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 31 
 on: Jan 27, 2015, 07:45 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Russia downgraded to junk status for first time in decade

S&P says downgrade caused by reduced flexibility to cut interest rates and weakening of financial system as oil price drops

Jill Treanor   
The Guardian, Monday 26 January 2015 23.14 GMT   
   
Russia’s credit rating has been downgraded to junk status for the first time in a decade due to the collapsing oil price, the tumbling value of the rouble and sanctions imposed because of its intervention in Ukraine.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said the downgrade was caused by the country’s reduced flexibility to cut interest rates and a weakening of the financial system.

The ratings agency said the Central Bank of Russia “faces increasingly difficult monetary policy decisions while also trying to support sustainable GDP growth”. It added: “These challenges result from the inflationary effects of exchange rate depreciation and sanctions from the west as well as counter-sanctions imposed by Russia.”

Attempts to shore up the value of the rouble have had only a temporary effect, Standard & Poor’s said, noting that the 750 basis point rise in interest rates last month to take interest rates up to 17% had only a limited impact on the rouble-dollar exchange rate.

“The rouble briefly appreciated against the dollar but has since continued to depreciate, reaching about 66 roubles to the dollar, compared to about 35 a year ago,” S&P said. The move pushed the rouble lower against the US currency on Monday , at 67 per dollar.

The ratings agency warned it had put the new rating on a negative outlook because of fears that the central bank’s ability to move interest rates could become limited, especially if the country imposed exchange controls.

“We could lower the ratings if external and fiscal buffers deteriorate over the next 12 months faster than we currently expect,” the agency said.

But it added: “We could revise the outlook to stable if Russia’s financial stability and economic growth prospects were to improve”.

The agency warned on 23 December that it was considering a downgrade because of concerns about the weakening the economy.

Rival agencies have not pushed Russia’s rating into junk territory although there are expectations that they will echo the S&P decision. The lower the debt rating the more expensive it is to borrow and makes its impossible for some investors to hold the debt at all.

The move comes after data showed the Russian economy contracted for the first time in five years in November, after warnings by economists that the country faced outright recession if oil prices kept falling.

The country is one of the world’s biggest energy exporters and the reduction in the oil price by more than half in the past six months to below $50 a barrel is reverberating through the economy. The central bank has warned that GDP could shrink by as much as 4.8% this year if oil prices fail to recover.

The banking system is already being bailed out and economists at the Capital Economics thinktank have calculated that further support may be need for the financial sector.

“Bank recapitalisations of between 1.2tn roubles (2% of GDP) and 2.5tn roubles (5% of GDP) might be needed to bring the banking sector’s capital adequacy ratio back to the regulatory minimum of 10%,” said William Jackson, the thinktank’s senior emerging markets economist. He said the rouble crisis appeared to have triggered deposit flight, which may have forced banks to sell assets at depressed prices while the forecasts for a fall in GDP could also cause a rise in bad debts.

“At this stage, it’s hard to tell quite how hard the hit to banks has been, but they’re clearly suffering,” said Jackson, adding that there could also be a credit crunch.

According to the analysis by S&P, inflation could rise above 15% this year and the banks will suffer an increase in bad debts on their balance sheets.

 32 
 on: Jan 27, 2015, 07:43 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Sea Shepherd to spend $12m award on 'dream ship' to patrol Southern Ocean

Money presented at Amsterdam gala is the largest donation the conservation group has received to date
Sea shepherd boat

Melissa Davey
TheGuardian
Monday 26 January 2015 23.54 GMT
   
The ocean conservation group Sea Shepherd has been awarded €8.3m (A$11.8m) at Amsterdam’s annual Good Money Gala, saying it will use the funds to build a new ship and more effectively fight poaching.

The gala awards organisations “working for a fairer, greener world”, according to its website. Sea Shepherd has been granted funding several times before, but the money announced on Monday is the largest donation it has received to date.

The chief executive of Sea Shepherd Global, Alex Cornelissen, said the organisation had been looking for years for a vessel that could become the Southern Ocean patrol flagship. But budget restrictions had until now made that impossible.

“Sea Shepherd will now be able to have a custom-designed ship built, capable of achieving speeds that far exceed any of the vessels in our current fleet,” Cornelissen said. “After researching possible shipbuilders for the last two years, negotiations with Dutch shipbuilder Damen has resulted in a blueprint of our ideal ship.

“We are now able to proceed with the purchase of our dream ship and lift our conservation efforts to protect the Southern Ocean from illegal exploitation to the next level.”

In December, Sea Shepherd conservationists returned to Antarctic waters to try to stop poaching of the Patagonian toothfish by illegal operators.

But the group is largely known for its anti-whaling activities, claiming to have saved hundreds of threatened, endangered and protected whales from Japanese whalers during the 2013-14 season alone.

The Dutch postcode lottery has been raising funds to support charity and activist organisations since 1989, and has dispensed more than €4bn to its beneficiaries.

 33 
 on: Jan 27, 2015, 07:40 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Alexander Litvinenko murder inquiry opens in high court

Public inquiry led by Sir Robert Owen expected to find Russia responsible for polonium poisoning of MI6 informant in London

Luke Harding   
The Guardian, Tuesday 27 January 2015   

A public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko opens in the high court on Tuesday, eight years after the former Russian intelligence officer and MI6 informant was murdered in London with deadly polonium.

Hearings will take place in court 73 over the next 10 weeks, and there is worldwide interest in the case. The inquiry’s chairman, Sir Robert Owen, is expected to indicate where responsibility for Livinenko’s death lies. Owen has stated there is a “prima facie” case against the Russian state and its operatives.

Litvinenko was poisoned on 1 November 2006, after meeting two Russian contacts, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, in the Millennium hotel in London. The pair allegedly slipped radioactive polonium-210 into Litvinenko’s green tea. Litvinenko died in a London hospital 22 days later, after blaming Vladimir Putin for his Cold War-style assassination.

The Crown Prosecution Service has charged Lugovoi and Kovtun with Litvinenko’s murder. Putin, however, has refused to allow them to be extradited from Moscow. In 2007 Britain expelled four Russian diplomats in protest, with Russia following suit. Neither of the two suspects will take part in the inquiry. They say they are innocent.

Litvinenko’s widow Marina and son Anatoly – aged 12 at the time of his father’s death and now 20 – are expected to attend. The inquiry will hear for the first time from the Metropolitan police, whose officers interviewed Litvinenko in the intensive care ward of University College hospital, London, shortly before his death.

The Met is also likely to make public compelling forensic evidence showing a trail of polonium left by Lugovoi and Kovtun in their hotel, and in numerous other locations around London. Detective inspector Craig Mascall will give evidence on Wednesday, followed by two forensic pathologists, Dr Nathaniel Carey and Dr Benjamin Swift.

Some of the witnesses will give evidence anonymously in a closed court – including one expert identified only as “scientist A1”. Owen, a former judge, will not examine Litvinenko’s clandestine role with British intelligence. At the time of his death, Litvinenko was on MI6’s payroll and was also working as an informer for the Spanish security services.

Hundreds of journalists are expected to following the inquiry, with proceedings broadcast to an overflow room, with a five-minute delay for security reasons. Owen has forbidden tweeting in the main court. In 2013 an inquest into Litvinenko’s death effectively collapsed after the government refused to release secret files that apparently incriminated the Kremlin.

Marina Litvinenko appealed and the home secretary Theresa May agreed to an inquiry last summer, days after the shooting down of a civilian airliner, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, over eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian rebels. May had previously ruled out an inquiry on the grounds it might damage the UK’s relations with Moscow.

*************

Alexander Litvinenko told Met police Putin ordered his murder, inquiry told

Public inquiry into his death told that Russian dissident said he had no doubt whatsoever it was done by the Russian secret service

Esther Addley   
he Guardian, Tuesday 27 January 2015 10.45 GMT   

Alexander Litvinenko accused Vladimir Putin of personally ordering his murder in deathbed interviews with the Metropolitan police in the days before he died, the public inquiry into his killing has heard.

On the opening day of the inquiry into the Russian’s murder in 2006, the court was told that the dead man spoke to officers from his hospital bed, after being poisoned by radioactive polonium, in which he said he had “no doubt whatsoever that this was done by the Russian secret service”.

“Having knowledge of this system I know that this order about such a killing of a citizen of another country on its territory, especially if it is something to do with Great Britain, could have been given only by one person,” Litvinenko had told the investigating officer, Robin Tam QC, counsel to the inquiry, told the court on Tuesday.

Asked who that person was, said Tam, Litvinenko said: “That person is the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. And of course, now while he is still president you won’t be able, because he is the president of a huge country crammed with nuclear chemical and bacteriological weapons.

“But I have no doubt whatsoever that as soon as the power changes in Russia, or when the first officer of the Russian secret services defects to the west … he will say that I have been poisoned by the Russian special services on Putin’s order.”

In another statement, Tam told the court, Litvinenko said he was “very upset that this criminal Putin sits at G8 as its chairman, at the same table as the [then] British prime minister, Tony Blair. Having sat this murderer next to themselves at the same table, western leaders have actually untied his hands to kill anyone, anywhere.”

Litvinenko died on 23 November 2006, 22 days after ingesting a fatal dose of the radioactive element polonium-210. “It is unusual,” Tam told the inquiry chair, Sir Robert Owen, “for a victim of murder, as Mr Litvinenko believed he might shortly be, to make a public statement about his own death.”

Litvinenko fled Russia in 2000 and was given political asylum in the UK; he became a British citizen a month before his death but remained a vocal critic of the Putin regime.

Reading from transcripts of his police interviews, Tam said the dead man told police: “Yes, they did try to kill me and possibly I will die. But I will die as a free person and my son and wife are free people.”

The court heard that Litvinenko told police he took his son Anatoly, then 12, to the Tower of London before he died, showed the boy the crown jewels and urged him to “defend this country in future until the last drop of your blood”.

The killing of Litvinenko gives rise to issues of the “utmost gravity” which have attracted “worldwide interest and concern”, Owen had earlier said. Opening the inquiry on Tuesday, more than eight years after the Russian dissident was murdered in London, he vowed to carry out “a full and independent inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Alexander Litvinenko”.

Owen has told previous hearings that he has seen evidence which amounts to a “prima facie case” that Litvinenko was murdered by the Russian state.

He would consider evidence relating to this allegation, he said, but confirmed that it would be heard in closed session because of security sensitivities.

The Crown Prosecution Service has sought to prosecute two Russian men, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, over Litvinenko’s murder, but Russia has refused their extradition. Litvinenko met with both men on the day of his poisoning in a London hotel. Both men deny involvement.

Owen said the two men would be invited to give evidence to the inquiry by video link.

The government originally refused Owen’s request for a public inquiry into the murder, admitting the decision was taken in part for fear of offending Russia. The dead man’s widow Marina Litvinenko challenged the decision in court and in February last year the high court ruled that Theresa May, the home secretary, should reconsider her decision.

The government announced in July that it would grant a public inquiry, under Owen, days after Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

The inquiry will hear evidence that Litvinenko had been ordered, as a senior officer in the FSB, to murder the Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky in 1997, Tam told the court on Tuesday. Litvinenko had disagreed with the order and warned Berezovsky of the plot, before protesting to the then head of the FSB, Vladimir Putin, in a meeting the following year, he said.

Litvinenko had spoken out publicly about corruption in the FSB in a press conference in 1998, after which he was subject to a number of attempted prosecutions.

Addressing Owen, Tam said: “You will need to consider whether Litvinenko’s sustained public attacks on the regime, on the FSB and on Mr Putin in particular, could have had any connection with his death.”

The inquiry is likely to hear evidence that the dead man was working for MI6 and for the Spanish security services at the time of his death, Tam told the court, though he said the British government had made clear that it would neither confirm nor deny the suggestion.

He said the chairman would need to consider whether this could have provided a motive for the killing, and would also be required to examine allegations that Berezovsky, a close friend and patron of Litvinenko in the years before his death, was behind the murder, as some have alleged.

Tam told the court that Litvinenko’s home had been firebombed in 2004, apparently by two Chechen men.

In addition, he said, the dead man’s friend, the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered in October 2006, after which Litvinenko had made a statement at the Frontline Club in London in which he blamed Putin.

“Is it possible that there is any connection between this public statement and Mr Litvinenko’s poisoning less than two weeks later?”

 34 
 on: Jan 27, 2015, 07:35 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

01/27/2015 01:21 PM

Source Code Similarities: Experts Unmask 'Regin' Trojan as NSA Tool

By Marcel Rosenbach, Hilmar Schmundt and Christian Stöcker

Just weeks ago, SPIEGEL published the source code of an NSA malware program known internally as QWERTY. Now, experts have found that it is none other than the notorious trojan Regin, used in dozens of cyber attacks around the world.

Earlier this month, SPIEGEL International published an article based on the trove of documents made available by whistleblower Edward Snowden describing the increasingly complex digital weapons being developed by intelligence services in the US and elsewhere. Concurrently, several documents were published as well as the source code of a sample malware program called QWERTY found in the Snowden archive.

For most readers, that source code was little more than 11 pages of impenetrable columns of seemingly random characters. But experts with the Russian IT security company Kaspersky compared the code with malware programs they have on file. What they found were clear similarities with an elaborate cyber-weapon that has been making international headlines since November of last year.

Last fall, Kaspersky and the US security company Symantec both reported for the first time the discovery of a cyber-weapon system which they christened "Regin". According to Kaspersky, the malware had already been in circulation for 10 years and had been deployed against targets in at least 14 countries, including Germany, Belgium and Brazil but also India and Indonesia.

Symantec spoke of a "highly complex" threat. Many of the targets were in the telecommunications sector, but others included energy companies and airlines. Both Symantec and Kaspersky did not shy away from superlatives when describing the malware program, calling it a "top-tier espionage tool" and the most dangerous cyber-weapon since Stuxnet, the notorious malware program used to attack the Iranian nuclear program.

"We are certain that we are looking at the keylogger-module from Regin," Costin Raiu, head of research for Kaspersky, said of the code published by SPIEGEL. A keylogger is a program that can record keys struck on a keyboard -- thus logging sensitive information such as passwords, email addresses and text documents -- and then send that information back to the malware programmer.

"Pursuant to our technical analysis, QWERTY is identical with the Regin plug-in 50251," Raiu says. In addition, the analysis revealed that Regin is apparently an attack platform that can be used by several different institutions in several different countries. Kaspersky published its findings in a blog post on Tuesday.

The new analysis provides clear proof that Regin is in fact the cyber-attack platform belonging to the Five Eyes alliance, which includes the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Neither Kaspersky nor Symantec commented directly on the likely creator of Regin. But there can be little room left for doubt regarding the malware's origin.

    The source code excerpt published by SPIEGEL comes straight from the Snowden archive.

    Regin was also apparently involved in the attack on the Belgian telecommunications firm Belgacom. And Belgacom, as SPIEGEL reported in the summer of 2013, was a target of the British intelligence agency GCHQ. Ronald Prins, head of the Dutch security company Fox IT, which analyzed the attack on Belgacom, told SPIEGEL ONLINE in the summer of 2011 that Regin appeared to be a tool belonging to the NSA and GCHQ.

There are also additional clues pointing to Regin being a Five Eyes tool:

    In the QWERTY code, there are numerous references to cricket, a sport that enjoys extreme popularity in the Commonwealth.

    There are many similarities with the cyber-weapons system that the intelligence agencies call "Warriorpride" in the Snowden documents.

    The targets thus far known are consistent with Five Eyes surveillance targets as outlined in the Snowden documents.

In the last several years, Regin has been exposed as the cyber-weapon behind a number of digital attacks:

    The attack on the partially state-owned company Belgacom, as mentioned above.

    A serious cyber-attack on the European Commission in 2011. The deputy head of Germany's Federal Office for Information Security, Andreas Könen, told SPIEGEL at the end of last December that, "we have reconstructed that; there are clear congruencies."

    The Austrian newspaper Der Standard, citing anonymous sources, reported last November that malware code from the Regin family had been found in the network of the International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna.

    Germany's Bild newspaper also reported a Regin infection in the computer of a member of the department for European affairs in Angela Merkel's Chancellery. According to the paper, the malware was found on the woman's private computer. The Federal Office for Information Security says that Regin has not yet been found on official German government computers.

It seems likely that more Regin discoveries will be made. Kaspersky alone, says Raiu, has found the malware in computers belonging to 27 international companies, governments and private persons.

 35 
 on: Jan 27, 2015, 06:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Alexander Litvinenko murder inquiry opens in high court

Public inquiry led by Sir Robert Owen expected to find Russia responsible for polonium poisoning of MI6 informant in London

Luke Harding   
The Guardian, Tuesday 27 January 2015   

A public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko opens in the high court on Tuesday, eight years after the former Russian intelligence officer and MI6 informant was murdered in London with deadly polonium.

Hearings will take place in court 73 over the next 10 weeks, and there is worldwide interest in the case. The inquiry’s chairman, Sir Robert Owen, is expected to indicate where responsibility for Livinenko’s death lies. Owen has stated there is a “prima facie” case against the Russian state and its operatives.

Litvinenko was poisoned on 1 November 2006, after meeting two Russian contacts, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, in the Millennium hotel in London. The pair allegedly slipped radioactive polonium-210 into Litvinenko’s green tea. Litvinenko died in a London hospital 22 days later, after blaming Vladimir Putin for his Cold War-style assassination.

The Crown Prosecution Service has charged Lugovoi and Kovtun with Litvinenko’s murder. Putin, however, has refused to allow them to be extradited from Moscow. In 2007 Britain expelled four Russian diplomats in protest, with Russia following suit. Neither of the two suspects will take part in the inquiry. They say they are innocent.

Litvinenko’s widow Marina and son Anatoly – aged 12 at the time of his father’s death and now 20 – are expected to attend. The inquiry will hear for the first time from the Metropolitan police, whose officers interviewed Litvinenko in the intensive care ward of University College hospital, London, shortly before his death.

The Met is also likely to make public compelling forensic evidence showing a trail of polonium left by Lugovoi and Kovtun in their hotel, and in numerous other locations around London. Detective inspector Craig Mascall will give evidence on Wednesday, followed by two forensic pathologists, Dr Nathaniel Carey and Dr Benjamin Swift.

Some of the witnesses will give evidence anonymously in a closed court – including one expert identified only as “scientist A1”. Owen, a former judge, will not examine Litvinenko’s clandestine role with British intelligence. At the time of his death, Litvinenko was on MI6’s payroll and was also working as an informer for the Spanish security services.

Hundreds of journalists are expected to following the inquiry, with proceedings broadcast to an overflow room, with a five-minute delay for security reasons. Owen has forbidden tweeting in the main court. In 2013 an inquest into Litvinenko’s death effectively collapsed after the government refused to release secret files that apparently incriminated the Kremlin.

Marina Litvinenko appealed and the home secretary Theresa May agreed to an inquiry last summer, days after the shooting down of a civilian airliner, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, over eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian rebels. May had previously ruled out an inquiry on the grounds it might damage the UK’s relations with Moscow.

*************

Alexander Litvinenko told Met police Putin ordered his murder, inquiry told

Public inquiry into his death told that Russian dissident said he had no doubt whatsoever it was done by the Russian secret service

Esther Addley   
he Guardian, Tuesday 27 January 2015 10.45 GMT   

Alexander Litvinenko accused Vladimir Putin of personally ordering his murder in deathbed interviews with the Metropolitan police in the days before he died, the public inquiry into his killing has heard.

On the opening day of the inquiry into the Russian’s murder in 2006, the court was told that the dead man spoke to officers from his hospital bed, after being poisoned by radioactive polonium, in which he said he had “no doubt whatsoever that this was done by the Russian secret service”.

“Having knowledge of this system I know that this order about such a killing of a citizen of another country on its territory, especially if it is something to do with Great Britain, could have been given only by one person,” Litvinenko had told the investigating officer, Robin Tam QC, counsel to the inquiry, told the court on Tuesday.

Asked who that person was, said Tam, Litvinenko said: “That person is the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. And of course, now while he is still president you won’t be able, because he is the president of a huge country crammed with nuclear chemical and bacteriological weapons.

“But I have no doubt whatsoever that as soon as the power changes in Russia, or when the first officer of the Russian secret services defects to the west … he will say that I have been poisoned by the Russian special services on Putin’s order.”

In another statement, Tam told the court, Litvinenko said he was “very upset that this criminal Putin sits at G8 as its chairman, at the same table as the [then] British prime minister, Tony Blair. Having sat this murderer next to themselves at the same table, western leaders have actually untied his hands to kill anyone, anywhere.”

Litvinenko died on 23 November 2006, 22 days after ingesting a fatal dose of the radioactive element polonium-210. “It is unusual,” Tam told the inquiry chair, Sir Robert Owen, “for a victim of murder, as Mr Litvinenko believed he might shortly be, to make a public statement about his own death.”

Litvinenko fled Russia in 2000 and was given political asylum in the UK; he became a British citizen a month before his death but remained a vocal critic of the Putin regime.

Reading from transcripts of his police interviews, Tam said the dead man told police: “Yes, they did try to kill me and possibly I will die. But I will die as a free person and my son and wife are free people.”

The court heard that Litvinenko told police he took his son Anatoly, then 12, to the Tower of London before he died, showed the boy the crown jewels and urged him to “defend this country in future until the last drop of your blood”.

The killing of Litvinenko gives rise to issues of the “utmost gravity” which have attracted “worldwide interest and concern”, Owen had earlier said. Opening the inquiry on Tuesday, more than eight years after the Russian dissident was murdered in London, he vowed to carry out “a full and independent inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Alexander Litvinenko”.

Owen has told previous hearings that he has seen evidence which amounts to a “prima facie case” that Litvinenko was murdered by the Russian state.

He would consider evidence relating to this allegation, he said, but confirmed that it would be heard in closed session because of security sensitivities.

The Crown Prosecution Service has sought to prosecute two Russian men, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, over Litvinenko’s murder, but Russia has refused their extradition. Litvinenko met with both men on the day of his poisoning in a London hotel. Both men deny involvement.

Owen said the two men would be invited to give evidence to the inquiry by video link.

The government originally refused Owen’s request for a public inquiry into the murder, admitting the decision was taken in part for fear of offending Russia. The dead man’s widow Marina Litvinenko challenged the decision in court and in February last year the high court ruled that Theresa May, the home secretary, should reconsider her decision.

The government announced in July that it would grant a public inquiry, under Owen, days after Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

The inquiry will hear evidence that Litvinenko had been ordered, as a senior officer in the FSB, to murder the Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky in 1997, Tam told the court on Tuesday. Litvinenko had disagreed with the order and warned Berezovsky of the plot, before protesting to the then head of the FSB, Vladimir Putin, in a meeting the following year, he said.

Litvinenko had spoken out publicly about corruption in the FSB in a press conference in 1998, after which he was subject to a number of attempted prosecutions.

Addressing Owen, Tam said: “You will need to consider whether Litvinenko’s sustained public attacks on the regime, on the FSB and on Mr Putin in particular, could have had any connection with his death.”

The inquiry is likely to hear evidence that the dead man was working for MI6 and for the Spanish security services at the time of his death, Tam told the court, though he said the British government had made clear that it would neither confirm nor deny the suggestion.

He said the chairman would need to consider whether this could have provided a motive for the killing, and would also be required to examine allegations that Berezovsky, a close friend and patron of Litvinenko in the years before his death, was behind the murder, as some have alleged.

Tam told the court that Litvinenko’s home had been firebombed in 2004, apparently by two Chechen men.

In addition, he said, the dead man’s friend, the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered in October 2006, after which Litvinenko had made a statement at the Frontline Club in London in which he blamed Putin.

“Is it possible that there is any connection between this public statement and Mr Litvinenko’s poisoning less than two weeks later?”

 36 
 on: Jan 27, 2015, 06:53 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

New Greek PM Alexis Tsipras appoints radical economist to new government

Greece set to clash with EU as economics post goes to radical who described austerity measures as ‘fiscal waterboarding’

Jon Henley in Athens
The Guardian, Tuesday 27 January 2015 10.09 GMT   
   
Greece’s new leftist prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, is set to announce his anti-bailout government, with the post of economics minister – chief negotiator with the country’s international creditors – going to a radical economist who has described austerity programmes as “fiscal waterboarding”.

With Greece set on a collision course with Europe over the Syriza-led government’s plans to reverse draconian belt-tightening and renegotiate the country’s massive debts, Yanis Varoufakis, who calls himself an “accidental economist”, confirmed in a radio interview that he would take up the key position.

The new Greek government, the first in Europe to openly oppose the draconian bailout conditions demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund, is expected to be unveiled and sworn in on Tuesday afternoon.

“This is happening today, we shall be sworn in later today,” Varoufakis told Irish radio station Newstalk, when asked if he would be finance minister.

One of his top priorities will be to deliver on Tsipras’s election pledge to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s €240bn bailout deal, despite widespread and sometimes forceful opposition from other European countries, led by Germany.

Varoufakis, 53, studied in Britain and has also taught in Australia, Greece and the US. In pre-election interviews he promised to end what he described as Greece’s humanitarian crisis, slice a chunk off its €320bn debt mountain, and destroy the country’s oligarchs who “viciously suck the energy and the economic power from everybody else”.

A prolific blogger and media commentator who dresses in brightly coloured shirts and jeans, Varoufakis – who has dual Greek and Australian nationality – abandoned a job at the University of Texas to join Tsipras’s team in the election runup, and celebrated Sunday’s result by paraphrasing Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, saying: “Greek democracy today chose to stop going gently into the night. Greek democracy resolved to rage against the dying of the light.”

Syriza failed by just two seats to win an outright majority in Greece’s 300-seat parliament and on Monday formed a coalition government with the small rightwing Independent Greeks (Anel) party.

Analysts have described it as an unnatural alliance and warned it might not survive long, pointing out that ANEL - best-known for vitriolic attacks on Germany and the Troika and for the occasional unashamedly antisemitic, racist and homophobic outbursts of its populist leader, Panos Kammenos – are unpredictable and that the two parties, while they agree on the need to end austerity, hold directly opposing views on many key social issues including immigration.

While the IMF said it was ready to continue supporting Greece and looked forward to discussions with the new government, the head of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned that a reduction in the country’s debt was “not on the radar”. The EU issued a stiff statement that Greece would risk its place in the eurozone if it fails to meet its austerity and debt commitments.

Syriza has promised to reverse many of the huge public-sector spending cuts and wage and pension reductions implemented by the previous centre-right government, but several eurozone countries made clear they thought its plans were unrealistic.

“In our view it is important for the new government to take action to foster Greece’s continued economic recovery,” Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for the German chancellor, Angela Merkel’, said. “That also means Greece sticking to its previous commitments.”

The British prime minister, David Cameron, was more conciliatory on Monday night, congratulating Tsipras and welcoming his “intention to tackle corruption and increase tax transparency across Greece”.

But the UK chancellor, George Osborne, said Syriza’s promises to voters appeared “very difficult to deliver” and “incompatible with what the eurozone currently demands”, warning that any resulting uncertainty would have an impact on Britain.

Varoufakis has long criticised Europe’s handling of the economic crisis, attacking the conservative economic orthodoxy that demands budget rigour and market-friendly structural reforms.

That approach amounted to “a cynical transfer of banking losses on to the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers”, he said on his blog earlier this month. He has also likened the tough terms of bailout deals to “fiscal waterboarding” that risked converting southern Europe into “a form of Victorian workhouse”.

***********

Profile: Greece’s new finance minister Yanis Varoufakis

The self-proclaimed ‘accidental economist’ is expected to adopt a constructive approach to tough debt negotiations

Phillip Inman and Katie Allen   
The Guardian, Monday 26 January 2015 19.08 GMT   

Yanis Varoufakis, 53, is known for his running commentary on the financial crisis in a series of blogposts that have won him thousands of Twitter followers and the respect of Syriza’s leadership.

John Maynard Keynes with a hint of Karl Marx is how one analyst described the self-proclaimed “accidental economist” who is now to become Greece’s finance minister and a key negotiator with its international creditors.

With a typically literary flourish, he celebrated his party’s victory by paraphrasing Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

“Greek democracy today chose to stop going gently into the night. Greek democracy resolved to rage against the dying of the light,” the Greek-Australian wrote on his blog.

One of the first two ministers to be confirmed by prime minister Alexis Tsipras, Varoufakis studied at Essex University and has taught in Australia, Greece and the United States. In pre-election interviews he vowed to destroy Greek oligarchs, end what he called the humanitarian crisis in Greece and renegotiate the country’s debt mountain.

“We are going to destroy the basis upon which they have built for decade after decade a system, a network that viciously sucks the energy and the economic power from everybody else in society,” he told Britain’s Channel 4 television.

But the muted market reaction to Syriza’s decisive win was at least in part because investors expect the thoughtful powerbroker to adopt a more emollient style ahead of tough negotiations.

Writing before the election, Paolo Pizzoli, senior economist at ING Financial Markets in Milan, highlighted the economics professor’s “constructive attitude” after he talked about the need to “minimise conflict and maximise the chances of a mutually beneficial agreement”.

“We believe that, if in power, Syriza could prove more pragmatic than many anticipated,” said Pizzoli.

***********

Post-election relief in Athens: ‘This is the new face of democracy in Europe’

Mood of optimism on streets of Greek capital a day after election that brought anti-austerity Syriza to power

Jon Henley in Athens
The Guardian, Monday 26 January 2015 18.05 GMT   

In the first three years of Greece’s agony, the wide expanse of Syntagma Square in front of the old Royal Palace – home of the present-day parliament – was a scene of savage clashes between riot police and incensed anti-austerity protesters.

On Monday, the day after elections won in spectacular fashion by a party pledged to burying austerity for good by writing off chunks of the country’s debt and ripping up the draconian terms of its eurozone bailout deal, the mood was one of long-awaited relief.

“This is a necessary change for Greece,” declared Panos Grigoriou, a mild-mannered law professor on his way back to work after lunch. “There is still some uncertainty for the future, but just look around you – you can almost feel the hope coming back.”

While he saw “sizeable differences” between the radical leftists of Syriza and the party with which they have formed a government, the centre-right Independent Greeks, Grigoriou – who like all university department heads in Greece has seen his budget slashed by 70% since 2009 – felt that when it came to talking to the EU, Syriza’s hand might even be strengthened by the alliance. “It will show them the breadth of feeling there is in Greece,” he said.

Maria Papadopoulos, who opened a small shop selling agricultural supplies when her husband was made redundant after 24 years in a big Greek distribution company, said she was “just immensely relieved. And much more optimistic.”

The coalition partnership may not be ideal, she said, but “we were just so tired, so terribly tired, after all these years. Our life has so little quality. Almost none, really. This winter, I could not afford heating in my home. So if it is for the better, I can accept it. I trust Tsipras.”

Another academic on his way back to the university, Joseph ben Bassat, said it was a shame that Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras – who at 40 will be Greece’s youngest prime minister of recent times – had had to seek a coalition partner at all.

“But it’s really not a big issue – the balance of power will be so one-sided,” he said. (Syriza won 149 seats in Greece’s 300-seat parliament, and Independent Greeks 13.) “They may get some minor ministry. But all the major portfolios, all the big decisions, will be in Syriza’s hands. I’m not worried.”

Bassat said Syriza represented “a new generation – the unemployed generation – and a new start for Greece, and I hope for Europe. The social revolution started last night, and it will spread: Spain, Portugal, Italy. The rich countries are right to be worried. This is the new face of democracy in Europe.”

Leonidis Koudydis had not voted for Syriza. “I voted conservative; they were starting to get somewhere,” he said. But even he was happy: “Syriza is a good thing. I had had enough, too, of the fear. We are a mature country, we’ll give Alexis a chance, and we want to believe he’ll pull it off. He’s smart enough to manage even an awkward coalition.”

Up on the rarefied and leafy heights of Kolonaki, home to some of central Athens’ most expensive shops and their exceedingly well-heeled clientele, it was hard to find anyone really upset by Syriza’s victory – or worried by Tsipras’s warning that the vote was “a defeat for the oligarchs and elites”.

“What is there to be worried about, really?” asked Thanassis Katsoulis, a former factory owner who sold most of his stake a few years ago and now divides his time between the even plusher Athens suburb of Kifissia and his holiday place on Poros.

“Tsipras won’t take Greece out of the euro, because the majority of Greeks don’t want that. And he won’t go after the oligarchs either, because there aren’t the mechanisms for that in Greece and I don’t think there ever will be. It will take more than one man and a few of his friends to change the Greek mentality. So I think things will be OK. Political change was necessary, but nothing much will happen.”

Vassiliki Karamerou, a shop assistant in a fashion boutique, was struck by “how relaxed everyone is here today. Before the elections, a lot of people round here were terrified, you know? But today I’m hearing a lot of good things. They feel happy, finally, to try something really different.”

Father and daughter Nikos and Angelika Zerva, architect and student of architecture (and neither Syriza voters), admitted to some uncertainty as to what Tsipras’s intentions might be.

“If he does come after the rich, it will not be good news for us,” said Angelika. “The rich, the people at the very top, are untouchable in Greece. It will be the middle classes like us who will get hit, and we have suffered like everyone else.”

Only Mariana Iannou, who owns a small company selling leather accessories, said she was disappointed with the outcome. “It’s worse than bad, it’s crazy,” she said “Why? Because people voted for Tsipras, but they can’t really expect him to do what he says he will because he can’t.”

Syriza voters “probably expect Tsipras to get them more money”, she said. “But the only place he can get that is from Europe, which he’s not going to do – or at least he says he won’t. Plus, if he does try to take more money away from the rich then everyone will be the same – and then who will invest in this country? No one, that’s who. The man is a fraud and his voters are deluded. That’s my opinion. It’s hopeless.”

************

Greece’s new anti-austerity government set on collision course with Brussels

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras heads coalition of left and right parties with mandate to take on country’s paymasters

Helena Smith in Athens, Julian Borger in Brussels and Katie Allen in London
The Guardian, Monday 26 January 2015 19.06 GMT   

Greek radicals sought on Monday to redraw the political map of Europe, forming a coalition government of left and right, united only by their desire to defy the European financial establishment and shrug off the constraints of austerity.

The coalition, led by 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras, was expected to dispatch its new finance minister to Brussels in the next few days to seek a fundamental renegotiation of Greece’s economic bailout package, vowing that “the end of humiliation has come”. Tsipras and his Syriza party have promised to replace the austerity programmes imposed by Greece’s international creditors with policies aimed at helping the third of the population now living in poverty.

Finance ministers from the eurozone, meeting at EU headquarters, responded cautiously, acknowledging the new political realities in Greece and offering to negotiate, while ruling out the straight debt write-off Tsipras is demanding.

A spokesman for the German government, which would have to approve and largely finance any new debt relief, said its position was unchanged by the Greek election.

The future of the eurozone will be at stake in the tough negotiations to come.
Phoebe Greenwood reports from Athens on the morning after the night before

The radical backlash to austerity embodied by Syriza’s electoral triumph immediately showed signs of spreading on Monday. Spain is due to hold elections later this year, and the country’s counterpart to Syriza, Podemos, is surging in opinion polls. Its leader, Pablo Iglesias, told an ebullient rally in Valencia: “Hope is coming, fear is fleeing. Syriza, Podemos, we will win.”

The inauguration of Tsipras, the youngest prime minister in Greek history, was laden with the symbolism of change. He broke with tradition by taking a civil oath of office rather than a religious vow before the nation’s spiritual leader, Archbishop Ieronymos. Tsipras appeared in an open-necked shirt, having vowed not to wear a tie until he has negotiated Greece a new deal in Europe.

His first act as prime minister was to lay roses at a memorial to 200 Greek communists executed by the Nazis in May 1944. Analysts said the gesture left little room for interpretation: for a nation so humiliated after five years of wrenching austerity-driven recession, it was aimed, squarely, at signalling that it was now ready to stand up to Europe’s paymaster, Germany.

Syriza’s margin of victory went far beyond expectations, winning 36% of the vote but falling just two seats short of an overall majority in parliament. After a brief round of consultations, Tsipras turned the political order upside down by partnering with the rightwing party Independent Greeks (known by its Greek acronym Anel), notable for its xenophobia, antisemitism and homophobia, which won just under 5% of the vote.

Anel’s leader, Panos Kammenos, singled out Jews for not paying taxes. He has also loudly drawn a historical parallel between austerity and wartime occupation that Tsipras left unspoken with Monday’s visit to the war memorial. Kammenos has described Europe as being governed by “German neo-Nazis”.
Podemos party secretary general Pablo Iglesias, who suggested Syriza victory could be repeated in Spain.

Tsipras’s choice of coalition partners came as an unpleasant surprise to the eurozone’s finance ministers gathering under wet, leaden skies in Brussels. One after the other, they insisted the new Greek coalition would face the same rules and conditions as its predecessors.

The German government, in particular, emphasised continuity. The finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, said the new government would have to abide by the bailout agreements Greece had signed.

But the finance ministers also made clear there was room for negotiation. Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economics and finance, said the EU recognised “the clarity and legitimacy of the new Greek government” and claimed: “We all want a Greece that stays on its feet, creating jobs and growth, reducing inequality, and a Greece that repays its debt.”

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch president of the eurogroup, said there was no political support for a write-off of Greek debt but added that “if necessary” the eurogroup could have another look at the sustainability of Greece’s debt, after the completion of a review of the country’s current financial situation.

Dijsselbloem said he had had a 15-minute phone conversation with the new Greek finance minister, who he did not name but who had been widely expected to be a Syriza economist, Yanis Varoufakis.

Dijsselbloem said he had expressed willingness to work together with the coalition, adding that the new Greek minister had been “very adamant” his country would stay in the eurozone. Although no details were discussed in the initial conversation, the Dutch eurogroup leader said it had been a good start.

“What I will not do is negotiate through the press and I hope they will not either,” Dijsselbloem said. “The problems in the Greek economy have not been solved overnight with this election. They are still there.”

Speaking in Athens, Varoufakis sought to downplay concerns triggered by the party’s choice of coalition partners that the new government would take an overly aggressive stance in negotiations.

Varoufakis said the government would seek to persuade its eurozone partners to allow the country to reduce its debt burden by linking repayments to growth. He also dismissed suggestions that Syriza would threaten a “Grexit”, a Greek departure from the eurozone. “We, who happen to be in the eurozone, must be very careful not to toy with loose and fast talk about Grexit or fragmentation,” he told BBC radio.

“Grexit is not on the cards; we are not going to Brussels and to Frankfurt and to Berlin in confrontational style. There is plenty of room for mutual gains and benefits.”

Market reaction to the election result was muted. Syriza’s decisive victory initially caused the euro, already under pressure from the European Central Bank’s latest stimulus package, fall to an 11-year low against the dollar. But it recovered during later trading and, by the time Tsipras was sworn, in the euro was up on the day against the dollar at about $1.124.

“The Greek election results were no surprise and were largely priced into markets,” said Jasper Lawler, market analyst at the broker CMC Markets UK.

“The true impact of the victory of Syriza will be hard to ascertain until there is more news on the renegotiation of the bailout terms between Greece and the troika.”

Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst at Eurasia Group political risk consultants, said that with his partnership with Anel rather than the moderate party Potami (the River), Tsipras was “signalling he is prioritising internal over external constraints. He has formed a coalition he can sell to the hard left in Syriza even if it makes it tougher to negotiate a new deal on Greek debt.”

Rahman argued the room for manoeuvre for the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had narrowed as a result of last week’s quantitative easing decision by Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, pumping more than €1tn into financial markets.

That decision was taken despite opposition from Merkel and German institutions, who saw it as a financial bailout to free-spending eurozone governments. “Quantitative easing is a big problem for Merkel, as it has mobilised constituencies which opposed it in a vocal way,” Rahman said. As a result, the room for negotiation has narrowed from both sides.

“The probability of Greek exit from the eurozone has to increase,” he concluded, but he still believes it is more likely that an 11th-hour compromise can be found in the remaining months before Greece has to be repay a nearly €7bn loan to the European Central Bank in June. That is the really hard deadline that the negotiators are facing.

*********

Greece: Syriza juggles coal, pipelines and climate ambitions

Syriza may be eco-friendly on renewables, energy efficiency and decentralised energy production but it faces internal tensions over plans for new coal plants and, potentially, the world biggest gas pipeline

Arthur Neslen in Brussels
Monday 26 January 2015 17.45 GMT
TheGuardian
   
Syriza’s election victory has kindled hopes of an environmental champion pushing for greater climate ambition on the European stage, but the party will need to balance its green credentials with a commitment to new coal plants, and ambivalence about a major gas pipeline.

Syriza is in an alliance with a faction of the Greek Green party, which will have at least one MP in the new government, and it is seen by many as a tribune of European social movements, particularly environmental ones.

Elements of Syriza’s domestic agenda will delight environmentalists. The party believes in small-scale diversified renewables production, coordinated with local people through community-level decision making. It also plans a big expansion of energy efficient building renovations – seen as the most cost-effective means of simultaneously cutting emissions – and fuel poverty.

“Alexis Tsipras embodies the hope for a change of direction in the European council,” said the Green party’s co-presidents Rebecca Harms and Philippe Lambert, welcoming the election result. “The Greens/EFA group in the European parliament will do everything it can to support good cooperation between the EU institutions and the new government in Athens. Syriza’s failure would benefit only the extreme right.”

This last point is no doubt true. But Syriza is torn between an economy that has contracted at a scale and speed not seen since the 1930s and a sizeable chunk of its party that is eager for growth now, at any cost. The government will need to quickly reframe the debate about ‘sustainable growth’ or lower green expectations, or both.

Syriza also plans to build new coal lignite plants – albeit, as cleanly as possible. “To build one new lignite plant but replace two others which are of older technology and emit more pollution, could be seen in technical terms as an improvement,” Harris Konstantatos, a member of Syriza’s central committee, told the Guardian, from Athens.

But coal is also the most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels, and environmentalists argue that ‘clean coal’ techniques simply displace pollutants from one waste stream, such as fly ash, to another, such as water outflow.

Due to an increase in heating oil and electricity prices, many Greek households have been forced to find alternative ways of heating their homes. A popular option in Thessaloniki is wood fires, which produce lots of smoke, which is a health risk, 24 January 2014. The combination of unfavorable weather conditions and the large number of people burning wood to stay warm because it is the cheapest, or only form of heating they have, has created severe air pollution in Athens, Thessaloniki and other major cities.

Syriza’s commitment to growth itself would be challenged by many European Greens, but Konstantatos said that ‘degrowth’ ideas would be viewed as “absurd” in the austerity-wracked Greece of today. Leading party thinkers see the ‘keep fossil fuels in the ground’ idea as equally inappropriate – when even Germany continues to burn coal.

“If we face fiscal difficulties from abroad in the medium term, then to burn more lignite instead of importing energy will seem a wise thing to do,” a Syriza source said. “If we don’t have money to import petrol then we will burn lignite which is free – not of a carbon footprint – but relatively cheaper. One way or another Greek lignite will be exploited.”

Syriza is also keeping cards close to its chest on the issue of an east Mediterranean gas pipeline to alleviate Europe’s energy security concerns, with gas from Cyprus and Israel.

The Guardian understands that informal – though not yet face-to-face – negotiations have taken place between Syriza and the EU over what could be the largest pipeline project in the world, and among its most politically fraught.

“It’s a big and complicated issue, requiring strategic choices in accordance with how relations between Greece and the EU develop,” a source said. “Unfortunately, the issues of energy corridors and energy security in general are seen through the lens of geopolitics, rather than ecology. It is safe to say that the national pipelines are part of larger renegotiation of Greece’s position in Europe’s architecture.”

An announcement may be made when the new government’s programme is outlined in parliament. The issue highlights the tightrope Syriza is walking between the radical intent of large parts of its membership and the compromises that may be foisted on it, if it is to deliver on its manifesto.

As its own positions make clear, “We are an eco-friendly party and protection of the environment is at the top of our agenda,” the Syriza MEP Kostas Chrysogonos told the Guardian. “We humans are part of mother nature and not its rightful owners. We should behave accordingly.”

The party was pledged to end a planned gold mine in Halkidiki, which would devastate the local environment, he added.

Syriza is suspicious of market-based mechanisms like the EU’s emissions trading system, which it sees as a way of distributing public subsidies to wealthy polluters, while doing little to tackle emissions. It publicly strives for a third way of economic development.

“We cannot and must not reproduce the well-known business-as-usual developmental models because we missed the rest of Europe’s industrial development train a century ago,” said Konstantatos. “It is rational for Greece to go green.”

“Smart micro-grids can make much more efficient use of renewables to cater for islands that are not connected with continental grid, or make changes at the regional level,” he added. “You don’t need to reproduce the carbon model, with centralised plant that distribute everywhere. We must not reproduce this.”

Here too though, Syriza will face some local opposition to wind turbines, fed by community resentment at wind farms centrally-licensed by the previous government with little regional planning, that enriched big industrialists.

Both reds and greens in Syriza share a belief in economies based on human needs and wellbeing, rather than consumerist wants. But it may take time for the fledgling government to resolve the tensions between these, and align them with a daunting reconstruction programme. It remains to be seen whether that time will be forthcoming.

 

 37 
 on: Jan 27, 2015, 06:44 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/26/2015 04:22 PM

Free Trade Faults: Europeans Fear Wave of Litigation from US Firms

By Christoph Pauly

With broad public resistance and a European Parliament majority against it, EU officials are rethinking their positions on the proposed free-trade agreement with Washington. Many fear investor protection rules will wreak havoc on national laws.

When Bernd Lange talks about the advantages of a free trade agreement with the US, he often cites the example of the VW bus. The hippy favorite has been the target of a 25 percent tariff since 1964, a punitive move after the European Economic Community raised levies on imported chicken, shutting the Americans out of the market. Sales have been hampered for decades as a result. But if the levy were significantly reduced, its price tag would plunge.

Lange is a classic car enthusiast -- and the chair of the European Parliament Committee on International Trade, which focuses on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaty. But despite the possible benefits for Volkswagen, the Social Democrat has had little choice but to emphasize the negative aspects of TTIP during his public appearances. In Europe's leading exporting nation, broad swathes of the population are opposed to the free trade agreement. You can even find anti-TTIP flyers in many churches.

The main sticking point is special rights given to investors, who would be able to challenge countries in special international dispute settlement panels that bypass national courts. It's a pill that even those who believe in the deal are having difficulty swallowing. Some 145,000 European citizens voiced their disapproval in a "public consultation" undertaken by the European Commission, with many expressing fear that US companies might seek to overturn EU laws on genetic engineering, environmental protection and food quality.

"This is indeed a very toxic issue," European Commissioner Cecelia Malmström, who is leading negotiations with the Americans, admitted last fall. But rather than addressing the widespread criticism, it instead appears she is playing for time.

It's also possible that Malmström is merely trying to give US president Barack Obama a helping hand given that he's still battling to get Congress to grant him permission to strike a deal with the Europeans. If it doesn't, "TTIP will be dead for a long time to come," say insiders like Lange.

Now Malmström is frantically seeking out a new position. Resistance to the treaty is not only growing in the member states, but a majority in the European Parliament also opposes the agreement. Parliamentarians made clear back in 2011 that they would not accept any provisions allowing anonymous arbitration panels with the ability to overturn national law. "It's time for the Commission to abandon the position it has charted thus far and set a new course," Lange says.

Concerns Justified

Canadian experiences suggest that the Europeans' collective fears are warranted. During negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Americans prevailed in pushing through wide-ranging investor rights, going far beyond what had previously been standard in older US trade agreements, including the one it has with Germany.

Now litigious US companies are bullying the Canadian government. In one instance, it was about the right to shoot 360 caribou on a Canadian nature preserve. In another, it was about the large-scale extraction of tar sands that had been limited in one Canadian province due to environmental protection considerations.

In 2011, the government of the province of Québec decided to impose a moratorium on drilling for gas and oil under the St. Lawrence River. Canadians have generally been quite open to new fracking technologies, but not when it came to deploying them underneath such an important waterway.

In response, Lone Pine Resources, an American firm, sued for $245 million in damages at an international arbitration court. The company claimed that the decision by the Quebec government to cancel a natural-gas exploration permit for its Canadian subsidiary had been "arbitrary, capricious and illegal." In its arbitration suit, the company said the decision had been made "without a penny of compensation." As in all the other cases, Lone Pine Resources explicitly invoked NAFTA's Chapter 11 investor protections.

The arbitration court still hasn't reached a decision in the case. And investors don't always prevail in arbitration proceedings. But there is a tendency on the part of judges to give a high priority to companies' rights.

'Countries Practically Kneel Down Before Us'

Giving business interests a priority is practically "inherent to the system," says Gus van Harten, a professor of international law in Toronto. Van Harten has spent years researching arbitration court rulings and says he finds the entire proceedings to be dubious. The changes they have forced, he adds, have been historic in scale. "The countries practically kneel down before us," one attorney at a law firm specializing in arbitration once said, van Harten claims.

In most cases, arbitration courts meet in secret and their rulings often aren't even published. The panels seldom include more than three judges. Some warn this could mean that important political decisions in the future are made by a handful of powerful lawyers.

Investor protection lawsuits are becoming increasingly popular among companies in the energy and natural resources sectors. The US firm Windstream Energy, for example, wanted to erect 100 giant offshore turbines on Lake Ontario. A contract had been signed in the deal, but it duly noted that not all of the relevant government permits had yet been issued. Nonetheless, the company sued for $465 million in damages when the provincial government expressed its intention to undertake an additional review on the project's impact on the lake.

As in other arbitration cases, the lawsuit Windstream lodged against the Canadian government claimed that officials (in this instance in the province of Ontario) had acted in ways that were "arbitrary, irrational and discriminatory." The administration had to hire expensive lawyers to defend itself. Van Harten says he has observed a shift in Canadian politics as a result of the treaty and that legislators are now acting more hesitantly, out of fear of litigation.

Ever since these clauses started becoming commonplace in trade treaties, companies like Exxon and Dow Chemical have invoked investor protection measures in close to 600 different cases. Germany has also been forced to defend itself in private courts. Currently, Swedish energy giant Vattenfall is suing Berlin for damages relating to the forced closure of its nuclear power plants as part of Berlin's Energiewende plan to shift from atomic to renewable energies. The plan entails the closure of all of the country's nuclear power plants by 2022 and for renewable energies to comprise 60 percent of Germany's energy mix by 2060.

Still, backers of TTIP are keen to point out that Germany hasn't been hit by very many of these suits, despite having signed well over a hundred trade deals. What they don't mention, however, is that, Germany doesn't have any comprehensive investor protection provisions in the trade deals it currently has on the books with the United States. If TTIP were to go into effect as envisioned, it is likely that Germany would face an increase in the number of legal challenges similar to that experienced in Canada. "I see potential for many new cases," says van Harten.

'Law of the Strongest'

So far, companies have largely focused their sights on developing nations, which are forced to accept these kinds of provisions just to be granted the right to export to rich countries. "Investor protection is traditionally a law of the strongest," says Natacha Cingotti of the non-governmental organization Friends of the Earth. In Central America, the mere threat of expensive proceedings by the Americans has often been enough for them to get what they want.

That's not always the case though. Six years ago, the Australians prevailed in removing provisions for investor protection in a trade agreement reached with the US. Now TTIP opponents in the European Parliament argue that Brussels must take its cue in negotiations from the Australian government's success. "ACTA showed that things can move very quickly," says Ska Keller, the Green Party's trade policy spokeswoman. Two years ago, a few mass protests proved sufficient to doom the anti-counterfeiting deal in European Parliament.

Critics of TTIP are united in their opposition to special rights for investors. A handful of Democratic members of Congress has even called on Obama to exclude the controversial rules from negotiations. Their calls are backed by Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO union.

German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel has proposed the creation of an International Trade Court to arbitrate conflicts as an alternative. Even EU Commissioner Malmström says "that would be the best solution." But, she adds, it is unlikely this will happen given that the idea has been discussed for years within framework of multi-national trade talks without bearing any fruit.

Nevertheless, perhaps the US and Europe could agree on a common public court for their conflicts. Doing so would not only create a new global standard for trade conflicts. It might also make people less averse to the idea of investor protections.

 38 
 on: Jan 27, 2015, 06:42 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Daily Telegraph's holocaust article in 1942 that went unheralded

Newspaper tells tragic story behind its original report of the mass murder of Jews
Warsaw ghetto

Roy Greenslade
Tuesday 27 January 2015 10.57 GMT   

The Daily Telegraph tells a fascinating story today behind one of its greatest unheralded scoops from the past that should have set the news agenda but, sadly, did not.

On this, Holocaust Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Telegraph’s David Blair reveals how it obtained the story it published on 25 June 1942, headlined “Germans murder 700,000 Jews in Poland”. He writes:

    “The story was remarkably detailed and accurate, yet the credit belongs neither to this newspaper nor the anonymous ‘Daily Telegraph reporter’ who was the author.

    All the facts were supplied by Szmul Zygielbojm, a member of the Polish government in exile who made it his mission to inform the world about the holocaust.

    After arriving in London in 1942, Zygielbojm used a clandestine network of contacts across occupied Poland to gather eyewitness accounts of the fate of Jews. The particular information in the Daily Telegraph’s story was smuggled to London on microfilm hidden inside a key”.

The newspaper reported that mobile gas chambers were being used for industrialised murder and that “an average 1,000 Jews were gassed daily”.

Telegraph The story as published by the Daily Telegraph on 25 June 1942: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/11370972/Holocaust-Memorial-Day-Telegraph-revealed-Nazi-gas-chambers-three-years-before-liberation-of-Auschwitz.html

The article, reproduced on the Telegraph’s website, also lists the death toll from massacres in seven towns and cities. Here are two paragraphs:

    “Children in orphanages, pensioners in almshouses and the sick in hospitals have been shot. In many places Jews were deported to ‘unknown destinations’ and killed in neighbouring woods.

    In Vilna 50,000 Jews were murdered in November. The total number slaughtered in this district and around Lithuanian Kovno is 300,000”.

Yet the article, which referred to “the greatest massacre in the world’s history”, was published on the fifth page of a six-page issue. And it got no traction elsewhere.

Blair reports that when the Telegraph’s story appeared, Zygielbojm’s wife, Manya, and their son, Tuvia, were prisoners in the Warsaw ghetto. Both died during the razing of the ghetto in 1943.

As for Zygielbojm, he was dismayed at the public indifference to his detailed and chilling revelation of mass murder. And, crushed also by his family’s fate, he took his own life on 11 May 1943. He wrote:

    “The responsibility for the crime of the murder of the whole Jewish nationality in Poland rests first of all on those who are carrying it out.

    But indirectly it falls also upon the whole of humanity, on the peoples of the Allied nations and on their governments, who up to this day have not taken any real steps to halt this crime.

    By looking on passively upon this murder of defenceless millions of tortured children, women and men they have become partners to the responsibility”.

It may be fair to point out that Britain and the Allies were fighting to liberate Europe from the Nazis who perpetrated the holocaust. But Zygielbojm is surely correct in saying that the plight of the Jews was largely overlooked at the time. The British public averted its gaze, and the Telegraph does well to remind us of that fact.

Source: Daily Telegraph

 39 
 on: Jan 27, 2015, 06:41 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Survivors return to Auschwitz 70 years later, warn against growing anti-Semitism

Agence France-Presse
27 Jan 2015 at 06:39 ET                  

Seventy years after the liberation of Auschwitz, aging survivors and dignitaries gather at the site synonymous with the Holocaust on Tuesday to honor victims and sound the alarm over a fresh wave of anti-Semitism.

On the eve of the landmark event, which is expected to draw several heads of state, a leading Jewish organization was echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hollywood mogul Steven Spielberg in highlighting violence against Jews in modern-day Europe.

Europe is “close to” a new exodus of Jews, European Jewish Congress chief Moshe Kantor warned at a Holocaust forum in the Czech capital Prague.

“Jihadism is very close to Nazism. One could even say that they are two faces of the same evil,” he added.

Merkel said it was a “disgrace” that Jews in Germany faced insults, threats or violence, as she joined survivors Monday in Berlin observing 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Red Army.

Spielberg pointed to what he termed “the growing effort to banish Jews from Europe” amid a rise in anti-Semitism on the continent underscored by the deadly Islamist attack on a Jewish kosher grocery in Paris earlier this month.

Underscoring the trend, France’s main Jewish agency CRIF released figures on Tuesday that showed anti-Semitic acts in the country, home to Europe’s largest Jewish population, doubling in 2014 to 851, compared to 423 the previous year.

Ahead of Tuesday’s ceremonies, Spielberg — who won an Oscar for the Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List” and who has also videotaped the testimony of 58,000 survivors — met with hundreds of them, mostly in their nineties, in Krakow, southern Poland.

Royals in attendance

Royals from Belgium and The Netherlands are expected to be in attendance, as are more than a dozen presidents and prime ministers from across the globe.

French President Francois Hollande, German President Joachim Gauck and Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko are to participate, but Russia, the United States and Israel have chosen to send lower-ranking representatives.

The Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz — a former aide to Saint Pope John Paul II — will be there on behalf of the Holy See.

Also attending is Celina Biniaz, elegant at 83, who was among the 1,200 Jews who escaped Auschwitz by being placed on Oskar Schindler’s famous list.

As a child she left the death camp to work in a nearby factory run by the German industrialist.

“I so wish they would settle that problem in the Middle East because I so believe that it has a definite impact on what’s happening with anti-Semitism all over Europe,” Biniaz, who came from California for the ceremonies, told AFP.

“The Muslims have been disenfranchised and their young have no hope for the future, so they are desperate and it sounds glamorous for them to join things like ISIS,” she said, referring to the Islamic State jihadist group that has captured swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

‘A bomb would have helped’

For survivor David Wisnia, his return to Auschwitz is bringing on nightmares and flashbacks for the first time.

“It’s a lifetime ago really,” the 88-year-old said.

“Last night sleeping … here, I had a horrible dream and woke up and looked out the window and sort of thought that I was back in Birkenau in cell block 14 where I started in 1942,” he told journalists ahead of Tuesday’s ceremonies.

Part of Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler’s genocide plan against European Jews, dubbed the “Final Solution”, Auschwitz-Birkenau operated in the then-occupied southern Polish town of Oswiecim between June 1940 and January 1945.

Of the more than 1.3 million people imprisoned there, some 1.1 million — mainly European Jews — perished, either asphyxiated in the gas chambers or claimed by starvation, exhaustion and disease.

In all, the Nazis killed six million of pre-war Europe’s 11 million Jews.

Historical records show that by 1942, the Polish resistance was providing Allied powers and Jewish community leaders in the US with the first detailed eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust.

But inexplicably, Washington and London failed to act against the six death camps the Nazis set up in occupied Poland.

“The debate as to why the Allies did not bomb the supply lines to Auschwitz remains unresolved,” survivor Marcel Tuchman told AFP in Krakow Monday.

“Whether it was a sinister reason behind it or whether it was just tactical, in that they didn’t want to divert their air force remains unclear,” the 93-year-old said. “A little bomb in the proper place, it would have really helped.”

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_mQWhAlld0

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Tales from Auschwitz: survivor stories

Tuesday 27 January is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. Six survivors, some of whom will be returning to the site for the last time, tell Kate Connolly their stories

Kate Connolly   
The Guardian, Monday 26 January 2015 15.00 GMT   

Irene Fogel Weiss, born in 1930 in Bótrágy, Czechoslovakia, now Batrad, Ukraine. She lives in Virginia, US. She will be returning to Auschwitz for the third time, as part of the US presidential delegation, along with her daughter, Lesley Weiss

We lived in Bótrágy, a very small, mostly poor town in Czechoslovakia with a population of approximately 1,000 mainly farming families, including about 10 Jewish families. The town was a typical low-income community with a tailor, a shoemaker, a grocery store, where people struggled to get by, but where everyone knew each other and there was easy communication between the neighbours, though that didn’t mean we were equal.

When I was eight years old Czechoslovakia broke apart and we became part of Hungary. That was when our problems started, because the Hungarians were allied with the Nazis. It was a difficult time for Jewish families, as suddenly the law no longer protected us and overnight we lost our civil rights. My father’s lumber business was confiscated and given to a non-Jew, and we received no compensation. Jewish children were thrown out of Hungarian schools, so right away we had no choice but to concentrate on hunkering down and trying not to bring attention to ourselves. We couldn’t ride the trains and we had to wear the yellow star. It was a free for all. With no law to protect us, it was common for Jews to get beaten up or thrown off the train.

It’s an incredibly scary feeling when you’re exposed to anyone’s raw feelings and enmity. These young Nazis habitually roamed around and did tremendous damage to many individuals. But at least we were still in our community and were not evicted from our home, so that was some comfort.

We didn’t have radio or much access to newspapers, so all the children were reliant on listening to their parents for information. But I remember many things about the course of the war, who was winning and losing, and the repression of Jews elsewhere.

Hungary didn’t give up its Jewish population until it was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1944. The very first task the German government gave the Hungarians was to round up Jewish families and deport them to Auschwitz. There was a huge rush to take half a million Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz and it was completed in just six weeks, in 147 cattle cars. So in the spring of 1944 my family – my parents and their six children, the oldest of whom was 17 and I was 13 – found ourselves in the Munkács ghetto and from there being taken on cattle carts to Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Imagine it like this: three generations of your family have lived in the same house in the same town. They’ve struggled to raise a family, put kids through school, to feed them all. You have your friends and family. All of a sudden you are told to leave it all and walk out with a single suitcase.

I remember the night of the packing very well. Things went in the suitcase, things were taken out of the suitcase. In the end my mother filled it with food she had cooked and warm clothing and bedding. Then it was full. Plus we took a watch, some earrings, a wedding ring with us to exchange for food if necessary. The next day my father was forced to hand over his remaining money to a delegation that included the mayor and the school principal as they rounded us up at the town hall.

We had been absolutely unaware of such a place as Auschwitz. It was a stunning reversal of the life we had had up until then. And I cannot emphasise enough how utterly scary it is to be at the mercy of your fellow human beings. As a child I could not understand what we had done to deserve going there.

My father surveyed the scene from the train and could see prisoners, uniforms and barracks so we immediately thought it was a work camp, and that was reassuring – if we can work, it can’t be such a dreadful place. We had heard about the stories in Poland of lots of mass shootings of Jews or people being taken into the forest and shot, so it was a relief to see out the window that there was actually a system. Even though we were victims of discrimination at that stage that’s all it was, as we had no clue then that this was a very carefully orchestrated plan of genocide. We could not have imagined that they would kill little children, until we realised that killing children was their primary goal to prevent any new generations. Because desperate people will always look to find some sign of hope, we thought to ourselves even if we have to work, at least we’ll see each other occasionally.

But the German system was full of this sort of deception. It counted on people’s normal perception of things. Thinking we were going to a work camp. Thinking that you were going to take a shower when in fact you were going to the gas chambers – that was the ultimate deceit.

    All of a sudden you are told to leave it all and walk out with a single suitcase
    Irene Fogel Weiss

When we arrived it was, as I later found out, the usual story, though not to us at the time. Our family was torn apart on the platform on arriving. My sister, Serena, was chosen for slave labour. My mother and the younger children were sent off to one side and my father and 16-year-old brother to the other side. I held tightly on to the hand of my 12-year-old sister and for an instant I was mistaken for being older than I was, probably because I was wearing a headscarf that my mother had given me.

My sister was sent with my mother, while I went to the opposite side. That was the first chance I had to survive. Unbeknown to any of us at the time, two Nazi soldiers had been asked to make a photographic document of the deportation of Hungarian Jews from the moment they got off the train – through the entire system of arriving, going to the bath house and getting their prison clothes – so I ended up in a picture at the very moment I was separated from my sister. It captures me standing alone without my family on the Auschwitz platform, and I’m leaning inwards to see where my little sister has gone.

Another picture we discovered shows my family waiting in line for the gas chamber. Two little boys, my brothers Reuven and Gershon, are shown dressed in hats, one struggling to put on his winter coat. For a long time I failed to find my mother and was very unhappy. But I spent hours looking at these photos with a magnifying glass and one day I found her little face sticking out.

The pictures only came to light 25 years ago and, despite them showing moments from around 45 years before that, they completely captured the entire experience as it had been in my mind all that time. I was dumbfounded and devastated, having had no idea they existed, and I have spent literally hundreds of hours scouring them, trying to find my father and brother. The pictures have reassured me that I was not imagining it all, as I sometimes thought I might have done.

The reality of where we were, struck home fairly quickly. I was stationed near crematorium number four, and we witnessed the columns of unsuspecting women and children entering the gate of the crematorium; they would have been dead within half an hour. When the Hungarian Jews arrived they had the gas chambers going day and night. How can you wrap your imagination round that? I still can’t.

I was with my older sister Serena and we were sent to be forced labourers together in the Birkenau section of Auschwitz. Many times we were threatened with separation but somehow we managed to stay together. Later on, to our great relief we ran into my mother’s two younger sisters, our aunts Rose and Piri, who were in their early 20s. It was like finding our parents. They were such a huge moral and emotional support for us.

On about 17 January or 18 January 1945, the SS dragged thousands of us out of the camp to walk to Ravensbrück concentration camp deep into central Germany. I don’t really know why. We were in terrible straits with no proper clothes, nothing suitable for marching through the snow. It was as if the cruelty would never end. If anyone sat down out of exhaustion, they were shot. Later we were transported yet again, and my aunt Piri became ill and was killed.

As the Soviets approached, the SS left and I, Serena and Rose took shelter in an empty house nearby. The Russians came but for some reason left again immediately, so we were left to fend for ourselves.

We spent months trying to get to Prague where we knew we had some relatives and from there we went to the Sudetenland. I got to go to school, my sister found work in a factory and Rose was sick at home with tuberculosis.

We initially had no idea what had happened to the rest of the family and had no access to a phone. But on buildings everywhere lists were put up stating who was still alive. Everyone you met you asked, every meeting of refugees was dominated by trying to find out where your relatives were.

Eventually I discovered that of around 100 people from my town who were deported, only about 10 survived, only two of whom were children – my sister and me. But there was not one parent and child who lived. All of them were killed.

    This is my last chance to make sure this tragedy is not forgotten
    Irene Fogel Weiss

Serena now lives in New Jersey with her family, including three children and grandchildren. We’ve both managed to hang on in there, but she can’t come to Auschwitz because her elderly husband is sick. For years when we talked about our experience she’d say to me: “You probably don’t remember, you were too young,” as I was four years younger, but some things I remembered even more sharply than her and my aunt.

I’m often asked how I have coped. I never went to a psychologist and I never will. Quite simply, I kept it at a distance. I saw and understood, and yet I didn’t. I’ve never cried over the columns of children and mothers I saw. When I was in Auschwitz I thought: ‘This is not actually on earth.’ It was a system of masters and slaves, gods and subhumans and I thought to myself: ‘No one knows about it. It’s the forest, surrounded by multiple layers of fence, it’s not actually real.’ I never let it penetrate that my parents were killed and I even thought: ‘After this we’re going home and everyone will be there again.’ Those who never managed to keep it distant killed themselves.

I threw myself into family life. I married young, I had three children, (I now also have four grandchildren) and then I went to college and became a teacher. You fall into a routine and do the best you can. But I’ve never lost the feeling of how unreliable human beings are and neither am I fooled by superficial civilisation. But I realise that loss of faith in people is more devastating than loss of faith in God.

I won’t be going back to Auschwitz again after this visit. So it’s my last chance to make sure this tragedy is not forgotten. I found out only about a week before I was due to leave that I will be one of two survivors who will be part of the US presidential delegation, headed by the secretary of the treasury, Jack Lew, and I feel very honoured, but it has much to do with the fact that many others who could go are ill and unable to travel.

Joseph Mandrowitz, born in Czemierniki, Poland in 1923. He now lives in Toms River, New Jersey, and is returning to Auschwitz for the second time with his second cousin

We had a quiet life until the day they took 1,000 Jews away from my village of Czemierniki, a typical Polish village with a big square around which community life took place. My father was a bootmaker, my mother was a seamstress and everyone worked hard. There was always some antisemitism, but it was mainly fairly harmless, consisting of kids at our school who during religious education taunted the five or six Jewish kids in the class with “Jews killed Jesus.”

I had trained as a tailor and had left home before we were deported, when I went to work four miles away on a ranch. It was taken over by the SS, so suddenly I found myself working for them. In May 1943 they lined us up one day and told us to empty our pockets. If they found even a single zloty in anyone’s pocket, they were shot on the spot. We were transported to Majdanek, which was only 19 miles away – a torture camp in the true sense of the word. For 500 metres there were just ditches full of bodies, legs, heads. We were deported to Auschwitz four weeks later. We arrived in the early morning and they gave us a bed, a real shower, they cleaned us well with disinfectant and shaved us. After that they gave us striped uniforms and tattooed us. I was given the number 128164 on my left arm and from that point on I was a number, no longer a name.

From there we were sent to Buna (an Auschwitz sub camp) and were set to work. After a few months there, I went for a walk one day and saw a few tomatoes growing. I was starving by then so tried to take them and was given a beating so severe, I don’t know how I survived it. I still have the scars from it today. I was taken to hospital and knew the rule: if you didn’t heal in four to five days, they’d take you to Birkenau and you’d be gassed.

I was 20, about 1.7 metres (5ft 7in) tall, blond, not bad looking and, despite the beating, in pretty good shape. When my limit in the hospital was up, they sent me to the gas chambers. There I met Dr Mengele, who asked me what was wrong. I said: “You can see, I’ve been beaten up.” Instead of sending me to the gas chambers, I was sent back to the hospital, presumably he saw the potential for labour in me. As I had trained as a tailor, he decided I had my uses there. The soldiers wanted to look nice, so they’d come to me in the hospital if they wanted their uniforms fixed up. The very fact that my new job meant I didn’t have to get up in the morning in the harsh winter in thin clothes standing around for hours for the headcount was a big thing. It meant that being a tailor saved my life.

That Mengele – they call him a doctor, but he was as much a doctor as I’m an army general. A complete fake of a man who I was too scared to look in the eye. I saw him day in, day out for months and was one of 152 Jews in his “care”. One of the experiments he carried out on me was to take blood from my arm and inject it in my rear end. I’ve no idea what that was trying to prove.

For some astonishing reason he “saved” me a second time, after the decision was made to clear the hospital and 150 people were sent to the gas chambers except for me and a boy from Saloniki. That’s not to say I liked him at all – he was a hateful man, who hated himself first and foremost and then everyone else around him.

In 1944 we were sent on a death march from Birkenau to Oranienburg and from there to Buchenwald. Then to a quarry, where we were ordered to drill into the mountains to make some sort of secret city. From there we walked back to Buchenwald. Whoever was incapable of walking was shot. From there, big trains took us to Theresienstadt just as the Soviets were bombing the rails. We could sense that the Germans were almost destroyed. For 17 days we had no water, no food, nothing. Despite the hardship I was doing OK compared to others. I still had the capability to clamber on to the cattle trains without help.

We were liberated from the Russians at Theresienstadt on 9 May. I developed typhus and spent several weeks in hospital before I could go anywhere.

I decided to go back to my village as I had nowhere else to go. But of the 1,000 or so of us who had been deported, only eight to 10 had survived. Some people had warned me not to go back, saying there had been attacks on those who had returned, including the Jewish woman I had worked for when I’d done my tailor apprenticeship. She’d gone back to reclaim some possessions she had left behind in somebody’s house and they killed her rather than return the items. She and her husband had been the only couple in Czemierniki to survive and then they went and murdered her when she came home.

I had had parents, two brothers, three sisters, two nephews, two nieces, an aunt, an uncle, and all of them died. I found out the rest of my family were taken to Treblinka in 1942.

When I finally returned to Czemierniki in 1993, despite the years in which Jews had lived there I could not find a trace either of my family or of Jewish life. Even the cemetery where my grandfather had been buried had been razed. The synagogue was gone. I went to ask the local priest, who said they had taken the tombstones and crushed them for building materials or something like that. I believe they deliberately destroyed any sign of Jewish life so as to be rid of us for ever.

    When I watch programmes on the Holocaust it’s as if I’m watching some made-up horror film

The Jewish Federation brought me to America. I deliberately chose against going to Israel as it would have meant I would have had to fight and kill and the US seemed the next best choice. They put me up in a hotel on 35th and 36th street until I got myself sorted out. I was desperate to get to work and make up for all those wasted years.

I started looking for work as soon as I arrived, finding a job earning $35 (£23) a week and by 1955 I had opened up my own business in Brooklyn, Queens, as a tailor and I think I did OK. I worked for some dignitaries, including Henry Kissinger and Nancy Reagan, and I also did a lot for the Johnsons. I’d be putting together the garments designed for them by the likes of Oscar de la Renta and Geoffrey Beene.

The US gave me a pretty good life. In fact I’d say I found my heaven here.

Of the 1,000 Jews taken from my village, only three of us are still alive, one living in Israel, one in Baltimore and myself. We stay in touch.

I still drive my car, though not at night any more. I get jumpy when someone honks their horn, and occasionally I have bad dreams and wake up at night, my wife asking me: “What’s up?”, and I tell her I’m being chased by Germans. But that’s the story of my life. I still can’t believe it happened. When I sit down and watch programmes on the Holocaust on the History Channel it’s as if I’m watching some made-up horror film.

I have to go back to Auschwitz one last time. I feel like I own the place, having spent almost two years of my life there. I never forget it and I don’t want to forget it because it’s effectively the story of my life.”
Eva Umlauf, born in December 1942 at a labour camp in Nowaky, Czechoslovakia, in what is now Slovakia. She now lives in Munich, Germany, and works as a psychotherapist. She is returning to Auschwitz for the third time. Her book on the Holocaust is due to be published in 2016

I was not even two when we arrived at Auschwitz in 1944. I have no conscious memories of that time, but plenty of subconscious ones. My mother told me later how when they tattooed my arm with a needle, it was so painful that I passed out. The number they gave me and that I still have was A26959. My mother’s ended in 8. I was probably the youngest child to have been tattooed who survived.

My mother was four months pregnant when we arrived. My sister Nora was born there in April 1945.

Had we arrived just two days earlier, we would have been gassed immediately. Our transport was the first from which no one was taken to the gas chambers, probably because they knew by then that the Russians were very close. We arrived on 2 November and on 30 October, 18,000 mothers and children who had arrived from Theresienstadt were killed.

On the two occasions I have returned to Auschwitz, in 1995 and 2011, although I haven’t got memories as such of the time I spent there, something is triggered deep inside me, both physically and in my inner being. I get very nervous and the death, the cold, the expanse and the emptiness of it swamps me – it’s a feeling that it’s hard to explain but it’s everywhere. I can feel the burnt earth everywhere I walk.

When Auschwitz was liberated in January 1945, we were already extremely sick, so we had to stay there. A Jewish paediatrician from Prague said my mother and her baby would not survive. She had rickets, TB and jaundice. But in April, against the odds, my mother gave birth to my sister, helped by prisoners who were doctors.

My mother never talked very much about our time there, mainly to protect us and herself. She was 21 when we were finally able to leave, with a two-year-old and a six-week-old. She also took with us a four-year-old boy who was parentless and she spent months searching for his relatives, who she did finally track down. At the same time, she had lost her husband and was mourning him. There was an unspoken ban on speaking about any of it. We went back to live in Trenčín, the small town in Slovakia where my mother had moved when she married my father, and where the Red Cross found us a room.

There was a frantic search to see who had survived and to look for relatives. But none of our relatives were still alive. My grandmother, great-grandmother and great-grandfather, my mother’s three siblings – all had died.

Probably my earliest memories of anything at all are of walking through the streets of Trenčín and people stopping in their tracks and saying with amazement: “You’re back!” “What a miracle that you’re alive!” I understood as a three-and-a-half to four-year-old that I was a miracle because I got to hear it so many times, but I didn’t really understand what the word meant. Only much later could I recognise what a miracle it really was that I had survived, when I learned that of the thousands of Slovak men and women who were deported to Auschwitz, only a few hundred returned.

My mother put every effort into giving us a normal life. She sent us to school and made sure we studied. She was loving and resourceful. It was only later when she got old that she was gripped by depression. Having held everything together and been so capable and diligent for so long, she just fell apart as if under the burden of it all, and she died at the age of 72. It’s no accident that I and my sister became doctors – we had an absolute primal need to help people and save lives.

I later qualified as a psychotherapist, a job which I enjoy immensely, but which confronts me with the suffering caused by the Holocaust on a daily basis. My patients are from “both sides” – either victims or perpetrators, or their relatives – and many are what you’d call transgenerationally affected – carrying around with them the issues and traumas that their parents or grandparents never dealt with, and which unless cured are like a contagious disease that they’ll pass on to the next generation.

I married a Polish Jew and we settled in Germany, the “Täterland” – the land of the perpetrator – after being forced out of Czechoslovakia after the collapse of the Prague Spring in 1968. It does sometimes feel like a strange decision to live in Germany because the Holocaust is just so omnipresent here and there is a growing antisemitism that scares me, especially when you feel it in Germany, of all places, which is why I always repeat what Primo Levi wrote: “What happened can happen again.”

That’s why I go into schools and talk to 15 year olds in and around Munich because we have to repeatedly confront it. That’s why I’m returning to Auschwitz on Monday. It will be the last time many people return, the end of an epoch. The wounds might heal, but they leave scars which are still very visible.

Susan Pollack, born Zsuzsanna Blau in Felsogod, Hungary in 1930. She now lives in London. She is returning to Auschwitz for the first time, with her grandson Anthony, 33

From the moment I arrived in Auschwitz with my mother and brother in May 1944, the terror of it just invaded my whole being. My mother was immediately taken away and I later learned that she had been gassed. I only recently discovered that my father had been there too.

My whole world was turned upside down by the brutality of it. We had not in any way understood what had been going on, only later recognising all the sources and streams that led to the Holocaust. In my small Hungarian village, information had been very restricted. We didn’t know about anything, like the Wannsee conference (where the Final Solution was planned), and neither could we have imagined it. We were told by the authorities that we were being resettled, which is why I took my sewing machine with me. I took my sewing machine!

The process of losing any kind of hope was a very gradual one. We were transported in cattle wagons in which many babies and children suffocated, in what it turned out was the last transport of Hungarians. We had no water, no food, there was no hygiene. That diminished our hope and increased the feeling of being trapped. But despite that, you always retained a glimmer of hope. Always.

I had become aware of antisemitism from a young age, when my uncle had his head chopped in two when he was attacked by fascists while driving up to Novograd where he lived. While his attacker was convicted, he was hardly punished, and continued to live opposite my uncle’s wife and child. But as a child you don’t think about these things all that much. My family had a wood and coal business and, like most people in those days, my father was self-employed. As they started to restrict us, he lost his licence to operate and then he faced the enormous task of trying to find work. Meanwhile, my mother was at home trying to keep the family together, with all of us all involved in domestic life.

I recall the time in Auschwitz as single moments, short encounters, smells. We tried to distract ourselves from the reality of it by trying to recall our home lives in what turned into a game of momentary escapism. Quietly, the children would huddle together and ask each other: “What will you have for breakfast?” And I remember saying: “Maybe an egg or a piece of bread and butter,” and tried to conjure up memories of home.

I vaguely recall the death march to Bergen-Belsen. I was so weak by then. The conditions were appalling and they’d put us in a barracks. I remember crawling out of it – because by that time I was too weak to walk, but I couldn’t bear to stay among the corpses any longer – and bumping into a neighbour who was as surprised to see me as I was her.

Our British liberators were amazing – they were heroes for me in the real sense of the word. After their long battle to reach Belsen, they had a campaign to organise a rescue mission. To this day I’m aghast that they were so saintly. They brought little ambulances in and drove around picking us up. I was trembling and virtually lifeless, lying near the barracks, the stench of corpses everywhere, and unable to walk or lift myself up, when they arrived with a little ambulance. I don’t think I was able to talk to the soldier who approached me, my comprehension had long gone, but I remember the gentleness in him. We couldn’t eat and I remember fainting when I tried to get out of bed. Gradually they administered the food, but I didn’t trust anyone and I hid the food in my bed, afraid that they would suddenly take it away. Even now I feel that sense at every meal time of how lucky I am, and I often say to those at the table: “Isn’t this wonderful?” and “ Aren’t we lucky?”

After our liberation I went to Sweden where we were looked after marvellously. The physical recovery was not as bad as the emotional and mental one, which I’m still working on. I am still touched by the memory of a doctor who taught me how to walk again, as through the malnutrition I was incapable. Such a simple thing, but he told me: “I have a daughter like you,” and how vital that statement of his was to my sense of becoming a human being again. It was amazing to be compared to someone having felt completely dehumanised for so long.

After what happened, and having lost 50 members of my family, it was very important for me to have my own little family, to have again that sense of belonging. I really wanted to have children and was just 18 when I got married to a fellow Holocaust survivor from Transylvania. But I’ve always been careful not to tell my children too much about what I went through so as not to traumatise them. They’re entitled to a carefree youth, I always thought, and I didn’t want to be spreading bitterness and hate.

    I’ve always been careful not to tell my children too much about what I went through so as not to traumatise them
    Susan Pollack

I have had a good life. I was a Samaritan and I’ve been going to schools and talking to 15-year-olds for the past 20 years. I try to tell them how small streams of hatred can quickly lead to unstoppable, horrific things, so they should stand up to any type of persecution or discrimination, whether bullying or malicious gossip.

I did go back to my village, in 1995. But there was never any sense of any culpability and it seemed a futile exercise for me to try to find out who had betrayed us.

Returning to Auschwitz is going to be a cold, painful and tearful experience. It is a shadow that has always been with me and I’m hoping that by facing it for one last time at the age of 84 I will be able to live my life more peacefully, but I am extremely anxious. I lost my husband just days ago and I’m hoping I’ll finally be able to release my emotions when I’m there, as I’ve never really been able to cry much about anything. I’m comforted by the thought that there will be strength in numbers and that I’ll be there with perhaps 100 or so other survivors, which makes it easier. I would not go on my own. I appear to be a strong person, but inside I’m really quite fragile.

Mordechai Ronen, born in Dej, Transylvania, in what is now Romania, in 1933. He now lives in Toronto with his wife, Ilana. He is returning to Auschwitz for the third time. His autobiography is due to be published in September

We lived in a white-painted brick house on Kodur Street in Dej, which had a population of about 15,000, around a quarter of whom were Jewish. I was the youngest of five, and we spoke Yiddish within the community and Hungarian and Romanian outside. We had a garden and backyard, full of plums, peaches, cherries and apples. Among the smells of my childhood were my mother’s goulash and the scent of Shabbat candles. My father was a merchant, a travelling salesman. My mother had the full-time job of keeping the house and family. I remember the lullaby she used to sing me, Schaefeleh, schluf mein tier kind (Sleep well, my precious little child). The synagogue or shul was the centre of communal life, and the centre of my life from three years upwards. I don’t remember any overt antisemitism, just my parents warning me to be inside before dark: “Lest some Christian kids decide they don’t like the look of your sidelocks and pick on you.” I just thought my parents were being overprotective.

We had no daily paper, no radio or phone, so the only news we got of the second world war was from newcomers to town. The change started at the end of 1942-43, when people began expressing their anger towards us, especially the Hungarian neighbours. We’d hear: “Zsidók, menjetek ki, Gyerünk haza!” (“Jews, get out of here, Go home!”) I was in the synagogue singing when a rock shattered the stained-glass window. The rabbi tried to convince us it was just some drunk, but as a 10-year-old, I knew better.

One day, four or five men came to our synagogue. They had escaped from Poland and came with stories we found impossible to believe – of Nazis rounding up Jews, looting their possessions, murdering them. People said the men were meshuggah (crazy).

The only impact these stories had on my family was the cache of extra potatoes and bread that I discovered stashed away in our basement. But by 1943, we started getting clearer signs.

My father’s beard was shaved by some locals, who grabbed him. I stopped going to school. My parents gave me a lantern to carry with me after dark. Then I wasn’t allowed out at all.

One day the Hungarian gendarmes came to our house and ransacked it. In 1944, the Nazis ordered all Jews living outside Budapest to be rounded up and placed in ghettoes. Then it was our turn and that was the day our misery truly began. In the spring of 1944 we were part of a contingent of 7,500 Jews who were corralled into a makeshift ghetto in the Bungur forest. We had to wear the yellow stars of David. That was the day when almost one-and-a-half centuries of Jewish life in Dej came to an end.

In our forest ghetto I remember a local man, Mihai, who brought his cow to help us out with milk, having heard we were starving. He was arrested and beaten to a pulp and remained a paraplegic for the rest of his life. Two weeks into our ghetto life, we were sent to Auschwitz, 435 miles north-west of Dej.

At this point my family was still together. They told the women and children to go to the left, and that’s what my mother and two sisters did. My father and I were inspected by [Josef] Mengele, who was holding a baton, and went to the right. It was the last time I saw my mother and sisters alive.

Other Jews responsible for telling us the rules approached us and said: “Farvos inem gehenem zayn’ du kumen aher?” (“Why the hell did you come here?”) “Didn’t you hear the warnings?”

I saw some soldiers toss a baby up and shoot it in mid air for fun and from then on I had no doubt about what awaited us here.

I worked out pretty quickly certain survival tricks. That if the guards called us to line up in front of the barracks, I should hide or sneak into another barracks. The safest place I could find to hide was in the yard near the bathrooms where all the dead bodies were brought and piled up … I would get on the pile, lie down next to the dead bodies and pretend I was one of them.

They gave us food in barrels. When the barrel was empty, I could get inside and scrape the leftovers from the bottom. In that way my dad and I got extra food.

I remember the chimneys with dark, thick smoke rising from them; dogs barking all the time. From Auschwitz, they moved us to Birkenau, then to Mauthausen-Gusen. Every morning there were dead bodies along the barbed wire fences around the camp. The electrified fences instantly killed anyone who touched them. Perhaps these were simply acts of suicide.

When we were in Gusen penal camp, my father, who was 50, one day just gave up and said he couldn’t continue. From that moment I was totally alone. In February 1945 they moved us to Gunskirchen, Upper Austria. It was here that I witnessed starving people eating human flesh. We were liberated by Americans and Canadians in Gunskirchen. The Germans had simply left the camp, and with an absence of drama we just walked through the gates. The first thing I did was to knock on a local resident’s door and ask for permission to take a shower. Somehow, I managed to meet up with my brothers, David and Shuli. We had no desire to return to Dej, to the people who had betrayed us.

I wanted to go to Israel, as that had been my father’s dream, but it wasn’t easy to get there. There was no independent Jewish state then and it was run by the British, who wanted to limit immigration.

In Italy I joined the Irgun, the Zionist underground organisation fighting for Israeli independence led by Menachem Begin (later prime minister of Israel), and travelled with an arms smuggling ship, the Altalena, to Tel Aviv. All the time I kept with me my prison uniform, as proof of what had happened to me. We arrived on the shores of Tel Aviv on 20 June 1948 and I found myself at a pivotal moment in Israeli history, in a boat full of weapons that Ben-Gurion would not let on shore. It could easily have turned into a civil war. I was shot at by Israel Defence Force troopers as I jumped into the water and the Altalena was set ablaze and sunk by the IDF. With it sank my suitcase of clothes and my striped prisoner uniform, including my hat, coat, shirt and a knife.

Henry Korman, 94, born in Radom, Poland. He now lives in Hanover, north Germany. He will be returning to Auschwitz for the first time, with the 17-year-old son of his nephew, Ethan.

“I had just finished high school in 1939 and had had all sorts of plans for my future. My family ran a hat factory, making hats for every occasion and purpose. But as the authorities began clamping down and the antisemitism grew, much of it fuelled by the Catholic church, gradually everything was confiscated – our house then the business.

We tried to get out – we’d seen the signs of what was to come, not that we could really have known the full extent of what would happen. My uncle had worked in Palestine in 1917 but had been forced to return to Poland when he got sick. We tried to use the contacts he still had there to escape, but the British (who were in control of it) wouldn’t give us permission to go there. In my mind they carry a lot of the blame for the deaths of many of the Jews – especially the Polish Jews – who perished.

We were sent to the Radom ghetto, where I spent the first years of the war working for the Jewish committee. But when they started taking the ghetto leaders to Auschwitz, I quickly changed jobs and began working in a munitions factory instead, hoping that if I kept my head down, I might be OK. But after moving from one factory to another, I too was deported to Auschwitz when the ghetto was liquidated in 1942. I was separated from my parents and three sisters, all of whom were taken to Treblinka.

On our arrival at Auschwitz they chased us off the cattle wagon, which stopped right in front of the gate with the sign Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free). I thought I was entering a labour camp, but little did I know. They asked me my profession, and I said painter as I’d picked up the advice en route to say something practical and useful. If I’d said I’d just finished high school they’d have sent me straight to the gas chambers.

One of the first people I encountered was Mengele. He told us to undress and stand in line and he went through the ranks deciding who was strong and healthy and fit for work, and who was only fit for the gas chamber. After inspecting me, he put his thumb up high, so they gave me the striped uniform and sent me to get a number tattooed on to my arm. I don’t remember the number. It’s there still, but I never look at it because it brings back too many painful memories.

After Auschwitz they transferred me to Mauthausen, then Gozen and Hanover. From there they sent us on foot to Bergen-Belsen, where I was finally liberated. It was 14 April (1945). I was so weak I could hardly stand and it was all I could do to lift my head slightly from the ground where I was lying as British army tanks started arriving to save us. But for all the great things the British did then, I can only say they made many other mistakes and what’s going on in Israel now is largely Britain’s fault.

I also resent the Americans for knowing what was going on but doing nothing about it until 1944. As soon as Hitler wrote Mein Kampf they should have known what was going on.

So I ended up in Sweden where I learned that my sister had also been in Belsen. In Stockholm I studied chemistry and it was there I found out, having lost all my family in Europe, that I had relatives in America, an aunt – my father’s sister – who had emigrated in the 1920s, so I went to live with them.

I’ve never sought any counselling or professional help – I never thought it would help. My therapy has been to go and talk to schoolchildren about my experiences. My advice to them is to respect their teachers and have a clear plan for the future.

I did go back to my home town, Radom, just once in 1996 or 1998. I saw our house, and stood in the backyard, but my heart was bleeding so much, I didn’t dare go in. I walked up the street and it was like walking on history – something lost and far away, but also very close. Here was the road on which I used to run to school, to the factory, but I had to get away very quickly. I was thinking: “I’m here, but where are all of them, my family?”

    Auschwitz has been in my head all these years. I just need to close my eyes and instantly the horror comes back to me
    Henry Korman

I now live in Hanover, Germany, which doesn’t feel strange to me to be living in the land of the murderers, because it’s a different country now. At least people listen to my story here. When I travel to the US nobody asks me, so I never say anything. But I have a hunch that as soon as his feet touch the ground in Auschwitz, my nephew’s son will start to ask questions.

I never dared to start my own family or have children of my own. I was just too afraid of making those close bonds.

When your relatives die, there’s usually a place you can go to pay your respects, like a cemetery with a grave where you can lay a stone and talk to them. The only place I have is Auschwitz and going back there for the first time will be the first and last chance I have to be able to return to the people I loved who I lost there and in other concentration camps.

My family are always with me. I carry pictures of them in my pocket the entire time, wherever I go, even when I go to sleep they are with me. To this day I still don’t know the circumstances of their deaths or even where they died.

Auschwitz has been in my head all these years. I just need to close my eyes and instantly the pictures of the horror come back to me. I worry what will happen when I and others like me are no longer here to tell the story. I want people to keep reading about it and for them to leave tears on the paper.
Forgive or forget: survivors of genocide in the Holocaust, Rwanda and Cambodia describe their experiences

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Holocaust survivor recalls desperate battle to stay alive: ‘I just wanted to live’

Sabina Miller hid in the woods after fleeing the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. As the world marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, she shares her story

Caroline Davies   
The Guardian, Tuesday 27 January 2015   

When Sabina Miller awoke from typhoid fever in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw she had a vivid memory. It was of her mother standing at her bed in the one room the family of six shared, telling her: “You will survive.”

Sitting in her flat in West Hampstead, London, Sabina, now 92, does not know if it was a hallucination. She does know when she came round. After 18 days of fever, both parents were dead of typhoid.

That memory sustained her in the ghetto “where people fell ill very quickly, were hungry and you walked in the middle of the street where they were bodies, covered with newspaper, dead”.

It spurred her on when she fled the ghetto – her identifying armband hidden under a raincoat – to fight a desperate and lonely battle for survival during Europe’s darkest days.

And it remains with her today as she prepares to take part in national commemorations to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Miller fled to an aunt in the country with her youngest brother, David. An older sister, Ester, tried to make it to the Russian border. The oldest brother, Chaim, stayed behind. Despite her efforts, no trace of her siblings has ever been found.

Small acts of human kindness in this time of terror contributed to her survival. On the Polish farm near her aunt’s, where she worked with other Jewish girls, an overseer warned them: “The lorries are coming for you. I don’t want to see you dead. Run to the woods.” She did, with another Jewish girl, Ruska. There was the villager who showed them a hole abandoned by the Partisans in which to hide. “We had to slip down and slide in, with just enough room for the two of us to lie down,” she said. It was winter, 1942-1943, and so bitter she got frostbite in her feet.

Aged 20, louse-ridden and starving, she survived by begging from nearby homes at night. She and Ruska took it in turns, then one night Ruska did not return. Sabina never discovered why but she had no option other than to carry on alone.

And there was the woman who, on seeing Sabina at her door, immediately ordered the men from the house and gave her a bath. “I will never forget that kindness,” she said.

Luck contributed, too. Polish girls were being called up for enforced labour on German farms. At one house a mother whose daughter had been so summonsed asked Sabina if she would take her place. She agreed, and was given slippers for her damaged feet and a little case with some clothes.

Why would she want to go to Germany? “Because it was the only place I felt I could be safe,” she said. “Once I am there, no one will ask me who I am, what I am. They would accept me as a Polish girl.”

She was transported to Warsaw for processing, under the identity of Kazimira Kuc.

The Germans rejected her because of her damaged feet, but she persuaded them to let her go to hospital. There, she confided in a Polish doctor: “I am Jewish. I’m in trouble.” He kept her there for six weeks before she reported back. Again, because of her feet, she was rejected and told to go home. But she had no home.

The doctor suggested a plan. She would study the women being sent to Germany and approach the most upset. She would offer to take their place. To avoid suspicion she would pretend her motivation was money, demand payment and tell them the Germans were sure to send her back anyway, because her eyesight was too bad. Her eyesight was perfect, but the lie was plausible enough for a woman to take up the offer and hand over her crucial identity papers.

But Sabina’s troubles were not over, and officials who suspected she was Jewish sent her to Pawiak, the notorious Warsaw prison where political prisoners and Jews were held.

Three times she was interrogated by the Gestapo but continued to deny her faith. The other Polish women crammed with her into cell number nine, taught her the Catholic mass to help her. She never broke under questioning and after several weeks imprisonment, was finally sent to Germany as a Polish farm girl. It was late 1943, and she remained in Germany under her false identity until Poland’s liberation in 1945.

Sabina married Arthur, a Polish soldier who, because he was attached to the British army, had the right to resettle in the UK. Starting with a market stall, they built a fashion retail and wholesale business, had two children, and today she is a grandmother of six and great-grandmother of four.

Of her siblings, she has no news, despite trawling records in Poland and Israel. She believes they perished. The only possession she has from her childhood is a red tartan cardigan, given to her by her mother, which remained with her throughout.

The small bag she took with her from the ghetto was stolen from her hole deep in the woods. Inside were photographs and a postcard from her sister, Ester, who was trying to flee to Russia, and which arrived at her aunt’s house in Sokolow.

It read: “I am in the train. I don’t know where I am being taken to. Please God you will survive and I hope someone will pick up the card and send it to you.”

Sabina believes that, like many others being transported to the concentration camps, Ester threw it unstamped from the train in the hope someone would find it and post it. It seems they did.

Sabina was determined to share her story through the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, “because I feel the world should know about this. That the world should learn. Something like this just cannot be forgotten.”

“I wanted to survive,” she says. “I wanted it for my family, to be able to say who we were, what we did, what we gave. I wanted to do this. And I just wanted to live.”


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What happened at Auschwitz? - video

The Guardian

Tuesday 27 January is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and thus also the end of the deadliest act of mass murder in a single location in human history. As survivors prepare to visit the site of their agony, many for the last time, we present this short explainer

Click to watch: http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2015/jan/27/what-happened-auschwitz-70th-anniversary-video


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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/26/2015 04:44 PM

Rising Anti-Semitism: Increasing Numbers of French Jews Moving to Israel

By Nicola Abé and Julia Amalia Heyer in Tel Aviv and Paris

Following the recent terror attacks in France, more French Jews than ever before are planning on emigrating to Israel. Life there is expensive and far from perfect, but anti-Semitism in Europe, say many, is becoming intolerable.

El Al Flight 324 landed a full three hours ago, but Lucie Podemski is still waiting for her father to emerge. She is sitting in a café in the Tel Aviv airport along with a balloon she brought along for the occasion. "Welcome," it says. Suddenly, she receives a text message from her father including a photo of the new ID card he had just been given. He is now an Israeli citizen.

André Podemski looks happy in the picture on his new document. "In France, you always have to look so serious," Lucie Podemski says. "Here, we can smile."

More than six years ago, just after she graduated from university, Lucie Podemski emigrated from France to Israel and opened a daycare center in Tel Aviv. Several weeks ago, her cousin arrived. And now, on a recent Monday, her father. Only her sister is still living in Paris. "But she is afraid," Lucie says. "Armed police are posted in front of her children's school." Since the attacks in Paris a couple of weeks ago, even her sister wears a bullet-proof vest when she pick up her children after school.

Recent years have seen a rise in the number of French Jews leaving for Israel, with fear of attacks being the most important reason for making the so-called "Aliyah," as the "return" to Israel is referred. And the list of attacks is long. In 2006, young mobile-phone salesman Ilan Halimi was kidnapped by a youth gang and tortured to death. Two years ago, gunman Mohamed Merah shot and killed children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Just two months ago, a couple was robbed in the Créteil district on the outskirts of Paris and the woman was raped.

All of the victims were targeted because they were Jews -- and they are only the best known of thousands of incidents. But the murder of four Jews in the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher on Jan. 9, just two days after the related Islamist attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, represents a new apex of violence.

When André Podemski, 65, finally emerges from the arrivals area, his daughter throws her arms around him and wraps him in an Israeli flag. He then tells the story of how he spent hours on that Friday in Paris glued to the television to keep tabs on the hostage-taking. He knew Hyper Cacher well; it was only a five-minute drive from his apartment. And he himself owned a supermarket until just a short time ago. "I was shocked," he says. "But I wasn't surprised."

Walks on the Beach

Five years ago, he says, he began to no longer feel safe in Paris. In the Metro, he took a good look at people before boarding and when he was out alone in the evenings, he was afraid. André Podemski bought an apartment in Tel Aviv and when he went there on vacation, he felt liberated during his evening walks on the beach. Finally, he went to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which helps make arrangements for those wanting to immigrate to the Holy Land.

Following the attacks in Paris, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on French Jews to come to Israel, their true "homeland." Encouraging Jews from around the world to move to Israel is, after all, part of the country's raison d' ê tre. The four who were killed in the Hyper Cacher supermarket were even buried in Jerusalem.

"But such statements are dangerous," says Gérard Benhamou, head of a group of French immigrants in Tel Aviv. "That's what terrorists think -- that they can use violence to achieve their goal of driving out the Jews." Israeli President Reuven Rivlin warned: "Aliyah must be done out of will and not out of fear."

But it is hard not to be afraid, and not just in France. In Sweden, anti-Semitic threats doubled in 2014. In Britain, a survey has shown that every second person harbors anti-Semitic prejudices and roughly a quarter of all Jews in Britain have thought about leaving the country in the last two years. Shortly after the attacks in Paris, police in Belgium uncovered an apparent jihadist plot to attack Jewish facilities.

"In some (EU) states, the majority of the Jewish community is not sure they have a future in Europe," said European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans. "I think this is a huge challenge to the very foundations of European integration." French Prime Minister Manuel Vals also warned at the march to commemorate the murder victims that France would be a different country without its Jews. Nobody should have to feel fear, he said, whether they are journalists, police officers or Jews.

Growing Interest

In 2014, more than 7,000 people left France for Israel, almost double the total from the previous year. A total of 500,000 Jews live in France, putting it third behind the United States and Israel in terms of its total Jewish population. But it has also become the country from which the most immigrants to Israel come. "We are now also prepared if 15,000 come," says Nathan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency.

"For the first time in Israel's history, more Jews are arriving from the free world than from other countries," Sharansky says. Israel, he continues, has become much more than just a refuge from anti-Semitism. "People are now freely choosing Israel even though they could go to the US, Canada or Australia."

Daniel Benhaim, 41, head of Agence Juive, the French chapter of the Jewish Agency, has a similar message. In two or three years, he says, the numbers of French Jews leaving the country will be even greater than it is now. He oversees the 30 employees who work for the agency -- in its main offices in Paris and Marseille but also in smaller offices in Lyon, Strasbourg and Nice. Everywhere, the telephones are constantly ringing and people are registering in large numbers for informational events. In normal times, Agence Juive receives some 300 such calls every fortnight. In the last two weeks, it has been closer to 3,000.

Benhaim was born and raised near Paris and made the Aliyah when he was 17. Though he has now returned to France for his job, he says that Israel is his home, just as it is for his two children. He plans to return to Israel once his finishes his stint with Agence Juive.

Benhaim is careful to note that when he left France, his motivation was a different one than that propelling so many to leave today. He was driven by the Zionist dream, wanting to help build up Israel and do his part. When asked when fear began to take precedence over the Zionist dream, Benhaim says it was a process that took place over the course of 15 years.

He relates an anecdote that tells a lot about how attitudes toward Jews have changed. In 1990, a Jewish cemetery in Carpentras was defiled, whereupon 100,000 French took to the streets in solidarity with Jews in the country. But after the murders in Toulouse two years ago, not even 10,000 demonstrators turned out.

Anti-Semitic Tones

Enzo Lumbroso has an even more disturbing story to tell. The 23-year-old, wearing a ruby red running suit and stylishly mussed hair, says that there were several demonstrations against Israel's military operation during the Gaza war last summer and that even synagogues were attacked. Demonstrators chanted: "Kill the Jews, kill Israel." And it wasn't just Muslims who were raging against Jews," Lumbroso says. Anti-Semitic tones could be heard among the rest of the population as well, he says.

Lumbroso says he had long wanted to emigrate. Last summer, he completed his economics degree at a university in Paris and began preparing for his move. The fact that he would have to serve in the military in his new homeland didn't bother him in the least.

He arrived in Israel shortly after the Paris attacks. At the airport, he received health and social insurance, in addition to his new identification card and a small amount of cash. Lumbroso will spend the next five months in an absorption center, where he takes Hebrew classes for five hours a day. The facility has a cafeteria, a synagogue and exercise equipment in the air raid shelter. The state invests a significant amount of money in immigration: In addition to the language courses, it offers loans for entrepreneurs, financial support for students, stipends for artists and assistance for both home buyers and renters. On top of that, single immigrants receive up to €4,000 ($4,508) and families with two children around €11,000.

When Lumbroso is finished with his military service, he hopes to open a business importing second-hand clothing or a bar with delivery service. In Israel, the economy is growing, even as it stagnates in Europe. "Here, I can simply try things out," he says, adding that Israelis are willing to take risks and to experiment. "And if it doesn't work, then I'm not labeled a loser. I'll just do something else," Lumbroso says.

 40 
 on: Jan 27, 2015, 06:30 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Chinese officials feasted on endangered salamander, then beat journalists: report

Agence France-Presse
27 Jan 2015 at 06:31 ET                   

Chinese officials feasted on a critically endangered giant salamander and turned violent when journalists photographed the luxury banquet, according to media reports Tuesday on the event which appeared to flout Beijing’s austerity campaign.

The 28 diners included senior police officials from the southern city of Shenzhen, the Global Times said.

“In my territory, it is my treat,” it quoted a man in the room as saying.

The giant salamander is believed by some Chinese to have anti-aging properties, but there is no orthodox evidence to back the claim.

The species is classed as “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of threatened species, which says the population has “declined catastrophically over the last 30 years.”

“Commercial over-exploitation for human consumption is the main threat to this species,” the IUCN said.

The Global Times cited the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, which said its journalists were beaten up when their identities were discovered by the diners.

One was kicked and slapped, another had his mobile phone forcibly taken, while the photographer was choked, beaten up and had his camera smashed, the reports said.

A total of 14 police have been suspended and an investigation launched into the incident, added the Global Times.

One of the Shenzhen diners provided the salamander and said it had been captive-bred, according to the report.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a much-publicized austerity drive for the ruling classes, including a campaign for simple meals with the catchphrase “four dishes and one soup.”

The ruling Communist Party also says it is cracking down on the consumption of endangered species, including shark’s fin.

China’s legislature last April approved a law including prison sentences for people caught eating rare wild animals.

The Chinese government considers 420 wild animal species as rare or endangered, state media previously said.

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