Thursday, April 30, 2015

Son of Albanian Righteous Among the Nations and Albanian Minister of Agriculture Visits Yad Vashem

Today, Albanian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Edmond Panariti visited Yad Vashem. His visit was especially meaningful to him because his relatives were honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. Yad Vashem posthumously honored Isuf and Niqi Panariti from Albania, as Righteous Among the Nations in October 2014. Edmond Panariti, along with his relative, Dr. Agron Panariti, son of the Righteous, toured the Holocaust History Museum, participated in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, and visited the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations where their family members names are inscribed on the wall. Panariti was very grateful and expressed how proud he is of his family and their "small contribution" to humanity. It was very exciting for the Panaritis to see their family members names inscribed on the wall of honor. He said that he was also very impressed by his visit here at Yad Vashem and hopes to help continue to spread the importance of remembering the past and the Holocaust.
Isuf and Niqi Panariti
When the deportations of Jews from Thessaloniki began in March 1943, Mari and Eli Kuonne managed to escape with their daughter Frida, born 1931. Their other daughter, Medi, was married to a non-Jewish hotel owner, who used his connections to arrange for his in-laws to leave the city. (His wife stayed behind and was under the protection of her husband, a non-Jew). He contacted an Albanian businessman, Isuf Panariti, who was in Thessaloniki on business, and who smuggled the family of three over the border and then hosted them in his home in Korca. When the Germans occupied Albania in September 1943, the Kuonnes first hid at the home of Panariti, and then Eli Kuonne joined the partisans, and his wife and daughter moved to a remote village where they stayed with Niqi Panariti’s family.

Edmond Panariti and Dr. Agron Panariti
 at the Garden of the Righteous
When Albania was liberated in October 1944, Eli Kuonne returned from the partisans and the family returned to Thessaloniki. The Jewish quarter had been completely destroyed and their families had been murdered. The Kuonnes rebuilt their lives in Thessalonki, and in 1954 Frida married Jewish businessman Isaac Matalon. Throughout the years Frida maintained a correspondence with the Panaritis, but meetings were impossible because of the isolationist policy of the communist dictatorship. Despite all requests to meet, in 1980, after Isuf Panariti passed away, Isaac Matalon petitioned the Albanian Foreign Ministry, asking that his wife be permitted to visit Isuf’s widow, Niqi Panariti “who had saved her during World War II”. The request was turned down, and Niqi, who passed away in 1992, and Frida never met again.

A ceremony honoring the Panaratis will take place in Tirana, Albania in July 2015. The Panaritis are one among 75 Righteous honored as Righteous Among the Nations from Albania.

For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations:

Monday, April 27, 2015

Holocaust Commemoration in South Africa

By: Yiftach Ashkenazy 

Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day in Israel is a day that usually focuses on  the memory of the Holocaust in Israel, however this year I wanted to highlight the work that has been done in a country that we typically don’t think about—South Africa.

Holocaust survivor Tomi
I discovered Holocaust commemoration in South Africa when I arrived in South Africa during the week of International Holocaust Memorial Day in January. I had traveled on behalf of Yad Vashem and the Israeli Foreign Ministry to attend lectures held at various Holocaust centers in South Africa that included: Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. The lectures touched upon how Holocaust survivors have rebuilt their lives and on Yad Vashem's pedagogical philosophy. I met more than 5oo people and felt they had a strong connection to the Holocaust. I also had the opportunity to meet students from Orange farm. When I concluded my trip, I left with a good feeling and gratitude for the important work of the Holocaust centers in South Africa.

Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental with the Jewish
Women's Benevolent Soiety
When I returned to Israel I received a message from Marlene Bethlehem whom I met while in Johannesburg. She informed me about an important event related to Holocaust commemoration that Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental, whom I met while on my trip, would participate. Tomi is a survivor of Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp. He was 9 years of age at the time and has since written a book called I Was A Boy In Belsen. He has spoken all over the world about his experience in Bergen Belsen.

The Nashua Children’s Children Charity Foundation and the Jewish Women’s Benevolent Society brought Tom to South Africa where he spoke in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. One of the remarkable events associated with his visit was a dinner at Investec in March where he addressed 250 people, including the Israeli Ambassador. The evening commenced with a very unusual musical item. The MC Garbai School from Lenasia, a Muslim school for hard-of- hearing pupils, played a selection of music on marimba instruments (traditional African xylophones).They then presented the South African anthem as well as Hatikvah in sign language for a Jewish audience.

I was touched by this special bridging of cultures. When I think about this event and the work alongside Yad Vashem in South Africa, I understand how important it is to remember Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day in Israel, in addition to other commemoration events around the world.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Faces of the Fallen

"Faces of the Fallen" is a volunteer project, established in 2012, to research the lives of fallen soldiers in Israel and complete the details engraved on their tombstones. Sponsored in cooperation with the memorial unit of Israel's Ministry of Defense, the project works collaboratively with Yad Vashem to research soldiers who were born in Europe and immigrated to Israel either prior to or immediately following the Holocaust. Yad Vashem serves not only a source of vital information about the soldiers' lives, but also helps shed light on the soldiers' family backgrounds and sometimes locate living relatives by making 
use of information in the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names. 
Grave of Moshe Willinger
Many of the fallen in Israel between the years of 1940-1950 
were soldiers who immigrated before World War II. The majority of the families they left behind were murdered in the Holocaust. Other fallen soldiers were themselves survivors of the horrors of the Holocaust who were recruited into the army soon after their arrival and fell in the battle for Israel's independence. Often there is very little information about their experiences during the war or their family background. "Faces of the Fallen" is currently researching the lives of some 300 soldiers from Europe, mainly Holocaust survivors. Headed by Dorit Perry and Uri Sagi, project volunteers "adopt" soldiers and research their biographies in archives in Israel and abroad. 

The cooperation with Yad Vashem allows the project team to access archival
databases and learn more about the fallen soldiers. Thanks to information in Yad Vashem's Names Database, project staff were able to learn more about Moshe Willinger, a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, who fell in the line of duty on August 15, 1948 at the age of 20. Tracing the history of Brent Willinger, Moshe's father, volunteers found evidence that Moshe's sister may have been murdered together with her father. They also found the name of his mother, as well as further information about his family's experiences during World War II. During an emotional ceremony held on April 21, 2015 at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl attended by Moshe's cousins, his friends from the Bnei Akiva youth movement as well as the young volunteers who had tirelessly researched his story, Moshes Willinger's tombstone was replaced with a new stone containing all the updated information that was discovered.