Monday, June 30, 2014

Reflections from the 60th Anniversary Mission

Three generations (left to right): Rosalyn Gaon, Elena (Puppi) Gaon and
David Feuerstein, President of the Chile Association for Yad Vashem

(Photo: Isaac Harari)
Several participants of Yad Vashem's International 60th Anniversary Mission which took place June 11-19, 2014 in Poland and Israel are still sharing some thoughts regarding their experience. Among them are Rosalyn Gaon, granddaughter to Holocaust survivor David Feuerstein, President of the Chile Association for Yad Vashem, who spoke about the cross-generational responsibility of Holocaust commemoration:  
"As the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, I feel it is my duty to pass on the history of the Holocaust to future generations. It is our duty to find the right words to define the Shoah, and our principal duty is never to let such horrors happen ever again. We have to remain vigilant and active, we have to react, tell our children, our brothers and sisters, we have to tell the world what happened. We owe it to the victims, to the survivors, to their families; we owe it to them to pass on their stories, and to never forget what they went through on our behalf…"
Ron Diskin and Jackie Frankel, U.S. Donor Affairs Liaison in the International
Relations Division, Yad Vashem in the Square of Hope (Photo: Martin Sykes-Haas)
Another participant of the Mission to share his experience was Ron Diskin, grandson of Abe and Edita Spiegel, benefactors of Yad Vashem and donors of the Children's Memorial. The unique memorial was built to commemorate the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust, including the Spiegels' son Uziel who was murdered in Auschwitz at the age of two and a half. The following text contains some of his reflections from the 60th Anniversary Mission:
"I was honored this week to be a participant of the international mission to remember the past and shape the future of the Jews. For three consecutive days I saw many aspects of Yad Vashem, why it was created, why it is constantly enhanced and its ultimate objective. What makes Yad Vashem so special is that it is a live entity, comprised of so much passion, emotion, pain, pleasure, ignorance, wisdom, hatred and love.
Some people are horrified and saddened by the genocide they are reminded of at Yad Vashem; I am inspired by what I see at Yad Vashem. Of course, I see the many names of the deceased, and I think of what my family went through in the various camps where most of them were annihilated, and few lived. However, this is not the essence for me.
The Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem (Photo: Yossi Ben-David)
When I walk around Yad Vashem and participate in its growth and future, I witness the extraordinary achievements made by the survivors of the Holocaust. I feel, see, hear and am touched by the legacy of the intense passion and dedication of 2nd and 3rd generation Holocaust survivors. I focus on how people were united, strengthened and hardened by tragedy, not how they were weakened and almost destroyed by hatred and ignorance.  I am a 3rd generation Holocaust survivor. My grandfather, Abraham Spiegel, escaped on his death march from one of the four camps he suffered in. Ten thousand men fled into the freezing forest upon his escape, 9,500 were immediately gunned down and terminated like vermin [as Hitler often called my people]. 108 members of the Spiegel family were killed in the Holocaust. Millions more of our people were killed. My grandfather created The Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem to honor his first-born son who was murdered in the gas chamber in Auschwitz at age two, and equally, to honor the many souls who died an ugly death.
My grandfather was a successful banker who had the means to create parks and contribute to museums in Israel. Regardless of a lady or man’s background, any individual can contribute in her or his own way to Yad Vashem. What is right for one indiviudal may not be what is best for another:
Participants in Yad Vashem 60th Anniversary International Mission replace a
tree that had been planted in honor of the Righteous Among the Nations that
was uprooted in the severe snowstorm of Winter 2013 (L-R) Miriam
Ben-Sander, Liaison for the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, Yaron
Ashkenazi, CEO of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, Ed Sonshine,
Benefactor of Yad Vashem, Fran Sonshine, National Chair of the Canadian
Society for Yad Vashem, Israel Mida, Yad Vashem Benefactor and
Holocaust survivor Joe Gottdenker, Yad Vashem Benefactor
(Photo: Isaac Harari)
The best way anyone of any background, gender, creed or race can contribute to Yad Vashem is by taking family and peers there to see how beautiful and resilient my people are; to see how much love and unity can emanate from so much hatred and destruction. The emotions and thoughts of the people who visit Yad Vashem are the true bloodline, which keeps Yad Vashem so vivacious. I was a volunteer combat soldier here in Israel. I stand ready to defend my people as a professional warrior, but I hope, intend and try to protect my people with love and wisdom. Destruction is easy; creation is so beautiful. Yad Vashem is not a museum where you will see the destruction of my people. Yad Vashem is a museum where you will see the re-creation, unification, evolution, boldness and beauty of my people. Yad Vashem is the paragon of love, strength, unity and culture." 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Partnership of Remembrance for Years to Come

A special International Mission marking Yad Vashem's 60th anniversary this month included an exceptional eight days in Poland and Israel.  At the closing event, Yad Vashem Benefactor Mark Moskowitz shared his reflections:

Good evening.
I am the son of survivors. My brothers and sister and I were always strongly aware of our parents’ tragic history and their remarkable survival. Even though our beloved parents, Rose and Henry, suffered unbearable losses, they imbued in us an unlimited sense of hope and determination, and a commitment to helping others achieve the fulfilling, happy and healthy life they found with one another. While they restarted their lives in the United States, their passionate connection to Israel was always, and continues to be, a source of strength. My late Father’s strong belief in G-d, his unwavering spirit and his commitment to tzedakah helped him overcome unspeakable tragedies and create a truly significant life for himself, his family and his community.

Today, I lead the business that my father founded 62 years ago, and continue his professional legacy as well as strive to carry on the vital traditions that he instilled in us. Attending the official Yom Hashoah ceremony –here at Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, has become an integral part of my life. Every year, it is held a week before Yom Hazikaron, the Memorial Day for fallen soldiers in Israel, and I am present to observe this most solemn day of remembrance. Together, these memorials intensify the historic bond between Israel and Jews worldwide.

In sharp contrast, like many other interesting and unique juxtapositions in Israel, Yom Ha’atzmaut, follows immediately the day after Yom Hazikaron. This is the time when we rejoice in the miracle that is the State of Israel, and we mark the unbreakable chain that links our fate as a nation all the way back to the days of Abraham.

These three events provide consecutive days of reflection for us as individuals… as a nation… and as a People. And our existence as a people is represented and understood in such a clear way right here, at Yad Vashem. This is where we begin to appreciate the history and ethos of the State of Israel and, in a greater sense, the heart of the Jewish nation. The fact that Yad Vashem is centered in Jerusalem, brings us a better understanding of the roots of the State of Israel and its importance to the Jewish People, and furthermore gives us a destination to view our history, right from the heart of the Jewish nation, and the strength to secure our future.

Yad Vashem has been an inspiration to me and an unparalleled resource -- not only of facts and history -- but also of emotional strength. It has provided me with context for the stories I heard from my parents while growing up. As in the case of so many Holocaust survivors, they were understandably reluctant to talk about all the terrible details with their children. But the bits and pieces of information I gleaned growing up truly came to light, in its horrific truth, in Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History Museum; like so many individual links coming together, connecting the past with the present.

Here is where truth is displayed in its most terrible form, as well as in its most hopeful. Here is where we can continue to connect the past with the present and bear witness long into the future. Collectively, we must safeguard the memories and be the sentinels for these crucial vaults of history, so that they are never forgotten and never repeated; and that others’ denials are recognized for what they are, abject dangerous falsehoods.

The profound effect that Yad Vashem has had on me defies description. Actively participating in supporting and maintaining this center of history and remembrance has become a true “center” of my life.

This anniversary milestone is an opportunity to appreciate how far Yad Vashem has come since its founding, and also to consider the myriad of challenges that it faces going forward. We are recognizing Yad Vashem’s amazing achievements of education worldwide, dissemination of history, a world-class museum, and recognition as the authority for Holocaust commemoration, education, documentation and research. Even the frequent visitors among us were fascinated by the presentations by various Department Heads on the careful, painstaking, deliberate and, what we can even describe as “holy” work done on a daily basis. Here, meticulous care is being provided to record, archive and index documents, artifacts and history. Innovative and creative ways to teach current and future generations about the Shoah are being developed. Moral values are being recorded and analyzed: those of Jews before the war, victims, the Righteous, and the perpetrators.

Most importantly, Yad Vashem is determined to document the identity and humanity of EACH of the victims and survivors, by connecting fragments of information from its repositories of documents, photographs, historical objects and testimonies. For example, like trained detectives, the archivists were able to attach a name, history, face, and life-story to a six digit number present on a mass gravestone at Bergen Belsen.

Yad Vashem’s International 60th Anniversary Mission has been deeply moving and equally rewarding. On behalf of the Mission participants, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Yad Vashem for encouraging us to participate and for organizing this terrific week.

The last 8 days turned out to be a time for deep reflection. For me, the highlight of our time in Poland was the Mission’s participation in the Israeli Army’s ‘Edim Be’madim / Witnesses in Uniform’ ceremony on the site of the ruined crematoria at Auschwitz. I could not help but wonder whether the millions of victims could have ever imagined the flag of a Jewish State raised anywhere, let alone in this place. In particular I asked myself what my 18 family members who were murdered at Auschwitz would have thought of their grandson / nephew / cousin / half-brother standing in this place where they saw nothing but despair and devastation, 70 years later, with the ability to tell their story… Who will tell their story in future generations? Who will tell the stories of the survivors?

It was uniquely special to have Avraham Harshalom and Ed Mosberg, survivors of Auschwitz, with us as witnesses, who were able to show us first-hand where they were and what happened to them in a particular spot. And with us, here tonight -- David Feuerstein, who also survived Auschwitz – as well as the many other survivors– all with stories of resilience, hope and determination. Who will tell their stories in the future? Who will safeguard the first-hand testimonies and be able to maintain their authenticity other than Yad Vashem?
On behalf of the second and third generations, our participation in this Mission reaffirms our commitment to carry on the legacy and memory of those who were murdered, the legacy and well-being of the survivors; and to carry on the torch of Holocaust Remembrance. Yesterday, Chaim Leventhal told me that, now that I have planted a tree in honor of a Righteous Among the Nations here at Yad Vashem as a participant in this Mission, I take on the responsibility to return regularly, to water it. I ask the second and third generation members to join me in this effort, and be Yad Vashem’s partner for years to come.

Thank you.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ohio Dedicates New Holocaust and Liberators Memorial

Features Moving Quote by Yad Vashem Chairman
From left to right: S. Isaac Mekel, Development Director of the American Society
for Yad Vashem, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, Yaron Sideman, Israel's
Consul General to the mid-Atlantic region and architect Daniel Libeskind 
A new Holocaust and Liberators Memorial was unveiled at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, by Governor John Kasich of Ohio on Monday, June 2, 2014 in a commemorative ceremony. The new memorial featuring words by Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem Chairman, was designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind who conceived the 1,029 square-foot memorial that now stands as a monument in Capitol Square commemorating the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and other victims of the Nazis. The memorial also honors survivors as well as soldiers from Ohio who served in the American Armed Forces and who took part in freeing thousands from concentration camps during World War II.
A pathway leads to two 18-foot-high treated bronze monolithic forms which are positioned at a 45 degree angle to one another, forming a Star of David which offers a view to the sky. The pathway leading to the monument is lined with benches and a graduated wall of Columbus limestone. The top of the wall is edged with the words from the Talmud: "If you save one life, it is as if you saved the world…"  At the request of Libeskind, an inspirational quote by Avner Shalev is engraved on the stone:
"Every human being who chooses to remember this chapter of history and to infuse it with meaning is thereby choosing to struggle for the preservation of the bedrock moral values that alone make possible the existence of a well-ordered society. This is a commitment to uphold human rights, above all, freedom and the sanctity of life, and the opportunity for people to live side by side in harmony."
The memorial also recounts the rescue story from Auschwitz of two Holocaust survivors which is inscribed on the monument. Governor Kasich explained: "The goal of the memorial is to drive us all to contemplate the great evil perpetrated in the Holocaust against Jews and many others, and be ever vigilant against the hatred and intolerance that inevitably leads a society to death and division."
A letter sent by Avner Shalev was read aloud by Yaron Sideman, Israel's Consul General to the mid-Atlantic region, calling the survivors and liberators "inspiring role models" and commending Governor Kasich and the efforts of all those involved with the endeavor: "Your initiative and decision to construct a Holocaust Memorial at the Ohio Statehouse reflect a profound vision - a vision of universal human morality and of essential human decency."
The dedication event included a variety of speeches, musical interludes, a minute of silence, the ringing of the Ohio Bicentennial Bell and a candle lighting ceremony before the memorial was unveiled. Representing Yad Vashem at the ceremony was S. Isaac Mekel, Development Director of the American Society for Yad Vashem.