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Swiss historical drama ‘Labyrinth of Peace’ shatters the myth of Switzerland’s neutrality in WWII



It’s Switzerland in 1945 and the war has just ended. A group of deeply traumatized, ragged-looking Jewish teenagers recently liberated from Buchenwald have been sent to live in a former Swiss school building.

A young Swiss woman named Klara cares for them, while her new husband, Johann, runs her family’s textile business, whose success is dependent on the work of unrepentant Nazis living in comfort in Swiss exile. Johann’s brother, Egon, home from the war after five years working as a Swiss border guard, is wracked by guilt for having to turn away Jewish mothers and children at the frontier. His new postwar job in the attorney general’s office: hunting down ex-Nazis.

This is the premise of “Labyrinth of Peace,” an engrossing Swiss drama set in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust that is now available exclusively on ChaiFlicks, the Jewish streaming service in North America, Australia and New Zealand.

Shot in Switzerland and released in the country to great acclaim in 2020, the six-episode series is fraught with drama, romance and moral struggles.

“Labyrinth of Peace” is the brainchild of award-winning Swiss-Italian screenwriter and director Petra Volpe, who wanted to tell the compelling story of a little-known chapter of postwar history while also spotlighting the morally questionable role Switzerland took during and after the war.

“Switzerland wanted to show that they were on the right side of history, since they knew they had failed the Jews by locking down the country” during the Holocaust, and therefore took in Jewish refugees after the war, Volpe said in an interview from her home in Brooklyn. “When actual refugees arrived and they weren’t cute children younger than 12, and someone asked where the little boys were, the rabbi said of the youngest ones, ‘They were all gassed.’ Switzerland wasn’t happy when teenagers showed up. They didn’t treat them as nicely as they should have.”

The Buchenwald Boys, as they were called, had lost their childhoods and most of their families during the war years. More than 60,000 Jews died in Buchenwald — including my great-grandfather, after he, my grandfather and uncle were arrested on Kristallnacht and sent to the concentration camp. But some 900 youths survived and were among those liberated by U.S. forces.

Jewish refugee agencies came to their rescue, and they were sent to various sites in France, England and Switzerland for rehabilitation. “Labyrinth of Peace” turns the story of a group sent to Switzerland into an absorbing historical drama that belies the myth of Swiss neutrality and demonstrates how guilt and moral conflicts ran through families even after combat ended.

“Labyrinth of Peace” illuminates a little-known chapter of postwar history while spotlighting the morally questionable role Switzerland took during and after World War II. (ChaiFlicks)

In the series, the recently liberated Buchenwald Boys find themselves at the heart of many more interests than anyone first realizes.

One of the teens, Herschel, falls in love with the Swiss Klara, whose father’s textile factory profited handsomely during the war. The family home is rich in sumptuous detail, from silk damask wall coverings to lush oriental carpets covering the floors to the gold-rimmed Limoges tea pot from which servants pour drinks. Nearby, the Buchenwald Boys live in empty classrooms without sufficient food or clothing, after arriving in the country wearing little but rags.

In real life, the 370 or so Buchenwald Boys who were sent to Switzerland became political pawns, Volpe says. They were promised several months of rest and rehabilitation, but their stay in Switzerland was cut short when authorities in pre-state Israel told them they were going to Palestine. Most didn’t want to go; some asked to settle in Australia and others wanted to stay in Switzerland.

“Everyone just wanted to bring them to Israel and get them out of sight,” said Volpe, who is not Jewish but is married to a Jewish man. “There’s collective guilt.”

In the series, the character of Egon is based on a real Swiss border guard whose story is known from frequent letters he wrote home to his wife. Egon is introduced to viewers as he arrives home just in time for his brother’s wedding to Klara. He is wracked with guilt and anger.

“Every day he had to drag mothers and young kids back across the border and it’s killing him,” Volpe said.

Desperate for expiation, Egon gets drawn into the U.S. authorities’ search for Nazis who moved to Switzerland and are living under cover with adopted names and identities.

Meanwhile, his brother Johann — Klara’s husband — is trying to transform his father-in-law’s textile business into a success by producing a low-cost synthetic alternative to nylon. Johann touts the achievement as a pure Swiss creation, but it turns out that it’s the work of a Nazi chemist working under an assumed name in the family lab — putting Johann in a morally dubious position and creating conflict with his wife.

Many Nazis who fled Germany after the war found new lives in Switzerland, where their pasts largely were overlooked. The same happened in America, too; the U.S. government put ex-Nazi scientists to work developing military hardware and even rockets for the country’s fledgling space program.

The setting for “Labyrinth of Peace” is a verdant Swiss school where Jewish teens recently liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp are sent to be rehabilitated. (ChaiFlicks)

“Switzerland imported the knowledge of German war criminals,” said Volpe, who grew up near Zurich, lived in Berlin for 20 years as an adult and has resided in New York for the past decade. “They tried to hire scientists from the chemical industry. Swiss economic success is based on knowledge we took from the Nazis.”

Volpe’s series shatters the notion of Switzerland’s ostensible neutrality and demonstrates how many Swiss shared in the war’s sins.

“War criminals were treated like royalty in Switzerland because they had money, and refugees were treated like criminals,” observed Volpe.

“Labyrinth of Peace” was a hit when it aired on Swiss national television, and last year won awards at several Jewish film festivals in the United States. The series is now available nationwide on ChaiFlicks, the subscription streaming service that focuses on Jewish and Israeli content.

For Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 18, the JCC of Manhattan will screen two episodes from the series followed by a Q&A with Volpe.

At the end of the series (no spoilers!), Klara and a friend are shown driving while she opens a thin book that Herschel, the eldest of the Buchenwald Boys who fell in love with her, wrote and gave her. In his introduction Herschel writes, “I have done my best to prevent what was meant to be prevented. The eradication of us and our history.”

“The main message in his diary is: ‘They didn’t erase our voice and I can still tell my story,’ Volpe said. “That’s a form of victory also, and a very important message.”

Watch “Labyrinth of Peace” here.

The post Swiss historical drama ‘Labyrinth of Peace’ shatters the myth of Switzerland’s neutrality in WWII appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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