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Anne Frank and Family Denied Visas by U.S.

The desperation with which Anne Frank’s father tried to get his family out of the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II and the frustration he endured in trying to secure a U.S. visa are revealed in a file of letters recently discovered at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.

Among the 80 or so letters found in 2005 by a volunteer archivist are those penned by Otto Frank between April 30, 1941, and December 11, 1941, in addition to ones written by Frank’s relatives and powerful friends in the United States, such as Nathan Straus Jr. and Jacob Hiatt. YIVO kept the existence of the documents secret for more than a year while exploring copyright and legal issues but finally released them to the public in February.

The Franks, a German Jewish family from Frankfurt, moved to Amsterdam when the Nazis assumed power in Germany in 1933. After the Netherlands fell in May 1940, Otto Frank pursued several escape routes out of the country for his wife and two daughters. Besides trying to secure visas to the United States and Cuba, he also considering fleeing to Portugal through Spain.

National security concerns and a fear that many refugees would be an economic burden for the U.S. government were the major reasons Frank and countless other European Jews were denied visas during the war. The recently discovered letters show that Straus, part of the Macy’s department store family and head of the U.S. Housing Authority, personally intervened on Otto Frank’s behalf, to no avail.

From July 5, 1942, to August 4, 1944, the Franks and four others hid from the Nazis in the attic of an Amsterdam warehouse, before being discovered and deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Otto’s wife, Edith, died at Auschwitz in January 1945. Anne and sister Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen, where they died of typhus in March 1945.

Otto Frank was the only one of the eight stowaways to survive. He returned to the Netherlands after the war, and in 1947 had his daughter’s now-famous diary published.

Chris Howland

New Exhibit Opens on Concentration Camp Brothels

A letter from SS leader Heinrich Himmler directing the establishment of concentration camp brothels is among the nearly 200 documents and artifacts on display at the Ravensbrück Memorial Museum. The new exhibit, which runs until September 30, 2007, details how an estimated 400 female inmates were forced to provide sexual services as production incentives for male slave laborers at 10 camps, including Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen.

The museum is in the former Ravensbrück concentration camp, located about 55 miles north of Berlin. As many as 130,000 women and children were registered prisoners at Ravensbrück during World War II. On display are the index cards identifying inmates as “brothel women,” documents related to the bureaucratic organization of the brothels and vouchers distributed by the SS to male inmates entitling them to visit the brothels, known as “special barracks.”

The so-called bonus was intended to boost the productivity of slave laborers working in the armaments industry and was extended to every group of prisoners except Jews.

—David Lesjak

Stolen Valor Act Stymies WWII Medal Collectors

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which President George W. Bush signed into law on December 21, 2006, was originally crafted to prevent individuals from impersonating decorated military veterans. Now, it apparently is having an unintentional devastating effect on the collectors, historians and military enthusiasts who eagerly sell and trade medals that might otherwise end up on the trash heap. According to a message posted by Orders and Medals Society of America President Dean Veremakis on the OMSA Web site, “Congressional Staffers say ‘the collector, historian & archivist’ is not affected by the legislation, [but] the actual wording of the Act does not say [that].

The Stolen Valor Act was created to strengthen the provisions of Title 18, Section 704, of the U.S. Code. Amendments in the act effectively make it illegal for veterans, their survivors and beneficiaries or collectors to purchase, attempt to purchase, solicit for purchase, mail, ship, import, export, attempt to sell, advertise for sale, trade, barter or exchange anything of value for decorations such as the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Air Force Cross, Navy Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart.

The recent changes have caused several auction houses to reevaluate their listings of U.S. military medals, with eBay having already canceled its auctions of medals covered by the act. FJP Auctions Inc. canceled its quarterly live-mail sale that had been scheduled for February 22, 2007, in Louisville, Ky.

Amendments in the act have caused concern for officials at the U.S. Department of Defense. As the law is written, any soldier mailing a medal home for safekeeping while serving overseas is effectively breaking the law, which specifically bans the mailing of medals.

Ed Maier III, a longtime Purple Heart historian and collector, is advocating an amendment of the act’s wording “so that it targets the frauds it was supposed to go after.” Maier maintains a Web site that showcases his collection of 190 named Purple Hearts, but the act essentially outlaws his collecting efforts.

“Each [Purple Heart I own] has been painstakingly researched so the memory of the serviceman will not be forgotten,” Maier said. “The really sad thing is that without these [auctions] the local estate sale or family member of the deceased veteran now has no avenue to sell these medals and make sure they get into the hands of a collector who will preserve them. I fear they will just be thrown into the trash.

“I know of no one who opposes going after those cowards who pose as veterans. I hope they are exposed and brought to light….On the same note, I know of no one who after they are told about the unintended consequences of the wording of the Stolen Valor Act does not want it amended so these medals can be preserved.”

To see Maier’s collection, visit purple_hearts_of_world_war_ii.htm.

—David Lesjak

Hall of Honor Pays Tribute to Purple Heart Recipients

An estimated 1.7 million Americans have been killed or wounded in combat since the Purple Heart was established in 1932. The medal’s origins stem from the first American combat award devised by General George Washington in 1782, the Military Badge of Merit. Now, at the site of the final encampment of Washington’s Continental Army, a newly constructed National Purple Heart Hall of Honor pays tribute to the medal and the men and women who have earned it.

The 7,500-square-foot Hall of Honor is located at the New Windsor Cantonment State Historical Site in New York’s Hudson River valley and is the first museum devoted entirely to the preservation and display of the Purple Heart. Telling the story of the Purple Heart and its recipients through photographs, film footage, veterans’ recollections and period objects, the museum includes a reception area, gallery, exhibit hall, education center and presentation room.

The museum staff is collecting and preserving the stories of Purple Heart recipients from all branches of service and across several generations. To date, more than 50,000 stories have been recorded, and the hall maintains a database containing the names of some 200,000 individuals documented as having received the Purple Heart.

On display is a small collection of historically significant Purple Heart medals, including one of the first issued in 1932. The award was made retroactive to those who received “wound chevrons” and “certificates of merit” during World War I and to those from earlier wars who chose to apply for the award. Beginning in 1942, it was limited to service members wounded or killed in combat against the enemy.

Veterans or families wanting to share their stories or contribute material may do so by contacting the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor at P.O. Box 207, Vails Gate, NY 12584, 1-877-284-6667, or by visiting its Web site:

—David Lesjak

63 Years on, American Super Spy Honored

The Gestapo couldn’t catch her, and the British Royal Family couldn’t find her. Virginia Hall, the legendary American World War II spy, recently was honored posthumously by the British and French embassies in Washington, D.C. Hall distinguished herself as a covert operative early in the war for Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), and later worked for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Hall’s work with the French Resistance frustrated German security forces in Vichy France and garnered her the Gestapo label as “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.” In 1943 King George VI and the Queen Mother, Mary, signed a Royal Warrant making Hall a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), but were unable to locate her.

That 1943 Royal Warrant was finally presented to Hall’s family on December 12, 2006, by British Ambassador Sir David Manning. Hall had died in 1982, so her niece, Lorna Catling, accepted the award in her honor. It is quite possible that Hall never received the award during her lifetime because she had intentionally stayed out of the limelight. She never actively sought to have her accomplishments celebrated, and spent the last few years of her life, following a successful career with the CIA, in relative anonymity.

Despite having one of her legs amputated following a hunting accident in Turkey in 1932, Hall had been determined to work for the U.S. Foreign Service. Because of her artificial leg, however, she was refused an opportunity to take the Foreign Service exam in 1939. Hall was working as an ambulance service volunteer in Paris when the German army conquered France in May 1940. She made her way to London and volunteered for the SOE. After returning to Vichy France in 1941 as the agency’s only female field operative, Hall spent the next 15 months helping coordinate the activities of the French Resistance.

When Gestapo “wanted” posters appeared offering a reward for the capture of the “woman with the limp,” Hall fled to Spain. During the grueling trek through the rugged Pyrenees Mountains, Hall sent a message to London saying that “Cuthbert” was giving her trouble. Confused by the message, and not realizing that Cuthbert was the name she had given her artificial leg, British commanders messaged Hall, “If Cuthbert is troublesome, eliminate him.”

Hall worked as a spy for a short time in Madrid before returning to Britain. While in London, she joined the OSS, the American precursor to the CIA, and then was sent back to France in 1944, disguising herself as a peasant woman. She mapped parachute drop zones for the OSS operatives, established safe houses and coordinated attacks by French Resistance fighters.

In addition to being made a member of the OBE, Virginia Hall later became the only civilian woman to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

—David Lesjak

Nuremberg Prosecutor Dies

Bernard David Meltzer, a prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials who also helped draft the United Nations Charter, died of prostate cancer in Chicago on February 15, 2007, at age 92. After graduating first in his class at the University of Chicago in 1937 and earning a master’s of law degree at Harvard University in 1938, Meltzer worked at a Chicago law firm before becoming an aide to Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson. In 1943 he joined the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services.

At the end of the war, Meltzer assisted in drafting the U.N. Charter, dealing in particular with establishing the General Assembly.

As a Navy officer, in 1946 Meltzer was put on the prosecution staff for the Nuremberg Trials, leading a team of lawyers gathering evidence against business executives who had helped finance the Nazi war machine, and against defendants who had plundered occupied territories or profited from slave labor. He also conducted pretrial interrogations of ex-Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and presented the case against former minister of economics Walther Funk.

Also in 1946, Bernard Meltzer joined the faculty of the Chicago School of Law, where he worked to clarify controversial labor management legal issues that had been set aside before World War II. “It was not that Bernie came up with grand conclusions,” said colleague Richard A. Epstein. “He was a terrific technical lawyer who smoothed the awkward edges of very complicated statutory schemes.”

—Jon Guttman

Synagogue Rises From Shattered Glass

On the night of November 9, 1938, at the instigation of Adolf Hitler, roving gangs across Germany began a nationwide assault on Jews and their property that became known as Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.” Last fall, on the 68th anniversary of that haunting night, a new synagogue opened in the heart of Munich bearing the name of its predecessor Ohel Jakob, or Jacob’s Tent. The original place of worship was one of hundreds destroyed by the Nazis during the 1938 orgy of hate and violence.

The new $92 million travertine marble synagogue is the largest built in Germany since World War II and includes a school, museum, offices and a restaurant. An invitation-only crowd of 800 attended the inauguration ceremony, including several prominent members of the international Jewish community such as Edgar M. Bronfman and Rabbi Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress.

The leader of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Charlotte Knobloch, ceremoniously handed the temple key to a young boy, noting that on Kristallnacht she was the same age as he is now. In his remarks, German President Horst Koehler warned, “Our dream of a normal Jewish life in Germany clashes with the reality that there is open and latent anti-Semitism, and the number of violent acts motivated by right-wing extremism is rising.”

—David Lesjak

Prestigious Israeli Honor Might Finally Go to Arab

For the first time ever, an Arab has been nominated for recognition as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.

Khaled Abdelwahhab, a Tunisian who saved 23 Jews from Nazi persecution in 1943, stands to become one of more than 20,000 non-Jews that Yad Vashem has honored since 1963 for risking their lives to save Jews from persecution during World War II.

The son of a wealthy Tunisian landowner, Abdelwahhab was 32 when German forces occupied the east coast town of Mahdia in November 1942. About 100,000 Tunisian Jews were subjected to harsh treatment, fines, confiscation of property and deportation at the hands of the Nazis. More than 5,000 were sent to forced labor camps.

Abdelwahhab learned that German officers planned to send several Jewish women, including family friend Odette Boukris, to a Nazi-run brothel. Members of the Boukris family were being sheltered in an olive oil factory after being expelled from their home by German soldiers. Abdelwahhab stowed the Boukrises and several other Jewish families at his father’s farm in Tielsa, hiding them until British troops liberated the area in April 1943.

The story of Abdelwahhab, who died in 1997, was uncovered by Dr. Robert Satloff, executive director of the Institute for Near East Studies in Washington, D.C. While Satloff was conducting research for a book on Jewish–Arab relations during World War II, Odette Boukris’ daughter, Anny, who was 11 years old in 1943, told Satloff about Abdelwahhab’s exploits. Several of Anny’s childhood friends in Mahdia subsequently confirmed the story. Shortly after giving her testimony of the event, Anny died at her home in Los Angeles at age 71.

Soon after, Satloff nominated Abdelwahhab for the honor. A committee led by an Israeli Supreme Court justice will review the case before making a final decision.

An individual recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” receives a specially minted medal, a certificate of honor and has his or her name added to the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The Israeli Holocaust Museum has already honored 60 Muslims from the Balkans, but Abdelwahhab is the first Arab Muslim to be nominated.

—David Lesjak

A Big Win for 82nd Airborne Vet

James Wilson II witnessed a lot while serving with the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II, but winning the Powerball this past January might have been the most humbling experience of his life.

“I was absolutely astonished,” the 84-year-old retired electrician from Chesterfield, Mo., said after claiming the jackpot of $254 million on January 29. “I couldn’t believe it, and still don’t.”

Wilson saw action with the 82nd Airborne in North Africa and Europe. He and his 79-year-old wife, Shirley, have been Powerball players for years, with the understanding that they would share any winnings with their three sons (two of whom had lost their jobs shortly before Wilson won his prize). The Wilsons have also set money aside for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

—Jon Guttman


Originally published in the May 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here