Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Long Lost Powder Compact

Powder compact owned by Jacob Stopnicki
The Wieder family was very anxious upon their return visit to Yad Vashem. Last year, Tina and Marcel toured Yad Vashem with their two sons, Erik and Sean, in honor of Sean's bar mitzvah. However, due to a recent extraordinary discovery by staff in Yad Vashem's Artifacts Department, the Wieders learned that a small silver powder compact that once belonged to Tina's grandparents is on display in the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum. They eagerly returned to Israel from their hometown in Canada to view this special Holocaust-era treasure for the very first time.

The extraordinary story began with Tina's maternal grandparents, Jacob and Tanya Stopnicki, who were incarcerated in the Lodz ghetto. In 1941, Jacob gave Tanya the powder compact as a gift, for which he traded for his daily ration of bread. Against all odds, Jacob was also able to save Tanya and their infant daughter Krysia by hiding them in a bunker in the ghetto until the end of the war. Krysia was one of the few children who were born in the Lodz ghetto and miraculously survived. Sadly, Tanya passed away a year after the ghetto was liberated.

Jacob and daughter Krysia
The powder compact was donated to the Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection by a survivor who later moved to Israel after the war. After Yad Vashem researchers began to investigate, they started to unravel the mysterious details behind the compact and its owners. On the powder compact is a portrait of a Jewish man behind barbed wire, etched by Jewish artist Max Prinz. Researchers were able to determine that this portrait was based on a photograph taken by Lodz ghetto photographer Mendel Grossman of his father, Shmuel Grossman. On the back of the compact is engraved, "Ghetto Lodz 1941." Shmuel Grossman and Max Prinz were murdered in the Holocaust.

Michael Tal, Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection showing Tina 
Rosenstein hergrandfather's powder 
compact as it is displayed in the museum 
The researchers worked tirelessly to try to find more information about the owners of the compact and their family members. To complicate matters further, they discovered various documents in several archives pertaining to no less than three people named Jacob Stopnicki  in the Lodz ghetto. After much cross-referencing and examination, they found several photographs of Jacob and Tanya Stopnicki taken by another Lodz ghetto photographer, Henryk Ross, during the war. Much to their amazement, they also found living descendants of the couple living in Canada – their granddaughter, Tina and Krysia. 
Michael Tal presenting Tina Rosenstein and
 her children witha photo he discovered of 
her grandfather Jacob before the War

      Before entering the museum, an emotional Tina face-timed with her mother, Krysia, who lives in Florida, and wished she could have made the journey to see the compact. "I was truly overwhelmed with emotion holding my grandfather's powder compact for the first time. I will always remember my grandfather as a generous and loving man," she said. "Holding the compact, I tried to imagine what he felt like giving such a beautiful present to his wife under such horrific conditions."

      Tina continued, "I still can't believe the personal connection I now have with Yad Vashem - part of our family's history is literally on display to share with the millions of visitors that come here every year.  I told my teenage boys that I hope that when they grow up they bring their children to see the powder compact displayed in the Lodz ghetto exhibit and that they never forget their personal connection to Yad Vashem."

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

First Cousins Reunite at Yad Vashem

"I grew up believing that we had no family, that everyone was murdered in Poland…Thanks to Yad Vashem, we discovered that we are not alone"
Henia Moskowitz Borenstein

Sisters Henia Borenstein Moskowitz and Rywka Borenstein Patchnik
on their way to meet first cousins Fania Band Blakay and Gennadi Band
Sisters Henia and Rywka Borenstein went through life believing they were alone. Their parents had died when they were young, and they were told that their extended family had been wiped out in the Holocaust. Over 75 years after their onslaught of the Holocaust, they received a phone call that would change their lives. Today, at Yad Vashem, they met first cousins for the first time, thanks to the efforts of the Reference and Information Services Department in the Yad Vashem Archives Division and a Page of Testimony found on Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names.

Left to right: Gennadi Band, Fania Band Blakay,
Henia Borenstein Moskowitz and Rywka Borenstein Patchnik
holding pictures of siblings Nisan Band and Jenta Band Borenstein 
Born in Warsaw in 1912, Nisan Band had five sisters. In 1939, Nisan and his wife Ida, left behind their extended family and fled the Nazis to the USSR, where he remained until his death in 1983. Throughout the years, Nisan was convinced that his entire family had been murdered in the Holocaust; however, he never gave up hope of finding some remnants of his family. His children, Fania and Gennadi, immigrated to Israel with their families in the 1990s.

Rywka Borenstein Patchnik and Fania Band Blakay
embracing for the first time at Yad Vashem
Earlier this year, following a "roots trip" to Poland, Fania (b. 1949) searched Yad Vashem's Central Database of Holocaust Victims' Names, and found a Page of Testimony that a Symcha Borenstein had filled out in memory of Fania's father, Nisan Band. At the foot of the form, Symcha noted that he was Nisan's brother-in-law. Last week, Fania and her son, Evgeni, came to Yad Vashem to find out who, they believed, had mistakenly commemorated Nisan. Sima Velkovich of Yad Vashem's Reference and Information Services Department conducted a search of the Pages of Testimony as well as the ITS (International Tracing Service) database, where she discovered that, unbeknown to Nisan, his sister Jenta Borenstein (née Band) had also been in the Soviet Union during the war and survived together with her husband and their four children. Hercz-Lejb (b. 1924), Abram (b. 1927) and Rywka (b. 1931), were all born in Warsaw, and Hana (b. 1942)was born in Siberia. In September 1948, Jenta and Symcha immigrated to Israel together with their two daugthers , Rywka  and Hana. Sima's investigation of the story also revealed that Rywka and Hana (known as Henia), still live in Israel today.

The Band and Borenstein families unite at Yad Vashem
Today at Yad Vashem, Rywka and Henia met with their first cousins, Fania and Gennadi, as well as Fania's son Evgeni, for the first time.

"It is difficult to describe how I feel," remarked Fania Bilkay, who shared old family pictures she had saved of her father Nisan in Poland before the war. "I am deeply moved and very happy. My father always searched for members of his family and dreamed of finding them. He was alone. But ultimately, in this meeting today, his dream has finally come true."

When Henia received the call from Yad Vashem that she has a cousin who was looking for her, she was in shock. "I grew up believing that our entire family was murdered in Poland. My parents never talked about the Shoah or their past lives. At first, I thought this news was a mistake. However, today when we met, I felt a connection at first sight; my family has grown overnight. Thanks to Yad Vashem, we discovered that we are not alone."

Family photos from before the Holocaust
Evgeni expressed his deep gratitude to Yad Vashem for its "important and meaningful work… this illustrates the connection that exists between all Jews. Here in one place, in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem has the capability of reuniting families even after all hope is lost."

A family reunion such as this one, which occurred thanks to information filled out on Pages of Testimony, is rare. Nevertheless, Yad Vashem is committed to aiding anyone in search of lost family members.

"Yad Vashem has embarked on a mission to uncover the names of those who have no one to remember them, and we will not rest until our mission is complete," said Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev. "I urge families who will be gathering shortly for the holiday of Hanukah to check and make sure that their loved ones who were murdered in the Holocaust are remembered and recorded in Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, and submit Pages of Testimony for those victims whose names are not yet recorded."

Newly united cousins Fania Blakay and Henia Borenstein Moskowitz

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"The Gift of Life"

Emotions flowed earlier this week during a heartfelt ceremony at Yad Vashem.  Participants travelled near and far to attend a special ceremony posthumously honoring Joseph and Marie Andries from Belgium as Righteous Among the Nations. Aside from the importance of recognizing and giving thanks to these individuals who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, the research process yielded the discovery of long-lost relatives of Benno Gerson and Anni Goldberg, Jewish children who were saved by Joseph and Marie Andries. Extended family members from Israel and the US were both excited and proud to take part in this ceremony honoring the couple who saved their cousins.

Marie Andries with Benno Gerson and Anni Goldberg
The story began right after the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, when Luser-Ludwig and Pepi Gershonowitz decided to leave Germany. They first sent their daughter Anni to the Netherlands, and then followed with their younger son, Benno. Eventually the family settled in Brussels, Belgium.

When the deportations from Belgium began in 1942, the Gershonowitz family decided to separate from their children in order to save them. Seven-year-old Anni and five-year-old Benno were brought to the home of Joseph and Marie Andries in Anderlecht. On 24 September 1942, Ludwig and Pepi were arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Several months later, the Andries family and the children moved to Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, where they remained until the end of the war. Joseph and Marie Andries were childless, and at some point separated; the two children remained with Marie, who continued to care for them lovingly. Life was simple, and Marie sometimes received help from her relatives, the Rampelbergs, who provided her with some additional food.

Dr. Francoise Rampelberg
accepting the medal and certificate
of honor
After the war, contact was established with a relative of the Gershonowitz family in the United States, and in 1947 Anni and Benno left Marie Andries’ home and sailed to New York. In 1983, shortly before Marie Andries passed away, Benno travelled to Belgium and visited his rescuer one last time.
Accepting the certificate and medal on behalf of the late Joseph and Marie Andries was Dr. Francoise Rampelberg, who travelled especially from Switzerland to attend the ceremony. Dr. Rampelberg recounted fond childhood memories of Marie, who lived in a typical Brussels apartment with her dog. She explained that Marie and her grandparents got along very well, but that she only recently discovered what an extraordinary and courageous woman Marie was: Marie never spoke of how she hid two Jewish children. "The medal and certificate are proof that brave people with a conscience did exist during those dark times. They attest to the fact that friendship can triumph under even the most dangerous circumstances… they represent symbols of hope for the future."


Dr. Francoise Rampelberg with Holocaust survivor
Benno Gerson and Stefan Goldberg unveiling Righteous Marie
and Joseph Andries's names of the Wall of Honor.
Holocaust survivor Benno Gerson, and Serge and Stefan Goldberg, sons of Anni Goldberg z"l, traveled from the United States to participate in this rare event. While Benno admitted he did not remember much from the war period, he described his memories of Marie with love and affection. He called her "mamak," Flemish for mother, and recalled how Marie had saved his sister's life twice - once when she summoned a doctor to take out Anni's tonsils, and another time when she had to cut out an infection from Anni's finger. Benno described how his mamak made special arrangements for them to be homeschooled in order to ensure that they received an education. "The risk she took to protect us are beyond my understanding. No one deserves this honor more… I've had a wonderful  life because of Marie and Joseph Andries. They gave me the gift of life."
Benno also described his delight to be united    with all of his newly extended family. "We never knew that we had relatives in Israel. My sister and I believed we were the only survivors and that was it. So it was a shock… a happy shock."

Dr. Rampleberg, Serge and Stefan Goldberg
with extended family members and the American
Ambassador to Israel, Ron Dermer and Belgium Ambassador
to Israel Olivier Belle
Serge Goldberg thanked Yad Vashem for honoring Marie and Andries and for all of their hard work to bring together this "unimaginable and unlikely family reunion." Serge recalled fond memories of his loving and loyal mother, Anni. He related that strong family loyalty was of the utmost importance to her, and that she had always hoped that her children and grandchildren would grow up without fear. "This was a wonderful event for our family. We are so happy to be here despite all the trauma that occurred 70 years ago. I never would have imagined that one day I would be standing here at Yad Vashem for an event like this."  

Hopeful for future generations, Benno added, "It's so important that we continue to educate and remember what happened, so that such a tragedy can never occur again. We need more tolerance and for people to get along better. That’s my hope - that people will never have to experience what my sister and I did with the loss of our parents."

 Yad Vashem has currently recognized 1,707 Righteous from Belgium. To date, more than 26,000 individuals have received the honor. More information about the Righteous Among the Nations, including background details, stories and the Database of Righteous, can be found online here.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Journey of the Doomed Revisited

Passengers aboard the SS St. Louis ocean liner (Yad Vashem Archives)
Last week, Yad Vashem had the honor of welcoming six survivors who were passengers on the SS St. Louis, the ocean liner that departed Hamburg in May 1939 carrying hundreds of German Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.  To the passengers' dismay the over 900 passengers, many of them Jewish, were denied entry twice, first by the Cuban authorities and subsequently by the American government who, despite intensive lobbying efforts by the local Jewish community, refused to allow the passengers to disembark at Havana, Cuba and Miami Beach, Florida. Captain Gustav Schroder tried to persuade Cuban and American authorities to allow the passengers to enter; however, he was eventually left with no choice but to turn back to Germany. Nonetheless, thanks to his courageous efforts and determination, the passengers were able to enter Belgium, France, Holland and the UK.  
Passengers aboard the SS St. Louis (Courtesy
of Yad Vashem Archives)
Almost 77 years later, a group of six survivors and family members traveled to Israel to meet and participate in ceremonies commemorating this pivotal event. This momentous visit was the first time a group of survivors of the St. Louis had visited Yad Vashem together. The group, including survivors and family members, toured the Holocaust History Museum, where they saw the exhibition dedicated to the story of the St. Louis. Additionally, they visited the Visual Center where Robert Krakow, head of the SS St. Legacy Project that initiated the mission, donated the documentary film Complicit , which tells the story of the St. Louis and features eyewitness testimonies of several survivors from that faithful voyage. The tour concluded with a ceremony in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, where they paid their respects to Captain Schroder, who was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in March 1993 and is inscribed on the Wall of Honor in the Garden.   

Survivors of the SS St. Louis viewing the exhibit of the
St. Louis in the Yad Vashem Holocaust
History Musuem
Sonja Geismar was a young girl on the passenger ship along with her parents, paternal grandparents and three great-aunts. She remembers waving goodbye to cousins when the ship reached the port of Havana; she sadly also remembers that she never saw those family members again. After the ship was refused entry into both Havana and Miami, she eventually disembarked in England. Later, she immigrated to New York. Sonja remarked that her visit to Yad Vashem was very meaningful and different from her previous visits because she had the opportunity to meet with fellow survivors. "Seeing the exhibition in the museum on the St. Louis is a reminder of how fortunate my family and I are," she explained.

Survivors of the SS St. Louis at the Garden of the Righteous
Among the Nations at Yad Vashem
Sisters Gisela Feldman and Sonja Sternberg, 93 and 90 years old respectively from Manchester, UK, were both young girls when they boarded the SS St. Louis with their mother. Sonja will never forget the moment the ship was forced to turn around and head back to Germany, and how difficult this was for her mother. They remember parting from several of their family members in Berlin who they never saw again. "We were very lucky to have gotten out," recalled Sonja, now 90. "We lost our father and 31 other close family members."

Survivors of the SS St. Louis with their family members in the
Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem
Today the surviving passengers of the SS St. Louis dedicate themselves to ensuring that the world knows the story of the doomed voyage, and of the horrors of the Holocaust. With this in mind, they organized and produced a documentary film, which has been entered into several international film festivals.
For more information about the SS St. Louis please visit the Yad Vashem website.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Keeping the Memory Alive"
This year's Yad Vashem Leadership Mission was comprised of Second Generation supporters, as well as a significant number of members of the next generations. On their return home, Yad Vashem sought to understand the motivation of the younger participants for joining the Mission, as well as their reflections and plans in its wake:

Yad Vashem Leadership Mission participants at a reception held at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. (July 2016) 
Harrison Wilf
"Growing up, I was always aware of how my family had been tragically affected by the Holocaust; both how they suffered and how those who survived carried tremendous burdens. I was eager to see with my own eyes the country where my relatives once lived, the town squares they once walked through and the shuls they once prayed in. Protecting the legacy of the Holocaust has been a priority for my family for three generations and that has been passed down to me. I was excited to experience the journey from Poland to Israel for myself and feel a heightened appreciation for the State of Israel after seeing what the Jewish people had been through.

"I have always thought of Yad Vashem as a very special museum because it is in Jerusalem, in Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people. However, it is not just a powerful museum; it is an entire institution that is keeping the legacy of the Holocaust alive.

"I fully expect to become more involved in future activities of Yad Vashem. Soon the survivors won’t be here to tell their stories, and if even one person forgets to tell his children about the Shoah then that entire family will not commemorate and learn from the Holocaust."

  Jonah Burian
"From a young age, I have heard countless stories from my grandfather about his experience in the Holocaust. I always connected to it, but never before like this. Seeing the infamous Auschwitz in person made the stories much more tangible, and yet, in a juxtaposed manner, the atrocities seem even harder to comprehend. There was one thought that pierced through my shocked mind. My grandfather and I both went through the same entrance, he suffered and I toured, but we both left as witnesses.

"The actual program itself was more or less what I expected. However, the group dynamic unexpectedly added a deeper level to the mission. The participants came from all over the world, varied in religious orientation and with unique personalities. This diversity bonded the group in a way that allowed for people not only to connect to the Holocaust through personal and familial experiences, but also to connect through the trip's experiences. Furthermore, although I was the youngest member on the mission (16), I was treated no differently than anyone else. This allowed me to participate in ways I also did not expect.

"I believe it was Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, who said, 'That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.' As a member of the third generation, the generation that is tasked with continuing the memory of the Holocaust, I hope and believe that we can change that."  

  Daniella Pomeranc
"Although I did not partake in the entire Mission, I was lucky to join up with the group at Yad Vashem for the day. My involvement with Yad Vashem has only gotten stronger and more rewarding over the years. Being the grandchild of two survivors, I obviously want to continue to make that connection stronger and keep their stories alive for generations to come.

"It was so extraordinary to see the preservation process and how pictures and information are scanned into Yad Vashem's databases. Yad Vashem continues to give back to so many people's lives, helping them discover their family's history. I am always so taken aback how different each experience is there. There is really so much to see and learn and feel. I am so thankful for every opportunity to reestablish my connection." 

  Shira Stein
"Fortunately, my family was not directly affected by the atrocities of the Holocaust; however, I am a parent of three daughters and know that it is my responsibility to share with them the importance of keeping the memories alive. 

"I joined the Mission with the expectation of learning and growing. I was not expecting the amazing personal connections I made with others on the trip. I fostered lifelong friendships with others who are passionate about Holocaust education. Additionally, I was utterly impressed by the attention to detail at each ceremony, event and seminar that took place. The guides were above and beyond knowledgeable and personable. The ceremonies that took place were moving and every person on the Mission had an active role. I was asked to do a reading at a ceremony in Poland. I read a personal narrative about Kristallnacht. I was moved when I learned that the passage that I read was actually the narrative of the mother of [International Relations Division Managing Director] Shaya Ben Yehuda. This is an example of what made the Mission so personal and moving. 

"I also saw some of the behind-the-scenes work that takes place at Yad Vashem. The staff is so passionate about what they do. It was enlightening to see the work that goes into identifying and placing a name or date to each artifact. The care and expertise that I saw being used to treat a wartime journal that had tremendous water damage made me feel extremely proud of the work being done at Yad Vashem."

  Rachel Shnay
"I have been involved with the Yad Vashem Young Leaders for many years and am very passionate about Holocaust education and awareness. The victims, survivors and their families are forever grateful for the everlasting flame that Yad Vashem has lit for generations to come, and this trip solidified the fact that it is up to us to keep that flame alive.

"I gained so much insight into the Shoah, especially at Wolfsberg, a place I had never been or even heard of before the trip. I was in complete awe to learn about an underground camp and the extreme physical conditions they endured. One of the highlights of the trip was hearing Rabbi Lau speak for almost two hours at the conclusion of Shabbat. The entire room was mesmerized by his stories. Another incredible and chilling experience was when we entered the medical examiners' bunk. The women left eerie drawings on the walls that brought the situation to life and I was immediately taken back in time, hearing screams and cries along the corridor. I will forever remember those few minutes in that bunk.

"I also had no idea how complex is the 'underground' work being done at Yad Vashem every single day. From archiving to preserving to the Names Database to control against hackers – it was absolutely incredible. I always visited Yad Vashem as a museum-goer and now I can proudly tell others that there is so much more to Yad Vashem."
Sam Gordon
"My maternal grandparents are both survivors. I needed to see for myself what happened during the Holocaust to educate myself and others back home so that the memory never leaves our minds, and more importantly, is passed on to future generations.

"Perhaps naively, I always thought prewar Europe was this depressing cemetery of a place.  But I was wrong. Jews had lives no different than me. They had nice homes, schools, went to dinners, parties, etc. Some of them knew the good life. Everything they had was taken in cold blood. To see how Jewish life thrived before the war, and to see what happened during the Holocaust was an eye-opening experience. 

"The trip changed my life. It changed my point of view on almost everything. I also feel like I became more of a Jew. I plan to remain involved in Yad Vashem going forward in perpetuity." 

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.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Yad Vashem Leadership Mission Kicks Off in Wroclaw, Poland

The Yad Vashem Leadership Mission began yesterday in Poland. The Mission brings together Yad Vashem's friends and leaders from around the world to explore prewar Jewish life in Europe, reflect on the past, present and future, and connect to one another and to Yad Vashem.

In Poland, the Mission will travel through Wroclaw and the Wolfsberg forced labor camp before spending a memorable Shabbat in Krakow with Yad Vashem Chairman of the Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau. After Shabbat, the Mission will travel to Israel and begin a comprehensive, behind-the-scenes journey through Yad Vashem and their critical efforts made towards Holocaust remembrance and education.

A longstanding, dear friend of Yad Vashem, Benjamin Warren, delivered the opening address for the Mission in Wroclaw, Poland. At this event, the Mission was greeted by the head of the Jewish community of Wroclaw, Mr. Alexander Gleichgeurchet.

The following were Mr. Warren's remarks at the opening event of the Yad Vashem Leadership Mission. 

Benjamin Warren speaking at in Wroclaw, Poland
"On behalf of the participants of this journey, I would like to share with you my story, my connection to the Holocaust and the importance of Holocaust remembrance, which of course underscores the spark that causes each and every one of us to be here today.

Let me start by introducing myself to you. I come from Houston, Texas. I'm the son of two Holocaust survivors: Martin Warren, who grew up and was educated in Warsaw, was arrested and sent to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald from which he was liberated in April 1945 by the United States Army. This is the same camp that Prof. Elie Wiesel, of blessed memory, was liberated from at the same time.

My mother, Naomi Warren, an extraordinary woman, who at the age of 95 continues to exhibit a zest for life in spite of a very difficult past, which took her from her home in Wolkowysk, Poland to Auschwitz, where her mother and first husband perished, then on the death march following the approach of the Russian Army to a women's camp Ravensbruk, that dark place where the Nazi's experimented on women in ghastly ways, then to Bergen Belsen from where she was liberated by the British Army on April 15, 1945.

As a child growing up in Houston, Texas with two sisters, I wasn't aware of our parents’ very difficult past until I was a young adult. No doubt like many of you, my parents, whether the result of wanting to put their painful past behind them, or more likely the result of wanting to shelter, to protect their children from this horrific experience, to avoid  wounding them, to avoid making them feel different from their friends whose parents were fortunate enough to miss this horror.

Today much of my life revolves around a variety of activities targeted towards making the world a better place. None however is more important, as much a part of my DNA, than my commitment to carrying the "Torch of Remembrance" to honor my parents, to remember those who perished and also those who survived, whether it's through my deep commitment to Yad Vashem and its mission, or my deep passion to furthering Holocaust education at the Holocaust Museum Houston through the Warren Fellowship for Future Teachers.

As the window closes on those brave and strong souls who survived, it becomes increasingly critical that those who follow carry on the responsibility of carrying the "Torch of Remembrance," which after all is the solemn purpose and goal of Yad Vashem. It's this responsibility, which I know each of you here today embraces, a privilege in the name of those who perished and those who survived, that I hope each of us further commits themselves to with this journey.

My personal story and connection to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, takes me back to the year 2000, when our family made a journey to Israel and to Yad Vashem. When we visited the Archives at Yad Vashem and sought to take a look into the lost community that our mother came from, from Wolkowysk, we found a book, "The Miracles of Tyranny" that chronicled the life of Mom's first husband, Alexander Rosenbaum, along with her brother in Auschwitz, including numerous references to her time sorting bundles in the "Canada" unit, which was a much sought after job for prisoners.

Fast forward to 2011, when my sister Geri and I made a journey to Germany with our cousin Elsa Spizdbaum Ross, to follow the tracks of her father whose whereabouts and fate ceased when he was arrested in Warsaw by the Nazis.

Elsa never knew what happened to her father, who owned a very successful chocolate factory in Warsaw, until Yad Vashem and my dear friend Shaya Ben Yehuda took it on himself with the support of Yad Vashem's research team to search the records of Yad Vashem and those of the Bad Arolsen International Tracing Service of the Red Cross to see what they could learn about her father's past. What they uncovered was extraordinary. Including a trail that followed his arrest in Warsaw, an inventorying of his personal belongings, and a chronicle of his life as a slave laborer in an ammunition factory and internment camp outside of Warsaw. As the Russian Army approached, the story woven included a chronicle of the destruction of the munitions factory by the Nazis and the moving of the laborers to Buchenwald in advance of the opening of a new ammunition factory at a sub camp of Buchenwald named Schlieben. Unbelievably, the story continues with Elsa's father arriving in Schlieben and the tracking of his service in the munitions factory until he, along with 28 other prisoners, perished in an explosion at the factory.

But the story doesn't end there. Included in the Bad Arolsen records was a photograph of a mass grave with a monument listing the names of the 29 slave laborers who perished, including Elsa's father. You can imagine the emotion that followed as my cousin Elsa, my sister Geri, Shaya Ben Yehuda, a guide from Yad Vashem's German Desk, and I, said Kaddish for my cousin Elsa's father in the beautiful, well-manicured cemetery in Schlieben.

Now you can understand the closeness that I feel for Yad Vashem, for Shaya Ben Yehuda and his colleagues, who through their persistent diligence wove this incredible tapestry that chronicled the final chapter of my cousin Elsa’s father's life and allowed her the opportunity to bring closure to this haunting life experience.

This is but a single story that now is part of Yad Vashem's beacon of light, the burning "Torch of Remembrance." No doubt many of you have your own stories. Hopefully my story underscores the critical importance of staying connected with Yad Vashem, of supporting its mission and its critical work, making possible the continued weaving of stories like Elsa's father for all generations of the future.

To conclude, on behalf of our Leadership Mission participants and in advance of what will no doubt be a very emotional journey, I want to thank you Shaya, along with your extraordinary team, for weaving together the program ahead that will twine each of us to Yad Vashem and Holocaust remembrance forever. I also wish to welcome each of you who have traveled from Australia, from Canada, from Mexico, from the United States and from Israel for joining this journey and committing yourselves to adding to your knowledge of the Holocaust."