Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Pope and I

Among the six Holocaust survivors who greeted Pope Francis during his visit to Yad Vashem on Monday 26, 2014 was Chava (Eva) Shik, an Israeli Holocaust survivor from Novi Sad, Serbia, who shared some her thoughts from the historic visit.
Pope Francis is greeted by Chava (Eva) Shik, an Israeli Holocaust survivor from
Novi Sad, Serbia who was rescued by two Righteous Among the Nations
As I write this article I still can't even believe it myself. The Pope and I? Come on, really? This is the story: About a week ago I received a phone call from Yad Vashem asking if I would be willing to shake the Pope's hand along with 5 other Holocaust survivors. As a child survivor who was hidden during the Holocaust in a Catholic monastery, all I could do at that second was to stand there with my mouth wide open, completely dumbfounded. What brought me back was the sound on the other end: "Hello, hello, hello..." I don't know how I even managed to speak, but I finally said yes.
Holocaust survivors Avraham Harshalom (Friedberg), Chava (Eva) Shik,
Joseph Gottdenker, Moshe Ha-Elion, Eliezer (Lolek) Grynfeld
and Sonia Tunik-Geron in the Hall of Remembrance

On Monday, May 26, 2014 at 5:45 AM a waiting taxi drove me to Yad Vashem, where along with the five other survivors, I was taken to the VIP room and given sandwiches, pastries, coffee and of course water as we all had dry mouths from the excitement. At 8:00 AM we were all taken to the impressive Hall of Remembrance for a rehearsal (step forward, shake hands, take a step back, remain standing until the Pope returns to his place, etc.). All that we asked for were bottles of water. Only one small 90-year-old woman was sitting calmly and told me that she had gone through so many things in life that she had no reason to get excited. The Hall of Remembrance was filled with distinguished guests from the Vatican, Holocaust and survivor organizations, government ministers, all kinds of media, a large crowd, my daughter Na'ama and my grandson Uri who, with camera in hand, was told to take pictures of everything.
Pop Francis rekindled the Eternal Flame and placed a wreath in the
Hall of Remembrance, Yad Vashem
At 10:15 AM the gates opened; all of us in the Hall of Remembrance stood up and the Pope's entourage entered, first Pope Francis, followed by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Pope was called on to light the Eternal Flame and then the Cantor sang "El Maleh Rahamim", a prayer for the dead as I felt the tears begin to flow. Afterwards the Pope was called on to shake the hands of the six Holocaust survivors (no one had prepared us that he was going to kiss our hands), the Pope came to me, I took a step forward and the man leaned over and kissed my hand just as my life's story during the Holocaust was being told in the background. And I, in a trembling voice, told him that this handshake was on behalf of the children that were rescued in Catholic convents during the Shoah. I don't know how, but I found myself looking in the eyes of the Pope and the two of us smiled. It was a moment that is hard to explain, hard to understand, a moment for which I have no words. Finally, Pope Francis delivered his moving speech beginning with: "'Adam, where are you?' Where are you, o man? What have you come to?"
I wanted to share how I felt in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem during the meeting with Pope Francis, who while in the eyes of the Catholic religion is the representative of God on earth, is first of all a human being.

Chava (Eva) Shik and her twin sister Miriam were born in Novi Sad, Serbia in 1939 to Dr. George and Vera Tibor. In 1942, Chava and her sister were taken to the edge of the Danube, where a mass murder of over a 1,000 Jews and Serbs was perpetrated by members of the Hungarian Gendarmes, yet both sisters managed to survive. Afterwards, the day before the deporation of the Jews of Novi Sad to Auschwitz, an Austrian officer by the name of Roman Erich Petsche took the two girls to Budapest and from there arranged shelter for them in a monastery in Pecs. The head of the monastery, Sister Renata sheltered Chava and her sister along with two other Jewish children. Both Sister Renata and Rosenspitz were later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. After the war, having lost their family, the girls were adopted by their mother's cousin and in 1948 immigrated to Israel where they grew up on Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh. Following her army service, Chava moved to Lehavot-Haviva, a kibbutz founded by Holocaust survivors from Auschwitz, and married Zeev Shik, who had lost his entire family there, and with whom she has two children and three grandchildren.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Speech of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople at Yad Vashem

In an important and significant visit, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople visited Yad Vashem on Tuesday, May 27 and toured the Holocaust History Museum, participated in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, visited the Children's Memorial, and signed the Yad Vashem Guest Book. He and his delegation were guided by Dr. Robert Rozett, Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries. The following is his speech, which he delivered at the conclusion of his visit.
Dear brothers and sisters,
We are very grateful to God for the opportunity once again to visit this remarkable monument today, and to honor the souls and memories commemorated here. Just a few days ago we walked through the gates of Dachau. In that place of such incomprehensible pain our heart was grieved and we mourned deeply at the realization of the human potential for destruction. These emotions returned as we took the walkway down into the Children's Memorial. It seemed as if we had entered the abode of the dead. The location of the memorial under the Earth vividly represents the inexplicable loss that was the Shoah, the Holocaust. All who descent into the inner chamber of the Museum are free to walk away when they choose and return to the sunlight. Such was not the case for these 1.5 million children whose lives were taken from them through hatred and unspeakable violence. As difficult as it was to look into the faces of these precious children, who represent all of the slaughtered innocents, we must do so and we must remember.
On this day we realize that if we turn away from the pain and sadness of the remembrance of what may have been humanity's greatest tragedy, generations to come may deny the reality which is memorialized in this place. Already 70 years have come and gone and for some the Holocaust seems to be a story from the distant past. Yet we still have not completely healed. What is more tragic is that we have not fully comprehended the lessons of this singular event in world history. The hatred, suspicion and desire to dominate or even extinguish another culture are still lurking within the hearts of men. With every symbolic rekindling of the flame of this place, in this place another flame of war or kidnapping or oppression is rekindled somewhere in the world. We condemn any acts of terrorism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. We must publically profess that the crime against the believers of any faith is an abomination of the face of God.
Dear friends, we have read in the prophet Jeremiah's writings that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” This museum is a testimony to the reality of humanity's capacity to be deceived by the enemy of God and to act in unthinkable ways and to commit unspeakable atrocities. The future can be no better than the past if people from all cultures, religions and political thought do not learn well the lessons of the Shoah. Great tyranny and oppression were stopped in some small way by ordinary people, many of whom are commemorated in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. Each person here in Israel and throughout the world has the power to make choices that lead to life, health and peace. May we all have the wisdom to recognize the deception of oppression and find the courage to stand in solidarity to oppose those who would someday repeat the horror of the Shoah.
In closing, we must mention the hope that this memorial brings to the world. We have never been in a place which more clearly illustrates the truth that even in the depths of the earth, in the darkest room, there is light. The millions of little lives, here, bear witness to the reality that God has not forsaken the world. He is all powerful and governs the affairs of humanity. In the midst of tragedy he stands ready to rekindle every heart that is broken and to restore those who have suffered great harm. What the Psalmist wrote is still true. "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins." May those memorialized in this place rest in peace and may their memory be eternal. 
Thank you, may God bless you all.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Yad Vashem Archives Receives San Marino WWII document

In January 2014, Yad Vashem signed an agreement with the San Marino State Archives guaranteeing the transfer of scanned copies of the ancient republic's wartime documents. Today, May 12, 2014 San Marino Ambassador at Large H.E. Mr. Yosef Gershon presented Dr. Haim Gertner, Director of the Archives Division and Fred Hillman Chair of Holocaust Documentation at Yad Vashem, with a hard drive containing documents that will provide more information and shed light on the story of Jewish life in the oldest sovereign country in the world. Upon receiving the WWII-era documents, Dr. Gertner said, "One of Yad Vashem's core missions is the documentation of the Holocaust by gathering information from archives and sources all over the world. Yet, even the most compelling and authentic documents and research related to the Holocaust are only a means to an end. Our shared goal must be to arouse citizens everywhere, especially young people, to face the harsh realities of the past, to grasp their contemporary significance and to commit to shaping more humane, democratic and tolerant societies in the future. I wish the people and Government of San Marino much success as they join us today in taking on this formidable challenge.
Masha Yonin, Director Archival Acquisition Dept., Yad Vashem Archives, Dr. Anat Kutner, Deputy Director Archival Acquisition Dept., Yad Vashem Archives, San Marino Ambassador at Large H.E. Mr. Yosef Gershon 
and Dr. Haim Gertner, Director of the Yad Vashem Archives at Yad Vashem
I wish to thank the people and Government of San Marino and specifically the Minster of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of San Marino, Mr. Pascuale Valentini, for his personal involvement and devotion to fulfilling the mission and transferring these documents. We are grateful to his Excellency Mr. Yossi Gershon, Israeli Ambassador-at-large to the Republic of San Marino, for initiating this cooperation and for his active involvement in realizing the agreement. We hope that this event will provide a gateway to further cooperation in education, research and other fields between our two nations.”

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Allied Victory over Nazi Germany Marked at Yad Vashem

Those in attendance included Jewish WWII veterans of the Allied armies,
Jewish partisans, underground fighters, Jewish Brigade members and
diplomatic representatives from the Allied countries
"Today when I see you veterans decorated with medals and sitting here with us at Yad Vashem, where the struggle for life and the memory of the six million Jews who did not survive the inferno are commemorated, I look back and my thoughts and my heart drift to my father who fought in the Red Army." Thus stated Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver as she praised the WWII veterans in the audience during her address on Thursday May 8, 2014, at an official ceremony marking the 69th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany which took place at the Edmond J. Safra Lecture Hall in the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem.
Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver thanked those in the
audience who actively took part in the defeat of Nazi Germany

Over a hundred Jewish World War II veterans of the Allied armies, the majority from the Former Soviet Union, attended the ceremony, along with Jewish partisans, wounded soldiers from the war against the Nazis, underground fighters, volunteers from the Yishuv who fought in the British forces and veterans of the Jewish Brigade, as well as diplomatic representatives from the Allied countries. Speakers at the event included: Dorit Novak, Director General of Yad Vashem, Prof. Emanuel Gutman, representative of the Jewish Brigade and MK Sofa Landver, Minister of Immigrant Absorption.

Prof. Emanuel Gutman, spoke as a representative
 of the Jewish Brigade

Conducted by Mikhail Gurevich, the Israeli Police Orchestra played many of the well-known patriotic songs from that era including several from the Soviet Union, Great Britain, the United States as well as a few sung by Jewish fighters from the Yishuv and Jewish partisans in Europe. Many of those in attendance, especially the veterans and those who lived through that difficult period, joined their voices with the soloists and Lieutenant Colonel Shai Abramson, Chief Cantor of the IDF in a nostalgic melody, singing a familiar song or two that still seemed to reflect the light of hope by those who had the courage to raise their arms in defiance amidst a powerful and growing darkness. Many of these same veterans, especially those from the Former Soviet Union, proudly donned old uniforms, medals or berets serving as a visual reminder of the sacrifice by over 1.5 million Jews who left their families to serve and fight in the Allied forces during World War II and who bravely resisted and defeated the injustice and tyranny which Nazi Germany brought to the world during one of the most evil episodes in human history.

The evening concluded with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Monument to
 the Jewish Soldiers and Partisans
Following the speeches and lively music, the ceremony continued at the Monument to the Jewish Soldiers and Partisans, the main site in which the annual ceremony takes place but as a result of the rainy weather was relocated this year. Wreaths were laid by representatives of the Government of Israel, the Knesset, IDF, diplomatic representatives of the Allied countries, as well as representatives of fighter and partisan organizations.

The ceremony was organized with the participation of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, and partisan and veteran organizations.   

All photos by Isaac Harari