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One of the messages of Chanukah is preserving Jewish heritage. Throughout our history there are heroes who have led us to safety. Sometimes their stories become world famous across faiths. Like the story of Mattathias, one man who stood up for justice in Modin over two thousand years ago, he made a difference and changed the world. This story is about the miracle of Elliot Welles of the Bronx, a Shoah survivor who until his death a few weeks ago stood up against all odds and brought his oppressors to justice. Just like the Maccabees he helped to preserve the Jewish people and made the world a better place. A friend sent me this story from yesterday’s New York Daily News. It is well worth sharing:

Holocaust survivor fought for justice
by Patrice O’Shaughnessy, New York Daily News
A Holocaust denial conference held in Iran last week came on the heels of the news of the death of Bronxite Elliot Welles, a concentration camp survivor who lived in Kingsbridge for 57 years, working and raising a family pretty much in obscurity. Meanwhile, Welles was a tenacious Nazi hunter who travelled the globe for decades to get justice for Holocaust victims, starting with his mother. He found the Nazi SS officer who ordered his mother’s death, and it spurred him on a lifelong crusade. His son Mark, a doctor, recalls a fond childhood in the Bronx, attending DeWitt Clinton High School, “sleighriding behind buses, going to Loews Paradise and Jahn’s ice cream parlor.” Yet the Holocaust “was something we lived with all the time, this was his crusade, it was part of our lives, because both my parents were survivors.” For 24 years, until his retirement in 2003, Welles directed the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League’s task force on Nazi war criminals. He travelled to Germany and Austria and amassed archives on suspected fugitive war criminals. Welles died Nov. 28 in his Bronx apartment. He had suffered from cancer, his son said. Welles also left behind his wife, a daughter and three grandchildren. Last week, Iran hosted a conference of prominent Holocaust deniers – such as David Duke, a former Louisiana state representative and Ku Klux Klan leader – to examine whether the genocide happened. The conference was initiated by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called the Nazi’s extermination of 6 million Jews a “myth.” The meeting was condemned around the world. But for Welles’ family, it was outrageous on an extremely personal scale. “It’s a terrible thing that they’re doing, [the Holocaust] has been established,” said Welles’ wife, Ceil Chaiken. “The whole thing is deplorable. They’re denying atrocities against human beings,” said Mark Welles. “When anti-Semitism rears its head in the 21st century, it’s distressing. My father was one example of many people who lived through it, he tried to avenge for them and for the people who died. “My father would have loved to have addressed that conference.” Welles was born Kurt Sauerquell in Vienna in 1927. He was just 13 when he was among Jews rounded up and deported to the ghetto in Riga, Latvia. On the way, his mother, Anna, was one of a group herded off the bus and executed in woods near Riga. He learned of her death a few days later when her dress was returned in a pile of clothing. He spent a couple years in the Riga ghetto, then was sent to the Stutthof concentration camp. Toward the end of the war, the inmates were sent on a forced march to a death camp in Magdeburg, Germany. The boy escaped and made his way back to Vienna, where he met Chaiken, a survivor of the ghetto in Kovno, Lithuania. They married after the war and came to the United States in 1949, settling in Kingsbridge. They lived in three different apartment buildings in the neighborhood. Welles took a new name, based on his Hebrew name, Eliyahu, and the translation of his surname, which is German for “mineral wells.” He spelled his new last name Welles as a tribute to actor Orson Welles. His own life was the stuff of movies. He toiled at low-level jobs until he became a waiter, then a part owner of the Lorelei restaurant in Yorkville on the upper East Side, then a German neighborhood, and he established contacts in the German community. He had never forgotten the SS officer who sent his mother to her death. He began corresponding with the German and Austrian consulates to try to find him, and went to Germany, where he got government records unsealed. He finally found the ex-Nazi in a German town and, in 1976, the man was tried and found guilty of some charges, and sentenced to only a couple of years in prison. But it was victory enough for Welles, and he joined the Anti-Defamation League, working from the league’s New York office. One of their infamous cases was that of Boleslav Maikovskis, a retired carpenter in Mineola, L.I. He had came to the U.S. with the flood of war refugees from Europe, and he told American authorities that he was a bookkeeper during the war. Actually, he was a Nazi collaborator as the police chief in Rezekne, Latvia, accused of executing 200 Jews there. He had been sentenced to death in absentia by a Soviet court in 1965, and he waged a long court battle here against deportation. After Maikovskis fled to Germany in 1987, Welles convinced German authorities to try him again. The trial began in 1990 but Maikovskis, then 86 years old, had a bad heart and the trial was suspended. He died before justice was served. Mark Welles said his father provided a videotaped interview for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which collects testimonies from survivors and witnesses from around the world. “I never wanted to listen to it when he was alive, but now I want to hear it,” the son said. “My mother was never comfortable talking about her experience, but she opened up a little after my father died.” Mark Welles said the slap in the face of the Holocaust denial conference particularly stings after the loss of his father. But this week Jews are celebrating the joyous Chanukah ritual. “It’s a celebration of survival and longevity,” Mark Welles said. “They can say what they like, we’re not going away.”

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