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Monday, August 09, 2004

JEWISH STUDENTS ATTACKED
AT AUSCHWITZ

"VIOLENCE NARROWLY AVERTED"

While on a tour of the museum at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland on Sunday, a group of around 50 Jewish university students from Israel, the U.S. and Poland were verbally attacked by a three-member gang of French male tourists.

Evidently incited by the presence of an Israeli flag wrapped around the shoulders of Tamar Schuri, an Israeli student from Ben Gurion University, the first assailant ran at the group while its members were being guided through a model gas chamber and crematoria and began swearing and hurling anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli insults.

"He told us to go back to Israel and said that we were stupid and should be ashamed to walk around with an Israeli flag," testifies Maya Ober, a 21-year-old Polish student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan and member of the Polish Union of Jewish Students (PUSZ), which organized the 16-day summer learning program along with the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS).

After the initial altercation, a second assailantgrabbed Ober by the arm. "One of the guys held me by the arm and wouldn't let go," says Ober, who lost several members of her family at Auschwitz. "I was afraid. I couldn't move and I didn't know what he was going to do.

"I was shocked. Although I have met anti-Semitism many times, I never expected to meet it at Auschwitz, where so many of my relatives were killed," she says she spoke to the assailants in French and that in addition to being "brutish and vulgar," their sentiments "made absolutely no sense."

"Violence was narrowly averted," adds LaurenceWeinbaum, Director of Research at the World Jewish Congress and resident scholar for the group, who says the Polish police were not notified of the incident because the assailants did commit an actual crime

"But, if the two sides hadn't been separated, it would have come to blows."

Weinbaum, who has been to Poland more than 30 times on educational tours, says he never before saw anything like what happened, happen. "It was simply shocking," he says. "In some way, I felt that these men were satisfied to visit Auschwitz. This was another reminder that in Western Europe there is sympathy for dead Jews; it's just the live ones that they cannot tolerate."

"This event shocked me," adds 24-year-old tour participant Yigael Ben-Natan from Zichron Yaacov, a recent graduate from the University of Haifa. "But, it bought into focus a small part of what it's like to be a Jew in the Diaspora today and a little bit about what it was like to be a Jew in the Diaspora during the Holocaust.

--Story from The Jerusalem Post.

The odd confluence of things: Joe Lieberman's mother-in-law died Friday. Ella Freilich, 87, was a survivor of Auschwitz. May those who grieve be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.