Thursday, March 27, 2014

Symposium Sheds Light on Myth of "Judeo-Bolshevism"

Prof. Paweł Śpiewak of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw provides
some examples of antisemitism resulting from the spread of 

"Judeo-Bolshevist" ideas in Poland
On March 24, 2014 the International Institute for Holocaust Research of Yad Vashem hosted an international conference entitled "Judeo-Bolshevism": The Crystallization of an Antisemitic Political Concept.  The conference was made possible through the generous support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Gutwirth Family Fund, and was dedicated to the exploration of the roots and development of one of the most pernicious myths that laid the ideological and psychological foundations of the Holocaust – the association of the Jewish people with communist ideas and practices, as proof of their eternal enmity towards “orderly” Christian society, based on traditional morals and property rights.
Eight prominent scholars researching the issues of antisemitism and inter-ethnic relations, from the US, the Netherlands, Poland, the UK and Israel, took part in the conference.  The scholarly gathering, examining a topic that has never been discussed in such a broad forum before, was attended by over 200 people, including H.E. Mr. Jacek Chodorowicz, Polish Ambassador to Israel, H.E. Mr. Andris Vilcans,  Latvian Ambassador to Israel, representatives from the embassies of Lithuania and Ukraine in Israel, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Mr. Avner Shalev, Director-General of Yad Vashem Ms. Dorit Novak, Ms. Sana Britavsky, Executive Director of the Genesis Philanthropy Group in Israel, Ms. Naomi Ben-Ami, Head of Nativ (the Liaison Bureau), Prof. Yehuda Bauer and leading professors from Israeli universities, and program directors from the AJJDC and the Jewish Agency.

The conference was opened by Prof. Dan Michman, Head of Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research. Conference participants were greeted by Ms. Sana Britavsky, Executive Director of the Genesis Philanthropy Group in Israel, who said: “The discussion about the history and the consequences of this bloody legend is important – both for the understanding of the particular brutality and ferocity of extermination of the Soviet Jews in the first months of the German invasion, and for combating and preventing similar hateful myths from arising and spreading in the modern world – against the Jews as against any others.”
Russian Politics and History Prof. André Gerrits of Leiden University,
Netherlands delivers his lecture on the myth of "Judeo-Bolshevism" 
The first plenary session, The Identification of “Jews” with “Bolshevism”: The Emergence of a Myth was chaired by Dr. Arkadi Zeltser, Director of the Center for Research on the History of Soviet Jews during the Holocaust at the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem. This session explored theoretical issues connected with the creation of the antisemitic myth, and the reasons underlying the popularity of Judeo-Bolshevist ideas in the period between the two World Wars and during WWII.  This was the focus of the lectures delivered by Prof. André Gerrits (Russian Politics and History at Leiden University, Netherlands) and Prof. Zvi Gitelman (Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor). The presentation by Dr. Daniel Uziel (Yad Vashem) was dedicated to the ways in which Nazi propaganda utilized these ideas to strengthen antisemitic sentiment among Wehrmacht soldiers. 

In his presentation Prof. Zvi Gitelman noted: "The 'Judeo-Bolshevik' myth contains at least five rationales for hostility toward the Jews: they are aliens, foreigners; they are subversive and dangerous; they are anti-Christian; Jews are internationalists rather than patriots; and they threaten the economic foundations of society. All these traits are attributed to Communists as well. For those so inclined, this proves that the Jewish and Communist conspiracies are either the same or very closely related."
The second session, chaired by Prof. Dina Porat, Chief Historian of Yad Vashem, was dedicated to the specific examples of antisemitism resulting from the spread of "Judeo-Bolshevist" ideas in Lithuania (Prof. Christoph Dieckmann, Keele University, Staffordshire), Latvia (Dr. Aron Shneyer, Yad Vashem) and Poland (Prof. Paweł Śpiewak, Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw). Following the presentations, a lively discussion took place. One of the central topics of the discussion was the degree to which "Judeo-Bolshevist" ideas were based on the actual participation of Jews in the Communist movement, and to what extent they reflected a general antisemitic approach with no connection to reality.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Purim Manuscript from the Holocaust

Purim evening at the Ilia camp in Transylvania in 1943 was a very difficult one. Conditions were unbearable and spirits were very low. Zvi Hershel Weiss, a prisoner at the camp, decided to write a text for the holiday to uplift the mood of his fellow Jews imprisoned alongside him. Recently, Zvi’s son, Shmuel Yitzhak Weiss donated the manuscript, written in Yiddish, to Yad Vashem as part of the Gathering the Fragments campaign.
Zvi Hershel Weiss' Purim manuscript
Shmuel Yitzhak recounts in his testimony that on the evening of Purim 1943, inmates of the camp did not have the traditional Megillah scroll of the Book of Esther to read from. His father, Zvi Hershel Weiss, who according to Shmuel Yitzhak was known for his sense of humor and his love of joking around, hand wrote a text in Yiddish, combining the story in the Book of Esther with the story of the inmates. Zvi read the manuscript accompanied by music, and that is how the Ilia camp celebrated Purim in 1943. (In his testimony to Yad Vashem in 2007 Shmuel Yitzhak recited the text in its original cantillations). In August 1944, the Weiss family were liberated, and later Shmuel and his parents immigrated to Israel.
Shmuel Yitzhak explained his decision to give the rare document to Yad Vashem: "The handwritten document is very dear to my heart and it was difficult for me to part with it, but my wife urged me to give it to Yad Vashem, and in the end I decided that it is important for the Jewish people as a whole and that other people should also know about its existence. I made a copy of the manuscript at home and gave the original to Yad Vashem, and after handing it over wished I had done it earlier."
Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said: "In many homes in Israel there are personal items and documentation from the Holocaust period that are unknown and not accessible to the public. Many of the owners of these items are unaware of their importance and the necessity to properly and professionally preserve them. We urge people to hand these precious items to Yad Vashem as here they will be well preserved and made accessible to the wider public."
For more information about donating personal items from the Holocaust to Yad Vashem please contact: Phone: 1-800-25-77-77 (within Israel) +972-2-6443888 (outside Israel) Email:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Film Symposium Explores Jewish life in the Netherlands during the Shoah

Those in attendance during the film symposium included staff of the
Department of Teacher Training and Edith Spitz-Polak (third from left),
cousin of Bertram Polak
In 2001, Dr. Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld, a professor at Tilburg University in the southern Netherlands decided to renovate his house, and being a historian by profession, began to look into the history of its previous owners. To his amazement the house had previously belonged to the Polak family, a Jewish Dutch family in Tilburg that was in the leather business. Last Thursday, March 6, 2014 a symposium was held in the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem focusing on Jewish life during the Holocaust through an exploration of Dutch film. The lectures were part of an ongoing enrichment for staff of the Department of Teacher Training who instruct Israeli educators how to teach about the Holocaust. Following an introduction to the day’s events by Sarit Hoch-Markovitz, Director of Teacher Training at the International School of Yad Vashem, a lecture was given by Dr. Bijsterveld, who following his incredible personal discovery, made a documentary about the Jewish Dutch Polak family who had built and lived in his house.
Dr. Bijsterveld during his lecture on the life and death of Bertram Polak
Inspired by the story, Bijsterveld decided to create a documentary film, Here Was Bertram about Bertram Polak, who grew up in the house and was the sole member of his immediate family that was murdered during the Holocaust. As the only boy in a family of four children Bertram Polak enlisted, eventually becoming an officer in the Dutch army. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940 Bertram was called up to fight the Germans before the Dutch surrendered four days later. During the second day of fighting on May 11, Bertram’s family and his uncle’s family fled to Amsterdam where they escaped 3 days later to England, with both families eventually immigrating to the United States. Shortly after returning home to Tilburg to resume working in his father’s business, as the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands solidified the business was later taken over by a German administrator who fired Bertram for being a Jew. Bertram planned to flee the Netherlands with help from his father, first applying for a visa to Cuba and then planning to escape to England by boat.
Page of Testimony filled out for Bertram Polak by his
cousin in 1977
Bertram and the rest of those who sought refuge in England were betrayed, arrested and Bertram was sent to Scheveningen prison. From there he was taken to Amersfoort concentration camp before being sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and was murdered on August 17, 1942. During his lecture, Bijsterveld explained that Bertram’s father, who had tried to help his son escape the Nazi occupied Netherlands before his arrest, was living in the United States by November, 1942 and upon hearing of the fate of the Jews in the camp in which his son was incarcerated in, suffered from a heart attack and died. In addition to the staff of the Department of Teacher Training, Bertram’s cousin, Edith was also in attendance during the day symposium and even recounted some of her family history while listening attentively to Bijsterveld’s lecture.  Following his search into the life and death of Bertram, Bijsterveld also coordinated the installation of Stolpersteine, German for ‘stumbling stone’, for Bertram which serves as a memorial on the pavement right outside the Polak family home. 
The film symposium concluded with a lecture given by Eyal Boers, a documentary filmmaker and Head of the Film & Television Track in the Communication Department at Ariel University, about the perception of the Jew in Dutch cinema. Boers also showed a part of the documentary film he directed, Classmates of Anne Frank as well as short clips of other films from the Netherlands to show how the Shoah is portrayed in Dutch cinema.
Dr. Bijsterveld's documentary film Here Was Bertram (with English subtitles) can be viewed on youtube:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

From Yad Vashem’s Spanish and Portuguese Speakers Desk

By Eliana Rapp Badihi
As Head of  Spanish and Portuguese Speakers Desk at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust my main job consists of organizing and coordinating seminars for Spanish and Portuguese speaking educators from Latin America, Spain and Portugal, who are interested in studying about the Holocaust, and helping them to understand how to teach this important subject in the classroom. We also produce and translate educational materials into Spanish and Portuguese and have a website in both languages.
Teachers and educators, working in Jewish educational institutions 
in Latin America listen to a lecture in the classroom, International 
School for Holocaust Studies, Yad Vashem  
This winter has been especially busy as we hosted 4 seminars for Latin American educators. Among the groups who participated in seminars thus far over the past couple months include Masbirim Argentina, a program for university students that have been studying about the Shoah and Morei Morim Lehoraat Hashoah, teachers who have already attended a seminar at the International School for Holocaust studies and have returned as graduates for a more advanced learning program. In addition, to the Yad Vashem seminar, teachers also participated in a year-long program and attended seminars conducted by BAMA (a center for Jewish education) in Buenos Aires, took an online course about the ghettos during the Shoah, and initiated a final project in a Jewish institution before attending the final seminar at Yad Vashem.
At a workshop in the International School for Holocaust Studies, Yad Vashem
The third seminar hosted this winter at Yad Vashem was composed of Latin American educators who work in Jewish educational institutions. More than 27 teachers from 5 countries participated in the seminar from January 13-23, 2014 including educators from Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay. During the 10-day seminar the group studied many of the historical and pedagogical components of the Holocaust, and met survivors who told them their stories and shared with them their life’s experiences. Many participants in the seminar said that hearing the personal stories of Holocaust survivors was one of the most touching moments throughout the educational process. As one graduate of the winter seminar said, “Yad Vashem has taken this extremely difficult subject and successfully passed it on to us [teachers] who in turn have an obligation to pass it on forward to our students." 
Participants of the the latest Latin America seminar outside 
Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies
Our fourth winter seminar which recently concluded consisted of 28 teachers (from kindergarden all the way to the university level) from 10 Latin American countries including: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, all coming together at the International School for Holocaust Studies around the important goal of providing quality education. In this seminar, for the first time ever we had a representative of the Ministry of Education from Guatemala, who is responsible for the curriculum of Social Sciences for all grade levels and who has been working towards reapplying Shoah education for the schools in Guatemala.  The opportunity to be part of the educational process in which the Shoah is being integrated into the curriculum of countries like Guatemala is of extreme importance.
In all our seminars, one of the more exciting and moving issues is the meeting between teachers from all parts of the world, who are interested in sharing their experiences about teaching the Holocaust and creating the forum for them to learn from one another. Recently, I traveled to Costa Rica to take part in educational development programs that began in September 2009, where B’nai B’rith Costa Rica, in collaboration with the social studies departments of local school districts for the high school curriculum in the Ministry of Education, have been training teachers about the Holocaust. Among those I met are members of the Costa Rican Ministry of Education and a group of 12 teachers, all of which are graduates of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, that are now responsible for training all the social studies teachers of Costa Rica.
We hope in the future to be able to continue training teachers, learning about their needs are and provide them with the necessary tools for teaching about the Holocaust.