In a case that likely has more than a few people checking their own personal genealogy, New York authorities say that a 97-year old who died last year left behind an estate valued at nearly $40 million but no heirs and no will.
Roman Blum survived the Holocaust and came to the US after World War II, where he became a successful real estate developer.
Blum married another Holocaust survivor, but she died in 1992 and the couple had no children.
Despite the advice of numerous friends, Blum declined to make a will for himself, leaving the largest unclaimed estate in New York State history, according to the state comptroller’s office.
A friend summed up the situation as only a New Yorker can:
“He was a very smart man but he died like an idiot,” said Paul Skurka, a fellow Holocaust survivor who befriended Blum after doing carpentry work for him in the 1970s.
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I’m going to go out on a limb and guess this was not put together by the typical Facebook user.
A handful of wooden synagogues, among the last vestiges of Lithuania’s thriving pre-World War II Jewish culture, are crumbling because of a lack of money and support.
Lithuania has barely more than a dozen wooden synagogues remaining, dating between the late 19th century and the 1930s.
They are unused today and falling apart, victims in part of abuse and neglect during the Soviet era.
“Their state of disrepair struck me,” said Gilles Vuillard, a Lithuania-based French artist who has depicted them in his work over the past few years. “Most often people didn’t even know where they were located anymore, yet they are witness to a unique cultural heritage.”
Lithuania’s pre-war Jewish population was approximately 210,000. Of that, an estimated 195,000, or more than 90 percent, were murdered by the Nazis following their invasion of the Baltics in June 1941.
Most of the small number who survived the Holocaust moved to Israel after the war.
Most Jews in Lithuania today arrived after 1945 and have little to no historical connection to the wooden synagogues.
Seventy-five years ago today, Germany marched into, occupied and annexed Austria in what became known as the Anschluss.
As the above photo shows, many turned out to joyously greet Wehrmacht troops as they rolled through the Austrian countryside and cities, including Vienna.
Not all were advocates of the union, however.
Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg was committed to his country’s independence despite several years of bullying from Austrian and German Nazis.
Prior to the actual German annexation, Schuschnigg had scheduled a plebiscite on the issue of unification for March 13, 1938, expecting his fellow countrymen to reject the idea.
Adolf Hitler, ever the proponent of fair and honest elections, declared the vote would be tainted by fraud and stated that Germany would not abide by the results.
Hundreds of marble headstone and other fragments from Jewish graves destroyed during the Nazi occupation have been discovered after a decades-long search, Greek police announced last week.
Some 668 fragments were found buried in a plot of land in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city.
The discovery comes after a 70-year search for the remains of graves smashed when the city’s massive Jewish cemetery was destroyed during World War II, according to the Associated Press.
Most of the gravestones found date from the mid-1800s up to World War II, said David Saltiel, the head of Thessaloniki Jewish community.
“This is our history,” said Saltiel, who is head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. “Apart from the names, the (gravestones) also include the person’s occupation. So this is a historic record.”
The Jewish community in Greece, most of which was concentrated in Thessaloniki, was all but annihilated in the Holocaust.
Many nations suffered horribly during the carnage of World War II: China, the USSR and Yugoslavia were among those that suffered massive destruction and population loss at the hands of the Axis powers during the conflict.
While it’s impossible to say which country got the worst of it, no one will dispute that putting Poland near the top of the list is a safe bet.
The Poles had the misfortune of not only being involved in the Second World War from Day 1 on Sept. 1, 1939, when the Nazis invaded, until Germany’s capitulation in May 1945, it also lost a staggering 20 percent of its population.
Many histories deal with the greatest crime of the war years: the annihilation of Europe’s Jews. That chiefly took place in occupied Poland, and the largest number of its victims were citizens of the pre-war republic. But these are books about the Holocaust, not about Poland. Books about Poland abound too. Some deal with the spectacular military events of the war: the Ghetto Uprising of 1943, the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Others have highlighted the great neglected scandals of the war, such as the Soviet massacre of 20,000 captured Polish officers. A book called “Dark Side of the Moon” tried to alert the West to the Soviet deportation of hundreds of thousands of Polish civilians to privation and death. There are even books about Wojtek, a bear cub adopted by Polish soldiers, who drank beer, ate cigarettes, carried ammunition and died in a zoo in Scotland.
Just when thinks government officials can’t possibly be any more tone-deaf when it comes to dealing with sensitive issues, along comes another dim-witted bureaucrat or two eager and able to lower the bar.
In Hungary, prosecutors said Monday that investigating a 97-year-old Nazi war criminal found alive and well in Budapest was “problematic” because the events took place so long ago and in a different country.
Laszlo Csatary has spent the past 15 years living undisturbed since he was deported from Canada for his actions during World War II, which included helping organize the shipping of nearly 16,000 Jews to Auschwitz in 1944.
A probe into Csatary began in September after information was received from the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center, which ranks him number one on their wanted list, the public prosecutors’ office said.
The crime is alledged to have taken place in Kosice, which was then in Hungary but is now in Slovakia.
Prosecutors in Hungary said the investigation “therefore has to explore an event remote in both time and place,” with “significant part” of the probe dedicated to finding possible witnesses, some of whom may live abroad, according to Agence France-Presse.
“It took place 68 years ago in an area that now falls under the jurisdiction of another country – which also with regard to the related international conventions raises several investigative and legal problems,” a statement said.
“Finding the answers to the aforementioned questions is a precondition to clarifying the facts and determining further investigative actions.”
Klaas Carel Faber, a war criminal who worked for a time at the Nazi transit camp where schoolgirl Anne Frank was held before being sent to the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, died in a Bavarian hospital last week at the ripe old age of 90.
Faber was sentenced to death by a Dutch court after the war but escaped and evaded all attempts by the Netherlands over the next 60 years to get him back.
At the time of his death, he was second on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of Nazi criminals still at large.
Faber was a former member of the Nazi SS unit known as Silver Fir and was responsible for the murder of at least 22 Jews, but the toll was believed to be much higher, according to The Telegraph.
In addition, his death squad targeted members of the Dutch resistance, and those who hid Jews and opposed Nazism.
He was also a member of Sonderkommando Feldmeijer, which carried out arbitrary assassinations of prominent Dutch citizens in reprisal for Resistance activities, and he served as a bodyguard to Dutch Nazi leader Anton Mussert.
A trip to Memorial Park in Columbia, SC, Monday found a smattering of people inspecting around the various monuments to those who gave their lives while in military service.
Were it not for an extended family from Pascagoula, Miss., passing through, there would have been barely a dozen individuals on hand on this Memorial Day, most of them Vietnam-era veterans.
It was a paltry showing given that the park is dedicated to those who lost their lives in Vietnam, Korea, World War II, World War I and, specifically, the Holocaust.
But, then again, Americans have always tended to be a forward-looking group. This isn’t always a bad thing, but there’s a certain sadness that comes with the recognition that our society as a whole has limited interest in showing its appreciation to so many of its young men and women who died in service to their country.
Politicians will roll out the platitudes at the proper times, families who have lost loved ones will grieve in their own private way and a small percentage will genuinely make an effort to recall those who gave their lives for the US.
Except for the latter two groups, most Americans see Memorial Day as little more than just another holiday, a chance to cook out, swim at the local neighborhood association pool and knock back a few beers.
It may not be the America that those that gave their lives would have wanted to die for. Read the rest of this entry »
Nearly 70 years after Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviet Red Army in the waning days of World War II, the circumstances surrounding his ultimate fate still remain unclear but evidence increasingly points to a Soviet cover-up.
A newly found Swedish document shows how the KGB intervened as late as the early1990s to stop an investigation into the circumstances behind Wallenberg’s disappearance, two US-based researchers said earlier this week.
Wallenberg is credited with rescuing tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis between July and December 1944. While serving as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest, he issued protective passports to Jews and sheltered them in buildings designated as Swedish territory.
Wallenberg disappeared after being detained in Budapest by Soviet officials on Jan. 17, 1945.
The Russians have said he was executed on July 17, 1947, but unverified witness accounts and newly uncovered evidence suggest he may have lived beyond that date, according to the Associated Press.
Wallenberg researchers were hoping that key pieces of the puzzle regarding the diplomat’s fate would emerge when an international commission was granted access to Soviet prison records as communist rule was crumbling.
“But a document from the Swedish Foreign Ministry supports claims that the KGB – the former Soviet secret police and intelligence agency – acted to obstruct that effort, said German researcher Susanne Berger who consulted a Swedish-Russian working group that conducted a 10-year investigation until 2001,” according to the wire service.
The Sept. 16, 1991, memorandum from the Swedish Embassy in Moscow cites the former head of the Soviet “Special Archive,” Anatoly Prokopenko, as telling Swedish diplomats that the KGB instructed him to stop a search for documents by researchers working for the first International Wallenberg Commission.
Prokopenko also said the KGB wanted copies of all documents that the researchers had already viewed, according to the memo, which was made available to the Associated Press by Berger. Its authenticity was confirmed by the Foreign Ministry.
The document was significant because it illustrates how since the end of the Cold War researchers have struggled to get access to crucial documents from Soviet archives, Berger said.
“The action in 1991 has, unfortunately, proved symptomatic, rather than an exception to the rule,” Berger told the Associated Press. “Twenty years later, we are still facing this fundamental problem.”
In an interview with the wire service on Monday, Prokopenko said the researchers had been euphoric when they found an archive document on Wallenberg’s transfer from one Soviet prison to another, sharing their discovery with other members of the commission investigating Wallenberg’s fate.
“That was a mistake, the archivist implied, saying the KGB officers on the panel reacted quickly, warning authorities, and Prokopenko was immediately ordered to bar the researchers’ access to the files,” according to the AP.
Prokopenko said he complied because he was working to open the archives to the public, taking advantage of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberal reforms, and realized that open disobedience would lead to his immediate ouster.
“I had to make a sacrifice for the sake of uncovering numerous other secrets of the archive,” Prokopenko said.
He added that following a brief period of openness before and after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, authorities have grown increasingly reluctant to allow public access to the archives.
“The situation has grown worse, and even the files that were opened to the public in 1991-1992 were classified again later,” he said.
The Swedish government declassified parts of the memo after Prokopenko mentioned the KGB interference in an 1997 article in a Russian newspaper, but it didn’t become publicly known until Berger obtained it this month.
Wallenberg, who would have turned 100 this year, was arrested the day after the Red Army seized Budapest, along with his Hungarian driver Vilmos Langfelder. The Russians have never explained why they detained the pair.
Russian scholar Vadim Birstein, one of the researchers working for the first Wallenberg commission, told the Associated Press they had just found some previously unknown documents when the archive was closed to them in the spring of 1991.
“We were stopped exactly after I found three documents: two with the name Wallenberg on it and one with the name Langfelder – and (the authorities) said they weren’t hiding anything!”
Birstein and Berger, who are based in the US, said that though they and other researchers have since been granted access to study some Wallenberg files, important archive material has still not been made available.
“At the key junctures, the doors have remained closed,” Berger said, noting that even the first piece of material that was handed over by the Russians in 1991, and was meant to illustrate a new openness on their side, turned out to be censored.
It concerned interrogation material suggesting that Wallenberg had been questioned on July 23, 1947, which would have been six days after his alleged death.
Russia has failed to produce a reliable death certificate or hand over Wallenberg’s remains – circumstances which have prompted researchers to continue efforts to try to tap Russian authorities for more information.
As Sweden’s envoy in Budapest from July 1944, Wallenberg not only saved 20,000 Jews by giving them Swedish travel documents or moving them to safe houses, he also dissuaded German officers from massacring the 70,000 inhabitants of the city’s ghetto.
(Above: Budapest plaque honoring Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. The plaque is affixed to the wall of the building where Wallenberg was abducted by Soviet authorities in 1945.)