Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Corner

 Tin Solider in a Cardboard Box

Yad Vashem Publications' new release, Tin Solider in a Cardboard Box, by Ari Livne is a coming-of-age story that reflects great pain, but also optimism as to the human ability to survive.

Born in Vienna, Henri's (Ari Livne) life changed irrevocably when he was eight years old. After escaping with his parents to Belgium and several years of avoiding arrest, Henri was taken in by "Aunt Angele" a local woman living in Nazi-occupied Brussels. Henri adopted a false identity as a French-speaking Christian boy. His knack of staying calm under pressure, his acting abilities and his improvisation skills helped him escape from near-fatal traps time and again. With psychological depth and unrelenting tension, the complex relationship between the author's adopted and real identities comes to the fore in the descriptions of his daily fight for survival.

In times of suspected danger, Henri would hide in a camouflaged dugout in Aunt Angele's garden. During the hours spent there, he relied on his vivid imagination and daydreaming to transport himself to a world of fantasy where he could invite the people of his choice, for instance, his parents or other family members, and hold long conversations with them.  

In Tin Solider in a Cardboard Box, Ari Livne has reconstructed his childhood feelings to create a young hero in a world gone insane. With psychological depth and unrelenting tension, the complex relationship between his adopted identity and who he really was is described during the daily fight for survival.

Excerpt from book: 

"Since the single room in which we lived in had no space for more than two beds, a closet and a small table, it was impossible to move about and play. I remember lying on my bed most of the time and playing with the only toys I possessed in those years, a tin soldier and a small box made of some kind of corrugated material, possibly cardboard, both painted green. The box served as barracks, a bed for the soldier, a house and a training facility and I played with those two article for hours, for entire days…But, at some stage, I decided to stop playing with the tin solider and box. I made do with just my imagination, without having to hold anything in my hands. Everything now took place inside my head and I spent long hours in bed, daydreaming. I imagined myself playing with toys - a different toy every time - and I really enjoyed it."

Ari Livne lives with his family in Israel and has been a civil servant for most of his career.

Tin Solider in a Cardboard Box is available for purchase online or may be ordered by email at Yad Vashem.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Holocaust Survivor receives the Yad Vashem Lifetime Achievement Award

Yesterday, Yad Vashem's annual awards for commitment and excellence in the field of holocaust education were awarded in a moving ceremony. The Edmond J. Safra Auditorium was filled to capacity with students, teachers, parents, educators, Holocaust survivors and their families.

The Lifetime Achievement Award in Holocaust Education was awarded to Holocaust survivor Asher Aud. Although retired, Asher is still very active and travels to Poland about 4-5 times a year. Despite the physical and emotional difficulties of these journeys, he knows how important they are, "it's not a trip, it's a job," he noted.
Asher Aud accepting his award from Dorit Novak
Director General of Yad Vashem 

Asher generously devotes his time to speaking to soldiers, youth delegations, and the general public about his experiences during the Holocaust. "Apparently, I survived to tell the coming generations," explains Asher "and that is my mission in life. Every moment I am with children or soldiers, I experience victory." Asher attended the ceremony with his lovely wife, Chaya whom he lovingly thanked, remarking that "it's because of her that I stand here today." Asher thanked Yad Vashem for the privilege of receiving this special award and said that he stood here today, representing the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.  He ended his words crying out emotionally, "Am Israel Chai!"

Asher Aud was born in 1928 in Zduńska Wola, Poland as Anshel Sieradzki to Jocheved and Shmuel Hirsh Sieradzki, a tailor. Asher had an older brother, Berl and a younger brother, Gabriel. In the spring of 1940, a ghetto was established in the town and Asher's family was ordered to move there. The Germans carried out a number of aktionen in the ghetto; in one of these, Shmuel and Berl were deported.

Asher Aud addressing the audience
In August 1942, the ghetto was liquidated and the remaining Jews were sent to the Jewish cemetery where they were held for two days without food or water. The Jews were forced to walk between two rows of German soldiers who took turns beating them. Fourteen-year-old Asher was sent to forced labor in the Łódź ghetto and Jocheved and Gabriel were deported to Chełmno where they were murdered.

In Łódź, Asher foraged for food in garbage heaps and worked in a factory making straw shoes. He fell ill with typhus but recovered. In August 1944, the Łódź ghetto was liquidated and Asher was deported to Auschwitz.

In January 1945, Asher was sent on a death march. He also survived the Mauthausen and Gunskirchen camps. After liberation, he reached Italy with the assistance of the Jewish Brigade.

In November 1945, Asher immigrated to Israel. He lives with his wife, Chaya Aud and they have three children and 10 grandchildren.

Asher was also recently a torchlighter on the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day ceremony in May 2014. To see and hear Asher telling his story, click here.

Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies grants the prestigious prize in five categories: the Lifetime Achievement Award, Children's Holocaust Literature, Outstanding Matriculation Papers on the Holocaust, Outstanding Educational Curricula, and Outstanding Educational Curricula on French Jewry during the Holocaust.

The awards are generously supported by the Najmann Family, Sandra Brand in memory of her son, Bruno Brand, who perished in the Holocaust, the Luba and Mark Uveeler Foundation, the Foundation pour la Memoire de la Shoah and the Aloumim Association.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Grateful Experience

Written by Heather Gillies

A few weeks ago, I met Rena Quint, a child survivor of the Holocaust. That morning I had the privilege of hearing her story, and through the Twinning program at Yad Vashem I was able interview her personally. My name is Heather Gillies, and I'm a student from San Diego studying for a semester at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University. In these few months that I have been living in Jerusalem, I took the opportunity to volunteer at Yad Vashem, and wanted to develop a personal connection with a survivor.

Heather Gillies and Rena Quint at Yad Vashem
Born in Piotrkow, Poland, not far from Krakow, Rena lived in the Ghetto with her two brothers and parents. One day all 2,000 Jews were rounded up in the small local synagogue. Foreseeing immediate danger, a man that Rena called "uncle" told her to run away. She tells me that she doesn't understand why a young child of maybe 5 or 6 would let go of her mother and run away, but her life was momentarily spared as she escaped the synagogue and her entire community was sent to Treblinka. She never saw her family or any one of those people ever again. Her father, meanwhile, worked at a glass factory at a work camp. She was brought to him, and in order to survive Rena's father changed her identity to that of a ten year old boy. Rena worked by bringing water to the workers, and remembers the Nazis' dogs that stood by watching, whom were randomly unleashed onto any unsuspecting worker. A worker who was injured by the dogs was considered useless, and immediately shot by the Nazis. Although Rena has struggled to piece together the reality of her past and find truth in her memories, she says that some things are unforgettable. The vicious demeanor of these dogs, and the smells of death and disease are some of these things that are ingrained in her memory.

On one fateful day, Rena and her father were rounded up with many others from the glass factory and sent to Bergen-Belsen. Her father entrusted her care to a school teacher he had met, and handed her pictures of her family. Thinking that Rena was hiding a jewel in her hand, a Nazi soldier took the pictures and ripped them, tossing them into the snow. To this day Rena cannot remember the faces of her family. Her father was sent to Buchenwald and she stayed with her "new mother" in Bergen-Belsen. They slept on the stone cold floor with rats and lice, ate soup made from dirt, snow, and turnips, and witnessed the deaths of thousands of people. She remembers being able to understand when death was coming. One day, new soldiers showed up in the camps. People who could barely walk or speak were now running and shouting, "You're free, you're free!" But Rena explains that she didn't really understand what freedom meant. She was liberated from Bergen-Belsen with Typhus and Diphtheria, and was sent to a DP camp in Sweden where she recovered. Every day a Christian couple came to take care of her and bring her toys and candy. They offered to adopt her one day, but the people around Rena told her that she was Jewish and that she belonged in Palestine. She had no idea what it meant to be Jewish. She was transferred to another DP camp where she met Anna, her next mother. When Anna's own daughter died, Rena took her place as Anna's daughter, and boarded a ship to America.

During her life in the United States, she learned how to be Jewish and what a real childhood was like. No one asked her about the Holocaust. Rena remembers that one day Anna disappeared. She came back in a black car that people around her called a hearse. There was a grave dug for her, and a ceremony, and everyone around her was grieving. Rena didn't understand why everyone was crying over the death of one person. In the camps, so many died and no one cried. Rena was eventually adopted by a family in Brooklyn – her sixth and final mother. She went to school, graduated, and eventually moved to Israel with her husband, and volunteers at Yad Vashem.

Rena guiding a group at the museum at Yad Vashem
After Rena finished telling her story, I sat down with her to ask some questions of my own. Like me, living in Israel has been a source of strength and life for her. She is proud of her adopted mother who lived to be 100 years old, and of her 22 grandchildren, three of whom attend school at Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford. She is proud of the binder of documents she has amassed: her birth certificate, her medical records, pictures of her old apartment and synagogue. This is proof to herself that her story was not imagined – everything she remembered was true - and proof to the deniers who claim that these atrocities never happened. She tells her story with grace and ease, fully understanding of its significance in the collective Jewish narrative. When I ask her if she connects with the Jewish people and with Israel, she answers without hesitation: "Absolutely." She inspires me to be better – to help foster a greater future in which Jews no longer have to live in fear. I listened to her explain how she didn't know how wonderful life could be until she was free with a loving family. She said, "Before I was liberated, I thought that everyone slept on the floor, and didn't know that people got up in the morning, showered, and went to the kitchen to decide what to eat for breakfast." These little things that we take for granted every day were luxuries for so many survivors during the Holocaust. Survivors like Rena teach us to appreciate the blessings we have: our families, our homes, and our heritage. I am so fortunate to have shared in this experience with Rena and to have heard her story of survival and life.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Yad Vashem Seminar Graduates Promote Holocaust Education in Turkey

by James Joseph McIntosh

A seminar on Holocaust studies for a group of academics from Turkey has generated some exceptional and diverse educational activities just one year later.  In June 2014, the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem, in cooperation with the Aladdin Project, organized a first-of-a-kind seminar which was attended by an outstanding group of educators. The extended program began in 2013, with an international conference at Galatasaray University in Istanbul, followed by  participation in an online course designed by Yad Vashem's experts. This summer, the seminar graduates have already begun to incorporate the study of the Holocaust into their classrooms, effectively become emissaries for Yad Vashem in their home country.

Academics from Turkey attend a session at
 Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies
One graduate, a professor at a university in Istanbul who requested he remain anonymous, is using Yad Vashem online materials to teach about the Holocaust.  In the lead-up to class discussions on the Holocaust, his students viewed Dr. David Silberklang's online presentation  and read passages from the websites of Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In class, the professor gave a half-hour introduction to the Holocaust, including Jewish life in Eastern Europe, Emancipation, the Dreyfus Affair, the 1881 pogroms and the 1903 Kishinev Pogrom, the rise of Nazism in Germany, and antisemitism.

"The students told me they were profoundly moved when they watched Dr. Silberklang's explanations, and were horrified by the level of cruelty," said the professor. "Some of them admitted to crying while watching the video."
The professor teaches Turkish and international students together, and they had a diverse knowledge base.  "My German student seemed to know more about this subject than all the other students," said the professor. "My Polish student, on the other hand, talked about the increasing interest in Jewish life in Poland. The Turkish students knew much more about World War I, which preceded the Turkish War of National Liberation (1919-1922), than World War II, because Turkey was not involved in the latter."
Yad Vashem staff presentation of cutting-edge educational resources provided participants with essential tools for teaching their students.  James McMillan is a British citizen who teaches English at the Enka Private School in Adapazarı, Turkey.  "The Yad Vashem website is a wonderful help, and one of the few places where I can find accurate information," he said.  Prior to participating in the seminar in Jerusalem, McMillan took a Turkish student group to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial Museum and Jewish sites in Krakow.  "As far as I know, we were the first Turkish school to educate students about the Holocaust, as well as to visit two of the authentic sites where so much terror and murder had occurred," he said.
James McMillian's students during a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau
An active contributor to the Facebook page of the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem, social media has enabled McMillan to make contact and speak with many descendents of Holocaust survivors.  "I have also made friends with Mrs. Toba Abramczyk, whose father survived four camps, including Auschwitz, then survived one of the death marches, said McMillan.  He expressed the hope that his students would have the opportunity to speak with her via Skype and learn about the second generation of Holocaust survivors as well.

Teaching the Holocaust and other genocides to students in Turkey can be very complex and challenging in the context of Turkey's own history and the current mid-east realities." Teaching about life before the war is so important because it gives the victim a face, a life, a background," said McMillan.  "This is our ultimate response to racism and prejudice, and I am committed to transmitting that message to my students."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Story of Survival

My name is Elysha Varenbut and I am from Toronto, Ontario. Currently I am spending a semester in Jerusalem studying at Hebrew University. I began volunteering at Yad Vashem this year, and met Holocaust survivor Berthe one day while listening to her special story. I instantly felt connected to her and her passion for life.

Berthe in the Hall of  Names
Berthe was born in Lyon, France in 1932 into a Jewish family. Her father, originally from Poland, moved to France at the young age of 14. Quickly realizing the danger that Jews faced, he became communist, in the hope that it would ease the harsh lifestyle created as a result of living in Europe. Her mother, originally from Poland, moved to France with the same intention as Berthe’s father. As the situation continued to worsen, Berthe’s parents quickly realized that in order to keep Berthe safe she would have to be sent away.

In December 1941, when Berthe was only nine years old, she packed a suitcase. About to leave behind her family and the only life she had ever known, she was scared and uneasy, but somehow understood it had to be done. Berthe was relocated through a Christian church program, and had to hide her true Jewish identity in order to fit into her new life. She was taken in by a young woman, Madame Marsona, and her three children, who were living in a small village about 100 kilometers outside of Lyon. Madame Marsona lived a very simple life; she was strict yet sensible, and treated Berthe as one of her own. Berthe explains, “She knew I was Jewish but never said a word… not even to her children.”
Elysha and Berthe at Yad Vashem 
Berthe lived in a stable household with Madame Marsona and her family for about two years before German soldiers began to invade the town in 1943. “When I was walking I would look down… I was afraid they would see my face and see I was a Jew. I was so afraid to say the word ‘Jew’." Not only was Berthe afraid for her own life, she feared that Madame Marsona and her family were also at risk. It was forbidden for French citizens to host Jewish people for several weeks without registering them with the authorities; some French rescuers were punished and either deported or even murdered. However, although the Marsona family understood the risks of hiding Berthe this                                                                                                              did not deter them from hiding her in their home.

On September 3, 1944, French units liberated Lyon, and Berthe safely returned home to her mother and father in Lyon. Berthe continued living in Lyon with her parents until 1956, when she made Aliyah to Israel. Her parents later joined her in Israel in 1971.

Elysha and Berthe at Yad Vashem 
Looking back and thinking about the hard times Berthe and her family went through, she still manages to remain positive and have an optimistic outlook on life. “Because I learned to be tough, I learned to survive,” she said. "I am grateful to the Marsona family for saving my life. It is my duty to remind you that there are good people in the world.” Berthe’s story is just one of many that display actions of courage, bravery, and strength. The Marsona family, along with other Righteous Among the Nations families and individuals who risked their lives to save Jews will forever be appreciated and admired.

Berthe has been through so many struggles and losses, and yet she is able to wake up every day with a smile and focus on the good in the world. Spending time talking to Berthe and listening to her stories has been a wonderful learning experience. Every moment I spend with her is very special, and she is continually helping me to learn and grow more as a person. She helps young individuals every day realize the importance of listening to the voice of survivors in order to keep their memories alive.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Fighting for Freedom

New online exhibition marking 70 years since VE Day

"Fighting for Freedom" is a special new online exhibition marking 70 years since VE Day, the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allied forces. This new exhibition tells the personal stories of some of the 1.5 million Jewish soldiers who served in the Allied Forces during WWII, through items such as artifacts, photographs, uniforms, prized medals and more, each telling a singular wartime tale. These treasured items express the unique encounters and individual experiences these combat soldiers faced when liberating their fellow Jews from the horrors of the Nazi concentration and death camps. 

Cloth wall decoration found in an
abandoned Jewish home in Lithuania
Moshe Domb enlisted in the Lithuanian division of the Red Army. During the war, Domb was wounded and hospitalized. While journeying to  rejoin his unit, he passed through many Lithuanian villages, seldom finding a Jewish child or woman who had miraculously survived. In one of the villages that he passed through, he entered the empty home of a Jewish family where he discovered an embroidered cloth decoration on the kitchen wall. Embroidered on the cloth is an image of a woman in a kitchen with the Yiddish saying "die Reinkeit liegt in Scheinkeit" (Purity lies in Cleanliness.) As Domb's unit marched through these villages they began to understand the magnitude of the destruction of the Jewish people and felt that they had arrived too late. In a letter Domb wrote, "We have already lost the war, no Jews are left in Europe, there is no hope of finding any of our family." Moshe later donated the cloth he found to the Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection.

Medal received by Ernestina-Yadja Krakowiak
 for service in the battle for Berlin
Another Jewish solider featured in the exhibition is Ernestina-Yadja (Minz) Krakowiak who was one of a number of Jewish women who served in the Allied Armies during WWII. Krakowiak, was born in Warsaw and fled to Soviet territory early in the war and was sent to a detention camp in Siberia. When a Polish unit of the Red Army was founded, Krakowiak joined its ranks, becoming only one of two women in her unit to serve in the artillery division. For her involvement in various combat operations, she was awarded both Polish and Soviet ribbons and medals which she later donated to Yad Vashem. 

To view other captivating stories of these Jewish soldiers in the online exhibition "Freedom Fighters" click here.

The exhibition is generously supported by the Genesis Philanthropy Group. 

Ernestina-Yadja (Minz) Krakowiak, 

Red Army, Polish Division

Yad Vashem's Artifacts Collection is comprised of over 28,000 itiems donated over the years by Holocaust survivors and members of their families, as well as various organizations in Israel and abroad.  The many personal effects in the collection unveil the individual stories of people, families and at times, entire communities.  Yad Vashem's national campaign "Gathering the Fragments" has been operating since 2011, in an 11th hour effort to collect Holocaust-related personal items from the general public in Israel. The items are then preserved, and their stories made available to researchers, students and the public. 

Information about donating items to Yad Vashem for safekeeping is available at 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

North Carolina High School Class Finds Relatives of Holocaust Victims

A local public school in North Carolina, U.S.A concluded an intensive year-long research project where students worked diligently to return a Holocaust-era letter to living relatives of the writer.
Professor Todd Singer's American History class at the East Henderson High School embarked on a year-long journey to find a living relative of Betty Erb, who together with her fiancé, Martin Selling, were murdered in Auschwitz. More than 75 years ago, Betty wrote a desperate letter to a John B. Erb in the United States, in hopes that they were related, requesting help to be able to escape Germany and immigrate to Bolivia. As a Jew in Germany in the 1930's, she understood that her life and that of her fiancé were in danger. The letter survived, but, like too many, Betty and Martin did not.

Todd Singer asked his class to help him research and find out what happened to Betty. The class worked persistently to search for information, and also to search for a living relative, to whom they would present the letter. Malka Weisberg, from Yad Vashem, assisted their continued search and using the ITS Tracing Service, a living relative was found in Australia -  Andrew Blitz - who then connected the class with his sister, Suzanne, in Florida.

"The search for a living relative of Betty Erb, who together with her husband, Martin, was murdered in Auschwitz, began as Todd Singer taught his class about the Holocaust," noted Weisberg. "Todd showed the class a letter, which Betty wrote to an Erb in the United States asking for his help. She did not know if they were related but she tried anything as her situation became desperate.   From there, the class embarked on a journey of discovery.   They used the Yad Vashem website and found out that Betty and Martin had been murdered. They then decided to find a relative, to whom they would present the letter. They wanted to make sure the memory of Betty and Martin would survive. They unraveled information about an individual, but through this learned about an entire nation, hunted down and murdered because they were Jews.  Anyone can search our database, as we continue to digitize the 179 million pages of documentation contained in our Archives.  The students at East Henderson High School found Betty's information through our website. They could not find Pages of Testimony filled out about them, because tragically, there was no one close to them who survived to fill them out. They turned to us and we continued the search where they left off."  

The culmination of this memorable project took place yesterday as the students, who vowed to remember Betty Erb and Martin Selling, filled out Pages of Testimony in their memory that will be kept at Yad Vashem. 

Blitz, Erb's relative, said, "We are now able to gift the legacy of remembrance to Betty Erb…When we commemorate the victims of the Holocaust we will incorporate memorial prayers to her, recall her plight, and stand in honor of her testimony. (The students') gift to us is not just history, but the recovery of memory itself that would otherwise have been lost from our world."

The original letter was presented to Betty's relatives, who have generously decided to donate the letter to Yad Vashem's Archives, where it will be preserved for generations to come.