Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Righteous Among the Nations Honored at Yad Vashem

Today there was a very special ceremony honoring the late Wojciech Twardzicki from Poland and his daughters Helena, and Zofia, and the late Wladyslawa, as Righteous Among the Nations. Jadwiga Zarnowiecka, Worjciech’s granddaughter, arrived from Poland for the event where she met Holocaust survivor Zahava (nee Waic) Schwartz and her extended family of children and grandchildren who were present. Jadwiga, out of respect for Zahava and her religously observant family, came to the ceremony with her head elegantly covered with a scarf. Holding hands, and exchanging loving looks, the women celebrated the courage of the Twardzicki family and the “entire world” that was created as a result of Zahava’s survival.
Their Story:
On September 8, 1939, the city of Jaslo in Western Galicia was occupied by the Nazis. Many Jews attempted to flee, but the German Army prevented their escape and returned them to their homes. The Jews of Jaslo suffered and were persecuted: they were beaten in the streets; they were sent forcibly to hard labor; their homes and stores were looted; and they were obligated to wear a white armband marked with a blue Star of David. In 1941, the Jews were sequestered in a ghetto in a small quarter of the city.

In July 1942, some months before the liquidation of the ghetto, young Zahava Schwartz escaped from the ghetto to the house of some family friends, the Twardzickis, who lived in the neighboring town of Birowka, where she was hidden together with her cousin Mina.
The Twardzicki family was kind and warm hearted. The mother of the family died of an illness shortly after the arrival of Zahava and Manya, and the father, Wojciech, together with his three daughters, Helena, Wladyslawa and Zofia, devotedly cared for the two girls. For two years, the family provided the young girls with food, shelter and all their needs, all without receiving any compensation. They protected them, hiding them in a closet, the attic or the stables during raids by the German police.

Zahava’s parents, Hinda and Pinchas Elazar Waic and her sister Esther, were murdered when the Jaslo ghetto was liquidated.

On April 10, 1994, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous at Yad Vashem decided to recognize Wojciech Twardzicki and his daughters, Helena, Wladyslawa and Zofia, as a Righteous Among the Nations.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Anonymous No Longer"

One of the most moving features of Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History Museum is the emphasis on the individual. Recently I went on a guided tour of the museum, rather than going through on my own, and hearing the story of the Shoah told using personal items and stories added an emotional dimension that was even more heartbreaking, making the tragedy of the Shoah ever more personal. For many of the personal items - the diaries, the jewelry, the religious items, the displays identify to whom they belonged and tell their stories. Many of the people in the photographs were identified, and since the opening of the museum a number of people have identified themselves, their relatives and acquaintances in the photographs on display in the museum.

Now there is now a new online exhibition “Anonymous No Longer” on the Yad Vashem website that presents several of the photographs on display in the museum, including the names of those who have been recognized.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Recovery of “Arbeit Macht Frei” Sign

Following the news this morning that Polish police have recovered the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign that was stolen last week, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev issued the following statement:

We learned with satisfaction this morning that the Polish Police have recovered the stolen sign, and commend the Polish authorities for their quick work in finding the sign and the criminals who stole it. The Polish police are still investigating the motives behind the theft. Still, the theft of the sign, which had become a symbol both of the ultimate evil that found its expression in Auschwitz, and of the memory of the Shoah - Jewish Holocaust, gave pain to Holocaust survivors and people of conscience everywhere. The concern expressed by people around the world, illustrates the importance and awareness of Holocaust remembrance today. We must continue to work towards meaningful Holocaust education, so that the symbols of the Holocaust will be infused with meaning that will help build a better future, and can serve as catalyst in the fight against antisemitism and racism.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Yad Vashem Comment on the News that the “Arbeit macht frei” sign has been stolen

Following the news this morning that the iconic “Arbeit macht frei” [“works makes you free”] sign has been stolen from the entrance to the Auschwitz camp, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev issued the following statement:

I was shocked to learn this morning of the theft of the sign, which has come to symbolize the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.

While we don’t yet know exactly who stole the sign, the theft of such a symbolic object is an attack on the memory of the Holocaust, and an escalation from those elements that would like to return us to darker days. I call on all enlightened forces in the world – who fight against antisemitism, racism, xenophobia and the hatred of the other, to join together to combat these trends.

I am in contact with the director of the Auschwitz Museum and have offered him any assistance and help we can provide. I am sure that the Polish authorities will do everything in their power to find the sign, and the culprits and to bring them to justice.

Over 1 million people were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau, some 90% of whom were Jews.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Actress who Played Anne in "The Diary of Anne Frank" Visits Yad Vashem

Marking the 50th anniversary of the release of the film, "The Diary of Anne Frank" (Directed by George Stevens, 1959) actress Millie Perkins, who played Anne in the film, visited Yad Vashem's Visual Center and the Holocaust History Museum. Ms. Perkins was able to see her film at the Visual Center where it is part of Yad Vashem's digizited film collection of more than 3,400 films available for viewing.

After her visit to Yad Vashem she attended a special symposium held at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinamatheque, in conjunction with Yad Vashem. The Symposium, "Anne Frank: The Diary and its Aftermath" featured Dr Robert Rozett, Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries who discussed the idea of "icons in Holocaust representation", Gabriel Levin, a poet and son of Meyer Levin, who brought the diary to the US; Prof Sidra Ezrahi, who spoke wbout the "evolution of the cinematic representation of the Holocaust"; and Dr Foster Hirsch, Prof of Film from Brooklyn College, CUNY, and the biographer of George Stevens, addressed "the adaptation of the diary to conform to notions of "good taste" of American culture of the time"; Liat Benhabib, Director of the Yad Vashem Visual Center moderated the event. This is Ms Perkins first visit to Yad Vashem. The symposium was followed by the screening of the film, and a discussion between Dr Hirsch and Ms Perkins.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Moving Performance Closes Training for Ultra-Orthodox Volunteers

On Tuesday, an extraordinary moving musical performance, "Melodies in the Shadow of the Holocaust," took place at Yad Vashem before a large group of women volunteers from the orthodox communities in Jerusalem. Twelve tunes were performed by clarinet player, Bernie Marinbach, each one having a very unique story, which connected them to the Holocaust. The performance was the finale of a six-session course for women volunteers which came about as the result of a joint venture between Yad Vashem and the Misgav Lakashish Organization. The volunteers will be visiting the homes of handicapped and home bound survivors living in various religious communities within the Jerusalem vicinity and will assist them in filling out Pages of Testimony to commemorate the memory of their friends and family who were murdered in the Holocaust. The volunteers attended lectures and workshops, preparing the volunteers not only by enriching their knowledge of the Holocaust but by training them for the emotional interaction with the survivors, when touching painful memories.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Music of the Holocaust

I just had a chance to see an incredibly touching online exhibition about music created during the Holocaust. The achingly poignant music includes 20 different musical compositions, all performed in their original Yiddish. Extensive texts accompany the music, placing it in its historical context. The new exhibition highlights music that was created in the ghettos, camps and partisan camps. “Heartstrings, Music of the Holocaust” is a testimony to the power of that music which served many different purposes – as a source of comfort; as a form of resistance, as relief and entertainment and even criticism of local Jewish leaders. For example, the songs that are included from the Lodz Ghetto are from the repertoire of the street songs of the ghetto. Street entertainers wrote new lyrics to Yiddish folksongs that reflected the events taking place around them, and performed the songs in the ghetto. The songs describe the events and daily life of the ghetto during its first year of existence. There are also sections in the exhibition about music in the Vilna Ghetto, the Partisans of Vilna, the Kovno Ghetto and Lithuania. There is also a very interesting section about the conductor and composer Shmerke Kaczerginski. While in the Vilna ghetto he wrote songs to console his fellow inhabitants; directed theater productions and literary evenings; and later was actively involved in partisan activities. During the war, while in the forest, he already began documenting the stories and songs that he had written and heard. After the war he continued this work becoming an expert in the area and recording 60 songs sung by Holocaust survivors. The songs in this exhibition are part of those recordings which are now preserved in the Yad Vashem Archives.