Guest Post: The Wiener Holocaust Library and Its Role in the Fight Against Hate

This is a guest post by frequent contributor Brian Goldfarb. Brian has been a volunteer for a long while at the Wiener Library. Here he tells us something about the library and its history.

The Wiener Holocaust Library and Its Role in the Fight Against Hate

At this time of year, it seems especially appropriate to look at the work of the Wiener Holocaust Library, with Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) with its lighting of yellow candles and Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Day of Remembrance of the Fallen, to look at the work of one organisation dedicated to teaching the world about the brutality of mass killings, whatever the scale, small or large, perpetuated especially by state agencies. I would predict that in a decade or two, the Wiener Holocaust Library will be adding the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its human consequences to its catalogue.

I have been a volunteer at the Wiener Holocaust Library (as it is now titled) for 18  years, since shortly after retiring, and it has been a fascinating and enlightening experience. Possibly the most fascinating part is when I have been tasked with preparing archives so that they can be made available for researchers using the Library’s material in order to complete academic theses (often as part of their academic research leading to post-graduate degrees), write articles or books or even inform their teaching. While I am not a trained archivist, I have been ably instructed by the Library’s official archivist and was always able to consult him with any problems that arose. Indeed, one such task led directly to an article published right here on Anne’s Opinions (of which more anon).

However, it is with the origin and development of the Library that I wish to start, because it is these origins that have made the Library the force in the world of learning that it has become. And I want to start in what may seem like am odd place, but please bear with me, because I think it’s a good story.

Daniel Finkelstein, Conservative Party Peer (though he never uses the title in public), deputy editor of The Times of London (and occasional leader writer) and Times columnist, started one of his articles more or less as follows, by noting that his family accuse him of being incredibly untidy and a hoarder. He acknowledged that, indeed, he did (and does) keep vast quantities of paper items. But, he wrote, he knows exactly where every piece of paper is in the pile. And anyway, he continued, he has an excellent precedent: his grandfather did exactly the same. And his grandfather was Alfred Wiener, the founder of the Library that bears his name.

Daniel Finkelstein wrote this column (and numerous others like it) because the Wiener Library occasionally asks him for some publicity, and he willingly provides it.

This leads to the question: who was Dr Alfred Wiener and how did come to start the massive collection that bears his name (so vast that much of it is stored off-site and researchers may have to wait for some items to be delivered to their desk in the Library’s reading room, sometimes having to come back another day for it)? Before World War 1, he had earned a PhD in Arabic Studies and Arabic. During the War, he served in the German Army and was awarded an Iron Cross, 2nd Class. After the war, he joined the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith (always abbreviated as Centralverein or even CV) and rose quickly to a high position. Very early on, he recognised the danger of the rising of the far-right in Germany and especially, as early as 1925, that the Nazi Party was the major threat to Jews.

As a result of this insight into the German far-right, he created a specific Bureau within the CV to collect far-right and, again specifically, Nazi Party publications: their newspapers, pamphlets, leaflets, books written by far-right thinkers and so forth.

As soon as the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, he gathered up his collected papers, some of his staff, his family and so forth, and moved to Holland, where he continued his collecting, using, where necessary, friendly contacts (especially friendly anti-Nazi non-Jews). As soon as the Second World War broke out, he moved, lock, stock, barrel and staff members, to London.

From the Wiener Library

Ruth, Eva and Mirjam Wiener, survivors of Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen camps, Wiener Holocaust Library Collection

However, for some unknown reason (and even on of his biographers, Ben Barkow, a long-serving Director of the Wiener Library, couldn’t answer the question), his wife and family (three daughters) didn’t go with him. As a result, they were sent to Thereseinstadt, where, astonishingly, all of them survived the war, although his wife, Margarete, died shortly afterwards. His daughters joined him in London.

His document collection (and he continued collected as long as he could) proved invaluable to the Allies in helping to plan the Nuremberg Trials, but they found the official title of his collection too clumsy and asked him to rename it, which is how it became, first, the Wiener Collection and then Library.

Naturally, if collecting had stopped there, the Wiener would be of interest only to historians and only those interested in the period between the First and Second World Wars and up to the end or a little beyond the end of the Second. However, of course, and sadly, the mass killing of people didn’t stop and neither did the Library. It continues to collect material, especially and mostly on the Holocaust, but also on other attempted or failed mass killings of innocent civilians.

This makes it a centre especially for graduate students and other writers to complete theses or books (as noted above) and seeking material for articles for other outlets, mostly, but not only, academic journals.

The Wiener also puts on exhibitions in its ground floor reception area to illustrate many facets of the history of attempts at or successful achievements of mass killings and also the resistance to these efforts. To explore the Library in more detail, visit the Wiener Library website online.

I noted in the first paragraph above that the Library had inspired an article right here on Anne’s Opinions, at this link: The Defence Committee Archive and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

In this article I drew on a particularly massive archive, containing 70 boxes each holding up to 1000 pieces of paper, on permanent loan to the Library, from the UK Board of Deputies of British Jews Defence Committee, a pre-World War Two sub-organisation set up specifically to combat British Fascists in the 1930s, but also included in that article is a section tracing the history of the creation of the Protocols of The Elders of Zion, long known by those with a working brain to be a fabrication.

It is also the case that as well as public archives, there are many family archives donated to the Library. For example, there is the photo archive of a German Jew who fought in World War One and out of which fell a World War One Iron Cross: of the Chief Librarian who happened to be in the Reading Room that day, and is herself of German origin, had never seen one before.

And I must remember the time that I was preparing the photo archive of a young German Jew who had left Germany in the 1930s and returned as a Sergeant in the US Army. He had collected postcards as his unit fought its way up Italy. His collection was in ring binders, but one of the rings of one folder had broken and the leaves were held together by one of his US Army dog tags: the genuine article, not what we see on the cinema screen as dangling from the neck of a Hollywood actor!

Two  shivers down the spine: one that was of the good sort: holding a letter written by Otto Frank, the father of Anne, to the Library, informing them that he had sent, under separate cover, a parcel of the Diary of Anne Frank in 8 different European languages.

The nasty kind: opening up archives to find, more times than I would wish, Nazi-era passports with the notorious “J” in red stamped inside.

And not to forget the story of Maule Ramsay, Conservative MP for a Scottish constituency, who was suspected with good cause of being an active Nazi sympathiser, to the extent that he was imprisoned under the auspices of wartime Regulation 18B – in effect, detained without charge or trial. He wasn’t deselected until the 1945 election was called.

The place is a treasure trove for historians, whether professional or amateur, of that period of history, starting in the early 1920s and continuing still.

The coda is probably the last line of the Brecht play “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”, translating the Hitler story to 1930s Chicago and mobsters such as Al Capone, when the actor who plays Ui comes back on stage after the “end” of the play, wiping the make-up from his face and says, more or less don’t celebrate his fall too soon “the sow that bore him is on heat again”. A certain Russian President with the initials VP, anyone?

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance: and that’s why organisations like the Wiener Holocaust Library are so vital to maintain our freedoms.

Anne adds:

Brian, thank you so much for this very interesting article, the background you have provided of the Wiener Library (of which I had never heard until you started contributing to this blog), and of the historical details surrounding its founding.

I would recommend to anyone travelling to London (including myself!) to pay a visit to this Library, especially to its upcoming 90th anniversary exhibition. I’m sure we could all find something fascinating there.


Posted in Antisemitism, History, Incitement | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Yom Atzma’ut Same’ach! Happy 75th birthday Israel!

Israel at 75

As we have done for 74 previous years, Israel has stumbled from Memorial Day to Independence Day, but this year, despite the “round” number birthday, we are limping and bruised into the celebrations. Civic strife still bubbles beneath and above the surface, our enemies lurk in wait at signs of weakness, yet despite it all, the celebrations are taking place thank G-d.

To mark this wonderful day, Assuta Hospital in Ashdod dressed all the newborns in Israeli flag outfits. Aren’t they cute? Assuta hospital dresses newborns in Israeli flag outfits

Assuta Hospital in Ashdod dresses the newborns in Israeli flag outfits

For a more optimistic view of our beloved country, here are some statistics on Israel at 75 provided by the Times of Israel:

The population of Israel is edging toward 10 million, making it a dozen times larger than it was on the day the Jewish state was established, according to figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Monday ahead of the country’s 75th Independence Day celebrations.

There are 9,727,000 people living in Israel, the CBS said. Of those, 7,145,000 are Jewish, or 73.5 percent, along with 2,048,000 Arabs (21%) and 534,000 members of other minorities (5.5%).

Since last year, the population grew by 216,000 people, an increase of 2.3%. There were 183,000 babies born and 79,000 new immigrants arrived, while 51,000 people died.

When the state was founded on May 14, 1948, there were 806,000 people living in the country, meaning it has grown twelve-fold over the decades.

According to the figures, at the end of 2021, 46% of the world’s total Jewish population was living in Israel.

On the economic front, 2022 saw real growth per capita reach 4.4% compared to an average of 3.3% for countries in the European Union. Over the period 2012-2022, Israel’s real growth per capita reached 23.4%, the CBS said, compared to an average of 14.7% for EU countries.

These numbers are quite staggering when you think of the circumstances in which Israel was founded. Truly a Divine miracle taking place in front of our eyes.

Tonight we went to our own synagogue for a change where they had a lovely prayer service, and we still had time to pop into the Central Shul for the second half of a boisterous musical tefila. Tomorrow we shall be heading over to our daughter for our traditional family BBQ (aka a “mangal”).

Several videos caught my eye this year which are very meaningful to me, and I hope you will enjoy them too.

A video by the late and very lamented Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l, originally produced for Israel’s 60th anniversary and re-released now for the 75th, is profoundly moving and evocative:

The following video was posted by “Imshin” on Twitter, it’s short and very sweet and very uplifting:

And here is a video on a similar theme, with historical film in the background, produced by the songwriter Yoni Leviatan:

And here is the video of the central Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony held at Har Herzl this evening:

May we merit to see many more years of love, unity and brotherhood in this crazy, wonderful little country of ours, till 120 and beyond!

זה היום עשה ה’ נגילה ונשמחה בו

This is the day that Hashem made, we will rejoice and celebrate on it.

Posted in History, Israel news, Judaism, Slice of Israeli life | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Yom Hazikaron 5783 – Israel’s Memorial Day 2023

Before I start this post I just want to explain where I’ve been these past 6 months or so. I haven’t actually been anywhere, I’ve been hibernating in a sense, trying to avoid the terrible divisions in Israeli civic and political society. I have been feeling so dispirited by the whole situation that I could not bring myself to write about it or about anything else.

Yom Hazikaron

But today is Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, and this is something I cannot ignore.

By Shay Charka on Facebook

The rollercoaster of the Israeli experience: From Yom Hashoah to Yom Hazikaron to Yom Haatzmaut. Credit: Shay Charka on Facebook

Sadly, despite the infighting, or maybe because of it, terror attacks against Israelis have increased dramatically, too many to list here. My heart breaks at the murders of 3 sets of siblings within the last couple of months: The Paley brothers Hy’d, Yakov Yisrael and Asher Menachem aged just 6 and 8, the Yaniv brothers Hy’d, Hallel Menachem and Yagel Yaakov, and and the Dee sisters Maya Esther and Rina Miriam, and their mother Lucy Hy’d.

All these families have been heroic in the way they have faced the trauma and grief head-on, in their pleas to the Israeli public to put aside their differences and calling for unity.

Rabbi Leo Dee in particular has stood out for his inspirational, awe-inspiring strength of character, for his pleas for unity, for Am Yisrael to take on good deeds in memory of his beloved wife and daughters.

This extraordinary man was asked to say the Memorial Prayer tonight as Yom Hazikaron ends, and he admits he feels he “doesn’t deserve this honour”. I can’t think of anyone who is more deserving.

Watch the interview with him by Arutz 7 for Yom Hazikaron:

Even as last minute preparations were taking place for the Memorial Day ceremonies in Jerusalem, another Palestinian terrorist attempted to murder Israelis in a car-ramming attack at Jerusalem’s busy Machane Yehuda market.  Seveen people were injured including a very seriously injured 80 year old.

And in the past couple of minutes we heard of another shooting attack in the Binyamin region near Ofra, a terrorist opened fire against a group of runners running in memory of fallen comrades.

It just never ends.

At last night’s central Yom Hazikaron ceremony at the Kotel, there was a chilling moment (amongst all the rest) where the father of Hallel and Yagel Yaniv said Kaddish, accompanied by his young son Tzur Yehuda. The MC explained: “Tzur Yehuda was born on 4th Iyar 5773. Tonight is his Bar Mitzvah”.  The heart breaks.

The war for Israel’s Independence is still ongoing, let no one be fooled.

Let the deaths of our precious soldiers and victims of terrorism not be in vain. May their memories be for a blessing and may Hashem avenge their blood.

“In their death, they bequeathed us life”.

במותם ציוו לנו חיים


Posted in Defence and Military, Israel news, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Yom Kippur 5783 – Gmar Hatima Tova!

May we be written in the Book of Life for a sweet and happy new year, blessings and success

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is upon us once again. It begins in a few hours time here in Israel, when we will be entering a 25-hour fast to pray for forgiveness for any wrongs we have committed towards G-d. It is a day when we must ask forgiveness from our fellow man if we have wronged them, forgive those who have wronged us if they ask to be forgiven, and pray that Hashem will seal us in the Book of Life. This year, as with the last two years, that prayer, along with the line in the Avinu Malkenu prayer: אבינו מלכנו, מנע מגפה מנחלתך- Our father, our King, prevent a plague among Your inheritance, will be recited with extra fervour although thank G-d the corona pandemic seems to be weakening.

We are now back to pre-corona days (although masks are recommended for vulnerable people) attending services with day-long prayers, composed of beautiful, spiritual and emotional prayers and songs, being held in shuls and community centres throughout the Jewish world. It is a day when we must ask forgiveness from our fellow man if we have wronged them, forgive those who have wronged us if they ask to be forgiven, and pray that Hashem will seal us in the Book of Life.

Here is a very powerful video (via DavidinPT), so fitting for Yom Kippur, based on one of the central prayers of the day, Unetaneh Tokef:

In the month of Elul preceding Rosh Hashanah, Sephardim hold special penitential prayers, Slichot, every night or early in the morning. The Ashkenazim join in the week before Rosh Hashanah. The prayers reach their emotional peak on the night before Yom Kippur. This was the scene last night at the Kotel:

In Israel, traffic comes to a complete halt throughout the country, even in the most secular towns, and a serene and holy calmness pervades throughout the land. Even the international airport and public transport close down for the day, starting from a few hours before the fast until an hour or so after the fast ends.

Here is a link from a few years ago showing the empty roads throughout Israel:

In the spirit of the day, I would like to ask forgiveness from anyone whom I might have offended or hurt.

To those who are fasting I wish an easy and meaningful fast.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish my family, friends and readers Gmar Hatima Tova – May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a year of good health and blessings.

גמר חתימה טובה


Posted in Israel news, Judaism | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Shana Tova Umetuka – 5783

Shana Tova Umetuka

Shana Tova Umetuka
שנה טובה ומתוקה

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins tomorrow night (Sunday night), and lasts for 2 days, until sundown on Tuesday night. The Jewish year follows the lunar calendar, and the number counts the number of years since Creation. This year we will mark the beginning of 5783.

Last year I bewailed the still-prevailing limitations of corona, despite the situation being so much better than the previous year when we could only attend outdoor minyanim because of the pandemic.

This year thank G-d we are pretty much back to normal despite once again being warned of yet another wave (is anyone counting what number?). At least we can now keep the air-conditioning on and the windows closed, and we’ll be able to enjoy the synagogue services in comfort.

To quote from previous Rosh Hashana posts, Rosh Hashana is not marked by great parties and merry-making for the Jewish New Year is also known as the Day of Judgement, the day when all humans are held accountable before Heaven for their good deeds and bad, and their fate for the coming year is decided. A good part of the two days of the festival is spent in emotional and uplifting prayers in the synagogue where we acclaim G-d as the King of Israel and as King of the whole universe, and where we ask Him to write us in the Book of Life, which remains open until Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 10 days time, giving us time to repent and atone for our sins.

The holiday is marked with the blowing of the Shofar (the ram’s horn), which is meant to literally sound an alarm to wake us up from our bad ways and return us to the righteous path.

Here’s a short clip to give you an idea of what the Shofar sounds like. In the synagogue it will be sounded altogether 100 times in two sets of 30 and 4 sets of 10.

We also eat sweet foods to symbolise our wish for a sweet New Year. A classic staple at the Rosh Hashana table is the apple, which is round, symbolising the cycle of the year, dipped in honey for a sweet new year.

Round Challah for Rosh Hashanah

Even our Challahs are baked in a round shape to symbolise the circle of life and the circle of the year. They are often extra-sweet and have raisins inside for added sweetness.On the second night of Rosh Hashana it is traditional to eat a fruit from the new season. The most popular fruit is the pomegranate, because of the beauty of its shape, because it is one of the 7 species of produce native to the Land of Israel, and because it is traditionally believed that it has 613 seeds, the same as the number of mitzvot (commandments) that a Jew is commanded to keep.

Pomegranates already on sale at the shuk, ready for Rosh Hashanah

It has become a tradition that the Israeli Bureau of Statistics issues its annual population update at Rosh Hashanah. As the year 5783 dawns, Israel’s population numbers close to 10 million!

Israel’s population stands at 9,593,000 on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and grew by 187,000 over the past year, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) annual pre-Rosh Hashanah report on Israel’s population shows.

The population had grown by 1.8% over the past 12 months.

The average birthrate stood at three children per woman.

The total population is comprised of 6.983 million Jews (74%), 1.998 million Arabs – including Muslims and Christians (21%), and 473,000 residents of other minorities and religions (5%).

According to CBS projections, Israel’s population will pass the 10 million mark in 2024, the 15 million mark at the end of 2048 and the 20 million mark at 2065.

Some 177,000 Israeli couples welcomed a new child into the world this year. About 53,000 Israelis passed away, some 4,400 of them from the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Jewish State this year welcomed 59,000 Olim (immigrants) to the Holy Land, a decade record, primarily the result of immigration from Ukraine and the surrounding countries and the result of Russia’s invasion of the country.

Another Rosh Hashanah-related item brings us the Unexpected Story behind the Shofar:

Especially before Rosh Hashana, which the Bible calls “Yom Teruah,” the day the shofar is sounded.

Rosh Hashana is considered a day of divine judgment. In the synagogue, 100 blasts of this natural trumpet punctuate the long Rosh Hashana liturgy as a wakeup call to repentance and a fanfare for the King of Kings.

The designated shofar-blower needs a kosher horn, meaning it has no cracks or holes and no added materials such as glue or paint.

It must have the right shape and mouthpiece for the individual shofar-blower to be able to fulfill every congregant’s obligation to hear a specific series of sounds — the long tekiah, three short shevarim and nine staccato teruah blasts, finished off by an extra-long tekiah gedola.

Ribak, 52, and Zvi Barsheshet, 67, are among very few craftsmen producing shofars in Israel. Their families have been turning animal horns into sacred musical instruments since the 14th century.

The 15-generation business has an extraordinary story.

A Polish-Moroccan partnership

Ribak’s great-uncle immigrated to what was then Palestine from Poland in 1927 and set up shop in Tel Aviv, later handing the business down to Ribak’s father.

A picture of Eli Ribak’s late father, Avraham, on the wall of Barsheshet & Ribak in Tel Aviv. Photo by Abigail Leichman

Barsheshet’s father emigrated from Morocco via France in 1947 aboard the Exodus ship that was seized by the British and the passengers diverted to Cyprus. After his release from internment, he established a shofar workshop in Haifa.

“My father and my partner’s father were competitors. Thirty years ago, they decided to work together,” Ribak tells ISRAEL21c.

Ribak initially took a different career path: He has a master’s degree in materials engineering from the Technion and worked at Motorola for 17 years.

“Nine years ago, when my father died, I quit high-tech and joined Zvi,” he says.

He shakes his head with a wry smile. “I don’t believe a normal person would go into this business. It’s very hard work.”

Read the whole thing for a fascinating explanation of how shofarot are sourced and created.

May Hashem hear our prayers and may we all merit to hear the blasts of the Shofar. May Hashem bring peace to Israel and to the rest of the world.

If I have offended anyone during this past year I ask forgiveness of them and sincerely apologize.

May Hashem grant us good health, peace, joy and prosperity, and may He inscribe us all in the Book of Life.

תכלה שנה וקללותיה, תחל שנה וברכותיה

Let the current year and its curses be over, let the new year and its blessings begin.

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy new year.


Posted in Israel news, Judaism | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

RIP Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II 1926-2022

On Thursday afternoon we heard the sad news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Despite the fact that I left England almost 45 years ago, I was surprised at how sad I felt at this news. I’m trying to understand my own emotions and I think it’s because the Queen was a symbol of unity and stability for the country and the world. She was one of the very good things about England and one of the few symbols that I missed.

Much has been said in Israel about the Queen never having visited Israel. As readers of this blog know, I have no tolerance for anti-Israel or anti-Jewish sentiment, yet despite the lack of an official Royal visit to Israel I do not believe for one minute that the Queen was anti-Israel. Indeed she knighted Shimon Peres, a rare honour for a non-British citizen, and welcomed each and every Israeli ambassador and visiting head of state to the Palace.

Over the last few years Prince Charles (now the King) visited Israel a couple of times, and in 2018 Prince William finally made the Royal visit that Israelis craved and which had been refused to the Queen.

The Queen’s relations with the Jewish community were warm and respectful, and these sentiments were returned in full by the Jewish community. She elevated two previous Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Lord Emmanuel Jakobovits z”l and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l to the peerage, and kosher meals were always provided for her Jewish guests at official banquets and meals.

Queen Elizabeth will be very sadly missed by everyone who had any connection with Britain. She reigned for so long – 70 years – that she provided a link through the generations to our history. She will be remembered and honoured for her sacrifice – of normal family life, her sense of duty to her country and the Commonwealth, her integrity and her humanity.

May she rest in peace and may her memory be a blessing.

May G-d give King Charles III the same guidance that He gave Queen Elizabeth and may his reign be as successful, and as warm to the British Jewish community as his mother’s was.


Posted in International relations | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments