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 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" ( 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” ( 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.