down 18 tons. Two tons was deemed by the Nazi curator Carl Schellenberg to be of artistic or other value in its existing form.
After the war, Schellenberg was kept on by the British because his scrupulous indexing of artifacts made him valuable. His love of the city of Hamburg meant he ensured that some of the most precious pieces of stolen art and artifacts made their way to that city’s museum.
That is where Dr. Michael Hayden, a Vancouver researcher in molecular medicine and human genetics, and one of the world’s leading researchers in Huntington disease, was able to trace one of the few remaining pieces of his grandparents’ once-extensive collection of Judaica.
A silver Kiddush cup, crafted in 1757 and embossed with a vivid three-dimensional depiction of the story of Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven, which belonged to his grandparents, Gertrud and Max Raphael Hahn, has been restituted to the family. It is now on loan, a small artifact in size but one of the most stunning pieces in a just-opened exhibition at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, titled Treasured Belongings: The Hahn Family & the Search for a Stolen Legacy.
Hayden delivered the keynote address at the annual Kristallnacht commemorative program Nov. 7, before the opening of the exhibition to the public. The exhibit runs to Nov. 27, 2020.
“It’s a story that it’s taken me a long time to confront,” Hayden told the Independent.
Hayden’s grandparents were transported to Riga, Latvia, in 1941, where they were murdered by Latvian collaborators of the Nazis. Max Hahn had been arrested for the first time on Kristallnacht, three years earlier, but, with Gertrud, had managed to secure the passage of many possessions to safe locations in the neutral countries of Sweden and Switzerland. More importantly, they had sent their two children, daughter Hanni and son Rudolf – Hayden’s father – to safety in London.
After the war, the orphaned pair retrieved the remnants of their family’s material possessions. Rudolf, who joined the British army in 1943 and adopted the less Germanic-sounding name Roger Hayden, moved to South Africa. There, more than a dozen boxes sat undiscussed in the family home. When Roger passed away, Michael Hayden shipped the boxes to his Vancouver home, where they sat, unopened, for another two decades.
When he finally confronted the parcels from his family’s past, he discovered a stamp collection, maps, artworks – and 9,000 original documents relating to his family’s history from the 1850s until 1941. These included heart-wrenching letters between Rudolf in England and his parents still in Germany.
While Michael Hayden was growing up, there were some items that his father had not kept stored away. One was a Paul Ritter violin that Rudolf had received on his bar mitzvah. Michael’s daughter, Anna, now a Vancouver hematology oncologist, played on it as a young person and Hayden hopes to one day hear grandchildren also play it. It is part of the exhibit. It is also a hint of how the family got its name. It was not a coincidence that, in anglicizing his name, Rudolf/Roger chose a variation on the surname of a legendary classical composer.
“There were piano recitals and all kinds of concerts in the Hahn family every Sunday,” said Hayden. “They used to have a little chamber orchestra, it was a totally different world. So, he chose the name Roger Hayden from Rudolf Hahn and I’m sure Hayden had some comfort for him because Haydn was so important in his life.”
Hayden credits the German government and museums for supporting restitution efforts. His family recently received a grant from the German federal government to hire a researcher to continue the search. Understandably, the challenges are great. The Hahn family’s collection of Judaica was considered one of the finest and most extensive in Germany, rivaling those of the Sassoon and Rothschild families. Because they had lent some objects to museums, and because of Max and Gertrud’s careful recordkeeping, the family has both photographs and detailed inventories of what the collection included before it was looted. Most families do not have such tangible proof.
Hayden emphasizes that any material value of restituted artifacts is irrelevant and the importance is because of personal significance, and that the process represents steps toward reconciliation and restoring dignity of Nazism’s victims.
“For me, personally, it’s been a process of coming to terms with the unimaginable horror and confronting it,” he said.
He has had very positive and some negative experiences during this work. He is impressed with the German government’s efforts to seek forgiveness for their country’s past, including memorializations like the 70,000 Stolpersteine, stumbling stones, that have been installed outside the last homes of victims of the Nazis, and the fact that the vast Holocaust memorial in Berlin is located between the embassies of major countries in the heart of the city.
“When I see Germany and I see what they’re doing, it’s been very instructive for me about confronting your history and confronting it unabashedly,” he said, making parallels with Canada’s reconciliation process with First Nations.
Germany’s response is especially admirable in comparison to other European countries that experienced collaboration and, rather than confronting their past, are actively denying it.
But, Hayden has had negative experiences, including the discovery that the school his father had attended in Hamburg had, as recently as a few years ago, what amounted to a museum to those students who had fought for the Nazis, with not a trace of the fate of the Jewish students who had attended. The Nazi display is now gone and a marker lists the names of Jewish students who were murdered. But he also discovered that the school’s long-held assurance that they had never participated in Nazi activities was fabricated, when photos emerged of the school festooned in Nazi flags and students and faculty making Heil Hitler salutes.
“At a personal level, for me, it’s trying to give up the stowaway of sorrow and pain on my shoulders that I’ve never confronted and to move forward,” Hayden said. “It’s not that I’m at forgiveness, but I recognize that forgiveness is not so much for those you are forgiving, but for the forgiver. You can give up your own toxic anger and move forward. For me, it’s also been a journey to acknowledge my own German ancestry and come to terms with it.”
He hopes that the exhibit, his family’s story and the larger facts of the Holocaust resonate in today’s world.
“We’ve got to be aware of ourselves as Jews of condemning other populations, we have to be aware of stereotyping, we have to be even more acutely aware from our own history about the struggles and making sure that we learn from that in the way that we conduct ourselves, so recognizing, as we look at children on television separated from their parents, that we too can be horrified by that and do whatever we can to make sure that we are not complicit or even silent in the face of all of this,” he said. “In certain circumstances, unless we really hold onto some deep principles of democratic culture and value of life, your neighbours can become your killers.”
As the search for additional family heirlooms continues, Hayden acknowledges the challenges. “I think it is a needle in a haystack to be honest, but it’s worth pursuing.”
Of the entire experience, he said: “It’s been an opportunity to give individuality and identity for two of six million people who were murdered, to rescue them from generalizations and understand who they were and understand their distinctiveness and to bring my grandparents out of obscurity and give them the warmth and respect they deserve.”
The Kristallnacht commemoration where Hayden spoke began with a candlelight procession of survivors. Cantor Yaacov Orzech chanted El Maleh Rachamim. Philip Levinson, president of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC), introduced the event and Nina Krieger, the VHEC’s executive director, introduced the keynote speaker. Rabbi Jonathan Infeld offered reflections after Hayden’s address. Jody Wilson-Raybould, member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville, offered greetings, and Councilor Sarah Kirby-Yung read a proclamation from the City of Vancouver. The event was presented by the VHEC, in partnership with Congregation Beth Israel, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and the Robert and Marilyn Krell Endowment Fund of the VHEC.
Oxford University Press launched the first of its “Very Short Introductions” in 1995. Since then, the series has reached more than 600 volumes, which have been translated into 45 languages. To write the most recent in this series, Nazi Germany: A Very Short Introduction (2019), OUP made the happy choice of venerated Oxford historian Dr. Jane Caplan.
In what seems like an almost insurmountable challenge, Caplan succeeds in describing the details of the “horrifying” main events of this historical catastrophe, and identifying its main criminals, without simplifying. And she writes with an “edge” that is missing in many history narratives: thus, she speaks of the “insolence” of the Nazis’ manipulation of language into “sickening euphemisms”; of the “fraudulent artifice” of Nazi political and social institutions; and of the “ultimate disgrace” Nazism proved to be, to the Germans and their country.
In describing how ordinary citizens lived through “the horror of Nazism,” Caplan offers many quotations from speeches, newspapers, memoirs, journals and diaries to demonstrate the reich’s totality of control over German culture and communications. This total control led to “a redefinition of automatic habits of thought and behaviour,” from clothes to be worn, to facial expressions to be shown, to the demands for “Hitlerschnitt” (forced sterilization), and even to the details of the “Hitlergrusse” (that is, “Heil Hitler”) and what happened to those who didn’t raise their arms in the prescribed way and time.
More than 20% of this compact volume is given over to details of the Holocaust, which Caplan describes with both insight and anger, although rightly insisting that a study of Nazism must not be “confined” to this “ultimate horror.” For there are other lessons to be learned from Nazi Germany, especially for citizens of the 21st century, with its alarming return to populist beliefs and behaviours. Nazism reminds us, she says, of the dangers of “the exploitation of popular fears and resentments, the retreat of confidence in public institutions, the structural power of economic and political elites, the weaponization of prejudice, and the eternal temptation to turn a blind eye.”
In brief, anyone who likes history served at the traditional historian’s arm’s-length would be well-advised to avoid this caustic, openly judgmental, short, but long-remembered volume.
Graham Forst, PhD, taught literature and philosophy at Capilano University until his retirement and now teaches in the continuing education department at Simon Fraser University. From 1975 to 2010, he co-chaired the symposium committee of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
The Catholic Church did not initiate diplomatic relations with the state of Israel until 1993 and, according to the Italian writer Giulio Meotti, things haven’t been all rainbows since then either.
The creation of a thriving Jewish state creates a theological conundrum for the Catholic Church, Meotti writes in The Vatican Against Israel: J’Accuse (Mantua Books, 2013), because it is a refutation of the theological view that Judaism should wither and die in the shadow of a successor religion, Christianity. The theological imperative of Jewish disappearance is now accompanied, he writes, by a geopolitical imperative that Israel should vanish.
“Replacement theology stated that Christians had inherited the covenant and replaced the Jews as the Chosen People. The concept of replacement geography similarly replaces the historical connection of one people to the land with a connection between another people and the land,” Meotti writes. “The existence of a restored Israel in the land of the Bible, proof that the Jewish people is not annihilated, assimilated and withering away, is the living refutation of the Christian myth about the Jewish end in the historical process.”
The necessity of rejecting Zionism and, in its time, Israel, bested even the liberalizing influence of the Second Vatican Council, the near-revolutionary reconsideration that took place within Catholicism in the early 1960s. This period, which saw the Church recognize Judaism and Christianity as familial theologies and renounce the millennia-old deicide charge against the Jews, nevertheless has a stream that abhors Zionism. Meotti writes that two conflicting Vatican tendencies developed at that time and still dominate: “theological dialogue with Judaism, and political support for the Arabs.” (The gushing lamentation offered by the Vatican on the death of Yasser Arafat is particularly striking.)
Meotti contends that this process has involved the Catholic Church differentiating between “good” and “docile” Jews of the Diaspora and the “bad” and “arrogant” Jews of Israel.
The book is a litany of indictments. The Church had relations with the PLO before it had relations with Israel. Top Church leaders have repeatedly accused Israel of behaving like Nazis. They routinely use crucifixion motifs in the Israeli-Palestinian context, with Jews playing the Romans and Palestinians, of course, playing the beatific victim. Israel, said one archbishop, was imposing “the sufferings of the passion of Jesus on the Arab Christians.” Another, at the time of the Palestinians’ seizure of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, declared: “Our Palestinian people in Bethlehem died like a crucified martyr.” Arafat himself jumped on the bandwagon, declaring: “Jesus Christ was the first Palestinian fedayeen who carried his sword along the road on which today the Palestinians carry their cross.”
The first translation into Arabic of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was courtesy of the Catholic Church. One archbishop was convicted of using his immunity to smuggle explosives to Palestinian terrorists and served just four years of his 12-year term after intervention by the Pope and a promise to make no more trouble. (He turned up again in 2010 on the fatal “Freedom Flotilla” that sought to bring aid to Hamas terrorists and has goaded Palestinian Christians to violence, insisting it is the only thing that will move Israelis.) Today, Catholic-affiliated nongovernmental organizations are among the leaders in the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
The Vatican’s relationship to the Holocaust is particularly dissolute. Pope John Paul II, in 1979, spoke at Auschwitz, noting that “six million Poles lost their lives during the Second World War, one-fifth of the nation,” failing to note that these were almost all Jews. Instead, he called Auschwitz “the Golgotha of the contemporary world,” Golgotha being the place in Jerusalem where Jesus is said to have been crucified.
More perversely, after visiting Mauthausen, the Pope said that the Jews “enriched the world by their suffering,” He seemed to be echoing the thoughts of John Cardinal O’Connor, then archbishop of New York, who a year earlier had visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, and asserted that “the Holocaust is an enormous gift that Judaism has given to the world.”
John Paul also infuriated Jews, among others, by conferring a papal knighthood on Kurt Waldheim, the former Austrian president, United Nations secretary-general and Nazi war criminal.
When Jews objected to a proposal to build a Carmelite convent at Auschwitz, the mother superior of the order asked: “Why do the Jews want special treatment in Auschwitz only for themselves? Do they still consider themselves the Chosen People?”
The “J’Accuse” part, which channels the moral outrage of Emile Zola, is fair enough, but this book is only partly about the Vatican. Meotti dredges up equally egregious affronts perpetrated by countless other Christian denominations.
The book is a searing indictment of the Catholic Church, but it is also deeply flawed. At the least, the title is deceptive. The “J’Accuse” part, which channels the moral outrage of Emile Zola, is fair enough, but this book is only partly about the Vatican. Meotti dredges up equally egregious affronts perpetrated by countless other Christian denominations. By no means is Meotti’s condemnation limited to the Vatican, and it is difficult to discern why the title should suggest it is.
Meotti frequently puts uncited statements in quotations. For example, during the 1967 war, when Israel faced annihilation from the Arab states, Meotti claims the Vatican gave the order: “Cheer for the other side.” The quote marks suggest someone literally said this, but whom? On another occasion, he attributes, in quotes, the statement “Jerusalem must be Judenrein.” But who is alleged to have said it? One can also frequently sense comments being stretched out of context to fit the thesis.
Too many times to count, Meotti declares one Christian assertion or another “a blood libel.” The term’s over-usage diminishes whatever power the accusation carries. And nowhere is his over-usage more disturbing than in his casual, often flippant invocation of Nazism.
He writes, “Like Hitlerism, Palestinianism is not a national identity, but a criminal ideological construct…. Worse, the Netanya Passover bombing that killed 30 is a “mini Holocaust.” And, “The dark irony is that the Europeans who are supporting the Palestinians’ ‘right of return’ are living in homes stolen from Jews they helped to gas.”
Meotti’s book has the potential to make an important case against Christian antisemitism and anti-Zionism. While it doesn’t fail completely – the evidence being compendious – the charge to the jury is so overwrought that one feels resentful at being manipulated. The facts would speak for themselves if the author would step back a bit.