Sunday, July 28, 2013

From the Isles of the Aegean Sea to Auschwitz

“The cars stopped and I saw bald people with striped suits… I told my mother I think they brought us to an insane asylum,” related Violette Mayo in testimony depicting her arrival from the Greek islands to Auschwitz.
A monument in the Jewish cemetery in Rhodes commemorating
the Jews of the island
On Thursday, July 25, 2013 an annual memorial or yahrzeit ceremony commemorating the destruction of the Jewish communities in the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kos was held in the synagogue at Yad Vashem. Survivors and their families lit the Yad Vashem candelabra and gathered to honor those loved ones who were murdered as well as to celebrate the Jewish life that existed in those two deeply rooted communities. Throughout much of the event, Yad Vashem's synagogue was filled with prayer and music reminiscent of the unique culture of the Jewish communities of Rhodes and Kos. The former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay Rabbi Mordechai Maaravi addressed the gathering and recited psalms and the El Maleh Rachamim and Kaddish prayers. Tamar Machado, a musicologist by profession, gave an interesting lecture on the unique qualities of the Jewish community in Rhodes and Kos, explaining that for many Greek Sephardic Jews sent to Auschwitz, Jewish prayer and music was the central unifying quality shared with the other Jews imprisoned in the camp. Through their Jewish tradition, the camp’s inmates shared a common bond which succeeded in bridging various communities together despite the many cultural differences and the wide number of countries of origin for many of the Jewish prisoners who constituted the camp’s populace. Throughout the ceremony, Betty Klein played the harp and beautifully sang a variety of both traditional and original songs in Ladino. Among the songs performed was an original one written by Mario Suriano entitled, “What is Happening on the Big Street”, written to commemorate the vibrant Jewish community and rich culture that existed in Rhodes.
Maggie Cohen detailing a book designed to commemorate the Jewish
communities of Rhodes and Kos in the synagogue at Yad Vashem 
Among those in attendance at Thursday’s event were Avi Rosenthal, director of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel who shared a personal story of his mother who was deported and murdered at Auschwitz, Ezra Tal who recited a poem of a childhood in Rhodes, Maggie Cohen who described a book designed to commemorate the Jewish communities of Rhodes and Kos and Foundation for the Preservation of the Jewish Heritage of Rhodes Chairman Mario Suriano who presented Yad Vashem with a copy of a personal diary of a Holocaust survivor from Rhodes who during the war escaped to Israel via Turkey and Cyprus and was later killed fighting in Israel's War of Independence.
On July 20, 1944, the Jewish men of Rhodes were arrested. Several of them managed to escape the roundup and join the partisans. The women and children were deported later, and on July 24, 1944 1,700 were shipped to Athens on two coal barges with no food or water; 120 Jews from the island of Kos were also added to the transport. The boats then stopped at the island of Leros to deport the single Jewish man who lived on the island. On arrival in Athens, they were imprisoned in the notorious Haidari prison, and from there, were deported to Auschwitz arriving on August 17, 1944. 400 Jews were selected for hard labor and the rest were murdered. Only 150 survived the war.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Art’s Journey: From Nazi Germany to Yad Vashem

Holocaust survivor and artist Ernest (Ernie) Meyer addresses family and
friends during the donation ceremony
Recently, Holocaust survivor and artist Ernest (Ernie) Meyer donated 17 artworks to Yad Vashem. He created the pieces during his youth in Nazi Germany and abroad during the Holocaust. Among the works is a portrait of his teacher, the renowned Jewish-German artist Ludwig Meidner, and depictions of the separation from his family during the Kindertransport and the detention camp in Canada where he was interned. The artwork donated by Ernest will become part of Yad Vashem’s art collection where it will be safeguarded for future generations.  Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Art collection contains                                                                                           some 10,000 pieces. 
Ernest (Ernie) Meyer was born in Cologne, Germany in 1923 to Gustav and Johanna Meyer. Gustav was a butcher and Johanna was a housewife. A teenager during the Nazi regime in Germany, in 1935 he began to study art privately under the instruction of Otto Salomon. That same year, as a consequence of Nazi German racial laws, Ernest was expelled from the public school he was attending and began to study at the Jawne (Yavne) Jewish school in Cologne. There he continued to study art under Ludwig Meidner, one of the most important Jewish-German artists of the era, whose work was denounced by the Nazi regime as “degenerate”, forbidden to be sold or displayed. As a result, Ludwig Meidner had moved from Berlin to Cologne and began teaching at the Yavne school.

The Last Goodbye 1939 depicts Ernie's separation from his family
during the Kindertransport
In 1937, Ernest's older brother Paul moved to England to continue his studies. After Kirstallnacht in November 1938, Dr. Erich Klibansky, the school’s director, worked tirelessly to arrange for his students to immigrate to England through the opportunity provided by the Kindertransport. He managed to send several of his classes together, and in them, separately, both Ernest and his sister Eva. Thus, all three Meyer children were able to survive the Holocaust. In 1941, following Britain’s decision to intern all “enemy aliens” – ironically including Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany whose German citizenship had been stripped from them – Ernest was shipped to Canada aboard the MS Ettrick. Upon arrival, he was interned in Camp I, at Ilse-aux-Noix near the Quebec-Ontario border, until his release in 1944 after the Jewish community in Toronto petitioned the government on behalf of detained Jews. Ernest's parents and maternal grandmother, Ida van Blijdenstein, fled Germany to the Netherlands in 1939, and settled in Zaltbommel, Johanna’s hometown. Gustav and Johanna were arrested and deported to Westerbork transit camp and from there to Auschwitz on July 12, 1942 where they were murdered. Ida was deported to Sobibor on May 14, 1943, where she too was murdered.
Holocaust survivor and artist Ernest (Ernie) Meyer with Yehudit Shendar,
Deputy Director of Yad Vashem's Museums Division and Senior Art Curator
Ernest later married, immigrated to Israel, and raised a family, working for the Jerusalem Post newspaper where among other things, he covered ceremonies honoring the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem for many years.
Speaking at the donation ceremony, attended by over 30 members and three generations of Meyer’s family, were Yehudit Shendar, Deputy Director of Yad Vashem’s Museums Division and Senior Art Curator; Niv Goldberg, Art Collection Manager; Ernest Meyer himself; his son Effi Meyer and granddaughter Michal Gillis. Meyer’s grandson, Ronny Gillis,
Family and friends gathered for the donation ceremony
an officer in the IDF, presented his grandfather with a “Witnesses in Uniform” pin issued by the IDF to officers who take part in the IDF’s educational trips to Auschwitz.

“Yad Vashem is pleased to be able to honor Ernest Meyer for his donation of these artworks, which provide important visual testimony to Jewish family life in Nazi Germany, the Kindertransport and enemy-alien internment camps in Canada,” said Niv Goldberg, Art Collection Manager at Yad Vashem. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Holocaust Survivor Receives Books from Family Home through Grandson of Nazi Officer

Cynthia Wroclawski, Manager of the of the Yad Vashem Shoah Victims’
Names Recovery Project presents Moshe Hofstadter with his father’s
books on behalf of Dr. Christoph Schlegel
On Wednesday, July 10, 2013 during an emotional visit to Yad Vashem, Holocaust survivor Moshe Hofstadter (Ramat Gan, Israel) received four books that belonged to his father Avraham who was murdered in the Holocaust. The books were sent to Yad Vashem by Dr. Christoph Schlegel, an Austrian grandson of Nazi officer and Stadtkommissar Herbert Huller who in 1941 was stationed in Rzeszow, Poland. Huller most likely acquired the books from one of the warehouses which contained stolen Jewish possessions. Huller was sent to a prison camp for high-ranking Nazi officers in Wolfsberg for two years immediately following the war. He died in 1978. The books were discovered by his grandson in 2010, a few years after Huller’s widow (Schlegel’s grandmother) moved out of her house and into a nursing home in 2007.

Initially unaware of the name stamped on the inside cover of each of the four books, Schlegel eventually noticed the name “Abraham Hofstadter” printed on them and in May 2013 began to research the person behind the name. Searching Yad Vashem’s online Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names he discovered that Abraham Hofstadter was a Jewish merchant from Rzeszow, Poland who was murdered in the Holocaust.
Commemorating his memory, Abraham’s son Moshe completed a Page of Testimony documenting his father’s murder, and as is customary left his contact information. When Schlegel searched the Internet for information on Abraham Hofstadter he discovered the Page of Testimony and contacted Yad Vashem’s Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project for assistance in reaching out to any surviving family that Abraham Hofstadter may have had, in hopes of returning the books.
Thanks to the information on the Page of Testimony, Yad Vashem was able to put Moshe and Schlegel in touch and the two have been in correspondence ever since. Moshe, 88, is the son and sole survivor of his immediate family. As a boy he was imprisoned in the Lvov Ghetto and survived the Holocaust by working under a false identity; eventually he immigrated to Israel after the war.
On Wednesday, July 10, 2013 Yad Vashem presented Moshe with his father’s books on behalf of Dr. Christoph Schlegel. “These are just a few books which I want in the right hands,” he wrote when he contacted Yad Vashem for assistance in finding members of Avraham Hofstadter's family. “I know the feeling of touching something a person you loved has touched and used.”
Emotionally, Moshe paused as the books clearly brought back good memories of his father from before the war, proudly describing him as an active Jewish and Zionist leader in the community. “My father had a very big library and spoke German, Polish and Yiddish.”
“This is the only thing I have from my father; I have nothing else,” said Moshe upon being presented with the books at Yad Vashem by Manager of the Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project Cynthia Wroclawski during an emotional gathering with his family. “I’m very glad to have them.”
Moshe Hofstadter and his family look at this father’s books at Yad Vashem
Pages of Testimony are specially designed forms filled out in memory of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. The Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project aims to memorialize each individual Jewish person murdered in the Holocaust by recording their names, biographical details and photographs in the online Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names. To date 4.2 of the six million victims are documented in the Names Database. Efforts continue to try and recover the name and identity of each and every Jewish person murdered in the Holocaust.

For more information about the Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project please contact:

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Educators’ Summer Break Opens with Yad Vashem Conference

“It is essential that we successfully educate the next generations of students so that they continue to know the history and internalize the lessons of the Holocaust.”
–Orli Gamzo Letova 
Some 1,200 teachers from across Israel participated in the conference
Orli Gamzo Letova, a teacher from the Yarkon School in the center of the country was one of 1,200 teachers from across Israel who gathered at the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem for the fifth National Educators’ Conference on Holocaust Education on 1-2 July 2013. Emphasizing what to her is the key educational purpose when teaching about the Holocaust, she described the two-day event as “well organized with a very diverse number of ideas in how to approach education regarding the Shoah."

Israeli Education Minister Rabbi Shay Piron addresses the teachers
The goal of the conference was to create dialogue and commitment to Holocaust education among teachers and help provide the educational tools to effectively teach students of different age groups, each according to their different needs. The conference, which consisted of over 140 workshops and lectures, took place in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Education and Teachers’ Union, and with the generous support of the Azrieli Foundation, the Claims Conference and the Adelson Family Foundation. One of the central themes discussed in length dealt with the appropriate methods in which educators should endow the lessons and memory of the Holocaust for future generations. Among the wide variety of lectures offered and topics discussed were the use of Holocaust imagery in political cartoons, Holocaust in the media, theater and the performing arts during the Holocaust and the choice of music played during Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day. In addition, some 25 Holocaust survivors shared their stories with the teachers in a more intimate setting so as to provide them with a firsthand account of personal testimonies.  
Conference participants with Chairman of the Yad Vashem
Directorate Avner Shalev second from left
Israeli Education Minister Rabbi Shay Piron and Chairman of Yad Vashem Avner Shalev also addressed the teachers concerning the importance of Holocaust instruction and the way in which it should be implemented in the Israeli education system. Referring to the fact that there currently is not a single, widespread, cohesive organized program for Holocaust education in schools, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said that, “The fact that more than 1,200 teachers came here during the start of summer vacation is reflective of the need, recognized from the bottom up by teachers and students, for value-based ​​education concerning the Holocaust. I believe that the challenge to build a program within the education system is one we can overcome. There is no doubt of the need for a program that can be implemented in the education system.”