Thursday, July 14, 2016

Yad Vashem International Leadership Mission

Mark Moskowitz is the son of Holocaust survivors and a longstanding friend of Yad Vashem. Mark is actively involved in various Yad Vashem activities and events in Israel and the United States. He was a participant of this year's Yad Vashem Leadership Mission, traveling to Poland to view the lost Jewish world, and Israel, to learn more about Yad Vashem's day-to-day activities, achievements and challenges. He made the following address to the Mission at its Closing Event on 12 July 2016, in Yad Vashem's Valley of the Communities.
Mark Moskowitz delivering his address in the
Valley of the Communities at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

"I was raised in a family of Holocaust survivors. Growing up with an acute awareness of their strength of character and zest for life has impacted my decisions and who I am today. Survivors have imbued in us, the Second and Third Generations, a sense of infinite hope and determination, and a commitment to helping others achieve happy and healthy lives. My late father’s unwavering spirit and commitment to tzedakah (charity) helped him overcome unspeakable tragedies and create a truly significant life for himself, his family and his community.

While my beloved parents, Rose and Henry, restarted their lives in the United States, their passionate connection to Israel was always, and continues to be, a source of strength. Each year, attending the official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem plays an integral role in my life. This day always occurs one week before Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, and it is a great privilege to observe it here in Israel. Together, these two memorial days intensify the historic bond between Israel and Jews worldwide. It is on these days that we recognize the bravery and sacrifice of Holocaust victims and survivors, and the bravery and sacrifice of the strong young men and women not so different from those we met last night [at an army base].

In one moment, however, in the exact moment between light and dark, day shifts to night and mourning turns to celebration. Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, erupts from the darkness of Yom Hazikaron, and this sharp contrast puts into perspective the sacrifice of so many and the inexpressible gratitude we have for them. This juxtaposition is so powerful and so reminiscent of the remarkable journey we have just experienced together, an extraordinary journey from darkness to light, from experiencing the incredible, overwhelming sadness found in destruction to the exuberance and optimism of rebirth and renewal.

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev together with
Chairman of the American Society for Yad Vashem presented
President Rivlin with a facsimile of the Wolfsberg Machzor
In Wroclaw, we learned about the diversity and richness of Jewish life before the war. The diversity of faith and practice, arts and culture, a vitality that was dulled by the poisonous antisemitism and hatred. Most poignantly noted to me by a fellow participant was the realization that the lives destroyed were those of people like you and me, people with families and professions, hopes and dreams.

This Leadership Mission has connected us. It has connected us to our past, to our heritage, to Yad Vashem and to one another. The uniqueness of this Mission has been in the camaraderie we have developed and the mishpacha (family) we have created together – regardless of our personal connections (or lack thereof) to the Holocaust, our backgrounds, our age, or even our faiths.

Through this Mission, Yad Vashem has facilitated a connecting of dots – gathering pieces of our histories and heritage to complete a harmonious picture, connecting the past with the present, on both individual and national levels. Yad Vashem is determined to document the identity and restore the humanity of each of the victims and survivors, by connecting fragments of information from its repositories of documents, photographs, artifacts 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. And as Director of the Archives Division Dr. Haim Gertner said, in an era when only the documents remain to testify, who will be there to tell their story? It is our duty to ensure that Yad Vashem will be there. It is our responsibility to the future, to the Third and Fourth Generations and those to come, that Yad Vashem remain to complete the picture, to tell the story.

Yad Vashem has been an inspiration to me and an unparalleled resource – not only of facts and history, but also of emotional strength. Here, I have gained a comprehensive lesson in humanity – whether from Rabbi Lau and Yehuda Bacon reflecting on recovering the ability to cry after the Holocaust, after their hearts were turned to stone, in essence regaining their humanity; hearing from young Israeli soldiers about the value of human life; or attending the moving Righteous Among the Nations ceremony recognizing Jan Willem Kamphuis and his daughter Klaziena for their pure will to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Participants of the Yad Vashem Leadership Mission received a
'Behind the Scenes' look at Yad Vashem's artifacts with 
Michael Tal of the Museums Division
A highlight of this Mission for me has been the presence of so many from the Third Generation, and being witness to their growing passion for, interest in and commitment to Holocaust remembrance and Jewish continuity – a spark that has been ignited this week here at Yad Vashem. On a personal level, that my nephew Sam joined me on this journey has been so meaningful and such a tangible representation of the continued generational support of Holocaust remembrance through Yad Vashem.

Our Leadership Mission has given us the opportunity to appreciate the myriad of resources Yad Vashem provides, and also to consider the myriad of challenges that it faces going forward. 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 for varying cultures and age groups in what I would refer to as the Harvard of Holocaust Education, the International School for Holocaust Studies.

Here, at Yad Vashem, 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.
A group of young participants in the Leadership
Mission tour the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem

The profound effect that Yad Vashem has had on me defies description. Actively participating in supporting and maintaining the World Center of Holocaust Remembrance has become a true “center” of my life.

The journey we have taken over the last week 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 organizing such a vitally interesting, well-thought out and equally well-organized program.

Indeed, this Leadership Mission has been a journey from darkness to light, from the chilly, foreboding tunnels of Wolfsberg and the grounds of Auschwitz to the warm embrace in Jerusalem by Yad Vashem, in the heart of the miraculous, reborn State of Israel. We have witnessed the aftermath of destruction and we have seen good triumph over evil.

I ask myself, as the son of survivors: Who will tell their story in future generations? Who will tell the stories of the victims, the heroes and the survivors? Who will safeguard the firsthand 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 be the bearers of memory and to further the legacy of the victims and survivors. I ask the Second and Third generation members to join me in this effort, and be Yad Vashem’s partner for years to come.

This Leadership Mission has ignited a spark in us all, it has connected us to one another and to Yad Vashem’s sacred efforts, and it will propel us further into our commitment to carry the Torch of Remembrance far into the future."

The Yad Vashem Leadership Mission included many of Yad Vashem's most influential friends from around the world to explore prewar Jewish life in Europe, to reflect on the past, present and future, and to connect to Yad Vashem as well as to one another.  While in Israel the Mission was greeted by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, met with senior staff members at Yad Vashem and extensively toured the Yad Vashem campus.


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