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Background and a DansDeals special investigation
On Wednesday, I heard about an incident on Lufthansa flight 401, a Boeing 747-8 that flew from JFK to Frankfurt, that was almost too hard to believe. Allegedly, Lufthansa refused to allow any of the Jews from that flight onto their connecting flight to Budapest, while non-Jews were free to continue on their journeys. Two dozen armed police officers ensured that no Jews boarded the flight or caused issues at the gate.
Could this really happen in 2022?
I set out to investigate and spoke to more than a dozen passengers onboard that flight. Most agreed to speak on the record, though some said they needed anonymity. I also requested comment from Lufthansa.
After days of interviews with passengers, it does appear that nearly all visibly Jewish passengers were lumped together for collective punishment, as Lufthansa didn’t bother to identify the small number of mask offenders onboard the flight.
Chilling video shared with DansDeals and posted below appears to confirm that Lufthansa banned all Jews on the flight because in a Lufthansa supervisor’s words, it was the Jews that made the mess and Jews that made the problems, and that all Jews onboard had to suffer due to the sins of the few.
What happened onboard Lufthansa flight 401
Piecing together many passenger stories, here is my understanding of what happened.
Last week, thousands of Jews made an annual pilgrimage to visit the grave of Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner of Kerestir, known as Reb Shayala Kerestirer, on the 3 Iyar yahrtzeit (date of his passing) in 1925. Reb Shayala was famed for his warm hospitality and for his miraculous blessings. In 2020, COVID stopped people from going, and last year there were permits required and charter busses were denied at the border. With Europe fully reopening, there was a lot of pent up demand this year and Jews filled up planes on many airlines to reach Kerestir, today known as Bodrogkeresztúr, Hungary.
While US carriers have dropped mask requirements, rules in airports and on foreign carriers can be confusing. For example, you don’t need to wear a mask on KLM planes to their Amsterdam hub, but you do need to wear it in the Amsterdam airport. You do need a mask on Lufthansa planes to their Frankfurt hub, but you don’t need to wear a mask in the Frankfurt airport.
Lufthansa flights from JFK and Newark to Frankfurt on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, were filled with Jews, mostly Hasidic.
Two NYC based travel agencies sold tickets on Tuesday’s Lufthansa flight 401 from JFK to Frankfurt connecting to Wednesday’s Lufthansa flight 1334 from Frankfurt to Budapest. Main Street Travel sold 80 group tickets, while Plan It Rite sold 30 group tickets. Dozens of other Jews on the flight booked their own travel not as part of any group, some with cash and others using miles. It would seem that somewhere between 135-170 Jews were on the flights in total.
Lufthansa requires surgical masks or N95s to be worn on flights, and handed out 3 ply masks to everyone who didn’t have a mask or only had a cloth mask at boarding.
I’ve written before about how to avoid getting kicked off your flight. It’s always critical to listen to masking rules where they are still required, even if you’re not used to masking elsewhere. If you don’t feel that you’re able to mask for a long flight, it would be prudent to choose an airline that doesn’t have masking requirements.
David Landau was on the flight with his wife. They redeemed miles to fly in business class and were not part of any group. He heard from friends who flew on Lufthansa on the previous days that the crew had some issues with mask compliance and he sensed that the crew was warned of this and seemed on edge from the beginning. Lufthansa has two business class sections on the 747-8, the entire upstairs, and in a section downstairs behind first class. He said that mask compliance was very good in his section downstairs, and nobody had to be asked to put their mask on.
David told me that about halfway through the flight, a pilot made an announcement that the flight attendants were frustrated with people blocking the galleys in prayer, and for having to repeat themselves about needing to wear a mask. He warned that people not obeying orders would have a problem with their connecting flight.
Yitzy Schmidt travels frequently to Europe on business and was sitting in the small economy section nestled between business class and premium economy downstairs. He said that most people were wearing masks, but there was one male flight attendant who watched everyone’s mask like a hawk, pouncing on the opportunity to remind people to cover their noses with a mask and to replace the mask in between bites. The flight attendant did speak to both non-Jews and Jews alike to keep their mask over their nose. He didn’t see any major arguments, though he felt that the flight attendant acted unprofessionally and too emotionally when he reminded people to continue properly masking.
Masked Hasidic Jews in prayer aboard Lufthansa flight 401. Only Jews onboard the flight were denied boarding on their connecting flights, while non-Jews from the flight had no issues.
Yitzy told me that the flight was mostly Jewish, with about 80% of them being visibly Hasidic Jews.
Usher Schik used United miles to book business class on the flight. He was booked to fly upstairs, but was moved downstairs as his seat was inoperative. He saw a flight attendant ask one person to wear their mask, but otherwise didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until the pilot’s announcement.
Moshe Reisman was sitting in business class upstairs where there were Jews and non-Jews, but no flight attendants requested that people wear masks.
While Lufthansa officially requires masks in all cabins, it’s very common that airlines look the other way in premium cabins. In fact some airlines, such as Cathay Pacific, don’t require masks in premium cabins as they say there is sufficient space in those cabins for masks not to be needed.
Zev Herskovitz was seated in premium economy, where he said mask compliance was very good. His only notification that something was amiss was when the pilot made his announcement.
At the pointy end of the Lufthansa 747 are 8 first class seats, 3 of which were occupied by Jews that I talked to. Max Weingarten and his business partner Eli Meisels purchased seats through their own travel agent not as part of any group. Chuny Rosen is a DansDeals fanatic and he purchased his first class seat using 87K Avianca Lifemiles.
They told me that there was zero mask enforcement in first class and that one of the first class flight attendants was not wearing her own mask for most of the flight. Passengers in first class didn’t wear masks for most of the flight and weren’t asked to.
From talking to several passengers in economy, it seems like there were a couple of isolated masking issues in economy class, both among some visibly Hasidic Jews as well as non-Jews. It’s a shame that they flouted the rules, but it’s unclear why those few passengers weren’t singled out for punishment as would happen on most airlines in the world.
What happened next is just astounding.
What happened at the connecting gate for Lufthansa flight 1334
Usher Schik was one of the first passengers to arrive at the connecting gate to Budapest. He was surprised to see police officers coming to the gate, at first half a dozen, and then two dozen armed officers. Lufthansa agents were evasive about the police presence and for why they weren’t boarding the flight at the expected boarding time, despite the screen showing an expected on-time departure at 7:10am.
David Landau told me that at 7:20am they finally started boarding, but this was no typical boarding. The gate agent was paging individuals by name to come up and board the flight. He recalled that the paged individuals that were able to board were not visibly Jewish, but he recalled that a Rosen was paged and he saw that he didn’t make it onto the flight.
I tracked that down to first class passenger Chuny Rosen, who said his name was paged. He was in middle of praying and was still wearing his talis and tefilin when he went up to the gate to ask why he was paged. The gate agent asked if he was part of “the group from NYC” and he said he was by himself and booked his own ticket, and then went back to take off his talis and tefilin, a process that takes several minutes, and bring his bags with him. By the time he came back he said the gate was closed and he couldn’t board the flight.
Usher Schik was sitting at a nearby gate, when his brother-in-law ran to tell him that his name had been paged to board the flight. When he went up to board the gate agent asked if he was part of “the group from NYC.” He too said that he was not with any group and had booked his own ticket with his miles, however the gate agent denied him boarding. When he asked why his name was paged to board, the Lufthansa agent had an officer push him away from the boarding area.
How did Lufthansa decide who to page? That’s a mystery I can’t seem to figure out.
Usher’s brother-in-law was also on a mileage ticket, but his name was not paged. Usher wondered if perhaps they thought his name didn’t sound Jewish and that’s why he was paged?
Yitzy Schmidt noticed two non-Jews that were also on their JFK to Frankfurt flight at their connecting gate to Budapest. He chatted with them and they were perplexed at the police presence at the gate, but they were then paged to board the flight and they were allowed onto their connecting flight.
Yitzy took several videos of the scene at the gate:
Yitzy tried asking the Lufthansa agent if being Jewish made him part of “the group from NYC,” but police kept them away from the Lufthansa agents, while saying that they were just there to enforce what Lufthansa tells them to do. It seemed to him that Lufthansa was using the police to shy away from answering passengers’ questions.
It appears that the only Jews that made it onto the connecting flight to Budapest were first class passengers and business partners Max Weingarten and Eli Meisels.
Max tells me that when they heard individuals being paged, he quickly got in line behind them and was able to board. He has wearing a black polo shirt and didn’t look like most of the Hasidic Jews on the flight and had no problem boarding. Max readily admits that he wasn’t wearing a mask in first class from JFK to Frankfurt as the flight attendant also wasn’t masked and nobody asked him to wear a mask.
Eli tried boarding behind him, but when they scanned his boarding pass it blinked red and said do not board. The gate agent asked if he was coming from JFK, and he said yes. Eli was wearing a white dress shirt, as were most of the Jewish passengers on the flight, but unlike most of the others, he was wearing a baseball cap. His business partner Max in the black polo shirt but wearing a yarmulka, was already in the jetbridge, but came back to see what was going on. Max explained that Eli was his business partner and the Lufthansa gate agents had a discussion and then allowed him to board the flight. He recalls seeing a Hasidic Jew trying to board, but was denied and pushed away from the area.
Eli says there were 5 total people in the Euro-business class section and roughly 12-15 people in economy on the connecting flight to Budapest. After they boarded the captain announced boarding complete, the doors were closed, and the plane pulled away from the gate faster than he has ever seen a plane do so in his life. After moving away from the terminal, the plane sat for several minutes before departing. The plane should have held up to 192 passengers, but took off with no more than 20.
Max felt sickened to his stomach about the scene and felt like he was in a scene out of World War II, with Jews being openly discriminated against. He flew back through Frankfurt that evening for his return flight and had to spend the night there before flying Singapore Airlines nonstop from Frankfurt to JFK the next morning, but it felt nauseating for him to be in Frankfurt after the day’s events. He plans on boycotting the airline in the future and would like to see others do the same.
In another of Yitzy Schmidt’s videos, people can be heard asking the police, “Why do you hate us?” One person can be heard calling out “Nazi.”
In Germany, calling someone a Nazi is considered slander, and German Police have sued Americans who have called them Nazis in the past.
The officer is not amused and demands to know who said it. He accuses one passenger, but they denied saying it. The office again asks, “Who said the N-word” for Nazi, but nobody admits to it.
Passengers are paged by name to board the flight to Budapest:
A woman wants to know why she is being denied boarding if she wore her mask on the previous flight.
Here is another look at the chaotic scene at the gate. At 3:37 into the video, a Lufthansa agent says, “Due to operational reasons, coming from the flight from New York, for all passengers here we have to cancel you on this flight. You know why it was.”
The Lufthansa agent avoids answering questions, behind a police line:
Trying to get rebooked onto other flights
After the flight was cancelled, the first few people to run to the rebooking desk were able to be put on a later Lufthansa flight to Budapest. However shortly thereafter an edict was made that all passengers on flight 1334 were banned from flying on Lufthansa for 24 hours and could not have their tickets rebooked.
Aron Sofer, a visibly Hasidic Jew, says that he was also paged to board, but he was in middle of praying. He finished praying and went to board, but was not allowed onto the flight.
Jacob Hoffman says that there was just a handful of people on the flight, a couple Jewish and couple not, who weren’t masked. He was masked the entire time, but the rebooking center told him that they would not rebook him to fly that day. He purchased a new ticket on Lufthansa for $735, but when he went to checkin he was recognized by another agent and was told that he could not get a boarding pass even for a new ticket. Eventually Lufthansa took his passport into a back office, relented, and issued his boarding pass.
Jacob’s friend Gershon Neustadt was not as lucky. He rebooked travel on another airline and Lufthansa cancelled his return ticket home due to missing his leg to Budapest. Lufthansa refused to help him despite not allowing him to fly to Budapest that day and he had to spend over $1,100 for a new flight home.
Chilling video of Lufthansa blaming the Jews for the problems
Perhaps the craziest video of them all comes from one passenger, who requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation. The passenger sent me the full unedited video, but asked that I trim it and add blurring effects to the video before sharing it.
It is chilling and shocking.
After the flight was closed he went to the rebooking desk but was told that he couldn’t fly on Lufthansa for 24 hours. He then went to locate a Lufthansa supervisor to request that he be rebooked to Budapest as he wasn’t part of any group ticket. He asked if this was an upper management decision and says he was told that it was.
Note: YouTube has removed the video for containing hate speech! You can still watch it on Twitter here or here:
Here is the back and forth from 0:40 into the video.
Passenger: This is gruesome.
Lufthansa: It would have been if you were African, if you were Polander.
Passenger: I was wearing a mask the entire time, why am I lumped in with them?
Lufthansa: It was one, everyone has to pay for a couple.
Passenger: What do you mean everybody, everybody from that race? Everybody else on the flight went.
Lufthansa: Not everybody.
Passenger: The non-Jewish people on the flight went. Why are only the Jewish people paying for other people’s crimes?
Lufthansa: Because it’s Jews coming from JFK.
Passenger: Oh, so Jewish people coming from JFK are paying for the crimes of a few people?
Passenger: Jewish people are paying for the crimes of Israel?
Passenger: Just the Jewish people on that flight?
Lufthansa: Do you want to discuss with me or no? Do you want to listen to me?
Passenger: I’m like shocked beyond, never in my adult life. I’ve never heard this.
Lufthansa: If you want to do it like this, Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems.
Passenger: So Jewish people on the plane made a problem, so all Jews are banned from Lufthansa for the day?
Lufthansa: Just for this flight.
The German term Sippenhaft refers to the idea that everyone in a group should pay for the act of one and it sure seems like it applies here. However, Lufthansa didn’t stop with the two actual groups booked on the flight, they appear to have targeted all Jews on the flight, whether or not they were part of the actual groups.
That collective punishment and singling out of Jews, a couple of whom were called up to board and then denied boarding because of their looks, reminded several passengers I spoke to of the collective punishment mentality used by Nazi Germany during World War II.
More confirmation of the collective punishment
Usher Schik told me that he was one of the lucky ones that ran to be rebooked before Lufthansa decided on a 24 hour ban. He noticed that some of the Lufthansa gate agents from their original flight to Budapest were working the next flight as well. He spoke to one of those agents and said that just because we look alike, doesn’t mean that were were part of the same group and deserved collective punishment!
The agent told him that if it were up to them, everyone would have just gone. However the captain of the flight to Budapest decided that he didn’t want any of them on his plane. The gate agent said that they tried arguing with the captain twice to no avail and ultimately it was his call. But Usher points out that with two dozen police officers at the gate, Lufthansa’s intentions were perfectly clear, they had no intention of letting people fly.
Finding other ways to fly
Chuny Rosen ran to the Lufthansa rebooking desk and was able to get onto a flight to Vienna. Right after he was confirmed, he heard a supervisor tell the agents at the desk not to rebook anyone else that was denied boarding on Lufthansa 1334 onto other Lufthansa flights for 24 hours. He was supposed to fly back that night via Turkish Airlines, but due to the delay to get to Kerestir he had to cancel that flight and wound up buying a new Delta flight via Paris and taking an extra day to get home. He regretted not just going to the First Class Terminal as he assumes that he would have been put onto the connecting flight to Budapest had he been in that lounge, as they transfer you in a Porsche directly to the plane. However he was worried that the connection wasn’t long enough to make it to the first class terminal.
Zev Herskovitz tried getting rebooked to Budapest, but Lufthansa told him he was banned from flying on their airline for 24 hours and that the decision came from higher ups and could not be appealed regardless of whether he was masked or not. His travel agent rebooked him on LOT Polish to Košice, Slovakia, via Warsaw. He said he wore his mask for the duration of the flight, was never warned, and can’t understand why he was banned.
David Landau was one of the lucky ones that ran to get rebooked on a later flight to Budapest. His friend was not as fast and by the time he got to the rebooking desk, was told he had a 24 hour Lufthansa flight ban. He wound up paying $800 for a new ticket to Vienna. The friend was then unable to checkin for his flight home as Lufthansa cancelled his return ticket due to missing the leg to Budapest, which meant that he had to spend another $1,200 for a new ticket home.
Yitzy Schmidt, who travels often to Europe on business, was also told by Lufthansa that he was banned from the airline for 24 hours. He felt so disgusted by the collective punishment and so emotionally drained by the behavior of Lufthansa and the German police that he used his miles to immediately fly home in United business class without ever making it to Kerestir. He couldn’t wait to get off of European soil after what happened to him and other Jews on the flight.
Aron Sofer went to the rebooking center and explained that he was paged to board the flight but was then denied. The rebooking center told him that he had a 24 hour flight ban and that “none of you people will be flying on Lufthansa today.”
The Plan It Rite travel agency paid out of their pocket for their passengers to get to Vienna on Austrian Air, and had to charter new buses to get them to Kerestir.
The Main Street Travel agency paid out of their pocket for their passengers to get to Košice, Slovakia, via Warsaw on LOT Polish and had to charter new buses to get them to Kerestir.
The dozens of passengers that booked their own travel were on their own to find their way to Kerestir.
Most people were only planning on being in Kerestir for a few hours and were planning on visiting gravesites of religious leaders in other cities via charter bus, but they wound up losing those stops and having to spend an extra day in Europe, along with other expenses.
I asked Lufthansa for their side of the story, and they sent me this statement,
“We confirm that a larger group of passengers could not be carried yesterday on Lufthansa flight LH1334 from Frankfurt to Budapest, because the travelers refused to wear the legally mandated mask (medical mask) on board.
By German law, Lufthansa, similar to any and all carriers operating in Germany, is obliged to follow the legal requirements of this mandate. In the new German Infection Protection Act, the obligation to wear a mask remains in place in public transport and thus also on board flights, as well as across all aspects of air transport. Medical or FFP2 masks must therefore continue to be worn on board Lufthansa flights, at all times.
For legal reasons we cannot disclose the number of guests involved in the incident, however Lufthansa has rebooked the guests on the next available flight to their final destination. A prerequisite for transportation is that the travelers complied with the mask mandate, which is a legal requirement.
As safety and security of our passengers and staff is our top priority, Lufthansa will continue to abide by all legal requirements, including the mask mandate imposed by the German government and those of the countries served. We do so without prejudice and with the wellbeing of all our guests.”
I told Lufthansa that I spoke with several passengers who insist that they had their medical mask on for the duration of the flight without any issues and asked how they decided who could continue onto Budapest. I also asked about the numerous passengers who were told they were denied flying on Lufthansa for 24 hours, while Lufthansa’s statement indicated that they were rebooked on the next available flight.
They did not respond to my further questions.
I also sent them a draft of this post, but did not receive an immediate response.
German media coverage
The Frankfurt Allgemeine, one of Germany’s largest newspapers, covered the story here after being tipped off by a DansDeals Forum member. They reported there were 127 banned passengers, though evidence, including videos from Lufthansa agents, shows it was more than that. Lufthansa tells that newspaper that there were 30 people on board the connecting flight to Budapest.
Lufthansa needs to address this and make things right
Based on numerous firsthand accounts and testimony from Lufthansa, as well as the haphazard calling of select passenger names, it does seem that Lufthansa used collective punishment to avoid the work of identifying actual offenders.
The grouping together of visible Jews that weren’t even part of the same group and just happened to be on the same flights, seems to have been anti-Semitic based on only visible Jews being left behind, but reportedly gentiles and two less visible Jews that were on the same flights were allowed to proceed to Budapest.
Lufthansa’s statement appears to be covering up for some of their egregious decision making, including ultimately banning passengers from flying on Lufthansa for 24 hours, causing significant expense and distress.
I hope that Lufthansa investigates this incident thoroughly, that bad actors are properly disciplined, and apologies and compensation are offered. I’d also like to hear what the airline is doing so that this is made into a never again situation.
In the meantime, a class action lawsuit is in the works.
Do you think Lufthansa agents acted in an anti-Semitic manner?
Updates since this story was posted, including YouTube Deletion
Update, 5/8 at 3:15pm ET: Lufthansa has responded to a request for comment about this post before it was published as follows,
Lufthansa is currently investigating the events of Wednesday May 4th in order to clarify the exact procedures and background of the incident.
We follow all related media reports and blogs, but cannot comment any further so far and at that stage. Many thanks for your understanding.
Update, 5/9 at 7am ET: YouTube and Instagram have removed our video of the Lufthansa supervisor for containing hate speech and placed a strike on our account!
We have filed an appeal for it to be reinstated.
For now, you can watch it on Twitter here,
YouTube just removed our video showing a Lufthansa supervisor blaming problems on #TheJews due to it "violating our hate speech policy".
Don’t stay silent on #AntiSemitism!
— DansDeals (@DansDeals) May 9, 2022
Update, 5/9 at 7pm ET: YouTube and Instagram have reinstated the video and removed the strike from our account.
— DansDeals (@DansDeals) May 9, 2022
Update, 5/10 at 11:10am ET: With mainstream media starting to pick up this story, Lufthansa has issued this apology and statement. Unfortunately, they are still referring to denying “the large group” when in fact there were several dozen Jews on the flight who were denied boarding despite not being part of any group. This apology skirts the primary issue of racial profiling by Lufthansa employees.
Update, 5/11 at 3pm ET: Lufthansa’s CEO has apologized to the Rabbi of Berlin and suspended employees involved in the incident. The company has not yet corrected their public apology.
Update, 5/11 at 12pm ET: This story has been picked up by the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS News, JTA, Forward, The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Haaretz, and all major publications in Germany such as the Frankffurter Allgemeine, Die Welt, BILD, and more.