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From virtual reality to digital synagogues, tech adds new dimension to Kristallnacht commemorations in Germany

(JTA) — Nov. 9 marks several historical anniversaries in Germany, including Adolf Hitler’s failed putsch in 1923 and the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

But the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938 eclipses them all, in terms of public significance. In Germany today, those riots of 85 years past are seen as a warning of what may happen if antisemitic violence is given free reign.

This year, the anniversary takes on added significance: It falls shortly after Jews around the world marked “shloshim” – 30 days – since the Hamas massacre of 1,400 Israeli civilians and kidnapping of some 240.

Some Jewish groups are tying their commemorations together with a statement on the current Gaza war — and some are using virtual reality technology to give their projects new dimensions.

“Hatred left unchecked can easily slip into genocide,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference of Jewish Claims Against Germany. His group announced on Thursday the development of a new virtual reality “experience” that will tell the story of Kristallnacht — the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, when Nazis destroyed or damaged about 300 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses and properties across Germany, Austria and in parts of former Czechoslovakia. Police arrested some 30,000 Jews and sent them to concentration camps; hundreds of Jews were killed.

The pogrom, seen in hindsight as a precursor to the Holocaust, carries “such an important message for today,” Schneider continued, noting reports of increased antisemitic incidents around the world. “The lesson from Kristallnacht is clear: If you don’t fight it, this is what can happen. And we cannot live with that.”

The virtual reality video – which the Claims Conference is producing with the USC Shoah Foundation, Meta, UNESCO and the World Jewish Congress (WJC) – will include an interactive walk with survivor Charlotte Knobloch through the streets of her home city of Munich, where as a six-year-old she witnessed the aftermath of Kristallnacht. She survived the war by hiding with a Christian family for years.

When the virtual tour is ready in a few months — via VR headset or internet browser — viewers will be able to ask questions and the virtual Knobloch will answer.

“We are hoping it draws in young people and those who find the technological side interesting,” Schneider said.

Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch on a green screen set filming footage for a virtual reality project. (Claims Conference)

“It is important to me that we reach young people with this project” in perpetuity, said Knobloch, 91, in an email to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. She wanted to help “ensure that memories are passed on, even if no one can remember themselves.”

Knobloch “spent the last 85 years processing what I experienced on November 9, 1938. I also tried to forget — but without success.” She has often shared her memory of walking with her father hand in hand past blackened synagogues, the shattered windowpanes of Jewish shops crunching beneath her feet.

“The streets in Munich are the same today as they were back then,” she wrote in her email. “The places are charged, and nothing will ever change that for me. But the trust that I was able to regain after 1945 means that while streets are the same, the people can change – at least some of them. After many decades, this worked for me. Today, however, this trust is waning.”

WJC President Ronald Lauder called Hamas’ attack “the most devastating since the Holocaust” in a statement announcing a joint Kristallnacht commemoration with the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israelite Religious Society Austria.

Their educational event will feature full-color digital reconstructions of destroyed synagogues in Germany and Austria, projected onto the walls of buildings where the synagogues once stood. In some locations, virtual reality goggles will enable a virtual tour. The digital reconstructions were developed together with the Technical University of Darmstadt and the University of Vienna.

In former East Berlin, the Central Council will commemorate Kristallnacht with Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the synagogue Kahal Adass Jisroel, which recently was the target of an attempted arson. The structure had been damaged in 1938; it was renovated more than a decade ago with the support of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, the Skoblo family in Berlin and the United Kingdom-based Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Philanthropic Foundation.

In Vienna, the Jewish Youth organization will hold a memorial march called “Light of Hope.” “The words ‘Never again’ hold a more pressing relevance than ever,” Oskar Deutsch, chair of the Israelite Cultural Community of Vienna, said in a statement ahead of the events.

The Israeli hostages in Gaza will be the focus of a Kristallnacht remembrance in Frankfurt, sponsored by  the German-Israel Society (DIG). Titled “Never again is now,” the event also aims to “show the people of Israel that they are not alone.”

It also aims to support the Jews of Germany, said DIG President Volker Beck in an email. “After the Hamas massacre on October 7 and the tsunami of antisemitism that followed worldwide, you can’t help thinking: What, again?”

“Fear is rampant in the Jewish community,” added Beck, who is not Jewish. “We in Germany have to start from scratch to make our cities and villages safe for Jews.”

An image from one of the many synagogue recreations that will be projected onto buildings in Germany and Austria, Nov. 9, 2023. (WJC)

In Berlin, in the early morning hours on Friday, a German Protestant Christian group called Light and Salt will hold a vigil for Israel, under the slogan “you are my people.”

“We have unfortunately noticed once again – 85 years after Kristallnacht and since October 7th, 2023 – that antisemitism is more present than ever,” wrote the group on its Facebook announcement.

Joachim Bambach, a nurse by profession, started Light and Salt in 2017, after he heard people at a pro-Palestinian demonstration “shouting ‘Jews to the gas.’ This was horrific for me, absolutely horrific. I could not stand this, and I knew I had to do something about it,” he said in a telephone interview.

So he started organizing prayer vigils outside the German chancellery in Berlin.

The brutality of the Hamas attack should wake up the world, he told JTA. “For me, basically this is a battle of two world views,” he said, “a battle for the existence of the Jewish people in the land of Israel, and nothing else, and we have to face this, like it or not.”

Knobloch told JTA she feels safe in Germany and appreciates the support shown by the German  government and general public. But she fears both are souring, as more Germans say “yes, but…” and as the government’s resolve weakens: In late October, Germany abstained rather than opposing (with the United States) a United Nations General Assembly resolution seeking an immediate “humanitarian truce” in Gaza.

More than anything, she worries mostly about Germany’s Jewish youth and about her own family.

“My granddaughter, who lives in Israel, was here for a while after the attack with her two eight-year-old sons because the children could no longer stand the bunkers,” Knobloch said. “Now she has gone back, because she said it was too unsafe here, too. It’s hard not to just give up. But I still hope that things will change for the better.”

The post From virtual reality to digital synagogues, tech adds new dimension to Kristallnacht commemorations in Germany appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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White House Calls Netanyahu’s Comments on US Weapons Deliveries ‘Perplexing,’ ‘Disappointing’

US White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, US, June 17, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

The White House expressed “deep disappointment” over criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the United States on Thursday amid tensions between the two allies over Israel‘s war in Gaza.

“It was perplexing to say the least, certainly disappointing, especially given that no other country is doing more to help Israel defend itself against the threat by Hamas,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

The White House response came as national security adviser Jake Sullivan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken planned meetings with Netanyahu’s two top aides to discuss the Gaza conflict.

Netanyahu on Tuesday issued an English-language video in which he said Blinken had assured him that the Biden administration was working to lift restrictions on arms deliveries to Israel, an exchange the top US diplomat declined to confirm.

In a rare account of normally private diplomatic conversations, Netanyahu also said he told Blinken that it was “inconceivable” that in the past few months Washington was withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel.

Kirby addressed the comments in a briefing with reporters, saying the US had directly expressed displeasure to Israel.

“I think we’ve made it abundantly clear to our Israeli counterparts through various vehicles our deep disappointment in the statements expressed in that video and our concerns over the accuracy in the statements made,” Kirby said.

“The idea that we had somehow stopped helping Israel with their self-defense needs is absolutely not accurate,” he said.

Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Ron Dermer, Israel‘s minister for strategic affairs, will speak with Sullivan as a larger, more formal “strategic dialogue” meeting was being rescheduled, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Blinken will meet with the Israelis at 3 pm, according to a senior State Department official.

Blinken said weapons shipments — with the exception of one with 2,000-pound bombs — were moving as usual given Israel faced security threats beyond Gaza, including from Hezbollah and Iran. He declined to comment on his private exchange with Netanyahu during a news conference on Tuesday.

The United States in May paused a shipment of 2,000-pound and 500-pound bombs due to concern over the impact they could have in densely populated areas but Israel was still due to get billions of dollars worth of US weaponry.

Scrutiny on Israel‘s conduct in its military operation in Gaza has increased as the Palestinian death toll from the war in the Hamas-run enclave has increased. Israeli officials argue they have gone to unprecedented lengths to try and avoid civilian casualties, noting Hamas terrorists embed themselves within the larger population and use civilian sites as military operation centers.

The war started when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists stormed across the border and attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 others hostage.

Biden in April warned Israel that the US would stop supplying it weapons if Israeli forces launch a large-scale offensive in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza that is considered the last major bastion of Hamas.

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Israeli Actress Shira Haas Wins Award for Role in Upcoming TV Series ‘Night Therapy’

Shira Haas on the set of “Night Therapy.” Photo: Nati Levi

Israeli actress Shira Haas was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Monte Carlo Television Festival on Tuesday night for her role in an upcoming Israeli television series titled “Night Therapy” that will premiere later this month.

Haas stars in the 10-part psychological drama alongside Yousef Sweid (“Munich Games,” “Game of Thrones”), as well as Lucy Ayoub, Yaakov Zada Daniel, and Firas Nassar, all of whom have starred in the popular Israeli series “Fauda.”

Haas, who accepted her award from the Monte Carlo Television Festival via video because she was in the United States filming, took to Instagram to thank the festival for her award.

“This is such a special project for me, a personal and genuinely (ongoing) healing one, and I can’t wait for you all to meet Yasmin very soon,” she wrote, referencing her character’s name in the show.

Written and created by Raanan Caspi, “Night Therapy” is about an Arab-Israeli psychologist named Louie (Sweid) who struggles to raise his two children after his Jewish-Israeli wife commits suicide. To be more present for his children during the day and to better balance his work and home life, Louie decides to shift his practice so he sees patients at night. Haas plays one of his patients — a computer genius named Yasmin who rarely leaves her home and prefers to spend her time in the virtual world instead of the real one.

“Through the gateway and magic of the late clinic hours, and flashback scenes where Louie acts as an unseen observer to their problems, the series depicts refreshing points of view on life, which often require unusual treatments,” according to a synopsis provided by Yes Studios, which is distributing the show. “Combining absorbing therapy sessions — written with the input of practicing psychologists — with storylines and characters from Louie’s personal life, ‘Night Therapy’ is a touching, emotional and sexy new drama series.”

The show premieres on Yes TV in Israel on June 30 and is being sold internationally by Yes Studios. The series is directed by Gabriel Bibliowicz and produced by Dafna Danenberg, Aviram Avraham, and Benny Menache at Eight Productions.

Haas previously had starring roles in the hit Israeli television series “Shtisel” as well as the film “Unorthodox,” for which she won an award. She also became the first Israeli television actress nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in “Unorthodox.” Haas Tribeca Film Festival for starring in “Asia,” in which she played a terminally ill character, and additionally won two best supporting actress awards at the Israeli Academy Awards. She is reportedly scheduled to appear in Marvel’s upcoming film “Captain America: Brave New World” as an Israeli superhero named Sabra.

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Swiss Museum Sells Monet Painting in Settlement With Heirs of Former Jewish Owner Forced to Sell Artwork During WWII

A partial view of Monet’s “L’Homme à l’ombrelle.” Photo: Kunsthaus Zürich via Wikimedia Commons

The largest art museum in Switzerland announced on Wednesday that it is selling a painting by Claude Monet as part of an agreement with heirs of the artwork’s original Jewish owner, who was forced to sell it during World War II when he fled Nazi Germany.

The Kunsthaus Zürich said it reached a “fair and just solution” and “amicable settlement” with the heirs of Jewish entrepreneur Carl Sachs regarding the painting “L’Homme à l’ombrelle” (“Man with a Parasol”) from the late 19th century. Proceeds from the sale will be allocated between the museum and Sachs’ family.

Sachs and his wife fled Nazi persecution in Germany and moved to Switzerland in 1939. He was forced to sell “L’Homme à l’ombrelle,” and several other pieces from his art collection, to the Kunsthaus Zürich in order to make a living. “The sale of Monet’s ‘L’Homme à l’ombrelle’ to the Kunsthaus Zürich was the first work that Sachs had to sell due to the acute financial emergency just a few weeks after fleeing Nazi Germany to Switzerland,” the museum explained.

“A swift sale was needed to provide the couple with money to live on, and he was therefore acting under duress,” the Kunsthaus Zürich said. Sachs died shortly afterward in December 1943 and by that point he had sold 13 artworks from his collection.

Philipp Hildebrand, the chair of Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft, said: “Of course we regret that this wonderful painting will leave the Kunsthaus. At the same time, this step underpins the seriousness of our provenance strategy and our fundamental attitude towards a transparent and solution-oriented approach to works in our collection in which there are substantiated references to Nazis [or] there is a situation of a persecution-related predicament.”

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