‘The Lion of Kandahar’: Was slain commander a hero or part of the problem?

Ever since his assassination 17 years ago, portraits of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the legendary anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban fighter known as “the lion of Panjshir,” have dominated official billboards, police booths and truck windshields in this war-weary, hero-craving capital.

Now, the lion of Panjshir has been upstaged by the lion of Kandahar.

In the past few weeks, Kabul has been flooded with images of Gen. Abdul Raziq Achakzai, 39, a fearsome police commander and anti-insurgent fighter who was gunned down Oct. 18 near his headquarters in the southern city of Kandahar.

Raziq’s likeness is now plastered on traffic circles, blast walls and countless taxi windows, grinning rakishly with sunglasses perched on his mane or issuing commands in uniform. Sometimes his boyish face is juxtaposed with Massoud’s craggy one, or a noble lion rests behind his soldier.

“He’s a hero; he saved our country,” shouts a young cabbie above the rush-hour din, answering a query about Raziq. His taxi’s rear window is covered with a stylized photoshopped trio of Raziq, Massoud and a fierce-looking lion.

“Business is good,” opines Taj Mohammed, who is handing out printed photos of Raziq, spattered with blood-red splotches, at a busy bus station. “There is more demand for his images than other leaders who have been killed in recent years.”

After four decades of war, Afghans have no shortage of slain leaders to memorialize. But almost all, including Massoud, are associated exclusively with one ethnic group or another — a distinction that has dark overtones in a country full of unsettled scores and unhealed scars. One group’s champion is another’s butcher.

But the demise of Raziq, an ethnic Pashtun and Kandahar’s longtime provincial police chief, has been mourned by Afghans of every background, making him a rare war martyr to achieve hero status across the country’s ethnic fault lines. On social media, fans have paid him the ultimate compliment by replacing their profile photos with his.

Politicians and leaders of every stripe flocked to his mourning ceremonies last month and described Raziq’s untimely death (he looked a decade younger than his age) as an irreparable loss to the nation. He was shot dead, along with the provincial intelligence chief, after leaving a meeting with the top U.S. military commander, Gen. Austin “Scott Miller,” who escaped unharmed.

In a society where strongmen have long been admired and their abuses rarely called to account, there was an instant unspoken consensus that Raziq’s reported excesses were far outweighed by his success in keeping Kandahar stable and safe from insurgent attacks.

But that consensus was not shared by Afghan and international human rights groups. Over the years, as Raziq rose through the ranks of the Afghan border police and then the national police, he acquired a reputation for brutality and vengeful abuses. In combating the Taliban on their home turf, he became an important ally of U.S.-led NATO forces here but faced local accusations of cruelty.

One of his most persistent critics has been the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch. Patricia Gossman, the associate director of its Asia division, noted in a recent email that a U.N. report last year had identified Raziq’s police force as especially abusive. She said it were found responsible for “torturing detainees by suffocation, crushing testicles and electric shocks.” Raziq had repeatedly denied all allegations of abuse.

Gossman, who visited Kandahar two years ago to investigate rights abuses, said that while Raziq was praised by Afghan elites and Western officials for improving security in the region, his victims were often unknown tribal rivals or others who crossed him, and who had little avenue for complaint. In some ways, she suggested, his actions “actually fueled insecurity.”

Raziq’s slaying sent shock waves through the country, and parliamentary elections scheduled for two days later were delayed for fear that violence or insurgent attacks could erupt. But some local Kandaharis, including tribal elders and legislators, privately expressed relief that Raziq was gone. Some said he had committed or ordered personal and political murders under the guise of fighting insurgents.

“In Kabul people see him as a hero, but people in Kandahar do not think that way. He was part of the problem,” said one legislator from the region, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing concerns about security and tribal sensitivities. In the month since Raziq’s death, the legislator said, Kandahar has become much less violent than when he was in command.

Raziq was also a lightning rod for attack, and he survived numerous assassination attempts by the Taliban, as well as a bomb planted in a guesthouse sofa while he was hosting a meeting in early 2017. It exploded when he was out of the room, killing six visiting emissaries from the United Arab Emirates.

He was also a restless, independent operator feared by influential people twice his age who built an empire across the Afghan south through political and tribal ties. Local journalists said even the provincial governor had to seek his approval for routine decisions.

Last year, Raziq began forming alliances with some government opposition leaders, and President Ashraf Ghani tried to fire him, but the powerful young police chief openly defied the order. Shortly after his death, Ghani named Raziq’s younger brother Taduddin, a man in his 20s with no security experience and a more subservient demeanor, as his replacement.


Source : The Washington Post

Huddersfield school refugee’s sister ‘also attacked’

A video appearing to show the sister of a Syrian refugee being attacked at the same school where her brother was allegedly assaulted has emerged.

Footage circulated online shows the boy, 15, being pushed to the ground at Almondbury Community School in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.

A 16-year-old is to be charged with assault.

Further video of a separate incident allegedly shows the boy’s sister being attacked by other pupils.

The footage shows the girl being shoved from behind, and then being pushed towards a grass verge.

At the end of the clip, she can be seen to fall to the ground.

Media captionA video of the 15-year-old boy being pushed to the ground has been widely shared

In a statement, West Yorkshire Police said: “We have been made aware of a video showing a girl being assaulted at Almondbury Community School.

“The incident had not previously been reported to the police but we are now liaising with the girl’s family who we are continuing to support.”

The first video, showing the boy being dragged to the ground before water is poured into his face, was filmed during a lunch break on 25 October, West Yorkshire Police said.

His father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the BBC the attack had left his son “very tired psychologically”.

“Because of what happened in the video my son is shattered,” he said.

“He is not concentrating on his studies. When he is asleep he wakes up saying they want to beat me up.”

In an interview with ITV News, the boy said he had been left “feeling like I couldn’t study or do my homework”.

In a letter sent to parents, headteacher Trevor Bowen said: “The safety and welfare of students is our number one priority and I can assure you that this situation is being taken extremely seriously.”

An online fundraising page set up to help the 15-year-old boy and his family has so far raised more than £100,000.


Source : BBC

Ongoing Rohingya repatriation efforts are doomed to failure

Earlier this month, Bangladesh and Myanmar attempted to repatriate thousands of Rohingya refugees currently residing in Bangladesh as part of a deal they had signed last November, but were eventually forced to postpone their plans amid intense international pressure.

More than 720,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar as result of a brutal military crackdown in August last year, taking shelter in crowded camps in Bangladesh and bringing with them harrowing tales of rape, murder and arson. Earlier this year, the United Nations’ Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar classified the atrocities perpetrated by the country’s military as “genocide”. In its 440-page report on the crackdown, the mission revealed that the military has killed more than 10,000 people in a matter of months and used brutal methods like rape, sexual slavery, arson and abductions to force the Rohingya to leave the country.

Marzuki Darusman, chair of the UN fact-finding mission, also said the estimated 250,000 to 400,000 Rohingya who remained in the Buddhist-majority country following last year’s crackdown “continue to suffer the most severe” restrictions and repression. “It is an ongoing genocide that is taking place,” he said.

Myanmar, on the other hand, rejected the UN report, claiming the investigation was “flawed, biased and politically motivated”. Myanmar authorities consistently deny any atrocity ever against Myanmar’s Rohingya population, saying the country’s security forces only attack “armed rebels”.


Rohingya repatriation: why the rush?

Charmain Mohamed
by Charmain Mohamed

In light of all this, the rushed attempt to send the Rohingya refugees back to their home state caused concern in the international community and led many to question the reasons behind the eagerness of Bangladesh and Myanmar to swiftly start the repatriation process.

Perhaps Bangladesh wants to unload the burden of the refugees as soon as possible and Myanmar wants to partially repair its image in the international arena by showing some willingness to welcome back the Rohingya. While all this is understandable, there were major flaws in the process that led to the failed repatriation attempt.

First of all, the refugees themselves were absent from the bilateral negotiations on repatriation between the two neighbouring states – nobody asked them what they wanted to do.

“We want to return to Burma [Myanmar] as it is our motherland, we were born and brought up there,” said Abdul Jalil, a newly arrived Rohingya refugee I interviewed in September in the Balukhali camp in Bangladesh.

“But we experienced nothing but atrocities there since August last year – Burma turned into a ‘death hole’ for us,” he added. “Now you tell me, would you be willing to fall into a death hole?”

Other Rohingya men and women I interviewed there told me more or less the same thing: That they want to go back to their homeland, but only if Myanmar gives them legal recognition and their safety is guaranteed by an international body such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Nevertheless, even in the unlikely scenario that Myanmar agrees to meet these conditions, the safe repatriation of the Rohingya refugees may not be possible. The ethnic Burmese majority in Myanmar is highly sceptical of Muslims in general and the Rohingya minority in particular, and the events of the past year only accentuated these feelings.

Kyaw Soe Moe, the administrator of the Inn Din village in Myanmar’s Rakhine state – where most atrocities took place – told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in October that he does not believe “the Muslims will come back”. “No one wants the terrorists to come back,” he added.

WATCH: Thousands of Rohingya refugees protest repatriation plan (2:29)

Given that the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh do not want to return to “a death hole” and many in Myanmar are reluctant to welcome back “terrorists”, it is possible to say, at least for now, any repatriation attempt is doomed to fail.

Myanmar is not mentally, politically, or logistically ready for the Rohingya refugees’ return and those in Bangladesh are not ready to go back to their “homeland” due to a persistent sense of insecurity.

Predictably, Bangladesh, an already overpopulated country whose infrastructure reached a breaking point following the arrival of the last batch of Rohingya refugees, is eager to start the repatriation process.

However, as was demonstrated by the failed attempt earlier this month, repatriation cannot take place without the agreement of the Myanmar authorities, the Burmese majority, the international community and, most importantly, the Rohingya refugees themselves. For now, none of the concerned parties – other than Bangladesh – genuinely believes the right conditions for the return of the Rohingya refugees are there.

Myanmar is not willing to bring the Rohingya refugees back. It is only appearing to be going along with Bangladeshi attempts to arrange their return to ease international pressure. The fact that the Rohingya villages in Rakhine are being prepared to be re-populated by “Rakhine, Chin, Bamar, and Hindu people from other parts of the country” clearly shows that Myanmar authorities have no real intention to welcome Rohingya back.

The international community is also not supporting the idea of repatriation at this time as NGOs active in the region and the UN agree that a rushed action would put the Rohingya at further risk. As Myanmar authorities are still refusing to give citizenship rights to the Rohingya, it is clear to many that what is waiting for them on the other side of the border is nothing more than the same apartheid conditions and threats that they faced prior to their escape.

Therefore, we need to ask ourselves: Who would benefit from rushed repatriation efforts other than the Myanmar authorities? Who would get an opportunity to pretend they are doing something to end the crisis? Can any repatriation deal convince the Rohingya that they will be safe in Myanmar, that they will have a dignified and productive life not clouded by fear?

Everyone who has been following the devastating ordeal of the Rohingya refugees undoubtedly wants the crisis to be resolved as soon as possible. However, rushed and forced repatriation is not the sustainable solution everyone is looking for.

Repatriation would only be acceptable if it takes place within the framework of reciprocal understanding, mutual trust and multilateral consensus between Bangladesh, Myanmar, international actors and the Rohingya. It would only succeed if it ensures the legal recognition, safety and dignity of the Rohingya population.

For now, such a repatriation deal does not appear to be within reach. We can talk repatriation if and when the Myanmar authorities take the necessary steps to convince the Rohingya people that they can be truly safe at home. Until then, the concerned parties should focus on easing the suffering of the Rohingya refugees and the burden on the Bangladeshi state.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

Does repatriation of Rohingya breach international law?


Does repatriation of Rohingya breach international law?


Bernardo Bertolucci, Italian film director, dies at 77

Bernardo Bertolucci, Italian director of Last Tango in Paris and The Last Emperor, has died in Rome, aged 77.

Born in Parma in 1941, his other films included The Conformist, The Dreamers, 1900 and The Sheltering Sky.

Winner of two Oscars, for directing and co-writing The Last Emperor, he was known for his bold visual style and the controversy stoked by Last Tango in Paris’s explicit sexual content.

A spokesperson confirmed to the BBC he died of cancer after a short illness.

His final feature, Me and You, had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012.

Bertolucci began his career as an assistant director to Pier Paolo Pasolini on his 1961 film Accattone.

Bernardo BertolucciImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

He directed his first feature, 1962’s La Commare Secca, at the age of 21.

The films Before the Revolution and The Spider’s Stratagem followed, although it was Last Tango – starring Marlon Brando – that brought him to the attention of the world.

The film, about an American businessman who begins a sexually charged relationship with a young Frenchwoman, was banned in several countries.

In 2016, a row was ignited after a video emerged of Bertolucci claiming he did not fully prepare the then 19-year-old female star of the film, Maria Schneider, for what he and Brando had planned in the famous butter scene.

Schneider claimed the scene in question wasn’t in the original script, but the director claimed it was “a ridiculous misunderstanding”.

Bertolucci’s most critically successful film was The Last Emperor, a biopic of the Chinese emperor Pu Yi, which won nine Oscars in 1988, including best picture.

Bertolucci received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008 and was awarded an honorary Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2011.

The Cannes Festival paid tribute to the director, calling him a “giant of Italian filmmaking, [who] will remain forever a leading light in world cinema”.

Actor Antonio Banderas also tweeted his condolences calling him a “master of filmmakers”.

The crunch of an apple makes me want to run away

Margot Noel has a condition called misophonia, which literally means “hatred of sound”. It can be so disturbing that she has to wear headphones or ear plugs to protect herself.

Someone takes a bite out of an apple.

There’s a drawn-out crunch as the teeth break through the tough skin of the fruit.

The noise is unbearable for 28-year-old Margot Noel.

“I have to leave or cover my ears. I just cannot hear it,” she says.

“It puts me in a state of distress, it makes me really anxious. My body feels there’s danger – I need to leave or I need to protect myself.”

Margot has misophonia, which she describes as a brain dysfunction that causes common sounds to produce an intense emotional response – such as anger, panic, fear or distress.

In people with this condition, the part of the brain that joins our senses with our emotions – the anterior insular cortex – is overly active and wired up to other parts of the brain in a different way.

There are many possible trigger sounds, but some of the most common are related to food – crunching, slurping or sipping.

Margot Noel

Margot’s trigger sounds include the crunching of crisps, whispering, clicking noises made with pens, keyboard tapping and one of the worst – knuckle cracking.

“My reaction to this one is really physical because it’s one of the worst for me,” she says.

“It makes me jump off my chair and I’ll have to do something to make it stop, which is not the case with all of my other triggers.

“It’s not like a sound you don’t like, it’s much more than that, it’s completely different. It’s something I feel in my stomach, like extreme anxiety. Or suddenly I feel overwhelmed, I can’t think any more, it just takes over everything.

“If someone had a gun and they were pointing it at me, it would feel exactly the same.”

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Find out more

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According to the British Tinnitus Association’s website, trigger sounds tend to be “human-generated noises that are under voluntary control“, such as sniffing.

But if Margot sniffs herself, that’s different.

“I can stop doing it if I want, so it’s not as threatening as someone else doing something that you can’t control and you don’t know how long it’s going to last for,” she says.

Margot Noel as a childImage copyrightMARGOT NOEL
Image captionMargot as a young child
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One of her earliest memories is of her brother tormenting her by clicking his tongue.

“I’m about six or seven and it’s a constant fight between us,” she says. “My brother knows that tongue-clicking is a problem for me, I’ve said it a few times, so now he has power over me and he’s two years younger than me. If I annoy him, if I don’t do something he wants, he will just start tongue-clicking.”

Margot’s parents didn’t understand how the noise was affecting her and so would tell Margot to “grow up,” and put up with it.

Now they are older, Margot says her brother is much more understanding, but she is reluctant to complain if he makes a sound that is excruciating to her.

“I was having dinner with my brother yesterday. I gave him a gum after dinner and he was chewing it like a cow, it was horrendous, and I didn’t want to ask him to chew less loudly, because people usually get offended,” she says.

“They feel like it’s an attack or a criticism when it’s not, it’s actually not. I’m the problem, but it’s very difficult to ask people to make less noise because they always end up feeling like they can’t be themselves around you.”

Margot Noel and her brother as childrenImage copyrightMARGOT NOEL
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Although she says she’s had the condition all her life, she didn’t realise it was misophonia until about three years ago.

“It was becoming clearer that I had a problem and I couldn’t find what it was. Sometimes you’re looking for something and you just don’t have the right keywords on Google.

“One day I was really angry and I was crying, because I was watching an amazing play and I was just distracted the whole time by someone breathing like they were going to die, and I went back home, looked again, again, again and then I found it, and from that moment, to be honest, it was really great just understanding.”

Margot also discovered, via Google, that a study into misophonia was being conducted at Newcastle University and emailed the person in charge, Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, to thank him.

He wrote back, and soon invited Margot to take part.

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What is misophonia?

Also known as Selective Sound Sensitivity, misophonia is a strong emotional response to the presence or anticipation of a sound. There are three key emotional responses: anger, disgust and anxiety, with anger being the predominant emotion.

These intense emotions are accompanied by high levels of arousal – the fight or flight response. There is a release of adrenaline and a supply of energy to respond to the threat. This is typically experienced as a fast heart beat, rapid shallow breaths, tension, hotness, shakiness, and sweating.

Work environments, such as open plan offices, can be a minefield of triggers. Tensions can develop within intimate relationships and couples can find it difficult to share normal activities together, as someone breathing or eating can become infuriating.

Source: British Tinnitus Association

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The trial was terrifying. She had to listen to some of her trigger sounds without reacting to them or even closing her eyes.

“I had wires all over my face, everywhere, and they were studying my reactions to the sounds and I just couldn’t do all of it,” she says.

“It wasn’t that I gave up, because I told them I wanted to do it, but they said I had to stop because I was too distressed and it was confusing the results.

“I think I had to do six modules and I only did two, and after two I was just crying like I’d never cried before.”

Margot NoelImage copyrightMARGOT NOEL
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Margot found the trial so distressing because she could not use any of her usual coping mechanisms to escape the trigger sounds. In day-to-day life she wears ear plugs or headphones to block the noises out.

“I cannot live without music,” she says. “My headphones are on my ears all the time, even if there’s no music in them – just ready to rescue me if something happens. Music for me feels very much like a protection.”

Artists such as Moby, David Bowie, Air, Diana Ross, Oasis and Daft Punk have become the soundtrack to her life, she says.

Margot’s anti-misophonia playlist:

Margot Noel
  • Moby – Inside
  • Moby – One of these mornings
  • Moby – Another woman
  • Air – Talisman
  • Air – La femme d’argent
  • Air – Le soleil est près de moi
  • David Bowie – Ashes To Ashes
  • David Bowie – Starman
  • David Bowie – Drive-In Saturday
  • Tommy Tee – Aerosoul
  • Daft Punk – Make Love
  • Daft Punk – Emotion
  • Aphex Twin – Heliosphan
  • Rappin 4 Tay – Playaz Club
  • DJ Mehdi – Signatune

Even watching a film can be difficult.

“I hate, for example, the sound of people kissing. That disgusts me, I find it ‘aargh!!'” she says. “One film out of two has people kissing passionately. Some films they don’t make too much sound, but in others they do and I’ll just have to cover my ears and wait for it to be finished.”

When it comes to her own relationships, however, misophonia has not caused any problems so far.

Media captionMargot explains how her brother tormented her by clicking his tongue when she was young

“I try to surround myself with people that are understanding,” she says.

“For me it would be a major downer if I was with a guy and I told him, ‘Can you stop cracking your knuckles?’ and he made fun of me. That would be an absolute no no for me. I’d be like, ‘Well, goodbye.’

“I think if people like you they just try to like all the little things about you, even the ones they don’t really understand. If you really like someone you don’t want them to feel uncomfortable, you want to make them happy.”

Margot is currently seeing someone and has a good social life, but says living with misophonia can be very isolating. She lives on her own, which she says is a “dream,” and works as a freelancer for advertising agencies.

“I’m quite solitary. I write a lot, alone, in my office, like a tortoise,” she says.

Dr Sukhbinder Kumar says there is no scientifically validated method to cure misophonia, but that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has shown some initial positive results.

It’s also not clear how many people have the condition, he says, though he points out that one study conducted among undergraduates showed that as many as 20% had significant misophonia symptoms.

Margot often doesn’t tell people about her own symptoms as she finds they are not always sympathetic – and sometimes even think it’s something she has invented.

“I just try to deal with it on my own without asking people to change their behaviour,” says Margot.

She hopes the study she took part in will eventually lead to new treatments. But also looks forward to a day when more people know that the condition exists.

“If I could just ask someone next to me in the theatre, ‘I’m sorry, can you just try to not do that noise, I have misophonia,’ and they would be like, ‘Oh I’m really sorry,’… That is what I’m hoping for more than a treatment – just being able to have that discussion with someone without them making me feel like I’m a freak.”


Source : BBC

Old Man Found Killed in Rural of Idlib

A body of an old man from al-Janodia town west of Idlib, was found as he was killed after unknowns kidnapped him earlier.

Idlib Gate reported on Monday that citizens found a body of an old man on the highroad Idlib-Fayloun several days after abducting him by unknowns who asked for a ransom to release him.

The victim comes from al-Janodia town in Jisr al-Shighur territory in the rural western Idlib province, days after the body of a young man from the same town was found killed following a demand for a ransom.

Syrian Press center

The girl who witnessed Kristallnacht

Eighty years ago the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews suddenly turned violent in a night of mayhem. This and the next day are known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass – and there are still some who remember it vividly.

“Our father took me and my little sister in his arms that night, and said, ‘this is the beginning of a very difficult time, and we’ll try to live through it’.”

Ruth Winkelmann is now 90, but looks far younger than her years. Her eyes are a bright hazel as she looks up at the sky above the roof terrace of her old Jewish primary school in the heart of eastern Berlin.

“When I stand here and look up at the clouds, I think that my father is watching over me, and it’s a good feeling,” she says.

Then, Ruth points across the rooftops, towards the domes of Berlin’s New Synagogue, now restored and gleaming in the sunlight, remembering the smoke she saw billowing out when the Nazis set fire to it exactly 80 years ago.

She was just 10 years old on 10 November 1938. The day began normally, but as her father drove her to school, they witnessed troubling scenes.

“On our way in, we saw broken shop windows and shards of glass lying in the streets. And then we saw a shop where someone had painted the word ‘Jew’, and smeared on a star of David.”

Smashed up Jewish shops in Berlin after KristallnachtImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

They drove on, and saw a Jewish man in a black coat.

Some Nazi stormtroopers had grabbed him, and were daubing a star of David on to the back of his coat. And then they beat him, too.

“I thought, ‘My dad is with me and nothing bad can happen to me’, but it was a very disturbing sight, and I was shaking.”

Ruth had every reason to be afraid.

When she got to school, the head teacher took the girls straight into assembly.

Ruth (right) with her younger sister, EddiImage copyrightRUTH WINKELMANN
Image captionRuth (right) with her younger sister, Eddi

“That’s where we heard what had been going on in Berlin during the night – that Jewish shops had been smashed up and people brutally killed. Shop windows had been broken everywhere, and the words ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewish pig’ written in many places.

“We were all very frightened. And on that day, for the first time since I’d started attending that school in 1934, there were prayers. It was a Jewish school, but not an Orthodox, religious one.”

The little girls tried to peer out of the school windows at what was happening on the street below.

“You couldn’t actually see the stormtroopers from where we watched, just their flags – and they were shouting and making a terrible racket. They’d barricaded the entrance, and daubed stuff all over the school too – stars of David and ‘Jew’ and ‘Jews out’ and things like that.”

A burning synagogue on Fasanenstrasse, BerlinImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionA burning synagogue on Fasanenstrasse, Berlin

The Nazi government had steadily been passing legislation discriminating against Jews, including children like Ruth, who was born to a Jewish father, Hermann Jacks, and a mother, Elly, a Protestant who’d converted to Judaism in order to marry him.

In 1935 the Nuremberg laws had become the legal basis for the expulsion of Jews from public life in Germany. The Nazis codified exactly who was Jewish and to what degree: definitions that for many came to mean the difference between life and death.

On Kristallnacht, the creeping persecution burst into overt and bloody violence.

Find out more

Watch Caroline Wyatt’s report for the News at Ten on Friday 9 November

That day, Ruth and the other girls had to escape via the school loft, walking two by two through the attics until they found their way down some stairs and into a back courtyard behind the main street.

“Our teachers told us to go straight home because the stormtroopers were still able to see us from where they were standing. We were terribly scared.”

When she finally got home, Ruth realised that it was not just the children who were afraid, but her parents and grandparents too.

They had also seen the smoke coming from the New Synagogue after Nazi stormtroopers broke in, desecrating the Torah scrolls and setting fire to whatever they could find.

It was one of several hundred Jewish places of worship attacked in Germany that night, as well as Jewish homes, schools, hospitals and more than 7,500 businesses. Close to 100 Jews were killed, and some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps.

Ruth only realised this was happening when she returned to school and discovered that several of the fathers had gone missing – arrested or deported: first the Polish Jews, and then the German Jews.

Ruth and her mother, EllyImage copyrightRUTH WINKELMANN
Image captionRuth and her mother, Elly

As I sit with Ruth over a cup of tea at her cosy house near the woods in northern Berlin, she shows me black and white photos of her family and the home she grew up in, on a similarly tree-lined street a little further north.

Thanks to the Nuremberg laws, her father’s parents were forced to sell their scrap-metal business, which left her father without a job. Then they were forced to sell their home. And later, her grandparents and Ruth’s other Jewish relatives were deported. Fifteen of them died; only one survived. Her paternal grandparents starved to death in the concentration camp at Terezin, also known as Theresienstadt, in what is now the Czech Republic.

The sudden violence of Kristallnacht is seared into Ruth’s memory.

“In retrospect, I became a grown-up on that day,” she tells me. “The pogrom night took away my childhood.”

She shows me a water-stained copy of her Nazi-era ID card, stamped with J for Jew.

Ruth's family - her mother and younger sister (left), her father, Ruth and an auntImage copyrightRUTH WINKELMANN
Image captionRuth’s family – her mother and younger sister (left), her father, Ruth and an aunt

The complex Nazi race laws had declared children such as Ruth and her younger sister Eddi “first degree mixed-race”, because while their father Hermann was Jewish, their mother had been born Protestant. For the Nazis she still counted as “Aryan”, despite her conversion, because of her German blood.

But because the two girls were registered as members of the Jewish community, they were deemed to be Jewish, Geltungsjuden. Later they were made to wear a yellow star on their coats and had to add the name “Sara” to their real names.

Document with the name "Sara" added to Ruth's nameImage copyrightRUTH WINKELMANN
Image captionThe name “Sara” was added to Ruth’s name

In an attempt to save the children, Ruth’s parents agreed to divorce. However, this left Ruth’s beloved father even more vulnerable. He was deported to Auschwitz in 1943.

Ruth received four postcards from her father, sent from the death camp. She still has them. Now barely legible, they make clear that her father’s final act of love to his children was to protect them from the horrors of the camp.

She reads me one of them: “My dear ones, I am well. How are you? Your parcel with bread and cake and tobacco has arrived. Thank you so much, that was very nice. Otherwise, nothing new. Best wishes to your Mum on her birthday too. Love and kisses from your Dad.”

One of the postcards Ruth's father sent from AuschwitzImage copyrightRUTH WINKELMANN
Image captionOne of the postcards Ruth’s father sent from Auschwitz

Ruth’s father was a captive at Monowitz, a sub-camp of Auschwitz where prisoners were forced to work for the chemical industry. He was working on some scaffolding, when someone pushed him off.

Ruth found out that her father was taken away unconscious, in a van equipped with deadly gas, camouflaged as an ambulance.

“Everyone thought he would never have woken up again, but he must have done,” she says. “Because I learnt from the Auschwitz archives much later that he wasn’t killed until January 1944.”

In Berlin, food for Ruth, her mother and her sister became increasingly scarce. At 14, Ruth was called up to do forced labour. All three received a summons from the Gestapo, and only narrowly escaped deportation.

Ruth’s mother, Elly, decided it was time to go into hiding. She selected a wooden shed on an allotment in southern Berlin, which belonged to a member of the Nazi party called Leo Lindenberg, who had taken a shine to her.

“We didn’t feel safe there in the shed, but it was better than any alternative, because we could live there as non-Jews,” remembers Ruth.

“I never wore the yellow star on my coat there, otherwise Leo Lindenberg would have been in huge trouble. We told the neighbours that our flat in Berlin had been destroyed by the bombing. That was common enough, so nobody asked too many questions.”

Ruth on holiday as a young childImage copyrightRUTH WINKELMANN
Image captionRuth on holiday as a young child

Life in the shed was harsh – there was no water, electricity or heating.

“When the temperature outside fell to minus 10, it was minus 10 inside too. And in the last four months we lived on nothing but red turnips and oatmeal,” Ruth remembers.

They had to grind the oatmeal from whole grains, putting them through a coffee grinder three times and then sifting it. It took half an hour to produce three spoonfuls.

Just before the end of the war, Ruth’s sister Eddi died of diphtheria. But Ruth and her mother survived.

Later, Elly married Leo Lindenberg, who asked his step-daughter to convert to Christianity, and Ruth complied. But she still wears the star of David around her neck.

“I converted out of gratitude because Leo risked his life for us,” Ruth explains.

“But my faith always remained mixed. I cannot say that I’m Jewish, and nor can I say that I’m Protestant. If you think about it, Judaism is the faith that Christianity sprang from, the root of it. I think that if I follow the 10 commandments, I’m not such a bad person. My father definitely wouldn’t have condemned it, and his opinion was always the most important to me. My mother would have nothing against it either. More than anything else, she wanted me to live well and be happy.”

Ruth says that even in the darkest times, she always kept her faith in God.

Ruth at home, wearing the star of David
Image captionRuth at home, wearing the star of David

“That doesn’t mean I go to church a lot,” she says, “but when I’m out in nature, I have everything I wish for and I thank him for the beautiful time I’m still having today. Not many people live to 90, and in reasonably good health too. I’m very grateful to my God.”

However, she no longer wears her star of David in public, having seen a passenger on the underground rip a crescent moon necklace from the neck of a Turkish girl. She puts it on for family occasions, though, and when she is giving a talk – as she frequently does, despite her age.

For Ruth, connecting with the young and telling her story to new generations remains vital.

“The most important thing for me is that they take on board how difficult it is to live in a democracy. Everyone has a different opinion, and picking out the best requires care and attention,” she says. “But democracy is the only way to live. Living under a dictatorship is impossible.”

Ruth takes me to the house where she grew up. Set into the pavement outside is a small polished brass square, the size of a cobblestone. It’s called a Stolperstein – a stumbling stone – and it bears the name of her father and the date he was killed in Auschwitz. She bends down to show me.


“To me this is a way of honouring my father. Because of course we don’t have a headstone for him, there’s no grave. And whenever I come past here, I pause for a moment – it’s like a short visit to him. Whenever I come here, I feel as though my father is still standing there in the courtyard and polishing our bicycles, or all the family’s shoes. That’s what he liked to do on a Sunday morning.”

Ruth has lived her life so remarkably free from bitterness. But is she alarmed by the rise of the far right in Europe, I ask?

“Of course I worry about that,” she admits.

“But I’m hopeful that mankind learnt something from the Nazi era. I do worry about the rise of those parties, but I don’t think we will ever see a systematic mass extermination like the Holocaust again. ”

I meet Ruth again by the New Synagogue, just behind the school where she witnessed the events of Kristallnacht.

By the entrance, beside the armed guards who are now permanently present, is a black plaque with golden lettering.

It reminds passers-by that the synagogue was set alight by the Nazis during the night of 9 November 1938, and largely destroyed in a bomb attack by the Allies in 1943 before being restored.

In capital letters beneath, it urges: “Never forget.”

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source : BBC English