Archive for the tag 'holocaust survivors'

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A 93-year-old survivor of the Holocaust died Monday morning after a fire ripped through his 15th floor apartment.

Lipa Briks, who fled Poland in the 1930s, was pulled unconscious from his burning apartment at the Luna Park complex at 2954 West 8th Street shortly after 1:15 a.m.

He was taken to Coney Island Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

He lived alone inside the apartment.

Fire marshals said yesterday that the blaze was caused by faulty electrical wiring.

“He escaped the Nazis, he escaped the Soviet army, he escaped an anti-Semitic Polish regime, but he couldn’t escape the fire,” Briks’ friend and neighbor Michael Bar told the Daily News. “He was the only one in his very large family to survive the Holocaust.”

Clarification: The original version of this article said the victim was taken to Coney Island Hospital, where he died. To clarify, he was dead on arrival and was pronounced so at the hospital. The article has been amended to reflect this.

Honoring real survivors at a Holocaust Memorial Park ceremony. Photo by Erica Sherman

The ringleader of a $57.3 million fraud scheme that siphoned money from of a Holocaust reparations fund was sentenced to eight years behind bars yesterday, announced United States Attorney Preet Bharara.

Semen Domnitser played a pivotal role in the scheme, prosecutors say, having worked as a caseworker and program director that processed the fraudulent applications in return for kickbacks. Domnitser gave his seal of approval to ineligible recipients, many of whom were born after World War II and at least one that was not even Jewish.

In addition to eight years in prison, Domnitser was sentenced to three years of supervised release, ordered to forfeit $59,230 and pay restitution in the amount of $57.3 million.

“As the highest ranking insider to participate in this despicable fraud against the Holocaust Claims Conference, Mr. Domnitser played an integral role in the scheme by processing fraudulent applications to the Conference and turning a profit of thousands of dollars for himself,” said Bharara in a press release. “With today’s sentence, he will be held to account for victimizing Holocaust survivors by diverting funds meant to help them to his own pocket and contributing to this $57 million scheme.”

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Shkolnikov, left, presents Kings Bay Y Executive Director Leonard Petlakh with a check as Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz and City Council candidates David Storobin and Chaim Deutsch look on.

Neighbors gathered with Kings Bay YM-YWHA members, local leaders and Holocaust survivors on Sunday to celebrate the contributions of boardmember Eugene Shkolnikov, and to honor him as he handed over $10,000 for an at-risk youth leadership program he helped create.

Shkolnikov scored the funds from the program from his employer, Northwestern Mutual, who awarded the money at Shkolnikov’s direction after he won the company’s community service award.

The program, which is kicking off its second year, is called Aharai, Hebrew for “Follow me.” It recruits at-risk tweens and teens to develop leadership skills and promotes community involvement, as well as education through interaction with Holocaust survivors. Shkolnikov created the program and funded its first year out of his own pocket, saying he was inspired by a trip he took through a Kings Bay Y program that brought him to Auschwitz.

“When I was in Auschwitz, I saw and I felt things that I thought I knew about, but I had no idea that it was real. It was a very different feeling when I was in Auschwitz,” Shkolnikov told Sheepshead Bites. “I have a 9-year-old daughter, and I know about Holocaust, but how can I tell her? So that’s why I thought it would be very important for the kids, a young generation, to have people who actually went through the Holocaust to educate them what the Holocaust was all about.”

Shkolnikov was one of 20 people out of thousands who work for Northwestern Mutual to receive the annual award.

In addition to Aharai, Shkolnikov’ has made previous donations to the Kings Bay Y, resulting in a library and mirrored dance studio.

Kings Bay Y Executive Directory Leonard Petlakh gave a public thank you during the Sunday ceremony.

“The lessons [of the Holocaust] are still being taught to our children and our grandchildren. We’re blessed to have a program like Aharai. Eugene’s probably one of the best known philanthropists in this community, someone who opens up his heart and his wallet for the community,” said Petlakh. “It is a great example for the entire community to follow.”

The intergenerational ceremony featured a concert by Holocaust survivors and a presentation of survivors’ testimonies by Aharai teens.

Source: Tracy O. via Flickr

The forger of phony papers that allowed a Brighton Beach-based ring of individuals to ripoff more than $57 million from a reparations fund for Holocaust victims was sentenced to serve nearly two years in prison last week.

The New York Post reports:

A weeping Dora Grande bowed her head in shame and let out a whimper after Manhattan federal Judge Thomas Griesa said she deserved a “meaningful penalty” for forging about 300 documents at $100 a pop while working as a translator and notary public in Brooklyn.

In addition to the 21 months prison time — just three months shy of the maximum under her plea deal — Griesa ordered Grande to forfeit the $30,000 she pocketed through the scam, and also pay $75,000 in restitution.

Defense lawyer Glenn Morak argued that Grande, 65, had no idea that her fake birth certificates would be used in a massive scheme to rip off the Manhattan-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

But prosecutor Christopher Frey said Grande “basically turned a blind eye” to her clients’ plans, noting that “the fraud permeated the Brighton Beach community” where she lives.

Authorities busted as many as 19 individuals for their role in the scheme in November 2010. Prosecutors claimed that Brighton Beach residents worked with insiders responsible for verifying applications to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims, doling out kickbacks to approve fraudulent paperwork submitted by Russian immigrants. The scheme went back as far as 1994, authorities alleged.

The Conference is responsible for disbursing funds on behalf of the German government to survivors. One of the ringleaders of the scheme, Semen Domnitser, allegedly signed off on more than 4,000 applications in question. Prosecutors asked recipients to pay back their ill-gotten gains, although did not seek action against them.

The first case against the ring concluded in August 2011, when Polina Anoshina, a 63-year-old Brighton Beach resident accused of plundering the Conference on Jewish Material Claims for $9,000 and roping 30 friends and neighbors into the scam, was sentenced to one year in prison.

Others have since been sentenced as well.

Richard Landman and representatives from the Roma community unveiled the new stone honoring Roma and Sinti victims at a May 5 ceremony.

Salgado (Source: Erick Salgado for Mayor)

Long-shot mayoral candidate Erick Salgado is entering the fray over Sheepshead Bay’s Holocaust Memorial Park, blasting the Parks Department for allowing the addition of stones memorializing non-Jewish victims.

A press release issued last week to Russian and Jewish news outlets but obtained by Sheepshead Bites quotes Salgado calling the installation of five new stones for non-Jewish victims “a betrayal of the community and even worse, disrespectful to the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.”

The stones, which honor groups including the disabled, Roma, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, were dedicated during a May 5 ceremony marred by a protest led by City Council candidate and Holocaust Memorial Committee member Ari Kagan. The protesters claimed that the group of activists who successfully pushed the new stones through had pulled an end-run around the committee, by going through the Parks Department.

Richard Landman, the gay son of Holocaust survivors who spearheaded the initiative for the stones, said that those allegations are phony, and that he had attempted to go through the committee and was repeatedly denied – with no explanation – over the course of 15 years. Landman, an attorney, complained to the city that the committee’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious,” and in violation of the state constitution. The Parks Department established an appeals process for the memorial as a result, and created a Blue Ribbon advisory panel to review Landman’s request – ultimately greenlighting it.

The stones were installed in June 2012, and dedicated on May 5, 2013.

But Salgado, a conservative reverend from Staten Island, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor, sided with Kagan and the committee, claiming that the Parks Department should have ceded the decision on the stones to the local committee, in accordance with their Memorandum of Understanding.

“It is of great concern that a bureaucracy such as the Parks Department would take action that is counter to the community’s wishes, especially when it involves the memory of the six million who perished in the Holocaust and the thousands of Holocaust survivors and their families who visit the memorial each year,” Salgado said. “Was the proper decision pushed to the side by political concerns?”

Here’s the press release in full:

May 8, 2013

Mayoral Candidate Erick Salgado Blasts Parks Department’s Action

Controversial Memorial Stones Installed in Holocaust Memorial Park Without Community’s Approval

Mayoral Candidate Erick Salgado has termed the New York City Parks Department’s move to install five controversial memorial stones in Sheepshead Bay’s Holocaust Memorial Park, “a betrayal of the community and even worse, disrespectful to the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.”

Salgado was referring to the Parks Department’s installation of large stones with inscriptions memorializing such groups as asocial elements (alcoholics and lesbians), political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals. The inclusion of these stones was contrary to the wishes of the Board of the Holocaust Memorial Committee, which under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Parks Department has been administering the memorial since its dedication in 1997.

The five stones were installed unceremoniously last July, but an unveiling ceremony was held Sunday by several organizations from outside the community.

“It is of great concern that a bureaucracy such as the Parks Department would take action that is counter to the community’s wishes, especially when it involves the memory of the six million who perished in the Holocaust and the thousands of Holocaust survivors and their families who visit the memorial each year. Was the proper decision pushed to the side by political concerns?” Salgado asked.

A group of activists unveiled five new stones memorializing non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust at Sheepshead Bay’s Holocaust Memorial Park this weekend, capping off nearly two decades of fighting for the right against a local committee opposed to the installation.

The stones, dispersed throughout the public park, remember the persecution of homosexual victims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the disabled, Roma and Sinti, and “asocials.” The unveiling ended nearly 20 years of struggle for broader recognition within the park. Members of the Holocaust Memorial Committee, charged with reviewing and approving the placement of new names and markers, held a protest led by City Council candidate Ari Kagan, who complained that the group of “outsiders” went over the committee’s head in getting approval to place the stone, and represented a threat to the memory of Jewish victims.

Keep reading, and view photos of the event and the new stones.

Kings Bay Y teens light candles in honor of the Holocaust’s victims. (Photo by Erica Sherman)

Approximately 100 community leaders, clergy, neighbors and Holocaust survivors gathered on Sunday, April 14, for the Annual Holocaust Commemoration Program held at the Kings Bay YM-YWHA, located at 3495 Nostrand Avenue.

The annual event, which organizers describe as “solemn yet uplifting,” honors the memory of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust and to rally around the notion of “Never Again.”

Rabbi Melvin I. Burg of the Ocean Avenue Jewish Center led a touching presentation recognizing Jewish heroes from the tragic event. The event also included a candle-lighting ceremony and special performances by the Kings Bay Y Tween Knafayim and the Madison Jewish Center Junior Choir.

View photos from the touching event.

Photo by Joe Comperiati

It’s hard to put into words the scope of the tragedy of the Holocaust. The millions of victims of that outrage should never be forgotten and the few survivors that remain living should never be ignored.

Life, with all its joys and sorrows, carries on, and while survivors of the Holocaust may feel blessed to be decades removed and a world away from those dark days, many were devastated by the recent events of Superstorm Sandy.

Thankfully, these battered brave souls have not been ignored, as a slew of donations from the German Consulate, German charitable organizations and German corporations have poured in to help survivors with expenses incurred to their homes as a result of Sandy, according to a report in the Jewish Week.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, led by executive vice president Greg Schneider, had organized tours to Coney Island just weeks before the storm struck to keep up to date on the condition of Holocaust survivors living in the area.

“When the storm occurred, we got in touch with the German government and German industry,” [Schneinder] said. “Because of their visit to Coney Island and other parts of Brooklyn last year they had a mental picture of the area and knew exactly what we were talking to them about. I was able to say, ‘Remember, we went to this soup kitchen and met 10 survivors who talked of their experience in the ghetto.’ I told them that each of their homes had been flooded and that they had no electricity. And we sent them pictures we took of the area, as well as written material. And Rabbi Wiener sent them pictures of his office and of water rising in the streets.”

The German government’s awareness of the devastation caused to the communities in which many survivors live, spurred them to gather donations adding up to $4,000 from the Consulate itself, and inspire other German organizations to donate sums as well.

 As a result of that outreach, Schneider said the GDV, an association of all German insurance companies, donated $26,000 to Sandy relief efforts. He said the giant German insurance company Allianz donated $50,000 to help restore the infrastructure of the JCC of Greater Coney Island.

“We had specifically mentioned that building to them, reminded them that they were there and that the entire office was destroyed,” Schneider said. “It was not a lavish office, by any means, but it lost all of its basic equipment — telephones, fax machines, computers, tables and chairs — and it all must be replaced. They came up with the number of $50,000 and have already sent a check.”

In addition, Schneider said, the board of the Claims Conference allocated $250,000 to help Holocaust survivors caught in the storm.

Honoring real survivors at a Holocaust Memorial Park ceremony. Photo by Erica Sherman

A disturbing scheme that has been running since 1994, which bilked a Holocaust survivors fund of $57 million, may finally be coming to a close. The scam was uncovered in 2009 after an FBI sting, and a year later the US Attorney’s Office announced indictments against 11 employees of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference. Thirty-one people have been charged so far.

Several individuals from Brighton Beach collaborated with employees of  the Claims Conference, which manages the funds, and submitted applications for victims of the Holocaust. The problem was that the claims that were submitted and approved were for victims who did not exist, or people who were not qualified to receive the funds.

The employees received kickbacks for approving the fraudulent applications and the ringleaders who submitted the falsified documents received unlawful Holocaust reparations.

Valentina Romashova, who stole $150,000 from Holocaust survivors, has recently admitted her role in the scheme and plead guilty in court. She has been ordered to return the money and can serve up to five years in prison for her participation in the scheme, according to the New York Daily News.

Romashova approved almost 5,000 fake applications.

An ex-employee of the fund program, Yevgeniya Abramovich, was also sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay back $201,000, wrote the Jewish Press.

Image courtesy of the office of State Senator David Storobin

When she was a young girl, Klara Zubutova was detained as a prisoner at a concentration camp. Today, the Holocaust survivor is entitled to pension payments from the German government, which are not subject to taxation.

Last week, Zubutova received a letter in the mail — written in German — from Bundeszentralamt fur Steuern, which is the tax law service of Germany (translated, it means the Federal Central Office for Taxes).

Confused, Zubutova went to see Senator David Storobin’s staff in the hopes that they may help her translate and understand the letter. Turns out, the German agency was trying to collect taxes on Zubutova’s pension payments.

Storobin wrote a letter to the German consulate in New York City, which confirmed the error with a return letter.

According to a release from Storobin’s office, the German consulate replied, “It is a matter of course that Holocaust survivors have to be treated with the highest respect and consideration. I very much regret that those concerned feel inappropriately treated.”

The German government exempted Klara from the taxes.

Storobin urges other survivors who receive any confusing mail to contact his office at (718) 743-8610.

“The German government was contrite when I contacted them. But we just can’t know how common this is,” Storobin said. “My district in Brooklyn has thousands of survivors. Today, they are all senior citizens. I hope that they are not erroneously paying taxes on their German pensions.

“Let me be clear: you don’t owe a dollar to the German government for surviving the Holocaust,” concluded Storobin.

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