Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Archeological Digs Reveal Sobibór Gas Chambers

Archeological excavations at the Sobibór extermination camp have been conducted by Yoram Haimi and his Polish associate Wojciech Mazurek since 2007. In 2013, the Dutch archeologist Dr. Ivar Schute joined the project, which is being carried out in coordination with Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research, the German-Polish Foundation and the Majdanek State Museum. Over the years, thousands of personal items have been found at the site, including rings, pendants, earrings, jewelery, perfume bottles, medicine cases and food utensils. 
This week, the water well used by prisoners at Camp I, in which the uprising took place, was also discovered. The well contained numerous personal items belonging to Jews; the Germans filled the well with waste during the camp's liquidation.
Dr. David Silberklang, Senior Historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research and Editor-in-Chief of Yad Vashem Studies, commented on the new findings at Sobibór: "The discovery of the gas chambers at Sobibór is a very important finding in Holocaust research. It is important to understand that there were no survivors from among the Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers. Therefore, these findings are all that is left of those murdered there, and they open a window onto the day-to-day suffering of these people. We will now be able to know more precisely what the process of murder was in the camp, and what the Jews went through until they were murdered. Additionally, finding the gas chambers and their capacity will enable us to estimate more precisely the number of people murdered in Sobibór." Dr. Silberklang added that these findings complement what is already known about the camp from survivors who escaped during the uprising from the camp.
Archeologist Yoram Haimi: "After eight years of excavations at Sobibór, this is a great acheivement for me and the research staff. Finally, we have reached our goal – the discovery of the gas chambers. We were amazed at the size of the building and the well-preserved condition of the chamber walls. The most poignant moment was when we found a wedding band next to the gas chambers, on which was the Hebrew inscription: "Behold, you are consecrated unto me."
The Sobibór extermination camp was located near the village and railway station of Sobibór, in the eastern part of the Lublin district in Poland, not far from the Chełm-Włodawa railway line.The camp was established along with the extermination camps of Treblinka and Bełżec as part of "Operation Reinhard." During the period of the camp’s operation, April 1942 - October 1943, some 250,000 Jews were murdered there. In the wake of the camp uprising on 14 October 1943, the Germans decided to dismantle the camp. The site has remained bare, lacking any characteristic traces of it being a former extermination camp. In order to provide information about the specific details of the camp, until now researchers used survivor testimonies. However, these testimonies provided information about only part of the camp, which made an actual blueprint and reconstruction of the whole camp impossible.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

His Legacy Lives on – an Encounter at the Museum of Holocaust Art

by Deborah Berman 

I am a proud descendant of the Jewish artist Carol Deutsch, my great uncle, who was murdered during the Holocaust. This week I had the honor of accompanying my aunt, Josette Deutsch-Nelson, Carol's niece and her son Philip Nelson on an emotional visit to Yad Vashem’s Museum of Holocaust Art, where Deutsch's works are on display. Josette was only five years old when she and her parents and two brothers fled Antwerp in May 1940, just days after the German invasion. Fleeing to Spain and eventually Portugal, they secured travel documents through the heroic efforts of the Portuguese Diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who was later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

We were warmly received by Niv Goldberg, Collections Manager of Yad Vashem's Museum of Holocaust Art, who presented Josette with a reproduction of Deutsch's illustrations and interviewed her. As she began to speak I was suddenly overwhelmed by the sensation that my aunt was an actual living link to the past. Interspersed with personal reflections and anecdotes, the events she described that took place over 70 years ago became as real to me as if they had happened just last week

While my father and his family succeeded in escaping from Belgium, Carol Deutsch along with his wife Fela and young daughter Ingrid were not as lucky. Initially forced into hiding under assumed identities in Brussels, Carol and Fela were ultimately betrayed, transported to concentration camps and murdered by the Germans. But Ingrid survived the war with her grandmother Regina Braunstein by hiding with a Catholic family in North-Eastern Belgium.

When Regina and Ingrid  returned to the family apartment in 1945, they found that none of their possessions remained, the invading German forces had stolen everything. However, a large, meticulously crafted, wooden box adorned with a Star of David and a seven-branched menorah remained untouched.The box held a collection of 99 illustrations of the Bible produced by Carol Deutsch while in hiding in Brussels between 1941 and 1942, an impressive body of work that affirmed his Jewish identity which he created as a gift to his young daughter Ingrid in honor of her second birthday.

 I felt so connected to my great uncle  while viewing the display of his work. When faced with the heaviness of  his fate and the possibility of  his impending death his  choice of what to bequeath to his  precious daughter Ingrid was this masterpiece of Bible illustrations, the book upon which he was raised and upon which  his values where shaped. 

One of Carol Deutsch's 99 illustrations of the Bible
I can almost conjure up the image of the invading Nazis stumbling upon the wooden box as they raided the bounty of the contents of the apartment, instantly dismissing the box as a thing of no value or worth. How wrong they were. How powerful the message hidden inside the box. How ironic that they had the opportunity to physically destroy it but did not even realize its worth, could not even fathom its intrinsic and lasting value. 

After our tour of the art museum, the three of us, myself, my Aunt Josette and my cousin Philip, decided to sit together quietly with the reproduction of Deutsch's illustrations in all of their colorful and tantalizing splendor spread out between us. And almost magically we found ourselves drawn into the world that he had so deftly crafted, the stories of the bible suddenly coming to life for us, leaping off the pages into the quiet coffee shop where we sat, the air rife with the sibling enmity between Cain and Abel, the loving tenderness between father and son in Abraham and Isaac's embrace, the radiance of Moses with two rays of yellow light beaming from his face, the festivity of Miriam leading the women in joyous dance and song celebrating the defeat of the Egyptians, and on and on and on ... transporting us from 
the creation narrative in Genesis through to Moses' parting words to his beloved Israelites in Deuteronomy.

There we were, the descendants of Carol Deutsch, huddled together over his treasure. His pièce de résistance. And I couldn't help but wonder - Who knows what he might have gone on to create if his life had not been cut so brutally short? Who can say what new vistas his creativity might have unearthed if he had been spared his cruel death as a nameless inmate at the Ohrdurf subcamp of the notoriously horrific Buchenwald Camp? I have no answers and can make no sense of his senseless murder, just one among the murder of millions more of our people. And yet, although tragically he did not survive, his art and the great message that it embodies are still here with us today, painstakingly preserved and on display to the public in the Yad Vashem Museum of Holocaust Art. 

So, Uncle Carol I thank you for these works of great beauty and I thank you for your strength of spirit, your forward thinking and your faith in the continuity of the Jewish people, because despite all the sadness and suffering - we are here. And we are proud to move forward towards the future as a strong Jewish people, deeply rooted in our rich heritage, the vision that you believed at your very core would some day come to be. We have received your message and we value it, cherish it, and hold it dear. Here in this old new land, with the brightness of the sunlight reflecting off the Jerusalem stone so that it almost blinds us in its dazzling whiteness, we can still see the images of these age old stories, these tales that represent our very essence as Jews; our heritage and our legacy depicted in bright vivid colors that have emerged from the darkness to light the way for humanity.









Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Int'l Experts Explore Preservation of Holocaust Documentation in the Digital Era

Is there a need to invest in preserving original items in an age when it is possible to display a scanned image of them on the Internet?
In what manner does the digital age affect the traditional divisions between different types of collections?
To what extent can conservation experts intervene and "repair" torn documents or distorted film footage from the Holocaust period?
How can long-term preservation of digital copies of Holocaust documentation be ensured?

These are some of the questions along with many others that were discussed this week at an international experts' workshop, held at Yad Vashem and organized within the framework of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) project. The workshop "Heritage and Memory: Revising Scopes and Means of Physical and Digital Preservation of Holocaust Documentation" addressed various issues and challenges of conservation of Holocaust period materials in the digital 
age as well as the intrinsic importance of the need to preserve these images.
This is the first international workshop of its kind, which is designed specifically for scholars involved in the practical, ethical and philosophical aspects of conservation of Holocaust heritage, and for professionals from various fields of conservation who imparted common experience and methodologies. The workshop included the participation of about 30 prominent experts from Europe, Israel and the U.S.A. in both physical and digital conservation and the preservation of primary sources, such as documents, photographs, artworks and artifacts. This workshop also touched on the dilemmas that have arisen in recent years in the ever-expanding field.

"Holocaust documentation is the basis for Holocaust research, was well as the core material for the production of museums and exhibitions, and a resource base for commemorative and educational activities for future generations," explains Yad Vashem Archives Director Dr. Haim Gertner. "These building blocks of memory are scattered across the world, in countless fragments. They were written in hiding, under difficult conditions, with poor materials. Part of the material was in private hands for many decades, not always in adequate conditions. This sensitive documentation is often the last testimony to the life of an individual, or to the execution of murder, and therefore preservation has significant moral, educational and legal implications. At the same time, there is a broadening interest of the wider public in accessing Holocaust documentation that is currently being addressed with the aid of advanced technology, but
contained within this exciting process are a number of issues that must be addressed."

The international scholars presented various papers pertaining to their field of expertise. Some topics discussed included the ethics of preservation of original materials, exploring the limits of digitization, physical and digital preservation of Holocaust documentation, opportunities and difficulties of digitization of Holocaust documents and low-cost imaging technologies for art and documents examination.  Dr. Haim Gertner commented that the Holocaust archives tell a very important part of history which was abruptly stopped. Therefore, it is our moral obligation to preserve these artifacts along with these personal stories which would otherwise be forgotten. In addition, the seminar was a great success in exchanging these international scholars' different areas of expertise. The seminar provided a platform for the dialogue to take place, which is only the beginning of continued dialogue. The Head of the Paper Conservation Laboratory of the Archives Division at Yad Vashem, Varda Gross, presented to scholars on the topic of preserving the existing and the missing in Holocaust material. She noted, "Items convey personal stories…These items express the power of life, in contrast to the ideology of 
".extermination

Monday, September 1, 2014

Teachers who Rescued Jews during the Holocaust

This week, children in Israel, the US and elsewhere are returning to school after the long summer break.  As school gets underway, a new online exhibition at www.yadvashem.org spotlights teachers who have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations – those remarkable individuals who took extraordinary risks to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Joseph Migneret was the principal of a public elementary school on the Rue Hospitalières St. Gervais, in the heart of the Marais quarter in Paris. During the massive roundup of the Jews of Paris on July 16-17, 1942, many of the Jews in the Marais were arrested. The Marais, known as the "Pletzl" in the interwar period, was the Jewish quarter where many Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe had settled. Migneret, who saw how his present and former students were taken away from their homes, held in appalling conditions and incarcerated in camps prior to their deportation, dedicated himself to saving as many Jews as he could. He joined a resistance network and began to provide false documents to fleeing Jews and to shelter others. Sarah Traube, who had attended Migneret’s school, hid for nearly two years in his home. Shlomo Fisher, another student of the school, was hidden by Migneret until a safe place could be found for him.  Migneret supplied others with forged papers that enabled them to reach the South of France. One former student, fourteen-year-old Joseph Schulman, who had been severely wounded while escaping from a transport to Auschwitz and who was hospitalized under police supervision, was taken care of by Migneret, who visited  him and tried to obtain his release. On March 28, 1990, Yad Vashem recognized Joseph Migneret as Righteous Among the Nations.
The new exhibition, “Their Fate Will Be My Fate Too.." :Teachers Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, brings the story of a dozen teachers, men and women from Germany, Albania, France, Italy, Serbia, Poland, Denmark, Belgium, Ukraine, and the Netherlands, who took action when so many others looked the other way.  Initiating rescue activities, hiding people in orphanages, homes and more, some of these Righteous paid the ultimate price.  



Sunday, August 24, 2014

ISIS, Nazis and the Ideology of Hate

As more news of the atrocities being perpetrated  by the Islamic State becomes publicly known, Dr. Robert Rozett sheds insight onto the dangers inherent in ISIS's ideology.

It would be eminently reasonable to suppose that the kind of evil embodied by the Nazis and their radical ideology of hate and exclusion should have disappeared from the face of the earth along with the total defeat of the Third Reich nearly seventy years ago. Such Ideologies, however, did not die out with the end of the Nazi regime. Today far too many groups still pursue exclusionist visions, propelled by ideologies of hate. They think, like the Nazis before them, that in the name of fanatical beliefs they have the right to decide who should live and who should die, and they act zealously on their murderous convictions. Perhaps most menacing among them today is the Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIL, ISIS, and DAESH.

ISIS bears some striking similarities to the Nazis, even if it differs in significant ways. The exclusivist new world order ISIS wants to create is not based on race, but on a fanatical variety of Islam. Like the Nazis, they seek to create a world only for a select few — not a master race, but for those who embrace their brand of Islam. They have shown themselves to be merciless in the pursuit of their vision and, like the Nazis before them, they have no qualms whatsoever about killing anyone who does not fit into their scheme of things.

Since it began conquering territory, ISIS has carried out ruthless acts against those who have no place in their new order and whom they consider their enemies. They have beheaded Shiite Muslims, since they do not follow ISIS’s brand of Islam, and they have proudly filmed and broadcast such scenes. They gave the Christians of Mosul the choice between forced conversion, flight or death, and now the ancient Christian community of Mosul is no more; and in the face of the same threats, the Christian Assyrians in Nineveh have fled. In the last few days they have forced the small religious minority of Yazidis to flee from their homes. There are estimates that tens of thousands of Yazidis are currently pitilessly stranded with little food or water, and according to reports hundreds have died. Although ISIS has yet to encounter Jewish communities in the areas they have taken, they are also threatening Jews with a new Holocaust.

Since ISIS has made the transition from a terrorist group without territory to rulers in the lands they have overtaken, all of these barbaric acts can be considered acts of state. The Nazi Holocaust of course was a state project, employing all the power and authority of the government to achieve it.

The Nazis showed the world where unbridled ideologies of hate and exclusion can lead: to world war, genocide and Holocaust. The six-year long, brutal and devastating war against them demonstrates how hard it can be to subdue this form of evil once it has taken hold. President Obama has used the word genocide to describe the threat posed by ISIS, and most certainly ISIS has a patently genocidal agenda. He has ordered air strikes to try to contain them. Given our awareness of history and our observations of the present, it is clear that ISIS and its ideology of hate and exclusion must be met squarely and resolutely by the international community. This must happen before the still localized flames of destruction they have ignited turn into a much wider conflagration; a conflagration that may take a tremendous human cost and effort to extinguish.

Dr. Robert Rozett is the Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries and author of Conscripted Slaves: Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front, Yad Vashem 2013

This article originally appeared in the Times of Israel.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Yad Vashem Summer Seminars Attract Educators from Around the World

"This was a truly exceptional seminar.  It brought order to what I already know while enriching it intelligently." Participant in Seminar for Belgian Educators, July 2014

This summer, despite the difficult situation here in Israel, hundreds of educators from across the globe attended conferences and seminars at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies.  This week alone, some fifty educators from Estonia and Portugal are attending seminars here on campus, and last week, the annual International Summer Seminar for educators took place as planned.

The seminars left an indelible impression on these educators who came from across the globe to take part in the programs of the International School for Holocaust Studies. For many it was an unforgettable personal experience. One summer seminar participant from Serbia, remarked “It was my first time to hear a Holocaust survivor. She spoke about the unspeakable and we were listening to the "unlistenable." Yet, she handled her shocking story in a kind of way that very few of us expected. She always upheld her humanity.”

Additionally, hundreds of educators attended the 9th International Educators' Conference as well as intensive seminars here on the campus. Participants hailed from Canada, the US, Australia, Poland, Serbia, Czech Republic, China,Finland, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Germany, France, Ireland, Portugal, Serbia and more.  The educators had the opportunity to network with colleagues, dialogue with top educators, researchers and historians, meet Holocaust survivors, and explore the resources and museums at Yad Vashem, while experiencing the current situation along with Israeli colleagues.

Paulo Manuel Veira de Matos of Portugal remarked on the transformative influence of the seminar he attended, "I will never teach again the Holocaust as I did before I came to Yad Vashem." At the conclusion of the Seminar for Portuguese Educators, Anabela Vaz Jacinto commented "We have the committed  to being the ambassadors of the Shoah memory as educators and citizens of our country."


Monday, July 21, 2014

Abusing the Language of the Holocaust - Not Just Semantics

During the past few weeks, anti-Israel rhetoric, focused on Israel’s actions in the current battle with Hamas, has become, in many cases, synonymous with virulent antisemitism. 
This antisemitism, in the form of accusing Israel of perpetrating a “Holocaust” or “genocide” in Gaza, or of acting like Nazis, has also contributed to inciting physical antisemitism against Jews in Europe and elsewhere.  
The gratuitous use of Holocaust imagery in the propaganda efforts of Hamas and others is demagogic and dangerous. Such toxic imagery is frequently invoked in combination with elements of classic antisemitism, and venomous anti-Israel invective. It has become the language of discourse not only of Hamas and its supporters, but also of fellow travelers in the Arab world and the West.  
Language has power. The words we choose to use carry weight, and are meaningful. If we choose to label every event a Genocide or equate every event with the Holocaust, then we detract from the real meaning of those words and reduce their ability to represent true horror. As terrible as war is, and as painful as is the loss of civilian life, there is no factual or coherent parallel that can be drawn between contemporary events in Gaza and the historic events of the Holocaust.   
Shockingly, these facts must be repeated and repeated: 
The Nazis’ goal was to murder every single Jewish person in Europe, and ultimately in the world, a policy of systematic, mass murder of all Jews – men, women and children - simply because they were Jews. Based on their racial ideology, the Nazis established ghettos as part of a continuum of anti-Jewish persecution that culminated with mass murder in death factories in the heart of Europe.   
The conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is fundamentally about land and sovereignty, with tangible issues and a long convoluted history.  (Although the Hamas charter does contain genocidal antisemitic language).   
This is far beyond a simple question of semantics. Language is the currency in which we trade, and upon which our civilization rests. It is how we make ourselves understood, it is how we understand our world and reality.   We are already seeing the effects of the abuse of the language of the Holocaust in relation to current events.  It is obvious why Hamas would choose to use these terms, but when leaders of countries, communities, and of public opinion make similar claims, they must take into consideration the direct incitement to violence their words carry.