Thursday, January 30, 2014

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev Receives Presidential Medal of Distinction

President Shimon Peres Bestows Award in Ceremony Thursday
Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev receiving the Presidential Medal
of Distinction from President Shimon Peres at the President's Residence 
Today, Thursday, January 30, 2014, Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, received the Presidential Medal of Distinction from President Shimon Peres in a ceremony held at the President’s Residence. Shalev was awarded for his public service as Chairman of Yad Vashem over the past two decades. During the ceremony, President Peres said: "Thanks to your life's work, I feel Yad Vashem is not only a place of memory, but you have also made it a warning bell for the world. As has been said, "Every human being was created in the image of G-d, there are none above and none below."
"The decoration strengthens and encourages me and all my colleagues at Yad Vashem in our mission to ensure meaningful, relevant and enduring Holocaust remembrance for the Jewish people and for all of humanity, now and for future generations," said Shalev at the conclusion of the event.
The President’s Advisory Committee, headed by former president of the Israeli Supreme Court Meir Shamgar, noted that, “Avner Shalev works tirelessly, employing innovative and original methods, to instill vital Jewish, Zionist and universal values within Israeli and global consciousness, primarily through significant and meaningful Holocaust remembrance. For two decades he has invested his soul, his might and the utmost of his abilities to ensure that the Shoah is appropriately commemorated and its profound implications learned.”  As Chairman of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev has initiated a comprehensive development program aimed at enabling Yad Vashem to meet the challenges of the 21st century in the challenging contexts of Holocaust documentation, research and education. From the start, Shalev prioritized education, placing it at Yad Vashem's forefront through the establishment of its International School for Holocaust Studies. In addition, his development program has included the establishment of a comprehensive new museum complex, centered around the new Holocaust History Museum, for which Shalev served as chief curator.
The prestigious Presidential Medal of Distinction,  first awarded in 2012 at President Peres' initiative, is bestowed upon rare individuals who have made unique and extraordinary contributions to tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) or to Israel's society, culture and international status, and who personally exemplify the traits of entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity and vision. Among the elite group of the Medal's recipients to date are: US Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger and Zubin Mehta. This year’s awardees include Professor Elie Wiesel and director Steven Spielberg.
Born in Jerusalem, Avner Shalev served as Head of the Bureau of the then Chief of Staff David Elazar, and worked alongside him during the Yom Kippur War. Following his retirement from military service, Shalev assumed the positions of Director of the Culture Authority in the Ministry of Education and Culture and Chairman of the National Council of Culture and Art, and also served on the boards of a wide range of Israeli museums and cultural institutions, including the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Shalev helped found the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem and was instrumental in creating the Israel Festival as a major event in Jerusalem. In 1993, he was appointed Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. In 2003, he received the Israel Prize on behalf of Yad Vashem. In 2007, he received the French Legion of Honor by President Sarkozy and that same year the Spanish Prince of Asturias Prize for Concord on behalf of Yad Vashem. In 2011, Shalev was bestowed the Patron of Jerusalem Award.

Museum Directors and Senior Researchers and Educators from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine Attend Special Seminar

The group of museum directors, educators and researchers outside the
International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem
Last week, a seminar for museum directors, educators and researchers from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine recently came to an end at the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem following a two week seminar which began on January 13, 2014. 
While at Yad Vashem, the group of 24 museum directors, curators and researchers attended lectures and discussions, were taken on extensive, in-depth tours of the Campus and had the opportunity to partake in classes taught by top educators and historians about various topics related to the Holocaust. Among the participants were officials from the Museum of History and Culture of the Jews of Belarus, the Moscow State Museum of History of the Great Patriotic War, the Jewish Memory and Holocaust in Ukraine Museum in Dnepropetrovsk and many other museums.
The murder sites of the Jews in the occupied territories of the former USSR, antisemitism in historical perspective, the Righteous among the Nations, stages of the "Final Solution" and Yad Vashem’s pedagogical approach to Holocaust education and presentations of specific educational resources, were among the issues discussed during the seminar.  Participants also toured Jerusalem and other areas in Israel as well as visited other major museums such as Beit Hatfutsot, the Israel Museum and more. 
The seminar was made possible by the generous support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group.
The International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem was founded two decades ago to provide Holocaust education to a broad audience. The School conducts dozens of seminars annually for educators from around the world, and produces educational material in over 20 different languages. Established in 1993, the International School is a world leader in Shoah education; working to implement educational activities for different target populations and age groups in Israel and abroad. Hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, soldiers, and leaders of public opinion from Israel and around the world attend programs at the International School every year, and use the various multi-media and age-appropriate educational materials created.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Search for the Six Million: Uncovering their Names, Recovering their Identities

"I should like someone to remember that there once lived a person named David Berger," in David's last letter, Vilna 1941
How do we remember our loved ones – our family, our friends?  For many Holocaust survivors and their families there are no pictures, no letters, and certainly no marker in the cemetery.  For millions more their names and identities are still lost to us.  Entire families, communities, cities were destroyed in the Shoah, leaving no one behind to remember them.
For 60 years, Yad Vashem has endeavored to give each and every one of the victims of the Holocaust a name and an identity - to restore a modicum of their dignity, to recall each one individually.  Yad Vashem has worked tirelessly to collect and commemorate the names of men, women and children who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators and has thus far identified by name 4.3 million out of the 6 million victims.   Individuals submit handwritten Pages of Testimony in memory of loved ones, researchers painstakingly examine archival materials, and experts are using the most advanced technology available to identify name after name to complete this vital task.
Yad Vashem has been collecting Pages of Testimony from Holocaust survivors and those who remember the victims since the 1950s.  So far 2.6 million names have been documented on Pages of Testimony. For many Holocaust survivors and their families, Pages of Testimony are the only tangible record that their murdered loved ones once lived. Today, in advance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yad Vashem was presented with a Certificate of Recognition marking the inclusion of the Pages of Testimony Memorial Collection in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2013. The Collection is housed in the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem and has no precedent in history in both its dimensions and its intent to preserve the names as symbols of the victims' humanity.
Nearly 2 million additional names were gathered through intensive detective work:  pouring over archival documents and lists, analyzing pages and pages of documentation, scouring through commemorative projects in memory of Holocaust victims, and searching through tombstones to discover additional names memorialized on a loved one's grave.  This new short video clip shows Yad Vashem's continuing efforts to recover the names of the close to 2 million individuals who still remain anonymous.   (To submit names, please e-mail: 
Yad Vashem's IRemember Wall, offers users an opportunity to personally remember individual victims of the Holocaust.  A special app links your name with that of Holocaust victim from the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names.  By linking each person on the database with a living individual, a personal commemoration takes place.
Together we can try  and remember each and every one of them this International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

“It’s the Right Thing to Do” - Polish Righteous Among the Nations Honored

(From left to right) Amy Lakritz, Anna Wolyniec,
Bronislawa Skoczylas, Jay Lakritz and Sheldon Haber
in the Hall of Remembrance following the ceremony
In a touching ceremony on Thursday, January 16, 2014 Yad Vashem held an event posthumously honoring Maria Zurawska as Righteous Among the Nations. The medal and certificate of honor were accepted by her daughter Bronislawa Skoczylas who arrived from Poland to attend the ceremony. Family members of the late Righteous Among the Nations Maria Zurawska from Poland and descendants of Julia Lakritz z’’l, the Holocaust survivor she rescued, from the United States gathered for an emotional celebration of the special life of a woman whose rescue of an entire family, under extraordinary risk to herself and her family, was befitting of this special recognition.
Cantor Yonatan Hainowitz recites Psalms during the memorial ceremony
in the Hall of Remembrance
The event began with a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance and continued on to the recognition event. During the ceremony, Anna Wolyniec, the grandaughter of Righteous Among the Nations Maria Zurawska spoke from the heart evoking the memory of her grandmother and the sacrifices she made in protecting the Jewish women from persecution and certain death. In the summer of 1943, Helen Haber (nee Scheps) was warned by a labor camp guard of the upcoming liquidation of the camp in which she was imprisoned. Helen managed to escape and join her mother Gittel and her daughter Julia Haber (later Lakritz) who had fled to the forests. Julia was just 5 years old, very sick and her body was covered with sores. Desperate and ill, the three reached the house of Maria Zurawska in the summer of 1943.
(From left to right) Amy Lakritz, Polish Ambassador to Israel Jacek
Hodorowicz, Bronislawa Skoczylas, Anna Wolyniec and members of the
two families
The next to offer words at the ceremony was Amy Lakritz, daughter of Holocaust survivor Julia Lakritz z’’l, who spoke about her mother and grandmother and the continuation of the connection between the two families, binded by “the kindness of one woman (Maria Zurawska) who is very much a Righteous Among the Nations.” When the Haber women arrived at her house, Maria had just been widowed only a year earlier after her husband Josef was killed along with four Jews who he had sheltered. Despite this, and despite remaining alone with five children, Maria agreed to hide the three Jewish fugitives in the bunker which had been made specifically by her husband to hide Jews. Maria looked after the young Julia with devotion and love, until she regained her strength.
(From left to right) Granddaughter Anna Wolyniec and daughter Bronislawa
Skoczylas accept the medal of honor and certificate on behalf of Righteous
Among the Nations Maria Zurawska presented by Dr. Ehud Loeb and David
Falkowicz, members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous
Among the Nations
Amy Lakritz, daughter of the late Holocaust survivor Julia Lakritz z''l 
embraces Bronislawa Skoczylas, daughter of Righteous Among the
Nations Maria Zurawska
The last person to address the event was Polish Ambassador to Israel Jacek Hodorowicz who remarked that while each individual Righteous story is in its own right unique, this one in particular stood out for him concerning the level of Maria’s self-sacrifice. One day, the Germans came to Maria's house looking for hidden Jewish people. Without missing a beat, Maria calmly explained to them that the Jews were at the end of the street and persuaded them to leave. Immediately afterwards, Maria left her home with her children and the three hidden Jews in a horse and buggy. Together they moved to the village of Koltow, where Maria's parents lived and remained there until the summer of 1944 when the area was liberated. After the war, the Jewish survivors left Poland and traveled west where they settled in the Domincian Republic and later in the United States. They asked Maria to join them but she opted to stay with her ​​family in Poland. Over the years, the Lakritz family and Maria kept in touch by exchanging letters until her death in 1996.
(Front row from left to right) Jay Lakritz, Bronislawa Skoczylas, Amy Lakritz,
Sheldon Haber. (Back row from left to right): First three: Grandaughter and
great-grandaughters of Righteous Among the Nations Maria Zurawska
and family members and descendants of Julia Lakritz z''l
The event took place in the presence of H.E. Polish Ambassador to Israel Jacek Hodorowicz, Jay and Amy Lakritz, the children of the late Holocaust survivor Julia Lakritz who came from the U.S., Sheldon Haber, brother of the late Holocaust survivor, grandaughter and two great-granddaughters of the Righteous Among the Nations from Poland, Holocaust survivors, Members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, family members and friends. The medal of honor and certificate were presented by Dr. Ehud Loeb and David Falkowicz, members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, and the Director of the Department of the Righetous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem Irena Steinfeldt.

In a video testimony screened for the families at the conclusion of the event, Holocaust survivor Julia Lakritz who passed away in 2006 was shown describing Maria Zurawska’s direct and heartfelt response when asked why she came to the aid of the Haber family during the Shoah: “It’s the right thing to do.”

On October 16, 2013, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations of Yad Vashem decided to recognize Maria Zurawska as a Righteous Among the Nations.

For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations please visit the Yad Vashem website:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

“Here Their Stories Will Be Told…”

“Here Their Stories Will Be Told…” highlights the Jewish life that flourished 
in Chelm, Ioannina, Piotrkow Trybunalski, Siauliai, Szydlowiec and Wiesbaden
The Yad Vashem website, has recently added an online presentation of the Valley of the Communities,filled with information, pictures and a video tour, describing the massive 2.5 acre monument literally dug out of natural bedrock and designed by architects Dan Zur and Lipa Yahalom. Information about 6 of the more than 5000 Jewish communities that were decimated, and whose names are engraved on the stone walls in the Valley, has been brought together in this online exhibition to give us a glimpse of the rich cultural and Jewish world that was part of those communities - and was destroyed. The exhibition highlights the Jewish life that flourished in Chelm, Ioannina, Piotrkow Trybunalski, Siauliai, Szydlowiec and Wiesbaden before the war and the devastation that befell these communities during the wartime period.
The online exhibition includes a video tour with 
documentary footage of Jewish life 
featured on the walls of the Valley
The historical accounts of life in the communities featured in "Here Their Stories Will Be Told…" are conveyed within the visual context of the Valley of the Communities. A very special and significant component of this project is an experiential "virtual tour" of the Valley which serves as the landing page of the exhibition (if on a desktop) or can be accessed from within the exhibition by clicking here
Each name in the Valley recalls a Jewish community which existed for hundreds of years; for the inhabitants, each community constituted an entire world. Today, in many cases, nothing remains but the name. The Valley was excavated out of the earth - nothing was built above ground. It is as if what had been built up on the surface of the earth over the course of a millennium - a thousand years of Jewish communal life - was suddenly swallowed up. The names of the communities are engraved on the 107 walls which roughly corresponds to the geographic arrangement of the map of Europe and North Africa.

The exhibition also includes personal accounts describing the loss of an entire community such as the writings of Motel Eisenberg, a Jewish man hiding in Szydlowiec during the Soviet capture of the town from the Nazis:

“We crawl forth from our grave, downtrodden but happy to have survived. […] Before day break, in the dark, we walk down a side road which leads to Szyd┼éowiec. I drag my feet with difficulty, because after many long months I have grown unaccustomed to moving them. We enter the town. It is hard to believe that until not very long ago thousands of Jews used to live here.”