Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Belarus Righteous Among the Nations Posthumously Honored at Yad Vashem

Yesterday at Yad Vashem, a special ceremony posthumously honoring Yelena Vorotchik (Schultz) and her mother Yefrosinia Grenko from Belarus, as Righteous Among the Nations took place. Mr. Yevgeniy Vorotchik, son of the survivor and the Righteous Among the Nations emotionally accepted the medal and certificate of honor on his mother's and grandmother's behalf. Yevgeniy was extremely touched to accept the award on behalf of his mother and grandmother in honor of their memory.

Yakov Meilachs, was born in 1921 in the city of Odessa. In 1939, Yakov was drafted to serve in the Red Army and after Germany attacked the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, he was sent to the front lines. A short while after, his unit was surrounded and he was captured by the Germans and imprisoned in a prisoner of war camp in Barysaw, Belarus. While at the camp, Yakov was in constant danger of death due to his ethnic appearance which gave away his Jewish identity. Therefore, he changed his name to Vorotchik, which was the family name of his neighbors in Odessa.  
Yelena Vorotchik with Yakov Vorotchik and children

Yefrosinia Grenko lived with her daughter, Yelena in Barysaw and worked at a cowshed of the German army unit that guarded the prisoner of war camp. Yelena came to help her mother milk the cows and took every opportunity she could to help the prisoners by smuggling food and tobacco. This is how Yelena met Yakov. During one brief conversation, Yelena mentioned to Yakov that he looks Jewish. Yakov revealed his secret and told her his real name, Yakov Meilachs, and that he feared that sooner or later his true identity would be discovered, and he would be killed. Yelena told her mother of her discovery and they both decided to help him. They bribed a clerk in the population registry to issue Yakov a fake identification card with the name Yakov Vorotchik in order to protect him while in the camp. Eventually Yakov managed to escape the camp and hid for several months at the home of Yelena and her mother, where they risked their lives to hide him. After the prison guards were replaced, and there was no danger of Yakov being recognized, he lived openly and worked at a factory. He continued to live with his rescuers, and was presented as Yelena's fiancĂ©.  After liberation, Yakov and Yelena were married and had three children.

After the war, Yakov began to search for his relatives in Odessa. His older brother was killed in battle, however his mother Zisla and his younger brother Lev survived. Acting upon his mother's advice, he did not change his name back to his original name, but instead kept the name Vorotchik for the rest of his life. He continued to live in Barysaw, and was recognized by the Jewish community as a Jew and never denied his Jewishness. Yelena and Yakov lived together for 47 years until Yakov's death in 1989.

Yevgeniy Vorotchik unveiling his mother's name on the Wall of Honor
with Mr. Vladimir Skvorsov
At the ceremony, Yevgeniy spoke fondly of his parents saying that they were wonderful people who worked a lot and loved each other deeply. Although they passed away, he is grateful for his growing family of 7 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren, thanks to these two brave woman who risked their lives to save his father's life. 

The ceremony was attended by Ambassador of Belarus to Israel, Mr. Vladimir Skvortsov, Director of the Department of the Righteous Among the Nations, Irena Steinfeldt, family including Yevgeniy's two grandchildren, Holocaust survivors, as well as members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous and teachers currently participating in a Russian speaking educators' seminar at Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies.

A memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance was held where Yevgeniy rekindled the eternal flame, accompanied by his grandson who is currently serving in the IDF. The ceremony continued in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations followed by the awarding of the medal and certificate and the unveiling of Yevgeniy's mothers name on the Righteous Wall where Yevgeniy proudly took photographs with his family and friends.

For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations:

Monday, February 23, 2015

EHRI International Workshop at Yad Vashem: Holocaust Art – An Essential Tool for the Methodology of Constructing a Historical Narrative

Artworks created during the Holocaust, often intimate and fragile, at times extremely personal, can be viewed as important documents, written by means of artistic expression rather than with words. They constitute a most valuable tool for understanding the inconceivable reality of the Holocaust. A discussion of the methodology for integrating the visual into research and education about the Holocaust was initiated last week at Yad Vashem. The workshop raised the question of how to implement this approach in museums, classrooms and research.

The European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) held an international workshop, organized by the Yad Vashem Archives and the Museums Division, from February 9, 2015 to February 11, 2015 in Jerusalem. The Workshop entitled "Holocaust Art – an Essential Tool for the Methodology of Constructing a Historical Narrative” explored the role of the visual arts in an attempt to build a historical Holocaust narrative, examining the phenomenon through an array of approaches. The workshop included museum directors, curators, scholars and leading experts from all over the world such as Germany, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, U.K., U.S.A. and Israel. Participants presented lectures on various topics within the framework of Holocaust Art, such as: the use of art as visual testimony; setting Holocaust Art in its historical context; the role of the artist as recorder of history; and, methodologies to investigate art looted by the Nazis and the Provenance Research Project.

Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett presenting the opening keynote address.
The opening session took place on Monday, February 9, 2015 with welcoming remarks from Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. Shalev emphasized the importance of art on two levels: first, the interweaving of art as historical testimony in Yad Vashem's Holocaust History Museum, and second, the importance of seeing art and its creation, during the harshest of circumstances, as a component that preserved the artists' human spirit.

Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, Program Director of the Core Exhibition, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, presented the opening keynote address, entitled "Felt Facts: The Role of Art and Culture in the Holocaust Gallery at POLIN Museum". In this presentation, she argued for a removal of focus from art specifically, to an emphasis on visual culture broadly defined.     
The closing session took place on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 with a round table moderated by Haim Gertner, Director of the Yad Vashem Archives Division and member of the Executive Committee of EHRI; Yehudit Shendar, Retired Deputy Director and Senior Art Curator of the Museums Division and currently with Yad Vashem's Provenance Research Project, and Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg, Curator and Art Department Director in the Museums Division. The participants expressed enthusiasm for having had the opportunity to exchange knowledge and ideas with colleagues in the intimate atmosphere of this first of its kind workshop and concluded that there is a need to continue the collaboration between researchers and the various institutions dealing with these important issues. In addition, they stressed the necessity to acknowledge Holocaust Art as part of the mainstream in the field of Art History. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Holocaust survivor, journalist and author Roman Frister passes away in Warsaw, aged 87.

Roman Frister was born in 1928 in the town of Bielsko, Silesia, the only child of a bourgeois, well-off family.  Roman was given a multi-cultural education, with access to books in German, Polish and English. His parents had intended to send him to a prestigious boarding school in London straight after his Bar Mitzvah. 

When the war broke out, Roman’s family lived under an assumed identity thanks to forged identity papers that Polish friends of his father’s managed to obtain for them.  When the Jews were forced into the Bielsko ghetto, the Fristers stayed at home, but eventually had to move to Krakow, where they continued to use their forged papers. 

Roman, who looked “Aryan”, felt secure walking on the streets of Krakow while all the city’s Jews, including his own grandparents, had been forced to move into the ghetto.  The 13-year-old Roman decided that he would find a way to smuggle his grandparents out of the ghetto. After monitoring the daily running of the ghetto, he managed to sneak inside bringing with him the clothes of a priest, a nun and a novice.  He found his grandparents, who were astonished to see him.  After much argument, Roman convinced them to exit the ghetto with him dressed up in the garments he had brought.  Roman’s act of rescue granted his grandparents a few more months of life:  on discovering them hiding in a village, the Nazis murdered them.

Roman and his parents were eventually caught after they were betrayed.  His mother was murdered in front of him in the Krakow prison, and he was deported with his father to several camps, including Plaszow and Auschwitz-Birkenau.  “Chance played a major role in my survival,” relates Frister “As long as I knew how to take my chance when it arose. Once, I was caught while in a camp.  The SS man drew his gun, but the bullet got stuck in the barrel.  Chance, right? But if I had stood around until he reloaded, he would have shot me.  I ran, thus helping chance to help me.  This is a trait that characterizes me till today,” he said in an interview with “Yediot Aharonot” in 1993.  In another incident, Frister stole a prisoner’s cap after his own was taken, thus buying his life at the price of another Jew’s death. “If human life is the ultimate value, shouldn’t one do everything possible to stay alive, even at the cost of another’s life? Who can judge whose life was more important?  My life is worth more to me than the life of anyone else.  I’m not holy.  I knew that if I didn’t do it, I’d die.  Even today, I think I did the right thing.”

In 1957, Roman immigrated to Israel and entered the world of the media.  He was a journalist for the Ha’aretz newspaper for many years, lectured in journalism at the university and wrote several books.  One of them, “The Cap:  The Price of a Life”, is an autobiographical account.

In his book, Roman recalls his father’s dying words, spoken as he lay on his bunk in the Plaszow labor camp:  “…I only ask one thing. Just one. That you be a human being. A fair person. That you don’t take the morality of the camps with you into your new life. That you don’t adopt the laws of the jungle. That you forget what you acquired here.  The necessity to lie and cheat and hurt others. The contempt for law and honesty. And promise me that you will never – you hear – never steal.”   

Roman Frister will be laid to rest on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Response from Yad Vad Vashem regarding the on-site taxi service

In order to prevent inflated prices for tourists visiting one of Jerusalem's most popular sites, Yad Vashem decided to arrange for an on-site taxi service. Several months ago, a tender was issued which according to Israeli law was advertised in an Arabic newspaper, thus enabling Arab taxi operators to participate in the tender."

Yad Vashem placed no precondition in the tender regarding the identity of the cab drivers. Three Jerusalem taxi services, made offers for the tender. The best offer was made by Hapisgah Taxis and therefore they were chosen.  It is important to note, that the Hapisgah Taxi service did not submit any documentation to the Yad Vashem commission stating that the taxi service has a policy against employing Arabs. After clarifying with the manager of Hapisgah Taxi, the service said that they have no such policy. The Israeli Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the Ministry of Economy is currently looking into this matter.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

IRemember Facebook Wall

To mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day this year Yad Vashem once again launched the IRemember Wall on Facebook. The IRemember Wall is a unique and meaningful opportunity for the public to participate in an online commemorative event.  By joining the wall, one's Facebook profile is randomly linked to the name of a Holocaust victim from our Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names and then posted to the wall together with the photo and name of the Holocaust victim. Thousands each year have joined Yad Vashem's IRemember Wall.

The IR Wall was originally created in order to provide Yad Vashem's growing international group of Facebook followers a meaningful as well as participatory way to commemorate Holocaust victims. The random linking of one's FB profile with the name and story of a Holocaust victim ensures that even those who don’t have a personal connection to someone who perished, can join and be part of this online commemorative opportunity.

On January 27th, 2015 over 4,000 people from all over the world joined the IR Wall and immediately were able to view a photo of the Holocaust victim they were connected to as well as Pages of Testimony from our Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names providing information (when known) about where the victim was born, family members' names, place of death and more.

Yad Vashem was very moved by many of the meaningful comments people posted:
One participant wrote: "This is my 3rd year connecting to IRemember…it never fails to move me
Sara Plotka was born in Rozan, Poland in 1920 to Shlomo and Fruma. Prior to WWII she lived in Rozan, Poland. Sara was murdered in the Shoah at the age of 22."
Another participant commented, "It is an honour for me to have the chance to get personally involved each year. Without Yad Vashem's wonderful idea I wouldn't be able to spend the days reflecting on that one special person. I think about them all, all the time but it is so special to remember the one person for a short while."
Others wrote, "Always in my heart. We will always remember."

We would like to thank all of you who joined our IRemember Wall this year to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and for sharing your meaningful comments and messages with us.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

In Response to Comments Regarding Death Camps in Poland

It has been brought to our attention that there are several instances on our website where camps are referred to as "Polish death camps."  Yad Vashem is dedicated to providing accurate and updated historical information. For example, as can be seen here, in 2006 Yad Vashem previously supported the request of the Polish Government to add the words "the former Nazi German Camp" to the name of Auschwitz - Birkenau, and continues to support this decision.  We are grateful that this unfortunate mistake has been brought to our attention and we are already in the process of correcting it in our website. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Corner

Letters Never Sent

Yad Vashem Publications' new release, Letters Never Sent: Amsterdam, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen by Mirjam Bolle is a personal historical account of persecution, distress and anguish.  
In early 1943, Mirjam Levie, a young Jewish woman from Amsterdam, began writing letters to her fiancée, Leo Bolle with whom she was deeply in love. Bolle had immigrated to Eretz Israel a few years earlier. "I am vain enough to believe that this diary may be found hundreds of years from now and serve as an important source of information. That's why I included all the trivial things, because they may provide an outsider with a more vivid picture. After all, I'm so caught up in all this that I can't put myself in the shoes of a person who isn't going through this himself and therefore knows nothing about it. Perhaps one day our children will read it."

Her letters, which were never sent, were written during the deportations of the Jews from Amsterdam; during her incarceration in Westerbork, the main transit camp for Jewish deportees to the death camps in Poland; and during her imprisonment in Bergen-Belsen.
As secretary in the controversial "Joodsche Raad voor Amsterdam" (the Jewish Council for Amsterdam), Mirjam's letters are the only remaining source to describe events from the viewpoint of one of its members. Mirjam managed to hide the letters she wrote in Amsterdam and Westerbork; and those she wrote in Bergen-Belsen she brought with her when she was released as part of an exchange between Dutch Jews and German POWs, and arrived in Eretz Israel on July 10, 1944.

Excerpt from book: Westerbork
Letters Never Sent
"My darling. I'm all alone in the school at the moment. "Alone" is a relative notion, for there are at least 100 children outside, with all the noise that playing children make…I had got as far as our arrival at the station. As I wrote, this was an extremely difficult moment. I kept looking around me to see if there was any chance of escape, but there wasn't. Hundreds and hundreds of people filled the platform, nothing but familiar faces, of course…The wagons were unbearably hot. And we had to sit on the floor, of course. Now this matters little to me, but imagine the elderly people. Besides, people kept fainting, while some suffered panic attacks and others had their hands trampled on so they were bleeding. It was a pitiful sight. The train was interminable, and still more people filed onto the platform, huffing and puffing with their heavy luggage. Some, elderly people and parents with young children, sat on top of their luggage on the platform, waiting for someone to help them onto the train. Just like migrants. Many were in tears, naturally, while others just sat there staring. Children were wailing, there was screaming and shouting, but also some jolly greetings, such as "You are here as well?" from spirited youngsters…"

Letters Never Sent: Amsterdam, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen is available for purchase online or may be ordered by email.