Tuesday, December 21, 2010

4 Million Victims of Holocaust Identified

Today, Yad Vashem announced that it has identified two-thirds of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust - 4 million names.

“In the past decade (2001-2010) we have succeeded in adding about 1.5 million victims' names to the Names Database, increasing by some 60% the information we had,” said Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem. “The Germans sought not only to destroy the Jews, but to obliterate any memory of them. One of Yad Vashem's central missions since its foundation, the recovery of each and every victim's name and personal story, has resulted in relentless efforts to restore the names and identities of as many of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices as possible. We will continue our efforts to recover the unknown names, and by harnessing technology in the service of memory, we are able to share their names with the world.”

In 2004, Yad Vashem launched the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names onto its website, with 3 million names. At the same time, a new 11th hour project to recover unknown names was initiated. Names are recovered via Pages of Testimony, special forms filled out in memory of the victims by people who remember them, and by combing archival lists and documentation for names.

Of the 4 million names currently known, some 2.2 million (about 55%) come from Pages of Testimony and the remainder from various archival sources and postwar commemoration projects. While in Western Europe in particular there were often lists kept of the Jews and deportation, making identification easier, in countries of Eastern Europe and the areas of the former Soviet Union, as well as Greece, much information was still lacking.

“During the last five years we have concentrated our names recovery efforts in areas where most of the names remain unknown,” said Alexander Avraham, Director of the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem. “We have made great progress. In 2005, we knew the names of some 20% of Jews murdered in Ukraine, today we know 35%; in Byelorussia the figure has risen from 23% to 37% today, Poland (1938 borders) from 35% to 46%, Hungary from 45% to 65%, and Greece from 35% to 70%.”

The indexing of the names database and the names recovery project are supported by the Victim List Project of the Swiss Banks Settlement, Hi-Tech Entrepreneur Yossie Hollander, the Claims Conference, Dayenu Ltd led by Gail & Colin Halpern and family, the Nadav Fund and the Noaber Foundation, The National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism, the American Society for Yad Vashem, the Fondation pour la Memoire de la Shoah, Wexner - The Legacy Heritage Fund, Stichting Collectieve Marorgelden Israel, Dora Zitno, Hanna Rubenstein, Edith Steinlauf, and additional supporters.

The entire Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names is available on www.yadvashem.org in English, Hebrew and Russian. Assistance in filling out Pages of Testimony in Israel is available at: +972 2 644 3808.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Exploring hiding, sheltering and borrowed identities as means of rescue during the Holocaust

Yesterday the annual international conference of Yad Vashem's research institute opened. This conference, the 18th since they began, looks at various issues connected to hiding, sheltering and borrowed identities as means of rescue during the Holocaust.

In the opening session, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev noted that Holocaust research has undergone different phases, when varying questions were at the forefront of study. Now, questions relating to the individuals’ actions are at the center. He noted that the activity of Jews during the Holocaust was so important to all the rescue efforts and that the sessions ahead would examine Jewish efforts at rescue as individuals and groups.

Prof. Dan Michman, the chief historian of Yad Vashem, expanded on Shalev's remarks regarding the trajectory of research, and added that the study of the Righteous Among the Nations has also come into being in recent years. However, he said he disagreed with those who attributed all of the Righteous' motivations to altruism. While this was certainly the case in some instances, Michman noted that this does not provide a convincing explanation for those who rescued Jews despite being antisemites, or those who acted out of ideological or religious reasons. He also noted that one cannot speak of a "national character" when it comes to rescue, at least not based on the Righteous Among the Nations, and looked forward to the next three days as an opportunity to shed more light both on the Righteous, as well as on Jewish efforts and involvement in rescue, failed attempts at rescue, and more.

Dr David Silberklang reminded attendees at the full auditorium that during the Holocaust not everyone behaved as one would expect. People behaved in unpredictable ways -- for the good and the bad -- and Jews could not predict what to expect if they turned to someone for help.

It should be an interesting few days.

The full program is here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Legacy of Jewish Continuity

Each year, just prior to Hanukkah, Yehuda Mansbach arrives at the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem to take a nostalgic piece of history back home with him for the eight days of the Festival of Lights. Yehuda brings his grandfather’s Hanukkah menorah home to his son, who was named for his great-grandfather, Rabbi Akiva Baruch Posner, the last rabbi of the Jewish Community of Kiel, Germany. The family uses this special menorah during family celebrations of Hanukkah - a testimony to the continuity of Jewish life - and after the holiday returns it to its place of honor where it is on display at Yad Vashem.

Yehuda Mansbach [left] receives the Hanukka menorah from Michael Tal, [right] an artifacts curator at Yad Vashem.

The Hanukkiyah was photographed in the family’s window in Kiel in 1931, by the Rabbi’s wife, Rachel (nee Wirtzburg) Mansbach. On the back of the photo, she wrote in German,

“Hanukkah 5692,
‘Judea Dies,’ thus saith the banner.
‘Judea will live forever,’ thus responds the light.”

The Hanukkiyah was donated to Yad Vashem by the Posner family estate, courtesy of Shulamit (Posner) Mansbach, Haifa, Israel and is on display in the Holocaust History Museum.

The Hanukkah menorah is one of thousands of items contained in Yad Vashem's artifacts collection. The professional staff of Yad Vashem ensures that the items are properly preserved and maintained. Yad Vashem urges the public that may have artifacts and documents from the Holocaust to give them to Yad Vashem for preservation and safekeeping. (Contact: +972-2-644-3703, collect@yadvashem.org.il)

Hanukkah menorah from the home of Rabbi Akiva Baruch Posner, the last rabbi of the Jewish Community of Kiel, Germany, photographed by his wife Rachel (nee Wirtzburg) during Hanukkah 1931.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New "Righteous Among the Nations" High School in Lodz

Richelle Budd-Caplan, Director, European Desk of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem

Tomasz Klos, principal of the lyceum of the University of Lodz, is a trail blazer. Although an expert in the field of law, he opted to channel his energies to found a new high school in an effort to invest in the shaping of young minds, the leaders of tomorrow.

On September 1, 2011, this new high school named in honor of the Righteous among the Nations, will officially open in a building that once was a textile factory owned by a Jewish family. Graduate students at the University of Lodz who are specializing in the humanities, including Jewish studies, will be connected with the high school students in the hope to deepen their appreciation of prewar Lodz.

pictured: Dorit Novak, Director of the International School for Holocaust Studies, and Tomasz Klos

This week, he visited Yad Vashem for meetings with experts in Holocaust education at the International School for Holocaust Studies, and extensive tour of the campus. He received a certifcate welcoming the intent of the new Righteous Among the Nations High School to engage in meaningful Holocaust education.

Huge New Holocaust Research Project Launched in Europe

A huge and important new archives and research project was launched yesterday by the EU in Brussels. The European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) is to date the most important European research project about Holocaust documentation.

Avner Shalev, the Chairman of Yad Vashem noted that, “The establishment of EHRI is especially important as different historical narratives are competing in Europe. Through EHRI Europe is stating its understanding that the Holocaust has unique standing in the joint European historical narrative.”

Lead by the Dutch organization NIOD (The Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam), EHRI is a project of the European Union that will be a source of information for researchers and educators around the world. Yad Vashem has been active in this project since its inception, and is playing a leading role in the various sub-projects that make up EHRI. Working projects will focus on creating a shared thesaurus of 5,000 keywords to allow unified searches across collections that contain millions of documents in numerous languages, encouraging research by creating a network among experts in various Holocaust-related fields through forums to explore cooperation in names recovery, Holocaust art, identifying photos from the Holocaust period and more. Other aspects of the project will deal with information technologies, access and scholarships for researchers to study at Yad Vashem and at other archives.

With 20 partner organizations, from 13 European countries including Israel, the 4-year, 7 million euro project, is a part of the EU’s research program FP7, in which Israel is a partner.

Here's a piece from the Jerusalem Post about yesterday's launch: Europe launches new Shoah project in Brussels

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dozens of Children Saved by one Family Give Group Testimony at Yad Vashem

Children Saved Thanks to Single Family Visit Yad Vashem

From Ynet.com, by Zvi Singer

Dozens of children saved during the Holocaust thanks to one family's efforts came to Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority to give testimony on Monday, Yedioth Ahronoth reported. Yad Vashem takes testimonies from groups only in special cases; usually testimonies are collected on a one-to-one basis – but this is a special case.

Esther Reiss, 72, nee Musel, was seven-years-old when the Second World War came to an end. She arrived at Yad Vashem with her three children and three grandchildren. They all wore T-shirts printed with the picture of Esther when she was a child in the orphanage of the family which rescued her – the Birenbaum family. "My parents didn't survive the Holocaust, but I survived, and it's clear that it was because of the Birenbaum family," Esther said Monday. "That family saved hundreds of children… Hundreds came to Treblinka and Yehoshua Birenbaum simply took them into the camp's children's house. That's how he saved them."

Among others, Heni Birenbaum saved 50 children who were to be sent from the concentration camp to the death camp. She told the camp commander that the children were not Jewish because they had been born to German soldiers and Jewish mothers. She even gave him a list of names coordinated with the Dutch underground. The commander approved the list, but the children were later sent to Theresienstadt. Those who survived were known as the "unknown children" because their Jewish past was blurred and they were given Christian identities.

Yehoshua and Heni Birenbaum lived in Berlin and were married in 1927. After Kristallnacht in 1938 they fled to the Netherlands. When the Nazis occupied the country, they were sent to the concentration camp where they were given the task of looking after the orphans.
After the war they set up an orphanage in Amsterdam, which moved to a villa in a smaller town in 1946. The orphanage became a center for Zionist activities: The children learned Hebrew and later came to Israel with Aliyat Hano'ar (the youth aliyah.)

The Birenbaum's eldest daughter, now 82, also came Monday to Yad Vashem and was deeply moved to see the children saved by her parents.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Few remain from Nazi camp Treblinka

Read an interesting article about survivors from Treblinka that appeared today. You can view Eliahu Rosenberg's testimony, a survivor from Treblinka mentioned in the article, who recently passed away, on Yad Vashem's Youtube Channel. The testimony is also on display in the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Yad Vashem's Jerusalem Magazine Now Online

The fall edition of Yad Vashem's quarterly magazine Jerusalem is now available online. Highlighted is the online communities project which focuses on an individual community to describe its uniqueness in a special virtual exhibition. Other articles focus on Yad Vashem's role in a new initiative of the EU to make Holocaust documentation fully accessible, a unique program which films survivor testimonies in the locations where the events took place, educational endeavors, new research, recent publications and more.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An Emotional Journey - Yad Vashem's Bar/Bat Mitzvah Twinning Programme

My name is Jodi Margolis and I will be celebrating my Bat Mitzvah in December this year. I heard about the Yad Vashem Bat/Bar Mitzvah twinning programme, which gives me the opportunity to link my Bat Mitzvah with a girl who died in the Holocaust, and bring her name to life. This girl’s name is Lusia Margolis who died at the age of twelve. Her name had been given to Yad Vashem by her two first cousins, Edith and Rose, who survived the Holocaust. We managed to trace them and unbelievably they are both still alive and living in America! We took a chance and phoned them and they were overwhelmed when they heard the reason for our call. It was an extremely emotional phone call and I was particularly moved when they said that this was the first time they had heard Lusia’s name mentioned since the Holocaust. They are now 93 and 89 years old and I am honoured to be able to be in contact with them. Edith and Rose sent me a copy of the only photo they had of the whole family, which helped to bring Lusia to life. I talk about her on a daily basis and I really feel as if I know her. I regularly email Edith and Rose and they really are such wonderful ladies, who are so full of life.

This has been a very emotional journey for me, and there are some aspects of it that I just can’t put into words. When I started the twinning process, I never in my wildest dreams thought that it would have come this far and be so much more meaningful and special than I had originally anticipated! I really feel as if there is some connection between Lusia and myself, and if it weren’t for Edith and Rose putting her name forward to Yad Vashem, I never would have been blessed to honour Lusia’s memory. There is so much more to this wonderful story, including aspects from Edith’s and Rose’s sides, but I have only given a brief overview of my perspective. In the meantime, this is an ongoing story!

For more information about twinning in the UK, contact the British Friends of Yad Vashem, linda@yadvashem.org.uk

Monday, October 18, 2010

Greek Foreign Minister Visited Yad Vashem today

The Foreign Minister of Greece, Dimitris P. Droutsas, visited this morning. He had a special tour of the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations, the Synagogue at Yad Vashem which showcases Judaica from destroyed synagogues in Europe, and the "Virtues of Memory: Six Decades of Holocaust Survivors' Creativity" exhibition, which features the work of some 300 Holocaust survivors. He was guided in the exhibition by Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg, an art curator at Yad Vashem.

At the conclusion of his visit, the Foreign Minister wrote in the Guest Book,
"As a visitor to Yad Vashem, I was struck by the simplicity and directness of its message. Watching the worst crime ever against humanity so thoughtfully documented, I wholeheartedly commit myself to always remember the millions of innocent victims in the Holocaust and to continuously work for universal respect of human, fundamental human rights. It is my firm conviction that this is our only guarantee against future repeating of our tragic past."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chinese Educators at Yad Vashem for First of its Kind Int'l Seminar

Some twenty Chinese educators are currently participating in a 2-week seminar at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies that opened October 4, 2010. This first of its kind seminar brings together participants from China, Hong Kong and Macau, for in-depth study of the Holocaust and how to teach it in the classroom.

For most of the participants it was their first visit to Israel. One of the educators, currently on leave from her teaching position in order to complete a thesis on Petr Gintz was especially gratified to see authentic Holocaust-era artifacts.

While at Yad Vashem participants will tour the Holocaust History Museum, Valley of the Communities, and other sites at Yad Vashem, and have the opportunity to hear from top educators and historians about various topics related to the Holocaust. Antisemitism, the ‘Final Solution’, the Allies and the Holocaust, the Righteous Among the Nations, the unprecedentedness of the Holocaust, and Yad Vashem’s pedagogical approach to Holocaust education and presentations of specific educational resources, will be among the issues presented during the seminar. Participants will also meet Holocaust survivors and tour Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other areas in Israel.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Paying Tribute to a Courageous Survivor

Fanya Gottesfeld was born into a traditional Jewish family in Skala, a small village or “Shtetl” in Eastern Galicia, which is located in the Ukraine, during Sukkot. When the Germans entered Skala in the summer of 1941, life immediately became much worse for the Jews there, including the Gottesfeld family - Benjamin, and Charlotte, and their children, Fanya and Arthur. As the eldest child, Fanya, had to go out daily to scavenge for food. On one of these forays, she met Jan, a Ukranian militiaman who began to help and look after the Gottesfelds.

In their desperate efforts to find somewhere safe to hide they approached Sidor Sokolowski, a former employee in the building firm where Benjamin Gottesfeld had worked as an engineer. Sidor took the family in, and Fanya, Arthur and their parents settled into the attic in Sidor’s home. After a suspicious neighbor came snooping around his house, Sidor moved the Gottesfelds to the chicken coop. They had little air and no light and subsisted on whatever meager rations Sidor was able to share with them. Lice and rats were their constant companions. The Gottesfelds hid in the chicken coop for nearly two and a half years.

Following the liberation of Skala by the Russian Army in May 1944 the family moved to Byotm, Poland where Fanya was introduced to Joseph Heller. They were married in 1946, and subsequently lived in several cities throughout Europe. Fanya and Joseph moved to New York in 1960 where Fanya was reunited with her brother Arthur and mother Charlotte.

In March 1996, Yad Vashem recognized Izydor Sokolowski as a Righteous Among the Nations.

In the meantime, the Hellers rebuilt their lives in New York.
Fanya’s commitment to Holocaust education was recognized by the New York State Board of Regents who in 1988 awarded her the Louis E. Yavner Citizen Award in recognition of her contribution to teaching about the Holocaust. She received honorary degrees from Yeshiva University and Bar Ilan University.

Fanya recently reissued her autobiography under the title Love in a World of Sorrow originally entitled Strange and Unexpected Love: A Teenage Girl's Holocaust Memoirs. The book is mandatory reading in many schools and universities. Fanya lectures at universities and conferences to promote further awareness of the Holocaust, speaks to hundreds of inner-city schoolchildren every year, and commissions an annual conference on Holocaust education at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

Fanya Gottesfeld Heller currently serves on the boards of numerous educational institutions and charitable organizations, many of which focus on Jewish education, feminism, and raising awareness about the Holocaust. She lives in New York City and has three children, eight grandchildren, and eleven great-grandchildren.

Fanya, a good friend of Yad Vashem, serves on the board of the American Society for Yad Vashem. Fanya and her family’s commitment and contribution to Yad Vashem will ensure that the torch of Holocaust education will be passed on for generations to come.

Today, at a moving ceremony in the Yad Vashem Synagogue, Yad Vashem paid tribute to Fanya’s courage, resilience and commitment to Holocaust education.

Avner Shalev, the Chairman of Yad Vashem, spoke about Fanya Gottesfeld Heller as a unique person and praised her courage and candor in sharing her story. He noted that she wanted to understand what makes human beings evil or good, and that she says that there are no answers, only activities that you can do to build up hope. "You're a great educator, and through your art and studies, you've tried to create harmony between nature and human beings."

Fanya's granddaughter Aliza spoke very movingly of her experiences of being Fanya's granddaughter, and over the years gaining a deeper and better appreciation for her grandmother. "She always said that she made no apologies – let the judgments land where they may... Her courage lies in her ability to confront and face that terror every day of her life. She survives every single day. Each and every day she emerges a survivor. "

Fanya, teary-eyed after her granddaughter's words, said she was filled with humility and gratitude to be standing here in Jerusalem with her family. "In 1981, I was here for the first survivor’s conference, together with my late husband. We made a vow. We would do what we can for Yad Vashem. I came today to fulfill my vow."
pictured L-R: Eli Zborowski, Chairman of the American Society for Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem, Fanya Gottesfeld Heller, and Benjamin and Beth Heller

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New Rosh Hashanah Campaign Launched to help Commemorate the Victims of the Holocaust

We are now embarking on a new campaign to help commemorate the memory of the Jews who suffered Nazi oppression and fought valiantly to hold on to their identity, history and traditions. This new initiative will help preserve, restore and digitize millions of documents in our unique archive: a source of educational inspiration for our youth.

Throughout the Nazis' attempts to destroy both Judaism and the Jewish people during the Holocaust, Jews fought to cling to their most cherished traditions such as crafting a shofar (Ram’s Horn) under perilous conditions in a forced labor camp, transcribing a High Holiday Prayer Book from memory on strips of burlap sacks and sending New Year’s greetings cards from the ghettos to family and friends. Each of these acts, carried out in the face of Nazi attempts at dehumanization, was a gesture of defiance, a stubborn assertion of identity, a determined attempt at the preservation of their heritage for future generations.

Yad Vashem is privileged to possess the largest collection of Holocaust related documents, artifacts, photographs, Art, and testimonies in the world, within which we witness the richness of European Jewish life before the Holocaust, the calamity of its destruction, and the remarkable efforts of postwar revival. These collections are essential for grasping the scope and implications of the Holocaust, and the fate of its victims, and comprise an unparalleled source of educational inspiration for our youth.

As we enter the New Year period, and we think about our own wishes for the coming year, let’s make a vow: inspired by Jews who suffered Nazi oppression and fought valiantly to hold on to their identity, history and traditions, let us do our part to maintain and safeguard the past in order to secure a more meaningful future for our children.

If you'ld like to support this important project, please click here and make your commitment to help Yad Vashem preserve, restore and digitize our unique archive.

Monday, September 6, 2010

From Our Collections: Marking the New Year

The holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are traditionally a time for introspection, asking for and giving forgiveness, resolving to do better, and praying for a healthy and happy year to come. Through testimony, artifacts, photos, cards and prayer books from Yad Vashem’s collections, this online exhibition, offers a glimpse into some of the ways that Jews before, during and immediately after the Holocaust marked these special days.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Remember the Holocaust and Soviet Crimes Separately

A number of European countries, under the direction of the continental wide parliament, now commemorate the crimes of the Nazis and the crimes of the Soviets together. The date designated for this is August 23, the day in 1939 when the Nazis and the Soviets signed a pact that essentially gave them the green light to gobble up most of Poland, an act which resulted in the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe. This endeavor to merge the crimes of the two regimes into one common memory is deeply flawed.

Arguably, the most serious problem regarding the conflation of these two disparate histories is where the Jews fit into them. On the one hand, students of the war know that the Jews were the foremost victims of the Nazis and their partners. This is not just a matter of statistics. The murder resulted from the Nazi view of the Jews as their main and implacable enemy on racial and ideological grounds. It is an undeniable fact that the attempt to murder all Jews everywhere was helped along by not insignificant groups in the countries allied to or occupied by Nazi Germany. On the other hand in the counties that comprise the former Communist bloc, Jews are still generally regarded as the main villains who perpetrated Soviet crimes. Even though the historical record shows this to be false - for example in Estonia before the Nazi invasion of summer 1941, Jews suffered deportation under the Soviets in twelve times greater numbers than their percentage in the population - the myth that Jews as a collective collaborated with the Soviets and benefited from them at the expense of their neighbors, continues to be a truism.

The post-Communist societies of Central and Eastern Europe feel a tremendous need to commemorate their suffering under the Soviet regime and desperately want that suffering to be recognized by fellow Europeans. At the same time a minority in these societies believe they must squarely face their communities’ role in the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust era. For those, however, that would like to avoid genuine introspection the joint commemoration, of Nazi and Soviet crimes provides an extremely useful vehicle. Through such joint commemoration they feel they can admit a lesser degree of culpability in the murder of the Jews, pointing a finger at “a few extremist collaborators,” and then immediately diverting attention to the “fact” that the Jews did their neighbors much more harm than the neighbors did to them. In other words, in this line of reasoning, collaboration in the murder of the Jews was warranted.

Officially sanctioned historical distortion sets the stage for a variety of reactionary, xenophobic, racist and neo-fascist political and ideological movements to gain ground with impunity. Jobbik in Hungary is a salient example. Moreover the rise of Jobbik and similar groups represents a very dangerous trend in post-Communist Europe: the glorification without qualification of all forces that struggled for the nation and opposed Communism, and concomitantly, the denigration of absolutely everything that happened during the Communist period. The first includes lionizing those who surely fought the Communists, but often waged war alongside the Nazis as well, and even took part in the murder of the Jews. Much too frequently, such figures are seen as unadulterated patriotic heroes and their criminal acts are glossed over. By casting the Communists as an evil equal to or greater than the Nazis, no credit at all is accorded to the Soviet Union for their pivotal role in the defeat of Nazi Germany and its partners. The understanding that had the Nazis won, life under them would have been infinitely worse for the great majority of Europeans than it was under the Communists (as awful as it often was), is not only given short shrift, it is not mentioned at all. In a nutshell, fostering misshapen versions of history makes the difficult business of nurturing truly democratic and pluralistic societies in the former Communist bloc infinitely harder.

The crimes of the Holocaust and the crimes of the Soviet regime each deserve to be researched, discussed, taught and remembered. But this must be done in a way that is true to the historical record, and which ultimately serves efforts to create a better society. Thoughtful comparisons and contrasts are important for cultivating greater understanding of all historical events that have even a slight degree of similarity. Equating and merging distinct events, however, never clarifies issues. Rather the opposite is true, it obscures them under a patina of oversimplification and artificial congruity. So we must remember the Holocaust, and we most certainly should remember Communist crimes - separately - each in their own context, and with a finely tuned sense of similarities and differences, and what they mean to us.

Dr. Robert Rozett is the Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries in Jerusalem, author of Approaching the Holocaust, Texts and Contexts, Vallentine Mitchell, 2005 and a soon to be published study on Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Palestinians Learn about the Holocaust at Yad Vashem

A group of Palestinians visited Yad Vashem yesterday. Here's an interesting article about this grassroots effort to learn more about the Holocaust.

Palestinians Learn About the Holocaust at Yad Vashem

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Yad Vashem Comment Following Reports of a Fire in Majdanek

Following reports this morning that a barracks at the Majdanek camp was seriously damaged by fire last night, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev spoke to Majdanek Museum Director Tomasz Kranz and expressed his support.

Shalev offered assistance to the Majdanek Museum, and expressed his deep sorrow that such an important site, including valuable artifacts had been damaged or destroyed. According to the Museum, some 10,000 shoes from victims of Majdanek were destroyed during the fire. “The damage to these irreplaceable items is a loss to a site that has such historical value to Europe, Poland and the Jewish people,” said Shalev after his conversation with Kranz. The cause of the fire is not yet known, and all possibilities are being investigated.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Rich Culture Remembered

Yad Vashem’s Synagogue was filled last week with Holocaust survivors from Greece and their families who gathered together for an annual remembrance day commemorating the Jews of Kos and Rhodes who were murdered in the Holocaust. They sang traditional songs in Ladino, remembering their lost communities and rich culture, listened to testimony of survivors and a lecture by Na’ama Galil about the day the Jews of Rhodes arrived at Auschwitz, and took part in a moving ceremony that including lighting the Yad Vashem candelabra. Foundation for the Preservation of the Jewish Heritage of Rhodes Chairman Mario Suriano remarked, "We have met at this holy place, Yad Vashem, in order to remember the event that shouldn't have occurred - the Holocaust. Our purpose is to remember, not to forget. To forget is to murder them once again.”

Holocaust survivor from Greece lighting a candelabra to comemorate the Jews of Rhodes and Kos who were murdered in the Shoah.

In September 1942, the Nazis conquered Rhodes immediately following their invasion of Italy. As a result of the allied bombardment of Rhodes, bombs also exploded in the Jewish quarter of the Island. A great number of Jews - among them young children, died. In July 1944, some 1,650 Jews that remained on the island were ordered to gather at assembly centers. They were then sent to Athens on two coal barges, without any food or water. The barges initially made their way to the nearby island of Kos where another 120 Jews were piled onto the barges to be deported along with the Jews of Rhodes. The boats then stopped at the island of Leros to deport the single Jewish man who lived on the island. Upon arriving in Athens the Jews were detained at the infamous Haidari and from their deported to Auschwitz. Only 180 of them survived.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

After visiting Yad Vashem on Friday, NBA star Amare Stoudemire said, "It was an incredible experience. I learned a lot, and encourage my friends and others to visit Yad Vashem as well."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Little Red Dress that Survived Generations

Over the years, Yad Vashem has been dedicated to both commemorating those that were murdered in the Shoah, as well as educating future generations throughout Israel and the world about what took place. One of the programs that Yad Vashem has recently developed in this vein is the Bar/Bat Mitzvah program.

Left to right: Haviva Peled-Carmeli, Debbie Berman, her mother and Emma Berman

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to witness a very special Bat Mitzvah ceremony at the Yad Vashem Synagogue. Twelve-year-old Emma Berman not only participated in Yad Vashem’s Bat Mitzvah Twinning program, but Emma, her mother, and grandmother, also donated a very special artifact to Yad Vashem’s Senior Artifacts Curator, Haviva Peled-Carmeli. This special artifact is a dress that belonged to both Emma’s grandmother during the war and Emma as a little girl – a dress that has since witnessed both suffering and happiness.

Emma’s great-grandmother, Emma Salgo nee Steinberg, whom she is named after, was born to a family of 7 in Balmazuvarois, Hungary on February 20, 1914. She later married Haim Salgo and started a family of her own. Haim and Emma then moved to Budapest where their two children, Robbi and Shoshana were born.

The Salgo family lived peacefully in Budapest until 1944, when the Germans invaded Hungary. While Haim was able to escape to Switzerland and the two children were hidden in Budapest, Emma was taken to the Kaufering labor camp, a sub camp of Dachau, in Germany in November 1944.

Emma managed to keep one of her daughter’s dresses throughout the entire period she was interred at Kaufering. This red dress continuously provided Emma with strength and a glimmer of hope that her living nightmare would end and she would one day return to her family.

With the dress still in her possession, Emma was finally liberated from Dachau at the end of the war. When she returned to Budapest she found that though many members of her extended family had been murdered, her entire nuclear family had in fact miraculously survived.

During the moving Bat Mitzvah ceremony recently Yad Vashem, Emma also spoke about Emma Vadnai, a young girl from Hungary murdered by the Nazis, who she was twinned with to mark the occasion. At the conclusion of the event, Emma and her mother, Debbie Berman (a project Coordinator for Yad Vashem's Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project), donated the little dress to Yad Vashem.

Emma Berman in her grandmother's dress
One of the most magnificent displays during the ceremony was a slideshow that played in the background while Debbie spoke. At the end of the slideshow there was a picture of Emma’s grandmother as a little girl and then a picture of Emma Berman wearing her grandmother's dress.

Debbie explained, “Many years later, before I moved to Israel, my mother gave me her little red dress, which I have kept all these years. When my daughter Emma was a baby I dressed her in the dress.

“Only when I saw [Emma] playing and smiling while wearing the dress did I realize how much pain my grandmother must have been in all those months away from her little baby,” said Berman.

Berman convinced her mother to donate the dress to Yad Vashem as she realized that the dress was starting to fall apart.

“In honor of the Bat Mitzvah, my mother, Emma and I, donated the dress […] it was very moving for all of us and I felt we did the right thing,” said Berman. “The story of Emma Salgo and her baby’s red dress is our family’s private story, but it also belongs to the Jewish people. Now the dress and the story will be preserved here at Yad Vashem for generations to come.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Greek Prime Minister just left Yad Vashem

The Prime Minister of Greece, George A. Papandreou has just left Yad Vashem after an emotional visit. The Prime Minister experienced a tour of the Holocaust History Museum, with a special emphasis on the story of Greek Jewry, guided by Yehudit Shendar, Deputy Director of the Museums Division and Senior Art Curator at Yad Vashem. He also participated in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance and visited the Children's Memorial.

The Prime Minister and Ms. Shendar listen to a testimony from a Greek Jewish Holocaust survivor in the Holocaust History Museum.

At the conclusion of his visit the Prime Minister said, "It is difficult to describe with words what one feels, after the going through the memories of the Holocaust. It is a constant reminder to all of us to cherish and protect everyone's rights for the good of humanity. When even one person's rights are violated or even threatened, it is a violation of the rights of us all. Never again ...to xenophobia, racism, antisemitism... [we must] fight for open societies, freedom, equality, justice to each and every one. This is how we in Greece see democracy, the birthplace of democracy. We continue to highlight the history of Jews in my country... Thank you for this passionate description of the terrible violence and barbarism that the Jews went through."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yad Vashem Visit Leaves Young Palestinians Deeply Reflective

“I am acquainted with Israelis and I’ve participated in meetings between Israelis and Palestinians, but I wanted to know more about the Holocaust… I sent out an e-mail to a few friends and posted on Facebook, and was surprised by the interest. I received more than 60 positive responses from people that I didn’t even know – from Ramallah, Hebron and other places.”

That is how 27 young Palestinians, in their 20s and early 30s, came to make the trip to Jerusalem to try to understand for the first time the tragedy of the Holocaust. For technical reasons (travel permits etc) only 27 men came on the visit, but “A”, who organized the group, is convinced that there will be another group soon. The young people were mainly university students, and even a former security prisoner who served 12 years in an Israeli jail.

"A" was also criticized for initiating the visit. “People found it very difficult to accept,” he said. “Some said what, now you are working toward normalization with the Israelis?”

Their visit to Yad Vashem included a guided tour of more than two hours in the Holocaust History Museum and several intense hours of discussion in the International School for Holocaust Studies. Yaakov Yaniv, who guided the group in Arabic noted that they came with heavy baggage and with a great deal of ignorance and many pre-conceptions. “They didn’t know anything about Nazi ideology, and they spoke about the Holocaust in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” After speaking to them at great length of the Nazi ideology, Yaniv told them his own personal story, the loss of the majority of his family members in the Holocaust and his own longing as a young child to sit on his grandfather’s lap and tug at his beard. He found it especially important to explain to them that the Holocaust was not simply another political disagreement. Yaniv commented that at the end of the day he doesn’t know how much the visit influenced the group, but he does know that they left with grave reflections.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Discovering the Unknown

By Danielle Singer

Between studying the Holocaust in both university and Hebrew day school, I consider myself to be no stranger in the world of Holocaust memory. Nevertheless, during Na’ama Shik’s lecture, earlier this week, on Jewish female experience in Aushwitz-Birkenau, I found myself dumbfounded. I realized I knew very little on the topic of women’s experiences in the Holocaust.

Shik was one of many historians who participated in Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research’s almost two week long workshop “The Persecution and Murder of the Jews: A Grassroots Perspective” that took place from July 5th to the 13th. After sitting through a couple of lectures, Shik’s in particular, hit home.

Only quite recently, give or take a decade, have scholars begun to focus on women and the Holocaust. It was just two years ago that Yad Vashem opened its first exhibit focusing on women and the holocaust, called "Spots of Light" (http://www1.yadvashem.org/exhibitions/women-eng/intro.html). It is an obvious fact that Jewish women in the camps were terrorized and tortured and murdered by the Nazis. Yet, the specific differences between men and women’s experiences in the camps are still subjects that have not been significantly studied. Though Jewish women were tortured and killed because of the fact that they were Jews, the women’s day to day experiences in the camps and ghettos were obviously different then the men by virtue of the fact that they were women. Women and the Holocaust is such a crucial facet in Holocaust research. I realized at the end of the lecture that there has been a void in my Holocaust education, which before today overlooked half of the Holocaust’s victims and survivors.

I have been interning at Yad Vashem for six weeks now and though this period has been quite short I have still learnt so much. I have realized that the Holocaust is an infinite vessel of unknown information that historians are constantly discovering. Even though the Holocaust is one of the most documented and researched events in history, there are still many pieces of information waiting to be uncovered. For example, just last year, Yad Vashem put together a research project called “The Untold Stories” (http://www1.yadvashem.org/untoldstories/homepage.html) focuses on the previously unknown fates of the mid-sized and smaller communities that were murdered by Nazis.

One thing that I will take away from this internship is the fact that the study of the Holocaust is vast. There is always so much to learn it is clear my Holocaust education will never be complete.

Shik, a historian from Tel Aviv University and Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies, presented on the last day of the conference, sponsored by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Danielle Singer, a student at Dalhousie University, is interning at Yad Vashem this summer.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss at Yad Vashem

This week, bestselling authors Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss visited the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem. The couple were visibly moved during an emotional visit of some three hours. Their guided tour concluded with a visit to the Yad Vashem Archives where they saw several documents regarding members of Krauss' family. Foer and Krauss are in Israel to particpate in the Jerusalem Cultural Fellowship at Mishkenot Sha’ananim.
Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss, guided by Yehudit Shendar (left) Deputy Director of the Museums Division at Yad Vashem, during a tour of the Holocaust History Museum.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

“Because they had a heart”: Yad Vashem Honors Bulgarian and Polish Righteous of the Nations

As a granddaughter of a survivor, I grew up with the horror stories of what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust. I have walked hand in hand with my grandfather through Auschwitz, listening to his real-life nightmares. After each story I am always left with the same question: how could people stand by and allow such atrocities to happen to a fellow human being?

The families of Reiber and Lisieczynski
in the Garden of the Righteous of the Nations

This past week, however, I heard the stories of three unique individuals who did speak out and fight for those who were victimized and persecuted by the Nazis. In fact they put their own lives on the line to help others. On Monday and Wednesday, ceremonies were held to honor Bulgarian Vladimir Kurtev and Polish Jan and Julia Lisieczynski as Righteous Among the Nations.

On Monday, Kurtev’s grandchildren, Jasmin and Vladimir Kurtev received the award on their grandfather’s behalf. Kurtev was a teacher in Kyustendil who maintained strong ties with the leaders of the city’s Jewish community. In February 1943 Kurtev and other fellow Bulgarians found out about a decree to deport 20, 000 Bulgarian Jews and decided to act. Kurtev was one of four delegates who set out for Sofia to stop the deportation. The four delegates met with the Minister of Interior, Gabrovski and insisted that the edict be revoked. With the help of the other three delegates, Kurtev’s courageous and determined actions succeeded in releasing all arrested Jews from old Bulgaria.

Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem, perfectly described Kurtev as a truly unique individual who was “a Bulgarian patriot, courageous fighter and loyal friend to the Jewish community.”

From left to right: Avner Shalev (Chairman of Yad Vashem), Jasmin Kurtev, Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, Nikolai Mladenov and Vladimir Kurtev

“Kurtev understood that he is a part of a civic society and, therefore, it was his civic duty to put a stop to what the Germans wanted,” said Shalev. “Kurtev was a unique man who changed the course of history.”

Like Kurtev, the Lisieczynskis also changed the lives of Ben Zion and Yehezkel Reiber. The family repeatedly took both boys and their father into their home. After the boys’ father, Yitzchak was shot on his way to work; the Lisieczynski rescued the boys by hiding them under a pit inside their home.

“They saved us,” said Reiber. “They hid us. They guarded our lives while risking their own.”

I find bravery, such as Kurtev’s or the Lisieczynskis’ perplexing. When the majority of Europe ignored the murder of millions of Jews, how were these few willing to risk their own lives to save the lives of others? Reiber responded simply, “Because they had a full heart.”

Today, at the end of ceremony, all of Ben Zion’s children and grandchildren stood around their grandfather and the Lisieczynskis’ granddaughter, Krystyna Kudiuk, arm in arm, smiling at the camera. It is no small significance that in saving the Reiber brothers, Kudiuk’s grandparents also saved many future children and grandchildren.

“The [Lisieczynskis] are a special family,” said Reiber with tears in his eyes. “Jan, Julia, Krystyna – I love you.”

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On Holocaust Education

Here's a piece in today's International Herald Tribune by the former president of Poland reflecting on the role of Holocaust education today. Interesting read!

On Holocaust Education by Aleksander Kwasniewski

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Her family was my only light in vast darkness"

Righteous Among the Nations From Belarus Visit Yad Vashem

An emotional meeting took place yesterday at Yad Vashem between Holocaust survivor, Rachel Shmielowitch (née Davidson) and her rescuer, Aysha Trofimova (née Kapatansky) from Belarus. Both women were accompanied by their families while they toured the Holocaust History Museum and then gathered at the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, to view Trofimova’s name, which is engraved on the Wall of Honor.

The Davidson family, Israel, Proma, and their children, Rachel, Vladimir and Mira lived in Minsk. In August of 1942, the Davidsons were forced with the rest of Minsk’s Jews to move to the Ghetto. The Davidson family had always been friendly with the Kanapatskys, a Muslim family from Minsk and turned to them for help during their time in the ghetto. Unlike many Belarusians who were indifferent to the atrocities committed against the Jews, the Kanapatskys immediately helped the Davidsons.

The Kanapatskys first hid Shmielowitch’s father, Israel Davidson, after he was ordered to the work camp, Camp Drodzy. Israel spent most of his time in a deep pit he had dug under a pile of firewood. He then returned to the Kanapatsky house for a second time after a mass killing occurred in March 1942, in which 5,000 people were killed at once in the heart of the ghetto.

“They made people stand in a line and would shoot each person: mothers, fathers, children,” recalls Shmielowitch. “The dead fell into a pit that was in the middle of the ghetto. I can still hear the screaming and crying.”

In June 1943, the ghetto began to be liquidated and Rachel’s mother and her two siblings escaped to the Kanapatsky’s house.

“The Kanapatskys hid my family even though they were risking their lives. If they would have been caught they would’ve been killed with us,” said Shmielowitch.

The Kanapatskys provided the Davidsons with clothes, food and shelter. After a few weeks they were taken to the forest in hopes of joining the Jewish Partisans. For a year Shmielowitch’s father fought with the Partisans while the rest of the family stayed in the civilian camp. After the war the Davidsons returned to Minsk and lived next door to the Kanapatskys who provided them with endless amounts of help. In 1958, the Davidsons moved to Poland where they then made aliyah. Shmielowitch promises to never forget what the Kanapatskys did for her and her family.

“The Kanapatsky family is a part of my family,” said Shmielowitch. “It was only because of their help - their humanity - that I stayed alive. They acted with courage even though they knew death was awaiting them. Aysha is a true ‘Righteous Among the Nations’. Her family was my only light in vast darkness.”

Trofimova is one of 600 people from Belarus who are currently recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

37,500 Names Deposited at Yad Vashem

Heinz Kounio, is one of only 1,950 Jews from Salonica who survived the Holocaust. Deported from Greece in 1943, he survived Auschwitz, and at the conclusion of the war returned to his hometown. Kounio, the former head of the Jewish community in Salonica, has spent years gathering and documenting the names of 37,500 victims of the Holocaust in order to commemorate the memory of his fellow Salonicans who did not survive. This week, he presented these names to Yad Vashem to be preserved in the Hall of Names.

Sixty-seven years ago, the deportation of the Jews of Salonica and other Jewish communities in Greece began – most of whom never returned. They were deported to a destination previously unknown to them – Auschwitz-Birkenau. More than 53,000 members of the Salonica Jewish community - out of a total of 56,000 - were murdered there. The deportations of the Jews of Salonica to Auschwitz began in March 1943, and lasted until August 1943. Most were murdered on arrival at the camp. At the end of the war in 1945, only 1,950 Jews remained from the extraordinary community of Salonica. A city with an illustrious Jewish culture, rich in spirituality and creativity was cut off and lost from the world.

The addition of some 40,000 names will double the number of the names of Holocaust victims from Salonica, Greece that are recorded in the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names. (The Database previously included some 22,000 Salonican names, but some of the names just received are duplicates of ones already recorded in the database.) The new names will be digitized and available online within a few short months at http://www.yadvashem.org/ . At the present time, the database currently contains some 3.8 million names of victims of the Holocaust, and efforts are actively being made to gather as many names as possible before it is too late.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bette Midler at Yad Vashem

The actress Bette Midler has just left Yad Vashem after an emotional visit to the Holocaust History Museum. Here she is visiting the Hall of Names.

Discovering Lost Family via the Yad Vashem Database

In a tale spanning across Poland, Belaraus, Israel and the US, Avner Yonai (38) a native Israeli businessman living in California, recently connected with a lost relative after discovering Pages of Testimony submitted by his grandfather in memory of family members who were murdered in the Shoah.

Since 2008, Avner has served as a volunteer through the JFSF of San Francisco for the Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project where he meets with Holocaust survivors to assist them in filling out Pages of Testimony in memory of their loved ones. As part of his volunteer work Avner also learned to conduct searches on the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names database, which ultimately led him to discover a living connection with a descendant of his great aunt Bluma, who was brutally murdered in the Shoah.

Avner's maternal grandfather, David Rybak, was born in Poland in the town of Gora Kalwaria (aslo known as Ger). Yonai recently unearthed his grandfather’s travel and aliyah documents, which show that David Rybak emigrated from Poland to Mandatory Palestine in 1935, before the Nazi conquest of Poland. One of his brothers, Beryl Rybak remained in Poland and was murdered with his wife Bluma (née Goldhecht) in Treblinka in 1942. Bluma’s brother, Yaacov Goldhecht survived and filled out a Page of Testimony in her memory in Israel in the 1950's. Avner then discovered that his grandfather, David Rybak, had also filled out Page of Testimony commemorating his sister-in-law, Bluma.

Avner’s research also revealed that Yaacov Goldhecht was from the same town as his grandfather, where they were neighbors and friends, and played together as members of The Mandolin Orchestra of Ger. Beryl Rybak served as the conductor of the orchestra which was active during the 1920’s and 1930’s; most of its members were killed in the Shoah. Goldhecht explained in an excerpt from the Gora Kalwaria Yizkor book that it was: “A unique orchestra directed by Beryl Ryback …who knows? Under different circumstances Beryl could well have gone on to become a world-renowned conductor.

This all exists only in the memories of the survivors of Ger, in all the countries of the world where they have been scattered…from time to time they feel a longing for this beautiful romantic past, that belongs to a past that is dead and buried… The Jews of Ger died the deaths of martyrs by the hands of the vile Nazi murders!”

Using the contact information on the Page of Testimony submitted by Yaacov Goldhecht, Avner succeeded in tracing the Goldhecht family. He immediately contacted his newly found cousin Giora Goldhecht (Yaacov’s grandson) and members of the two branches of the family came together for an emotional reunion in the Goldhecht family home in Israel.

Avner’s mother Lea and his uncle Yitzhak were both named after members of the family that perished in the Shoah, yet until Avner’s recent discovery, neither of them was aware of the fact that their father had submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem.

Avner says he used the Internet to plan his travels to Poland and Belarus where he painstakingly traced his family roots in a journey that has knit together the past and present in a way that sheds light on his Israeli American family and the intertwined drama of Jews and non-Jews in four countries. In addition to launching a Facebook page dedicated to the orchestra that was once so pivotal to his family, Yonai is also spearheading an effort to stage a revival concert of the mandolin orchestra of Ger.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Three R’s: Remembrance, Resentment and Responsibility

by Richelle Budd Caplan

Remembrance ceremonies and events paying respect to the victims of the Holocaust began to be organized even before the Second World War ended. Official Commemoration ceremonies of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day, beginning at sunset on the twenty-seventh day of the Jewish month of Nisan, became institutionalized in the State of Israel in the 1950s.

On November 1, 2005, the General Assembly of the United Nations designated January 27 as an annual International Day of Commemoration to honor the victims of the Holocaust. Approximately sixty years earlier, on January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi extermination camp complex.

Approximately three-and-a-half years later, on April 2, 2009, the European Parliament in Brussels passed the “European Conscience and Totalitarianism” resolution, leading to the annual marking of August 23 as a day recalling the millions of victims that were deported, imprisoned, tortured and murdered by totalitarian and authoritarian regimes during the twentieth century in Europe. According to the text of this European Union resolution, “ …from the outset European integration has been a response to the suffering inflicted by two world wars and the Nazi tyranny that led to the Holocaust and to the expansion of totalitarian and undemocratic Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as a way of overcoming deep divisions and hostility in Europe through cooperation and integration and of ending war and securing democracy in Europe…”

Clearly, European policy makers did not randomly choose August 23, but rather purposefully sought to commemorate the secretly signed Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement in Summer 1939.

The “European Conscience and Totalitarianism” remembrance day does not implicitly equate the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Nazi Germany and the Communist USSR. However, the crimes of Nazism and Stalinism essentially become blurred even though the uniqueness of the Holocaust is specifically noted. Overall, it appears that this August 23 remembrance day is rooted in deep historical resentment toward the Soviet regime.

In light of recent debates, reports and statements within international circles that have sparked many questions surrounding historical narratives, the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem is organizing its seventh international conference on the Holocaust and Education focusing on “Shoah Education and Remembrance in Hindsight and in Foresight: Text and Context,” June 12-13, 2010. More than 200 participants representing approximately 40 countries are taking part in sessions focusing on the current challenges of historical memory.

This international conference, organized under the auspices of the Israeli Chairmanship of the Task Force for Internation Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research is geared for decision makers in the field of education and culture. During these proceedings, world renowned scholars such as Alain Finkielkraut, Samuel Pisar, Yehuda Bauer and others will focus on a number of questions, such as: How is educating about and remembering the Holocaust relevant to young people today who seek to accurately understand what occurred as well as to take responsibility for the truth about the past? Do the many memorial days throughout the year diminish or hightlight the meaning of the Holocaust? How do we authorize the teaching about different historical contexts without a competition between the suffering of victims of totalitarianism?

Although crimes under Soviet rule should be annually commemorated, they should not be linked to the Nazi regime. After all, what is our responsibility toward educating the future leaders of tomorrow about European history? Should different historical contexts be merged into one over-arching text about totalitarianism? Does such a merging blur all meaning out of the events?

All remembrance days provide educators with an opportunity to grapple with the complexity of history. Nevertheless, commemorative events should not come in place of educators creating an active learning process together with their students in their classrooms. Unquestionably, teaching about difficult and complex subject matter is a major challenge. However, on the basis of our professional experience at our School with educators from all over the world, we know that studying about the Holocaust, like all events in history, should not be oversimplified or taught out of context.

Ultimately, it is hoped that this conference will highlight the axiom of remembrance leading to promoting educational responsibility rather than festering resentment among today’s youth.

Richelle Budd Caplan is Director of the European Department, International School for Holocaust Studies, Yad Vashem.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Yad Vashem honors Belgian Baroness as Righteous Among the Nations

Holocaust survivor Joseph Fruhauf, joined by his family and friends, and the family of Baroness Gisele Van der Staten Waillet from Belgium gathered together at Yad Vashem today, Thursday June 10, 2010, for an emotional ceremony where the Baroness was posthumously recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. The Righteous’ daughter Baroness Gaëtane van der Stegen of Belgium, daughter-in-law of the Righteous Baroness Eliane van der Straten, and several of their children came to Israel especially for the event were they received a medal and certificate of honor on her behalf and unveiled her name on a wall in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. Belgian Ambassador to Israel H.E. Bénédicte Frankinet participated in the event.

"Even though you did not have the privilege to know your grandmother, you have every reason in the world to be proud of her." -- Nadine Hollander Fruhauf and Frederick Fruhauf speaking on behalf of their father Holocaust survivor Jospeh Fruhauf.

The Fruhauf family, Feiwel, Lily (née Rapaport), and their children, 25-year-old Lea and 21-year-old Joseph, lived in Antwerp, Belgium. On September 26, 1942, Feiwel was arrested by the Nazis and deported to Auschwitz and, soon after, Lea’s husband of only six weeks was deported to Auschwitz as well. Lily, Lea and Joseph succeeding in escaping and found various hiding places in Brussels. With the aid of a Catholic organization that helped women find employment, the Fruhaufs were put in touch with Baroness Gisele Van der Staten Waillet, a devout Catholic widow with nine children of her own - eight daughters and a son. Although the pious Baroness initially did not want men to stay in her home, in light of the desperate plight of the Fruhaufs, she permitted Lily to hide with both her son and daughter on her estate in Southern Belgium. There the Fruhaufs posed as household staff: Lily worked in the kitchen as a cook, Lea as a chambermaid and Joseph as a servant – serving meals and taking care of the chapel on the estate. In order to further disguise their identity, the Fruhaufs attended weekly mass and the other servants were strictly forbidden to speak of the Fruhaufs before strangers.

Despite the isolation of the estate, the family was often in danger of discovery. Several times throughout the war, the Nazis searched the estate, looking for members of the underground. On these occasions the Baroness quickly hid Joseph in the cellar or under a bed, and the Germans failed to discover the family hiding on the grounds.

Lily, Lea and Joseph remained at the Baroness’ home from the end of 1942 until September 1944. After liberation, the family returned to Antwerp where they learned that both Fiewel and Lea’s husband had been murdered. Baroness Gisele Van der Staten Waillet passed away in April 1950. The Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations decided to award Gisele Van der Staten Waillet the title of Righteous Among the Nations on November 30, 2009 .

30 Survivors Pay Tribute to Rescuer - Major Karl Plagge, Officer in the Wermacht

Some 30 Holocaust survivors from Israel, Germany, the United States, France and Canada who survived the Holocaust thanks to Righteous Among the Nations Maj. Karl Plagge visited Yad Vashem yesterday. The group toured the Holocaust History Museum before participating in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance and an event in the Yad Vashem Synagogue. Also this week, Yad Vashem videoed their group testimony, as part of Yad Vashem project to record survivors' testimony.

Major Karl Plagge served as an officer of the Wermacht in Vilna (Vilnius) from June 1941 to June 1944. While stationed in Vilnius he was in charge of a repair facility for military vehicles (HKP 562), where hundreds of Jews worked. According to the brutal decimation policy adopted by the SS in occupied Lithuania, the first to be slated for extermination were the “unproductive” Jews. Employment at Plagge’s HKP unit thus offered a chance for survival. Plagge treated his workers well, and included many people who were not qualified as mechanics to work there in order to save them from deportation; among the Jews of Vilna it was known that if one wanted a chance to survive, the only option was to work in Plagge’s plant. In the last days of June 1944, on the eve of the German evacuation of Vilnius, Plagge assembled his Jewish workers and warned them in thinly veiled language that they were going to be handed over to the care of the SS. Some managed to escape and/or hide and some 200 survived. Karl Plagge died in 1957 and was posthumously recognized by the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous on July 22, 2004.
Holocaust survivor Michael Shimeyvitz, noted that Plagge not only saved Jews, but "he treated all his workers humanely. This was extremely rare, and for this, justifiably, he received the greatest recognition that the Jewish people can give."
Dr. Michael Good, the son of a Holocaust survivor who was rescued by Maj. Plagge, noted that while Maj. Plagge was exonerated after the war due to the intervention of the Jews he rescued, he always felt that he was guilty. He quoted a letter from Maj. Plagge, in which the Major wrote: "I am no kind of hero; I am actually a very nervous person."
Dr Harald Kindermann, Ambassador to Israel of Germany spoke emotionally about his personal family history, and said that there are two obligations -- to understand what happened -- "Only through understanding, knowing the facts, can we build a firewall to ensure it won't happen again. That is why the Yad Vashem research institute is so important." -- and to recall the Righteous Among the Nations. "They are so important for education. They show us that there is an alternative. Because too many people say, I had to do it. And when young people ask, is that true, the Righteous show us it was not. They show us there is always an alternative."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Meaningful Connection for Zach Emanuel

White house Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and his family visited Yad Vashem last week during their trip to Israel marking his son Zach's bar mitzvah. Following a guided tour of the Holocaust History Museum, Zach was "twinned" with a child victim of the Holocaust. Bar/bat mitzvah twinning projects are unqiue way for Jewish children and their families to strengthen their identification with the Jewish people by forging bonds with individual children murdered in the Holocaust.

By searching Yad Vashem's online Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, bar and bat mitzvah kids can review Pages of Testimony containing the names, biographies and (when available) photographs submitted in their memory by relatives or friends who survived them. For a meaningful connection, the bar or bat mitzvah often chooses to twin with a child with the same Jewish name, birth month or other family connection.

Researchers from Yad Vashem's Hall of Names searched for a child with the same name as Zach and he was twinned with a boy named Zecharia Kanonitz who was shot dead by the Nazis at only 10 years old. Zach's cousin Noah Emanuel, also celebrating his bar mitzvah, was twinned with a toddler named Noah Norman, who was murded by the Nazis in Wilejka, Poland in 1942. When the group arrived in the Hall of Names, Zach and the two bnei mitzvah were each presented with a certificate acknowledging their committment to Holocaust remembrance. The Emanuels also asked for a copy of the Page of Testimony so that Zecharia Kanonitz's name could be remembered in their synagogue when they return to the United States.

A conversation with Dan Michman, Yad Vashem's Chief Historian

From Haaretz Books, June 2010, by David B. Green

Last month marked the publication of the new two-volume “Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Ghettos During the Holocaust."” ‏(Guy Miron, editor in chief, and Shlomit Shulhani, co-editor; published by Yad Vashem and distributed by NYU 67 pages, $199‏).

Though not a book that even a Shoah scholar would be likely to read through from start to finish, the encyclopedia offers a new and comprehensive look at a subject that has until now been largely misunderstood, according to Prof. Dan Michman, the chief historian of Yad Vashem and the author of a fascinating introduction to the book. For those of us who may have thought that the Nazis established ghettos mainly in the big cities and that they were an integral part of a well-thought out “final solution,” Michman’s foreword will come as a surprise. For one, the encyclopedia includes entries on more than 1,100 cities, towns and villages where the occupying Germans forced the Jews to live in concentrated areas. And, despite the widespread existence of the phenomenon across occupied Eastern Europe, Michman states that a policy of “ghettoization” was never decided on conclusively in Berlin, and that implementation varied from town to town.

See the complete Q&A with Prof. Michman here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why didn't the Allies bomb Auschwitz?

Could the Allies have done more during the Holocaust to stop the murders in the extermination camps? The issue of what the Allies could of, or should of done to try to prevent, or slow down the Holocaust and save Jews has been widely discussed and debated. Here, Dr. David Silberklang, Senior Historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research and Editor-in-Chief of Yad Vashem Studies, offers a insightful look into this question.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Yad Vashem Launches Groundbreaking Encyclopedia of the Ghettos

"This encyclopedia presents scholars and layment for the first time with a comprehensive view of the ghetto phenomenon" Prof. Omer Bartov

After six years of research, this groundbreaking publication was launched in New York on May 13, 2010. Dozens of professors and researchers of the Holocaust were on hand for the event.

Seventy years after the Nazi regime established the first Jewish ghetto – Piotrków Trybunalski in Poland – Yad Vashem has released a new publication: the Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Ghettos During the Holocaust. The encyclopedia includes entries on close to 1,100 ghettos established in the areas occupied by the Germans: Greater Poland, the Russian Republic, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Transnistria, Romania and Greece.

As the first and only comprehensive collection of the ghettos established by the Nazi regime, the encyclopedia marks an important milestone in the history of Holocaust research and historiography. While some ghettos are quite familiar to the general public – Warsaw, Lodz, Lvov, Vilna and Bialystok – this epic chronicle includes the vast majority of ghettos, large and small, that existed for a few weeks or years throughout the Soviet Union and Hungary.

The encyclopedia is available for purchase online