Search This Blog

Thursday, 17 August 2017

How Three Doctors Invented A Disease To Fool The Nazis And Save Jewish Lives

The little-known story of Syndrome K, which stayed secret for 60 years after the war.

Lizz Callahan/Pixabay

Fatebenefratelli Hospital

From September 1943 to June 1944, Nazi forces occupied the city of Rome. During this time, a mysterious illness broke out, which led many to be quarantined in an isolated wing of the city’s Fatebenefratelli Hospital. Called Syndrome K, the disease resulted in zero fatalities, and instead saved dozens of Jewish lives.

Although highly feared, Syndrome K was actually nothing to worry about, as it was not a real disease at all. As Quartz explains, the illness was the brainchild of doctors Vittorio Sacerdoti, Giovanni Borromeo, and Adriano Ossicini, who saw an opportunity to save some of their Jewish neighbors and took it.

The hospital, located near the Jewish ghetto of Rome on the Tiber River, became home to scores of Italian Jews seeking refuge after the occupying Nazis had rounded up around 10,000 people to send away to concentration camps.

Devising a plan to keep these refugees safe, the trio of doctors diagnosed many of them with Syndrome K. Because the official medical paperwork for Syndrome K patients stated that they must be kept in quarantine, that is where they stayed and no one asked any questions.

“Syndrome K was put on patient papers to indicate that the sick person wasn’t sick at all, but Jewish,” Ossicini said in an interview with La Stampa. We created those papers for Jewish people as if they were ordinary patients, and in the moment when we had to say what disease they suffered? It was Syndrome K, meaning ‘I am admitting a Jew,’ as if he or she were ill, but they were all healthy.”

The name Syndrome K not only alerted hospital staff that the “patients” were actually Jewish refugees in good health but also served as a jab to their oppressors, specifically, Albert Kesselring and Herbert Kappler. Kesselring was a Nazi defensive strategist and the commander responsible for the Italian occupation, while Kappler was an SS colonel.

Hidden away in a separate ward of the facility, those “infected” with Syndrome K were instructed to cough and act sick in front of Nazi soldiers as they investigated Fatebenefratelli. The patients were said to be highly contagious, deterring Nazi officials from coming anywhere near the quarters they were being kept in. Nazi officials became terrified of contracting the mysterious illness, steering clear at all costs.

Wikimedia Commons

Giovanni Borromeo

Credited mainly to doctors Sacerdoti, Borromeo, and Ossicini, the operation was only made possible with the help of the entire staff, who played along with the plan, knowing exactly what to do when confronted with an incoming patient diagnosed with Syndrome K.

Had any single hospital worker spoken up and alerted German officials, the entire hospital would surely have been sent to perish in concentration camps.

Stefano Montesi/Corbis via Getty Images

Fatebenefratelli survivors embrace during a reunion at the hospital on June 21, 2016.

The combined efforts of Sacerdoti, Borromeo, Ossicini, and the entire hospital staff were only revealed 60 years later, and Borromeo specifically was recognized by the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in October 2004, not only for his work with Syndrome K, but for transferring Jewish patients to the hospital from the ghetto long before the occupation of the Nazis.

The Fatebenefratelli Hospital was recognized as a shelter for victims of Nazi persecution, and was named a “House of Life” in June, 2016. The ceremony was attended by Ossicini, 96-years-old at the time, along with some of the very people that his heroic efforts had helped save six decades before.

For a closer look at how the Nazi occupation affected millions of lives, view these heartrending Holocaust photos and see what Jewish life in Europe looked like before the Holocaust.

Edinburgh Festival: "Israeli Shalom festival" Despite protests show will go on

Nigel Goodrich, founder of the International Shalom Festival at the Fringe, said that the three-day event was an apolitical celebration of Israel’s cultural diversity


An Israeli festival will go ahead in Edinburgh today despite calls for a boycott by pro-Palestinian supporters who are planning protests.

Nigel Goodrich, founder of the International Shalom Festival at the Fringe, said that performers would not tolerate harassment or intimidation by anyone using the event as a focal point for criticism of the Israeli state.

He said that the three-day event, now in its second year, was an apolitical celebration of Israel’s cultural diversity and pointed out that a mixture of Jewish, Muslim and Christian performers were taking part.

Critics called the event a projection of Israeli “soft power” because performers receive state funding. As many as 100 protesters are planning to gather outside Drummond Community High School today to disrupt the launch.

A week ago a group of 20 artists, academics and campaigners, including the director Ken Loach, wrote an open letter calling for a boycott of the event because of Israel’s “continued occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people and the ongoing denial of the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees”.

Responding to suggestions that the festival had a political agenda, Mr Goodrich said: “All governments fund the arts. Governments fund roads and hot water, too. It doesn’t make sense to target us in this way. We have Muslims, Christians and Jews all coming together to promote peace and coexistence at the festival. If this is a propaganda event for anything, it is a propaganda event for peace.”

He added that the main sponsors of the event were private individuals, including an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor and an Edinburgh-based donor whose mother was persecuted for being a Jew.

We were terribly hurt at the time — not only by the protesters but also by the Scottish people

Highlights of the festival include an exhibition of paintings by Muslim, Jewish and Christian women and a talk by the director-general of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.

A year after an Ahmadi Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow was murdered by a Sunni Muslim in a sectarian killing, the challenges faced by members of the minority sect and the protection they receive in Israel will be discussed.

However, other events on the programme have led to controversy, including a screening of the 2016 documentary Eyeless in Gaza, which critics described as a “propaganda film”.

Mick Napier, of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “We know this event is connected to the Israeli embassy and it is effectively celebrating the activities of an army that has been accused of war crimes.

“The idea that this is some sort of peace festival is an illusion. It is a projection of soft power at the same time the state of Israel uses hard power closer to home.”

Mr Napier said that the group was not opposed to Israelis who perform at the festival but would protest against any shows funded by the Israeli state.

In 2014, an Israeli hip-hop opera called The City had to cancel its run after protesters targeted it in Edinburgh. Organisers at the Underbelly, which hosted The City, pulled the show because crowds of about 150 protesters under the banner of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Society were disrupting 14 other shows at the venue and the neighbouring Gilded Balloon.

The Incubator Theatre group, which put on the show, are returning to Edinburgh this year to perform in the Shalom Festival but its director, Amit Ulman, admitted that the experience had left a bitter taste.

“We were terribly hurt at the time — not only by the protesters but also by the Scottish people because we felt like more could have been done to protect our right to perform.

“We faced a real dilemma this year and were in two minds about coming back but the coexistence theme of the Shalom festival felt right.”

Mr Ulman said his performers were in a defiant mood and would counter any allegations made against them.

“We are not politicians but now we feel obligated to call out the lies.”

Political leaders in Scotland and festival organisers have consistently backed the cause of the Shalom Festival. Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale have all pledged to support the festival.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society reinforced its dedication to open access and freedom of expression. “We support the right of all participants of the Fringe and members of the public to hold and express differing political views,” it said, “but we also believe in an artist’s right to freedom of expression, and that the curtailment of this freedom is contrary to the fundamental ethos of the festival.”

Edinburgh Shalom Festival is a wonderful aspiration and I'm proud that my city can host such an ambitious event.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival needs bridges, not boycotts, to produce peace


The late professor John Erickson, who was director of the Centre for Defence Studies at the University of Edinburgh, succeeded in putting the city on the map as a haven for peaceful coexistence by instigating the Edinburgh Conversations during the Eighties. They allowed senior military leaders and diplomats from Nato and the Warsaw Pact countries to come together in seminars alternating between Edinburgh and Moscow. Attitudes thawed, friendships were formed and peace prevailed at a time of heightened mistrust between the east and west.

Is it possible that Edinburgh could once again become a haven for peaceful coexistence: a safe space where people from parts of the world that we associate with conflict can come together and show the world that Scotland’s capital city is a place of harmony and tolerance?

I certainly hope so, which is why I will be attending the International Shalom Festival, an exciting part of this year’s Fringe, which runs until August 10 at Drummond Community High School.

The Shalom Festival focuses on the rich and diverse cultural traditions of Israel and Palestine. The organisers believe that shalom, or peace, can only be achieved if it is based on democracy and respect for coexistence.

More than 2,000 people attended the first Shalom Festival last year. This year the organisers are running the event for three days rather than one to allow for even greater attendance.

Scotland needs cultural bridges, not boycotts, allowing people of different traditions and backgrounds to understand each other better and to plan a shared future together, based on cultural coexistence and religious and racial harmony.

To this end, the festival will bring more than 30 performers or exhibitors to Edinburgh. Among them are Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians, Bedouins and city-dwellers, who together will show what a peaceful future might look like when mistrust and hatred is replaced by dialogue and debate.

It’s a wonderful aspiration and I’m proud that my city can host such an ambitious event. Edinburgh may be far away from the conflicts of the Middle East but this August I hope the warmth of the people and the culture of that region will melt the mistrust of even the coldest hearts.

How do we fight Jihadi Islamist terror?

How do we fight Jihadi Islamist terror?

Some people want to hold vigils and to come together and to say we're not going to allow division or racism in our communities; some people insist that this kind of horror is a routine horror, like car accidents, which devastate some people, but only a very few; a risk which most of us just learn to live with. We carry on as normal, with the blitz spirit.

Others are sick and nauseous with the banality of that response. They want action against the murderers and their whole disgusting global project.

The way Nazism was defeated is not a bad model for the struggle against this totalitarian movement. Yes, the blitz spirit, yes, a bit of stiff upper lip, yes, we won't be corrupted by this foe; *and also* yes we're angry, yes we're going to fight it fiercely and remorselessly both here and across the globe.

Which still leaves the question of what we're going to fight. This is not a fight against Islam, it is a fight against a specific political movement which claims to be the sole authentic practice of Islam. It is not the sole authentic Islam; but it is one iteration of Islam. Historically and globally it is a minority movement within Islam. I'll leave it to the liberal Muslim theologists to fight over what is authentic; but I'll side with those who embrace a liberal politics over those who embrace the politic of hatred and death. Jihadi totalitarianism is a form of Islam, but it is only one form; there are other traditions, there are better ones; and they are much more widespread. Most Muslims hate and fear the Jihadis.

The first victims of the Jihadis are Muslims: gay Muslims, women Muslims, secular Muslims, liberal Muslims, Nigerian Muslims, British Muslims, ordinary Muslims who just want to get on with their lives. Anti-Jihadi Muslims must be central to the anti-Jihadi coalition.

Some people are saying: "Enough with human rights and political correctness, we have to fight them with all we've got". But they're not thinking through what they mean by "them".

What are we fighting for? We're fighting for the democratic state, freedom, liberty and equality, we're fighting for freedom of speech and freedom of religion and freedom of sexuality; we're fighting for the state to guarantee our fundamental rights but after that to leave us alone to live as we please; we're fighting for a state which looks after us if we are in real trouble but which doesn't stifle us when we're not.

We fight the Jihadis in the name of this notion of democratic politics. It is the Jihadis who see the world divided by race, who hate the Jews, who hate people with women leaders and with daughters who dance to women singers; who hate anybody who doesn't share their view. It is not us who hate liberty.

So we don't put democracy on hold while we deal with the threat to democracy, we mobilize democracy against what threatens it.

The notion of the legitimate monopoly of violence isn't just something dry and dusty out of a textbook. The democratic state has armed men and women; police; security services; it has machine guns, cruise missiles and air forces. The violence of the democratic state is legitimate because it is fundamentally defensive; it is legitimate because it is in the name of the people and it is under the control of democratic institutions and it follows the rule of law. And, above all, it is mobilized to defend democracy against those who would threaten it.

One of the key problems is that many of us are used to thinking of the state as the enemy and we are used to thinking of violent anti-democratic movements as the bearers of liberation of the oppressed. We have to take ownership of our democratic republics, first in our own heads. We have to understand that what we have is worth defending. We have to learn to recognise the threat of the kind of politics which tells us things could get no worse and we need to start by tearing everything down.

The Jihadi totalitarian movement is not the only threat to democracy. There are also the radical intellectual critiques, which cynically de-value the state and which get a vicarious thrill out of anti-hegemonic violence. There is the form of cynicism which becomes conspiracy theory, satisfying itself with a completely twisted view of reality.

The democratic world needs to re-find some confidence and some clarity. The vulgar adolescent worship of ignorance and resentment which won the Presidential election in America is not going to help; Theresa May's plan to launch a war of words and trade within the democratic community of Europe is not going to help; calls for internment and repression against Muslims are not going to help. The Jihadis love Trump, they love Brexit, they love Le Pen and Wilders, they love the EDL.  They love what makes the democratic world of liberty and equality weaker and less united. 

Instead of carping at the Islamophobia of the state we need to support the state, join it, help it, make sure it isn't islamophobic, support those who educate against democracy-hatred and those who hunt those who support the global totalitarian movement.

We defeated Nazism in the name of democracy and using largely democratic means. We replaced Nazism with democracy. We didn't adopt the Nazi view of the world and launch a global fight against "Aryans" - we refused the term "Aryan" and we launched a global fight for democracy; which also brought a wave of decolonisation and equality in its wake throughout the world; the fight for democracy was by no means finished; but it was gaining momentum.
By David Hirsh

A guide to Sephardi surnames

When Jews were expelled by the Spanish  Inquisition, they often took their Spanish patronymics with them. Miriam Raphael has been compiling a fascinating list with their meanings. Here’s her list (A's and B's) of some of the most famous names of the Sephardic community. Click on the link below for names up to 'V'. (with thanks: Imre)
Abarbanel: From the Hebrew word 'Av' meaning 'father' , 'Rabban' meaning 'priest' and 'El' meaning 'God'. One of the oldest Spanish family names which traces its origin from King David.
Abecassis: From the word 'Av' meaning Father and Arabic 'kassas' meaning storyteller. In Algeria, community leaders and rabbis were given the title 'Kassis'. Many Jews from Gibraltar, Portugal and Morocco share this name.
Adatto: From the Italian word meaning 'suitable' or 'appropriate'. Jews that left Spain for Turkey via Italy took on this name.
Alhadeff: The name means "weaver" and is of Spanish/Moorish origin found most often among Jews who left Spain after the expulsion for the Greek Island of Rhodes.
Alkana: Meaning 'God bought' in Hebrew.
Almo/Almosimo: From Spanish meaning 'One who gives to the poor'. Amiel: From the Hebrew words 'Am' (nation) and 'El' (God) meaning 'God's people' or 'the people of God'.
Angel: The surname comes from the Hebrew word of 'malach' meaning 'angel'. The Angel family traces back to medieval Spain and migrated to Greece and the Island of Rhodes.
Ashkenazi/Eshkenazi: Ashkenazi meaning 'German'. The Sephardic carriers of the surname would have some Ashkenazi ancestors who moved to Sephardi countries and joined and were adopted by those communities.
Azose: Anglicized version of the surname 'Azuz'. The root of the name comes from the Hebrew word for strength – 'Oz'.
Behar: Many origins of the Behar surname. From the Hebrew 'behor' meaning 'eldest' and the Turkish word, 'Bahar', meaning Spring. Also from Spanish 'abeja' meaning bee. Behar is of pre-roman origin and is also the name of a town in the Spanish province of Salamanca and was probably a habitational name for many Jews of that province. Many Sephardic Jews from Bulgaria and Greece carry this surname.
Benarouch: A patronymic name meaning 'son of the head (leader)' in Hebrew. BenPorat: A patronymic name meaning 'son of the prosperous' in Hebrew. Benezra: A patronymic name meaning 'son of the helper' in Hebrew and a popular name among Spanish Jews. There is a tradition that this family name is of priestly (Cohen) lineage.
Benaroya: From "Ben" meaning son and "Arroyo" meaning rivulet or river in Spanish. Banaroya is a variant of BenArroyo or BenArollia.
Benveniste: From the Latin 'veniste' meaning 'you came' and 'ben' meaning 'son' in Hebrew. This was a widespread Sephardic family originating in Spain that dispersed throughout the Ottoman Empire following the expulsion.
Benzaquen: Patronymic name meaning 'son of the elder' in Hebrew.

Read article in full

BHL discovers Baghdad-Jewish war hero

 The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, writing in The Tablet, has only just discovered the fascinating story of General Jack Jacob, but his name will be familiar to Point of No Returnreaders.

It’s quite a story. 
This story may seem unlikely in this era of generalized war between cultures, civilizations, and religions. And I am grateful to British journalist Ben Judah for having brought it to light in an article that appeared in the Jewish Chronicle the day after the visit to Israel of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The time is December 1971. The place is the territory then known as East Pakistan. Separated by 1,600 kilometers from West Pakistan, this Bengali part of Pakistan has been in rebellion since March.

The central government in Islamabad, rejecting the secession of what will eventually become Bangladesh, is engaged in a merciless repression, the cost of which, in lives, remains unknown even today, almost a half-century later. Half a million people may have died, of perhaps a million, 2 million, or more.
On Dec. 3, India decides to enter the conflict, to “interfere,” as one would put it today, in the domestic affairs of its neighbor so as to stop the bloodbath. The fighting rages.

The Bengali freedom fighters, known as the Mukti Bahini, now supported by India, become increasingly daring.

New Delhi’s strategy is to build up slowly and gradually, a decision. This strategy seems to many ill-suited to the Bangladesh of the day, a terrain of few roads, major rivers, and innumerable marshes. Thirteen days into the new phase of the war, with the Pakistanis having massed 90,000 troops around Dacca, the capital, against the Indians’ 3,000, New Delhi appears to be stuck and has hardly boxed itself into the beginnings of a siege. And it is at this moment that a high-ranking Indian officer, without notifying his superiors, takes a plane, lands in Dacca, presents himself to General Niazi, head of the Pakistani forces and pulls off one of the most spectacular bluffs in modern military history: “You have 90,000 men,” the Indian officer tells Niazi. “We have many more, plus the Mukti Bahini, who are full of the vengeance of their people and will give no quarter. Under the circumstances, you have only one choice: to persist in a fight that you cannot win or to sign this letter of surrender that I have drafted in my own hand, which promises you an honorable retreat. You have half an hour to decide; I’ll go have a smoke.”

Niazi, falling into the trap, chooses the second option. To the world’s amazement, 3,000 Indian soldiers accept the surrender of 90,000 Pakistanis. Tens of thousands—no—hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides are spared.
And Bangladesh is free!

The story might have ended there.

Except that the general behind the masterly coup that makes him godfather to a new Muslim country is Jewish. His name is Jack Jacobs.

Read article in full

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

UK synagogue membership at lowest since ’90

(JTA) — The United Kingdom has the largest number of synagogues in its history, but membership in those institutions is at its lowest in decades, according to a newly published report.

In its report titled “Synagogue membership in the United Kingdom in 2016,” the Institute for Jewish Policy Research counted 454 Jewish houses of worship with a combined membership of fewer than 80,000 households.

The report, which was published Tuesday, reveals that 79,597 Jewish households across the United Kingdom held synagogue membership in 2016, down from 99,763 in 1990 — a 20 percent decline over a quarter of a century.

According to the authors, the decline is only partially related to assimilation and can be explained primarily by demographic forces – a general decline in the number of Jewish households that exist in the United Kingdom.

In the United Kingdom, where approximately 250,000 Jews live, many synagogues employ a membership system in which worshippers who pray there regularly pay fees for activities and maintenance.

Orthodox synagogues had the largest membership at 53 percent, the report said, down from 66 percent in 1990. Reform and Liberal shares, at 19 and 8 percent in 2016, have slightly increased over that period.

“The affiliated British Jewish community is changing. The mainstream Orthodox center is in numerical decline, whilst stricter forms of Orthodoxy are in the ascendancy,” Jonathan Boyd, the executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, said in a statement about the report. “Because the more progressive wing is largely stable, representing just under a third of the total, the trends point to a future in which stricter forms of Orthodoxy will hold an increasingly prominent position, not only in synagogue membership, but in how Judaism is practiced and how Judaism is seen and understood by others.”

Three-quarters of the U.K. synagogues are in Greater London and the adjacent areas of South Hertfordshire and South-West Essex, and 11 percent are in Greater Manchester. Half of all synagogue members belong to synagogues that are situated in just five areas in the London area: Barnet, Westminster, Hertsmere, Redbridge and Stamford Hill.