Saturday 10 March 2012

Bravo Minister Raitt for averting Air Canada work stoppage

My hero: Minister Lisa Raitt
Here are my three cheers for Lisa Raitt and the majority Conservative government.  I just returned from a short vacation in South Florida, having taken an airplane for the first time in two and a half years. Just my luck, on the eve of my return flight, came news that a potential work disruption was about to occur within the ranks of Air Canada. It was supposed to begin on Monday, March 12, a few days after my departure but right at the time my other family members were set to leave.

This made me really angry.  Selfishly I thought about how unlucky we were, having not flown in a few years and now being held hostage by the airline. Air Canada had served formal notice it intended to lock its 3,000 pilots, coinciding with the March 12 strike date set by the machinists’ union, which includes 8,600 baggage handlers and mechanics. How opportunistic to do this during the peak March Break travel period!

I am not about to take sides here. What I can say is regardless of the spike in oil prices, Air Canada charged us an average of $25 extra per bag (times five each way). When it came time for food, a tasteless roast beef sandwich set me back $7 (credit cards only accepted). Luckily I brought my own earphones for that would have cost me a few bucks as well. Clearly, the airline is making many millions of dollars by sticking it to the passenger like this.
For the sake of my family members, I began to panic a bit. How would they get back in time for the start of school? Would there be any other flights available during this week and how much would it set me back financially?

I went on the internet and was delighted to see our federal government in action. It actually made me quite delighted as a Canadian to see that we had a majority government in office that was not going to sit idly by and let members of the public get slammed. Sure, not everyone takes advantage of air travel. But it is an essential service for many and important for our economy.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief with news that Minister Raitt had blocked any immediate disruptions, referring two separate contract disputes to the Canada Industrial Relations Board to determine how a work stoppage by the two unions would affect the health and safety of Canadians. Raitt said a work stoppage was “unacceptable” because it would threaten to damage the fragile economy and interrupt March Break holiday plans for families in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

It is unclear how long the industrial relations board will need to examine the contract disputes.  I hope it lasts a couple of weeks at least. The Minister has used this same manoeuvre before, blocking a walkout last fall of Air Canada’s flight attendants. The two sides eventually agreed to binding arbitration and the flight attendants received a contract they had voted down.

NDP labour critic Yvon Godin said the government is interfering in labour negotiations, siding with business and taking away the right of workers to strike.“It’s not the job of the government to get involved in negotiation,” he told reporters. “They’re there to facilitate negotiation. They’re there to help people to get to the table. Free bargaining, it’s out in this country. And this Stephen Harper government is taking it away from the workers.”

Sure Mr. Godin, you can take your fancy government expense plan and just rebook any of your flights on West Jet! Had a minority government been in office right now, the work stoppage would have proceed, benefitting nobody.

When I spoke to some of my Liberal friends, they seemed to side with the unions as well. One aide to an MP told me that competition is the answer. Maybe he is right. Yes, we have WestJet, which does not go to as many destinations. Porter Airlines goes to mostly Canadian stops and a few in the USA. What we really need is an open skies agreement. Let Delta, American Airlines and the others fly wherever they want in Canada.  If Air Canada did not have this virtual monopoly, perhaps they’d stop holding us hostage.

I took the shuttle at Trudeau to pick up my car at the Sheraton Airport Montreal and the pilots from my flight and some of the crew were seated beside me. They seemed kind of relieved that the Minister had intervened. "None of us really want a work stoppage," said one. "The Minister has a found a way to buy time."

The other pilot saved his angry words for Air Canada senior executives, who are making seven figure salaries.

Lisa Raitt acted last summer when Canada Post went on strike, forcing their unions back to work after a stoppage which despite our reliance on the internet still caused many problems. I wish to commend for being a woman of action!

As for Air Canada, well my return home flight gave me a chance to feel what it is like to be a contestant on The Amazing Race. My partners were the Hampstead father and son duo of Gregand Eric Weitzman, whom I met on board. We were scheduled to leave Fort Lauderdale at 2:55 p.m. to meet a connecting flight in Toronto at 8 p.m. When I arrived at 1 p.m. I was told the flight was delayed until 4 p.m. Oh well, I took out my laptop and began to type. By the time the plane took off it was closer to 5 p.m. and as we took the air I received a text from Air Canada which I could not access as we reached the clouds.

We landed at close to 7:30 p.m. and of course we had to go through Canadian customs and retrieve our luggage. This is when I met the Weitzmans. “Did you get a text from the airline?” Greg asked.

“Yes, but I could not open it,” I replied.

Greg then told me that his text explained how his itinerary had changed, that we missed the connecting flight to Montreal and he and Eric were now scheduled to depart the following afternoon at 3 p.m.

I now tried to access my text and it read that I was placed on a 9 a.m. flight Saturday.
“Oh well, they better put us up in a hotel,” I stated.

We got our bags and headed towards a gate agent. “Your 8 a.m. flight was delayed and you can still make it,” she said. “Re check your bags. You have 15 minutes.”
The Amazing Race had begun. 

The three of us ran as fast as we could, passed through security and made it to the gate only to be told that we missed the flight. Not to worry. Because so many people missed their connecting flight to Montreal – some 90 in all- Air Canada had added a new one at 9:30 p.m. It took off at 10 p.m., allowing me enough time to purchase a sandwich and water for the bargain basement price of $16.

Well, overall I must commend our national airline for the way they handled the situation. 

Now where we can I audition for the Amazing Race?

March Break in South Florida

I just returned from  my first March Break holiday  in Florida - all of six days. I was always told that while the weather during Christmas was unpredictable. Well unfortunately the winds were strong and nasty each day. I had one day of pure sun in which I got to swim and read by the pool. One of the stops I had most looked forward to was the Aqualina Resort & Spa on the Beach, unquestionably the most extraordinary property in Sunny Isles Beach.  Sunny Isles was formerly part of North Miami Beach and is located between Miami and Hallandale. We had the opportunity to spend the day at the Acqualina, a spot where I have run into countless Montrealers during previous Christmas visits. Fortunately we did manage to spend a few hours by one of their gorgeous pools by the beach and  enjoy some  lunch at their Costa Grill. The Acqualina entered 2012 with a splash, receiving award recognitions from AAA, Spas of America, Trip Advisor and U.S. News & World Report. The award winning resort is a coveted member of The Leading Hotels of the World and a premier Florida retreat boasting 4.5 beachfront acres with 400 feet of stunning Atlantic coastline. 

We just missed the opening of  Piazzetta at Acqualina, a modern marketplace concept which will transport guests to an Italian town square set South Florida Riviera amidst the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. The Tuscany-inspired marketplace offers light meals, bottled wines, olive oils, sauces, oven-baked pizzas, crostinis, paninis, salads, meats, teas and a coffee corner boasting 21 specialty coffees in a relaxed and inviting setting.  I hope to experience it in person next time I visit. In the meantime, here is a look at the property.

The Acqualina is also home to Il Mulino New York, which for me is one of the finest dining establishments I have ever experienced. Renowned for its bustling and energetic atmosphere, market fresh daily specials, extensive selection of fine Italian wines and an impeccably polished wait staff,  this is one of  more than a dozen (and counting) Il Mulino locations. It has already become a much sought-after establishment, frequented by both locals and visitors in the know.  

I found a fabulous new dining spot on this trip, one frequented by Montrealers in particular seeking kosher cuisine. Grill Time is on Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami Beach, just off 163rd Avenue, in a small strip shopping center. Brothers Lior and Neal Karni came here from Israel eight years ago,  bought the existing Grill Time and completely transformed it into a magnificent eatery offering Israeli-style dishes, fish, meat, poultry and tantalizing desserts.

Shopping is always an adventure at the Aventura Mall and the gigantic Sawgrass Mills  in Sunrise, just around the corner from where the NHL’s Florida Panthers play.

One last tip – if you are like me and like to leave your car at Trudeau International Airport but worry about the steep cost here is your answer.  The Sheraton Airport Montreal Hotel, once known as the Airport Hilton, has convenient park and stay packages. Here you can relax in their newly renovated guest rooms and avoid the expense of airport parking. Spend the night (for as little as $144) with them before your trip, then park for up to eight, 15 or 22 days at no additional cost. If you just want to leave you vehicle there, minus the hotel stay, the cost is only $12.50 per night (taxes included). I took that option this time. The free shuttle was right there after I got my luggage. The car was also very secure in their fenced in area.

Monday 5 March 2012

The incredible story of Steve Rambam and Adalbert Lallier

From 1988 to 1999 I worked for the Canadian Jewish Congress, the once proud Parliament of Canadian Jewry, as the national director of communications. It was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I was 25 years of age, having worked mainly as a journalist for the now defunct Sunday Express, The Suburban and Monitor Newspapers. When I graduated from Concordia with a BA in Communications and Journalism, I decided that public relations might be a better career path than working full-time for a newspaper. I did have a permanent posting at The Suburban, where I learned how to become a news reporter. It was there that I was assigned to cover a lot of Jewish community events. The Canadian Jewish Congress was among the organizations I wrote about. So when I heard they were looking for a communications director I applied, recognizing that my inexperience and young age would probably be a deterrent. But thanks to the head of the organization at the time, Jack Silverstone, I was given the chance of a lifetime.

One week into my new job, Jack came to my office and told me to organize a press conference in Ottawa. We were meeting the Federal Minister of Justice to discuss the issue of Nazi war criminals residing in Canada. Wow! These were the days before internet. Fax machines had just become the rage. Somehow I figured out what to do. The morning of the meeting I picked up Jack and Professor Irwin Cotler, a past president of CJC and noted human rights activist, and off to Parliament Hill we went.

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney had declared war on Nazis seeking safe haven in Canada. During my 11 years at the CJC, this dossier attracted a lot of attention. The government did indeed find Nazi war criminals in Canada, brought some to trial and even managed to revoke the citizenship and deport some of them.
Steve Rambam

The most remarkable development came in November 1996 when I met American private detective Steven Rambam. He arrived at the CJC offices in Montreal with cameras from all over the world following his trail after a story broke in the Jerusalem Post Weekend Magazine, and in the Montreal Gazette. Rambam, then 39, had posed as Salvatore Romano, a professor of a fictitious university, St. Paul's University of the Americas in Belize, fabricating identification cards and even sweatshirts from the imaginary institution. Mr. Rambam told subjects that he was writing a thesis about police and army collaboration in the World War II. With Jerusalem Post reporters Robert Sarner and Steve Leibowitz acting as his assistants in some cases,   Rambam interviewed a number of suspected war criminals living in Canada and tricked them into providing apparent confessions of their crimes.

According to the original Gazette report, the private eye was given "a list of 157 suspected collaborators ... by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Yad Vashem, a Holocaust memorial in Israel." In a telephone interview conducted from Jerusalem on November 21  Rambam told the Gazette he had obtained confessions from 58 accused, seven of whom had admitted killing Jews. Twenty-five were said to be living in the Montreal area. The report mentioned the graphic confession of Atanas Kenstavicius, who admitted participating in the murder of Jews from Svencionys, a region of Lithuania in which he acted as police chief during the Nazi occupation. In a November 27, 1996, item in the Jerusalem Post,   Sarner and Leibowitz reported that . Rambam "met 60 of the suspects" over the past two years. Irving Abella,a former CJC president and  then chairman of our war crimes committee,  commented that he found it incredible how "one person working with meager resources had little trouble tracking down and getting confessions from alleged Nazi war criminals, while for 50 years the Canadian government has done very little."

Rambam would become a media sensation a contact I appreciated connecting with for years to come. I left CJC in 1999 to join the English Montreal School Board as communications and marketing specialist.  Interestingly, a new chapter between Rambam and myself had just begun. While working with CJC, Rambam set up a hotline and asked anyone with information that could lead to the prosecution of Nazi war criminals to contact him. One person did just that: Adalbert Lallier, a highly respected professor at Concordia University.

Of French Huguenot origin,  Lallier was born in 1925 in Hungary. He says he was forcibly drafted into the German army during World War II at the age of 17, along with his brother, who perished in the course of the war. While Lallier was a 19-year-old Waffen SS officer-in-training with the detail overseeing the work party in Leitmeritz, Czechoslovakia, he witnessed his immediate superior, an SS lieutenant, Julius Viel, randomly shoot seven Jews. After WWII, Lallier first worked at the International Refugee Organization in Vienna expediting the processing of East-European refugees, most often Hungarian Jews who had survived the Holocaust. Three years after immigrating to Montreal in 1951, he was admitted to the Honours programme in economics and political science at McGill University, graduating with an Honours B.A. In 1958 he was admitted to Columbia University, New York City, on a two-year graduate fellowship, to study economics and at the Russian Institute, obtaining an M.A. in economics, a Graduate Diploma in International Politics, and qualifying as a Ph.D. candidate. In 1960 he was engaged as a lecturer in economics and politics at Loyola College. He became Dean of Loyola's Evening Division in 1962, creating their evening degree program. During his long career at what then became Concordia University, he was one of the seven recipients of the John O'Brien Award for Teaching Excellence, and was eventually promoted to full professor. While teaching full-time, he resumed his graduate studies, in France, at the Sorbonne/ParisII, and was awarded a doctorat en sciences ├ęconomiques, following which he did post-doctoral studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. During the early 1970s, he was also Director of Lay Studies at Yeshiva Gedolah Markaz Hatorah, where he accommodated the mostly religious orthodox programme of this institution with Quebec's official policy concerning high-school education. 

From 1998 to 2000, Lallier testified four times before the Nazi war crimes court in Germany about what he saw during the Julius Viel incident, being the principal witness in the case against Viel, who was arrested and eventually convicted on the strength of Lallier's evidence. In the aftermath of the publicity surrounding the trial, Lallier resigned from the University in 2001 and currently lives on a farm outside Montreal.

When Lallier became the subject of a documentary called Once a Nazi, I got  a call from Rambam. He was coming back to Montreal and wanted to talk to students – with Lallier by his side. I agreed to set these lectures up. The media showed up in droves and the students had a living history lesson.

I am now in touch with Lallier again. At the age of 87 he has written the manuscript for a fiction novel called Sin and Retribution.  He takes elements from the Viel trial and his own past and meshes it together into a real thriller. I hope someone takes a look at it. Would be publishers can contact Janice Rosen at the Canadian Jewish Congress  Congress Charities Committee National Archives at 514-931-7531 ext. 2 or  

Yes, the book and main war criminal character is modelled around Viel.  “It had been years earlier jumping around my head and deep within my conscience, having me recognize that it had become absolutely necessary to find out if Viel was still alive, which is why I eventually turned to Mr. Rambam,” Lallier shared with me. “ Presenting myself at the war crimes court in Ravensburg then became an essential condition towards the  real portrayal about what is going on in the Bundesrepublik  war crimes court - the necessity to grant me 24-hour security protection, because of the unpleasant presence of Holocaust deniers, former Waffen-SS members who had remained committed to their Oath of Fealty, neo-Nazi types of Germans, and others who seemed the ‘decent’ Germans  who had learned their lesson.  I needed this real-life exposure in order to gain a feeling whether the ‘new  democratic  Germans’ were a species totally different from their grandfathers and fathers who had loyally served Adolf Hitler.
“My portrayal of ‘Karl-Johann Rainer’ and ‘Franz-Egon Zeuge’ expressed the real-life presence of Julius Viel and Standartenf├╝hrer Kemper, the commandant of the officers' school. Having experienced Reichsdeutsch Herrenmensch officers' haughty attitudes and their conviction that they had become the masters over the lives and deaths of the Untermenschen, and faced, in the anti-tank ditch, the horrible reality - gruesome expression of that attitude - of that multiple murder, asking -secretly burried deep within myself - why both  Jahweh and the three-image of the Christian God would have permitted that particular war crime to happen?

Here is an excerpt  

Klara Lauber was the name given to the only Jewish child ever to have been conceived in a Nazi concentration camp, the child out of wedlock, of Bruno Lauber and his beloved Sarah Feiner. A child whose father, an Austrian Jew, was presumed to have been killed by a Nazi officer just before the end of the war, But whose mother, pregnant yet defying all odds, managed to survive. Liberated by the Red Army, Feiner and the remaining half-starved four thousand Jewish inmates were transferred, first into initial care by the International Red Cross, and then into American and British hospitals or convalescent homes_while the governments of Britain, Canada, France, and the United States would attempt to figure out what to do with possibly two millions of homeless European Jews, the estimated number that managed to survive the slaughter or gassing of another estimated six million.

In late fall 1945, Sarah Feiner gave birth to a normal and healthy looking baby girl, named her Klara Lauber, and remained with her in Vienna until the Histadrutorganization brought both of them to Tel Aviv, arriving three months after the establishment of the State of Israel. Klara Lauber would have enjoyed a childhood typical of the young who were being raised in wartime and war-torn Israel, by their mothers whose husbands had died either in the Nazi concentration camps or in fighting for the independence and sovereignty of their biblical homeland. Sarah Feiner attempted several times without success to discover what had indeed happened to the father of her child, but finally gave preferring instead to secure for herself and her daughter a better future. She had absolutely no desire ever again to set foot anywhere in Europe. But the fate of Bruno kept on occupying her mind, all of which she was holding within herself.

In her early teens, Klara only rarely asked any questions, even though she wondered at times, why her mother appeared most of the time quite unwilling to provide full details of her wartime suffering and life with her father. But she was not pushing for an answer, since many of her young Jewish schoolmates in Haifa, where her mother was living and working as a seamstress, were children of Holocaust survivors, most of whom were keeping silent, possibly desperately seeking to forget the tragedy of the concentration camps. In addition, and unlikequite a few of the other children of Holocaust survivors, Klara’s mother did not have even one photograph of her father, that Klara could look at in seeking to discover which parts of her face and of her being had come from Bruno Lauber.

The day following Klara’s high-school graduation ceremony, Sarah decided to reveal the whole extent of her relationship with Bruno Lauber, the fact that they had not been able to get married and that Klara had actually been conceived out of wedlock. But, except for feeling that Bruno had been murdered in the “Small Fortress,”  in which thousands of Jewish inmates had been executed, she was unable to provide Klara with any specific leads. The ultimate fate of Bruno continued remaining an unsolved mystery. Breaking down with the painful memories, the mother concluded her report by pleading with her daughter, to devote part of her adult life to the quest of finding her father’s killer and of bringing him to trial.