Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Summer of Hope at Yad Vashem - Israel

Twenty-one year old Mollie Sharfman spent the summer as an intern at the International School of Holocaust Studies. Here's what she has to say
A Summer of Hope at Yad Vashem - Israel

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Yad Vashem Receives Original Auschwitz Plans

Last year, the original architectural plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp were discovered in an apartment in Berlin. Today, the German newspaper Bild who purchased the sketches, presented the blueprints to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke movingly of the importance of commemorating the Holocaust. "There are those who deny that the Holocaust happened," Netanyahu said. "Let them come to Jerusalem and look at these plans, these plans for the factory of death."

Kai Diekmann, editor in chief of Bild on presenting the plans to Yad Vashem:
“Whoever doesn’t remember the past may err in the future. The German nation carries immense shame, we think it fitting that this hellish plan be at Yad Vashem, and not here."

Yad Vashem's Chairman Avner Shalev indicated the importance of the plans:
There is historic significance in the noble decision of the newspaper to transfer the original plans to Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem. Beyond its importance for research is the message of responsibility. It gave me a strong feeling of obligation to continue our educational endeavors.”

Plan of Auschwitz I camp, including the massive headquarters, that were not built, 30.4.1942

The architectural plans, 29 documents in all, have been authenticated by experts from Germany's Federal Archives. Some of the documents bear notes in the margins, or signatures by senior Nazis, including by Head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. Read more about it in this interesting article in Forbes.

The plans will be displayed at Yad Vashem in January 2010, marking 65 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Memorable Concert at Yad Vashem

Last night, Maestro Giora Feidman charmed those gathered in the Valley of Communities at Yad Vashem with a very special concert. His masterclass students from around the world joined him for a concert of “Jewish Soul Music” (Klezmer), captivating an eclectic group.
The concert opened with the clear notes of Feidman’s clarinet approaching slowly from out of the Valley. As he slowly walked through the audience and approached the stage, the powerful notes emerging from his (translucent!) clarinet pervaded the air. The towering walls of the Valley, etched with the names of Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust, made a perfect and imposing setting - the music soaring out across the hills on the cool air of the Jerusalem summer evening.

The young and not so young musicians, ranging from talented Israeli high school students to seasoned professionals from abroad, clearly put their own “soul” into the music. They played solos, they played together in different combinations, but they never failed to move us with the music.
Feidman, an energetic and colorful performer par excellence, treated us to a truly exceptional performance, inviting us to join him. Soon everyone was tapping their feet, clapping their hands or singing along. Singing and humming along, I think we all filled the Valley with music and life. My 12-year, his grandparents and I were equally enthralled.
As we listened to the music, here in Jerusalem, we were struck by the living memorial to the Jewish world destroyed during the Shoah, and the celebration of Jewish life that continues.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Volunteers & Survivors Create Lasting Ties

Working with Holocaust survivors to assist them with filling out Pages of Testimony in memory of their loved ones who were killed during the war inherently involves listening to the stories of terror, loss and pain as they are filtered through the memories of those who bear witness. In many cases, Yad Vashem staff and volunteers often form special, lasting relationships with the survivors who share their personal tragedies in order to ensure that they will become an integral part of the Jewish national memorial of the Holocaust.

This is the story of Erna Adorian (née Isser), and Talma Ofel, a child of Holocaust survivors who volunteers for the Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project. The two first met last March when Talma visited Erna at her home in Ramat Gan, Israel to help her fill out Pages of Testimony for seven family members who were murdered in the Shoah. Last week Erna, 87, a survivor of Mogilev, a transit camp located in the Transnistria region of the Ukraine for Jews expelled from Bessarabia and Bukovina, visited Yad Vashem together with Talma and her late husband's son, Shlomo Livne, his wife Shani and their son Erez. One highlight of the visit - that included an emotional memorial ceremony at the wall inscribed with name of her hometown Sadgura in the Valley of the Communities and a tour of the Holocaust History Museum - was a visit to the Archives to view a piece of parchment paper that Erna gave to Yad Vashem for safekeeping.
The paper is a "map" documenting the location of her mother Dora Isser's grave in Mogilev. Tracing the map with a trembling hand, Erna told the incredible story of how her mother came to be buried and how she managed to get the map. Erna and her family arrived in Mogilev in October 1942 after a long and harrowing transport from Chernowitz. During their deportation they were often "stored" in bombed out houses and survived by bribing locals with the meager valuables they were able to salvage when they were forced to leave their home. After a few months of hard labor in Mogilev, Erna's mother fell ill and died. She would have been buried in a mass grave - the common fate of the majority of Jews who perished there - save for a German soldier, who, as Erna remembers it, accepted her mother's last dress in exchange for arranging her burial. Erna, who could not bear the thought of not having a record of her mother’s resting place, asked her uncle, who was a translator and worked in the office of a German soldier, to make a sketch of the location of the grave and to draw a tombstone on it. "I thought if I lived, she would want me to have record of where she rests," Erna explained.
Erna is the only member of her family that survived. She managed to save the map by hiding it in her shoe, her clothes and anywhere she could manage throughout the war. "Bringing this map to Yad Vashem, is like giving my mother a final resting place in Israel." To learn more about the Shoah Vicitms' Names Recovery Project click here

Cynthia Wroclawski, Manager
The Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project

Sunday, August 16, 2009

When Comparisons are Apt

How should we, as a nation who survived the Holocaust, relate to the plight of the refugees threatened with genocide? In this interesting piece, Dr. Robert Rozett addresses the issue of our sensitivity as a nation to other perspecuted peoples.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recommended Reading

Eddie Weinstein’s personal account of survival during the Holocaust, just re-published by Yad Vashem, is an especially moving and harrowing account of the Holocaust. He was only 17-years-old when he was sent to work as a forced laborer. Eddie was deported to Treblinka, but managed to escape, return to his hometown in Poland and warn the remaining Jews about the gas chambers and the fate awaiting whoever didn’t escape. He went into hiding with his father, escaping an incredible six times during the Holocaust. His story is told clearly and is filled with details that bring the narrative to life.

His book, 17 Days in Treblinka can be easily ordered online here (and shipped directly to you.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Remembering Janusz Korczak & Rhodesian Jewry

The other day, I attended the event marking 67 years since the deportation to the Treblinka death camp of Janusz Korczak, Stefania Wilczynska, and the children of their orphanage, from the Warsaw Ghetto. One of the last Holocaust survivors who was in the orphanage spoke movingly about his memories of Janusz Korczak.

Youth group member laying a memorial wreath in Janusz Korczak Square.

Janusz Korczak was the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, a Polish-born doctor, author and educator. Born in Warsaw to an assimilated Jewish family, Korczak dedicated his life to caring for children, particularly orphans. He believed that children should always be listened to and respected, and this belief was reflected in his work. He wrote several books for and about children, and broadcast a children's radio program. In 1912 Korczak became the director of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw. When World War II broke out in 1939, Korczak first refused to accept the German occupation and heed their regulations (consequently spending time in jail). However, when the Jews of Warsaw were forced to move into a ghetto, Korczak refocused his efforts on the children in his orphanage. Despite offers from Polish friends to hide him on the "Aryan" side of the city, Korczak refused to abandon the children.

Stefania Wilczynska was born in 1886 in Poland. In 1909, she met Korczak and the two began working together. When World War I began, Korczak was recruited and Stefania remained in charge of running the orphanage, which had expanded and now housed some 150 children. In 1935, she visited Palestine and lived at Ein Harod until 1939. With the Nazi occupation, the members of Ein Harod arranged for her the possibility of leaving Poland, but she turned it down and moved to the ghetto along with Dr. Korczak and the children.

In August 1942, during a 2-month wave of deportations from the ghetto, the Nazis rounded up Korczak, Wilczynska and the 200 children of the orphanage. They marched in rows to the Umschlagplatz with Korczak in the lead. He and Stephania never abandoned the children, even to the very end. Korczak and the children were sent to Treblinka, where they were all murdered.

Among the participants at the event in their memory were survivors, members of the Korczak society and youth movement members, as well as educators from Yad Vashem who reflected on the influence of Korczak's educational philosophy.

Also last week, was the annual event in memory of the Jews of Rhodes. In 1938, racial laws were imposed on the Jewish citizens-closing Jewish schools, limiting travel, firing workers and canceling the Italian citizenship of 103 Jewish families who arrived in Rhodes after 1919. On September 15, 1943, Rhodes fell into German hands and in July 1944, the expulsion of the Jewish community began. 1,641 Jews from Rhodes were murdered in the Holocaust. Among the 179 survivors, were 50 Jews that were rescued by the Turkish consul in Rhodes, Salahattin Ulkumen, who was later recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Righteous Among the Nations who helped Rabbi Lau

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau surrounded by his family and the two daughters of the Righteous, Feodor Mikhailichenko, in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations

Last week, Yad Vashem hosted a number of special events.
On Tuesday August 4,we had a very emotional event to honor the Russian prisoner who helped Rabbi Israel Meir Lau survive in Buchenwald. You can read all about it here:
and at:

As Rabbi Lau said during the ceremony, he and his entire family owe Feodor Mikhailichenko a debt of gratitude, and it was very moving to see one of Rabbi Lau’s grandchildren seek out Feodor’s daughters to personally thank them.