Prominent Holocaust survivor slams Syria analogies
Menu JTA Search

Prominent Holocaust survivor slams Syria analogies

(JTA) — A prominent Israeli Holocaust survivor from Poland who lived through World War II as a refugee in Russia spoke out what he called “demagogues who falsely compare persecuted Jews to migrants from Syria.”

Natan Rom, 87, who is among the best-known survivors of the group of refugees known as the Tehran Children, spoke out against recent analogies in international media during an interview ahead of the Russia premiere of a 2007 documentary film about the group’s trials.

“The Muslim migrants arriving to Europe are for the most part not refugees but job seekers who belong to what is de facto an invasion,” Rom, nee Norbert Kurtzman, told JTA after the Russia premiere of the film “The Children of Tehran” in the city of Kazan during its Limmud FSU conference of Jewish learning.

“The attempts to pass off the new arrivals, people who left and in many cases participated in a murderous civil war, as refugees and then to liken their experiences to what Holocaust survivors had to endure is false,” Rom, who survived the Holocaust with his sister, said last month.

The rebuke by Rom, a supporter of the left-wing Meretz party and one of the founders of Kibbutz Afikim, followed the publication in August of an op-ed in The New York Times titled “Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl,” in which the journalist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof argued that the reasons for the opposition to absorbing Jewish Holocaust refugees in the United States “were the same as they are for rejecting Syrians or Hondurans today.”

While some European Jews have repeated the analogy, others have been careful to avoid it amid the arrival to Europe of 1.5 million immigrants since 2015 from the war-torn Middle East and Africa. While many of those arriving file for refugee status, critics of EU immigration policies have argued for stricter screening against job seekers, citing the heavy presence among the newcomers of work-age men.

The Tehran Children trekked a tormented 8,000 miles to Israel through Siberia, Uzbekistan, Tehran, India, Egypt and finally prestate Israel. Rom and his sister, Ziva, were given up for adoption in the Uzbeki city of Samarkand by their parents, Karol and Ethel, who were starving and opted to part with their two older children in the hope of saving their baby brother, Uzi.

Karol died of starvation and disease in Samarkand. Natan and Ziva eventually were reunited with their mother and baby brother.

The arrival of the Tehran Children to Israel in 1943 is widely considered the first encounter between the yishuv, prestate Israel’s Jewish population, and any large group of refugees from the Holocaust.