Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Inspirational Volunteer

Amalia Miodownik was recognized recently at Yad Vashem for her inspirational volunteer work in Buenos Aires, Argentina where she served for two years as the community coordinator for Yad Vashem's Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project in cooperation with a local organization - Generaciones de la Shoah.

Through her efforts, local volunteers were recruited and trained to assist Holocaust survivors and their families commemorated those they know who were killed in the Holocaust by filling out Pages of Testimony in their memory.  Her work was a natural fit for Miodownik who retired from a career of service as an expert in documentation and logistics for a large Israeli company; she says she meticulously checked the forms for accuracy before submitting them to Yad Vashem. "I reviewed each Page of Testimony; I checked every word, every comma, and every date."

Close to 700 Pages of Testimony were collected in the period in which Miodownik led the local names collection drive.  "I was very happy to be a part of this project, which I view as Avodat Kodesh (sacred work); it is a mission that filled up my life."

The effort continues through Generaciones de la Shoah and the local Hillel chapter.  
For help in filling out Pages of Testimony (in Israel) or to volunteer, contact:

Alexander Avram (Left), director of the Hall of Names and Cynthia Wroclawski (Right), Manager of the Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project receives Pages of Testimony from Amalia Miodownik (center) volunteer coordinator for Yad Vashem's Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Remembering Rabbi Jonathan Sandler

Like everyone else, I was shocked and horrified when I heard about the shooting at the Otzar Hatorah school in Toulouse. But when the victims were announced, the shock became even more personal, as I realized that I knew Rabbi Sandler. In December 2010 a group of French teachers came to Yad Vashem in order to participate in a seminar on Holocaust Education organized by the World Jewry Department of the International School for Holocaust Studies. Rabbi Jonathan Sandler z"l was one of a group of teachers from the Otzar Hatorah chain of schools and was representing the Toulouse community. As the seminar went by it was remarkable to observe how discreet and humble Rabbi Sandler was. Without speaking much about himself Rabbi Sandler z"l showed curiosity in asking penetrating questions about Holocaust education. His gentle way of seeking more knowledge illustrated his admirable figure as an educator, giving an example to his surroundings by his mere behavior.
Our department and our school can only be honored and privileged to have hosted Rabbi Sandler within its walls as we keep in memory his personality and goal which was to educate the next generation to act as moral human beings.
-- Yoni Berrous, French Desk, World Jewry Department, International School for Holocaust Studies 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The British POWs Who Rescued Her Grandmother

 by Gili Diamant
Righteous Among the Nations Alan Edwards and
 Holocaust survivor Sarah Hannah Rigler planting a tree
 in Yad Vashem on March 16, 1989

Yesterday, twelve-year-old Dani Milner visited Yad Vashem with her class from the Levine Academy in Dallas, Texas, where they saw the tree Dani's grandmother planted in 1989 in honor of her rescuers. Irena Steinfeldt, Director of the Department of the Righteous Among the Nations showed Rigler and her classmates the tree planted in honor of Righteous among the Nations Stan Wells, George Hammond, Tommy Noble, Alan Edwards, Roger Letchford, Bill Keeble, Bert Hambling, Bill Scruton, Jack Buckley and Will Fisher.

Towards the end of the war, as the Soviet army was nearing the Stutthof concentration camp, its prisoners were taken on the long death march. Sarah Matuson and her mother Gita were marching with the rest of the inmates, starved and desperate. Gita was determined to help her daughter survive, and eventually forced her out of the ranks. Sarah ran away to find refuge in a barn nearby, where she collapsed.

Dani Milner, granddaughter of Holocaust survivor
 Sarah Hanna Rigler, beside the tree her grandmother planted

It was there that she was found by British POW Stan Wells. He and nine other British soldiers had been captured in 1940 in France and were transferred to the east. They were interned in a camp close to the Baltic coast, and were then forced to work on German farms in the area. Upon finding Sarah in the barn, starved and totally exhausted, Wells first gave her some food and then brought her to the other prisoners wrapped in an old army coat. Shocked by her poor physical condition, they decided to help her. They smuggled Sarah into their prisoner of war camp – Stalag 20B in Gross-Golmkau, where they hid her in a hayloft.

In view of her fragile state, they took turns caring for her. They brought her food, tended her frostbite, applied paraffin to her hair against lice, bathed her and nursed her back to health. The danger of discovery was great; a police station was just outside their living quarters. The horses used by the police were housed in the very same barn where Sarah was hidden in the hayloft.

Soon, however, the British POWs were slated to be moved. On the eve of their evacuation into Germany, Sarah’s British benefactors arranged for a local woman to take care of Sarah until the arrival of the Red Army.

After liberation Sarah found out that she was the only survivor of her family. She eventually settled in the United States, and in memory of her sister added the name Hannah to her own. For many years she tried to find her rescuers, but only 25 years after the end of the war was she able to locate them and renew the contact.

On  November 2, 1988 Yad Vashem recognized Stan Wells, George Hammond, Tommy Noble and Alan Edwards as Righteous Among the Nations. On March 15, 1989 Yad Vashem recognized Roger Letchford as Righteous Among the Nations. On October 11, 2011 Yad Vashem recognized Bill Keeble, Bert Hambling, Bill Scruton, Jack Buckley and Will Fisher as Righteous Among the Nations.

Read the full story here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Yad Vashem Chairman Remarks in Austria

Earlier this week, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev spoke in the Austrian Parliament, at a special event dedicated to the importance of Holocaust remembrance and education, and to the Austrian Friends of Yad Vashem.  Barbara Prammer, President of the National Council of Austria and Honorary Chairperson of the Austrian Friends of Yad Vashem opened the event, which coincided with the anniversary of the Anschluss, a German word meaning connection or annexation that is used to refer to the takeover of Austria by Germany in March 1938.
The Chancellor and Vice Chancellor of Austria addressed the gathering, which was attended by members of parliament, the media and the public.

Here're Shalev's remarks from the event:

Seventy-four years ago, on March twelfth and thirteenth nineteen thirty-eight, Austria underwent an historic event of great significance:  The Anschluss, Austria’s incorporation into Nazi Germany.  Many Austrians identified with it and with Nazi ideology.
The Burgenland was the first Austrian state to voluntarily, officially transfer power to the Nazi party.  When German forces entered Austria, Burgenland’s towns were already filled with Nazi flags.  Its central squares were speedily renamed in honor of Hitler.  Within less than a month,Burgenland, like the rest of Austria, voted about Anschluss.  One hundred sixty seven thousand seven hundred and seventy five voted for.  Sixty-three voted against.  Two days later, the first Jews were sent from Burgenland to Dachau.   The region’s gauleiter, Tobias Portschy, a Burgenland native, was eager to rule the first Judenrein area in Austria.  Thanks to a combination of state directives and violence against the Jews it was reported in October 1938 to Adolf Eichmann in Vienna that all three thousand, six hundred and thirty-two Burgenland Jews were no longer in the Reich
Tonight we remember and identify with the fate of the Jews of Austria during the Holocaust: The dispossession.  The deportations. The extermination. 
Despite the historical facts, some still claim that the people of Austria had no choice.
Rosa Schreiber-Freissmuth was one of the few that disprove that claim.  Rosa owned the pharmacy in the village of Neuhaus, in Burgenland. Nearby was a camp where Hungarian Jews were forced by the Nazis to dig trenches and build fortifications.  In February 1945, Rosa heard a knock at her door. A Jew had escaped in search of medicinefor his dying father. Although an SS man was in her pharmacy, Rosa hid the Jew until danger passed and then gave him medicine and food. She continued to leave food and medicinefor other inmates.

Rosa Schreiber-Freissmuth was an exemplary Austrian.  She was willing to put her life at riskon behalf of fellow human beings.   But sadly, she was an exception.On March 13th, twenty five years ago, Yad Vashem recognized Rosa Schreiber-Freissmuthas Righteous Among the Nations.  
What happened in Austria, over seventy years ago, might be considered merely a distant memory, to be recalled briefly in remembrance rituals.  But that would be missing the point - and the opportunity - entirely.  As we at Yad Vashem re-discover daily, the Holocaust is much more than history. It did not happen far away, but rather here in Europe, here in Austria.The Shoah is an integral component of contemporary Europe’s heritage and should become part of its consciousness. 
Democracy and tolerance are fragile and endangered phenomena – to be constantly guarded and nurtured.  Defenders of freedom and human rights must join forces to ensure the future. 
Austrians are opening up to this message.  During the past eleven years, over four hundred Austrian educators and community leaders have participated in seminars at Yad Vashem.Together with us, they are creating a mutual social vision that approaches challenging realitieswith compassion and humanity.  As one of the Austrian participants in a Yad Vashem seminar recently wrote: Here, after two weeks that were the most inspiring of my life, I became a Mensch.
We are inspired in our endeavor by treasured local partners:  Our remarkable Austrian Friends of Yad Vashem, a rare group of dedicated, determined volunteers; The National Fund, chaired by Council President Prammer and guided by Hannah Lessing; The Austrian Ministry of Education;  The Future Foundation of the Austrian Republic. 

Each of these bodies adds its unique contribution to an essential common cause. 
In this spirit, following the words of your late President, Thomas Klestil, in the Knesset in Jerusalem,  "Anyone who really wants to understand the past, and what must happen in the future to guard against the forces of evil, must face up to historical truth: to the entire truth… Today, we Austrians recognize that an acknowledgement of the full truth is long overdue…Our deeds are, and should be, guided by a sense of remembrance, of awareness and of hope."   
As we gather in this impressive place we recommit, to ensuring that your nation’s future reflects that it has learned from its history. The lesson of an open and tolerant society which, like Rosa in that pharmacy during the Holocaust, opens doors to others and is honest about itself.  That is a great challenge, which all of us share.  Thank you, Shalom and good evening to you all

Pictured (L-R): Guenther and Ulrike Schuster, of the Austrian Friends of Yad Vashem, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, Austrian Vice Chancellor Dr. Michael Spindelegger, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev

Monday, March 12, 2012

Last letter from the Holocaust

Since launching the "Gathering the Fragments" Campaign last year, fascinating stories have come to light as more than 40,000 items, documents, diaries, photographs and artworks have been collected for preservation and safekeeping from 2,600 people.  In one case, at a collection day in the northern coastal city of Netanya, an elderly gentleman brought the old tefilin (used by religious Jewish men during prayer) of his father.  His father had - against the odds - kept and used these precious items throughout the war.  In another case that same day, a woman brought photo albums full of pictures of her parents and their friends on the eve of the war.

Stories abound.   The last letters received by Otto Hershtick who was a forced laborer in Hungary, from his father, bring tears to the eyes.  "My own, my dear, don't be angry and don't feel bad:  I am writing to you my last letter," begins one written in April 1944. "On Shabbat [Saturday] afternoon they announced that Jewish are not allowed to leave their homes.  All day there were rumours that the ghetto will be established... we hoped that these were false rumours, but at 6:30 on Sunday morning, police and soldiers knocked on our door.  They stole the silver, and our last bit of money... My dear son, what awaits us in the ghetto? To starve to death? They have condemned us to death!... Dear Otto, we are all in the bedroom, Mother and your two sisters, screaming, crying.  I am writing this letter with tears in my eyes.  I hope that even if we will be killed you will manage to stay alive.  Surely there will be a new world and you will live happily.  Forget us.  May God help you on the path to happiness, from which we must leave.  My dear son, I have one request, also in the name of Mother and your sisters:  Never forget that you were born Jewish.  Remain Jewish, and in 100 years, die Jewish."

The letter continues with prayers that God will protect Otto, and information as to where the family was able to leave a few personal items.  His sisters also added a few words.  Otto's parents and sisters were murdered in Auschwitz.  Otto survived and today lives in Tel Aviv.

More stories can be seen here.