Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Righteous Among the Nations Honored at Yad Vashem

Today there was a very special ceremony honoring the late Wojciech Twardzicki from Poland and his daughters Helena, and Zofia, and the late Wladyslawa, as Righteous Among the Nations. Jadwiga Zarnowiecka, Worjciech’s granddaughter, arrived from Poland for the event where she met Holocaust survivor Zahava (nee Waic) Schwartz and her extended family of children and grandchildren who were present. Jadwiga, out of respect for Zahava and her religously observant family, came to the ceremony with her head elegantly covered with a scarf. Holding hands, and exchanging loving looks, the women celebrated the courage of the Twardzicki family and the “entire world” that was created as a result of Zahava’s survival.
Their Story:
On September 8, 1939, the city of Jaslo in Western Galicia was occupied by the Nazis. Many Jews attempted to flee, but the German Army prevented their escape and returned them to their homes. The Jews of Jaslo suffered and were persecuted: they were beaten in the streets; they were sent forcibly to hard labor; their homes and stores were looted; and they were obligated to wear a white armband marked with a blue Star of David. In 1941, the Jews were sequestered in a ghetto in a small quarter of the city.

In July 1942, some months before the liquidation of the ghetto, young Zahava Schwartz escaped from the ghetto to the house of some family friends, the Twardzickis, who lived in the neighboring town of Birowka, where she was hidden together with her cousin Mina.
The Twardzicki family was kind and warm hearted. The mother of the family died of an illness shortly after the arrival of Zahava and Manya, and the father, Wojciech, together with his three daughters, Helena, Wladyslawa and Zofia, devotedly cared for the two girls. For two years, the family provided the young girls with food, shelter and all their needs, all without receiving any compensation. They protected them, hiding them in a closet, the attic or the stables during raids by the German police.

Zahava’s parents, Hinda and Pinchas Elazar Waic and her sister Esther, were murdered when the Jaslo ghetto was liquidated.

On April 10, 1994, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous at Yad Vashem decided to recognize Wojciech Twardzicki and his daughters, Helena, Wladyslawa and Zofia, as a Righteous Among the Nations.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Anonymous No Longer"

One of the most moving features of Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History Museum is the emphasis on the individual. Recently I went on a guided tour of the museum, rather than going through on my own, and hearing the story of the Shoah told using personal items and stories added an emotional dimension that was even more heartbreaking, making the tragedy of the Shoah ever more personal. For many of the personal items - the diaries, the jewelry, the religious items, the displays identify to whom they belonged and tell their stories. Many of the people in the photographs were identified, and since the opening of the museum a number of people have identified themselves, their relatives and acquaintances in the photographs on display in the museum.

Now there is now a new online exhibition “Anonymous No Longer” on the Yad Vashem website that presents several of the photographs on display in the museum, including the names of those who have been recognized.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Recovery of “Arbeit Macht Frei” Sign

Following the news this morning that Polish police have recovered the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign that was stolen last week, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev issued the following statement:

We learned with satisfaction this morning that the Polish Police have recovered the stolen sign, and commend the Polish authorities for their quick work in finding the sign and the criminals who stole it. The Polish police are still investigating the motives behind the theft. Still, the theft of the sign, which had become a symbol both of the ultimate evil that found its expression in Auschwitz, and of the memory of the Shoah - Jewish Holocaust, gave pain to Holocaust survivors and people of conscience everywhere. The concern expressed by people around the world, illustrates the importance and awareness of Holocaust remembrance today. We must continue to work towards meaningful Holocaust education, so that the symbols of the Holocaust will be infused with meaning that will help build a better future, and can serve as catalyst in the fight against antisemitism and racism.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Yad Vashem Comment on the News that the “Arbeit macht frei” sign has been stolen

Following the news this morning that the iconic “Arbeit macht frei” [“works makes you free”] sign has been stolen from the entrance to the Auschwitz camp, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev issued the following statement:

I was shocked to learn this morning of the theft of the sign, which has come to symbolize the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.

While we don’t yet know exactly who stole the sign, the theft of such a symbolic object is an attack on the memory of the Holocaust, and an escalation from those elements that would like to return us to darker days. I call on all enlightened forces in the world – who fight against antisemitism, racism, xenophobia and the hatred of the other, to join together to combat these trends.

I am in contact with the director of the Auschwitz Museum and have offered him any assistance and help we can provide. I am sure that the Polish authorities will do everything in their power to find the sign, and the culprits and to bring them to justice.

Over 1 million people were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau, some 90% of whom were Jews.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Actress who Played Anne in "The Diary of Anne Frank" Visits Yad Vashem

Marking the 50th anniversary of the release of the film, "The Diary of Anne Frank" (Directed by George Stevens, 1959) actress Millie Perkins, who played Anne in the film, visited Yad Vashem's Visual Center and the Holocaust History Museum. Ms. Perkins was able to see her film at the Visual Center where it is part of Yad Vashem's digizited film collection of more than 3,400 films available for viewing.

After her visit to Yad Vashem she attended a special symposium held at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinamatheque, in conjunction with Yad Vashem. The Symposium, "Anne Frank: The Diary and its Aftermath" featured Dr Robert Rozett, Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries who discussed the idea of "icons in Holocaust representation", Gabriel Levin, a poet and son of Meyer Levin, who brought the diary to the US; Prof Sidra Ezrahi, who spoke wbout the "evolution of the cinematic representation of the Holocaust"; and Dr Foster Hirsch, Prof of Film from Brooklyn College, CUNY, and the biographer of George Stevens, addressed "the adaptation of the diary to conform to notions of "good taste" of American culture of the time"; Liat Benhabib, Director of the Yad Vashem Visual Center moderated the event. This is Ms Perkins first visit to Yad Vashem. The symposium was followed by the screening of the film, and a discussion between Dr Hirsch and Ms Perkins.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Moving Performance Closes Training for Ultra-Orthodox Volunteers

On Tuesday, an extraordinary moving musical performance, "Melodies in the Shadow of the Holocaust," took place at Yad Vashem before a large group of women volunteers from the orthodox communities in Jerusalem. Twelve tunes were performed by clarinet player, Bernie Marinbach, each one having a very unique story, which connected them to the Holocaust. The performance was the finale of a six-session course for women volunteers which came about as the result of a joint venture between Yad Vashem and the Misgav Lakashish Organization. The volunteers will be visiting the homes of handicapped and home bound survivors living in various religious communities within the Jerusalem vicinity and will assist them in filling out Pages of Testimony to commemorate the memory of their friends and family who were murdered in the Holocaust. The volunteers attended lectures and workshops, preparing the volunteers not only by enriching their knowledge of the Holocaust but by training them for the emotional interaction with the survivors, when touching painful memories.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Music of the Holocaust

I just had a chance to see an incredibly touching online exhibition about music created during the Holocaust. The achingly poignant music includes 20 different musical compositions, all performed in their original Yiddish. Extensive texts accompany the music, placing it in its historical context. The new exhibition highlights music that was created in the ghettos, camps and partisan camps. “Heartstrings, Music of the Holocaust” is a testimony to the power of that music which served many different purposes – as a source of comfort; as a form of resistance, as relief and entertainment and even criticism of local Jewish leaders. For example, the songs that are included from the Lodz Ghetto are from the repertoire of the street songs of the ghetto. Street entertainers wrote new lyrics to Yiddish folksongs that reflected the events taking place around them, and performed the songs in the ghetto. The songs describe the events and daily life of the ghetto during its first year of existence. There are also sections in the exhibition about music in the Vilna Ghetto, the Partisans of Vilna, the Kovno Ghetto and Lithuania. There is also a very interesting section about the conductor and composer Shmerke Kaczerginski. While in the Vilna ghetto he wrote songs to console his fellow inhabitants; directed theater productions and literary evenings; and later was actively involved in partisan activities. During the war, while in the forest, he already began documenting the stories and songs that he had written and heard. After the war he continued this work becoming an expert in the area and recording 60 songs sung by Holocaust survivors. The songs in this exhibition are part of those recordings which are now preserved in the Yad Vashem Archives.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reflections on the Demjanjuk Trial - 2009

The Demjanjuk trial is opening tomorrow in Germany. Unquestionably trials centered on crimes committed during the Holocaust serve as significant forums for bringing the history of that era to the public’s attention. They provide an opportunity to highlight not only events but to explore society-wide and individual responsibility for the atrocities that were committed during the Holocaust. Such trials remind us of the cavernous pitfalls inherent in eschewing basic moral norms to achieve ideologically motivated goals. The scourges of antisemitism, racism, xenophobia and uninhibited hatred, which lie at the heart of the Holocaust, come to the fore in these trials, reminding us why pluralism is invaluable to the health of our societies.

The very fact of the trial raises several important questions. Is it reasonable to try a man, aged 89, who was already tried in Israel for his role in the Holocaust and found not guilty? The answer is yes. First of all there can be no statute of limitations on crimes committed as part of the Holocaust. Regardless of a suspect’s age, if he is accused of such crimes and there is enough evidence to bring him to trial, a trial must be held. As to having been tried in Israel previously: John (Ivan) Demjanjuk was tried as Ivan the Terrible, a vicious guard from the Treblinka Extermination Camp. During the course of his trial in Jerusalem and the appeal, it became clear that there was a certain element of doubt regarding his identity, and that he might not be Ivan the Terrible. The trial, however, did make a strong case for him having been a guard recruited by the SS. There remains a serious body of evidence that Demjanjuk served, in among other places, the Sobibor Extermination Camp. He is now being tried as an accessory to murder of some 27,000 people in Sobibor.

Another issue that is being much discussed in light of the Demjanjuk trial concerns the question of Holocaust remembrance. Some are asking if this will be the last high profile trial of a Nazi war criminal? Of course given the age of most surviving war criminals from the Holocaust era, there probably won’t be many more such trials. There are some trials and investigations pending, however, among them the case of Sándor Képíró. Képíró, an officer in the Hungarian occupation forces in the area of Novi Sad (Újvidék) took part in the massacre of over 1000 people, among them 700 Jews, in January 1942. A court in Hungary soon after the end of the war tried Képíró in absentia and found him guilty, but he was never caught and made to serve his sentence. There are efforts under way to convince the Hungarian authorities to try him again, this time in his presence.

Another question the Demjanjuk trial raises is: if this is the last high profile trial concerning the crimes of the Holocaust, will the memory of the Holocaust and possible lessons we may derive from it fade away? The short answer is probably not. So much has been done and is being done to ensure that the history of that period will continue to be taught and that the events and their repercussions will continue to remain in public consciousness, that it is unlikely that that even without future trials people will forget about the Holocaust.

The challenge for educators, however, is not only that the Holocaust should remain in public consciousness, it is, that people should gain more than a shallow understanding of it. A deeper knowledge is necessary to guard against the flagrant manipulation, instrumentalization, trivialization and relativization of the Holocaust. These are real and present dangers to both the memory and understanding of the Holocaust.

Dr. Robert Rozett
Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries
November 29, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fascinating New Memoir of Life in the Ghetto

A Physician Inside the Warsaw Ghetto, 1939-1943

by Mordechai Lensky

In this fascinating first-hand account, Mordechai Lensky, a Jewish doctor in the Warsaw ghetto, struggles against all odds to provide medical care to a community condemned by the Germans to squalor, disease, and death. Lensky’s observations on the ghetto are both sympathetic and sober. He does not gloss over difficult subjects, such as the fact that some of the doctors became corrupt and callous. Lensky himself keenly felt the tension between his moral obligations as a respected professional and his human desire to provide for his family and survive the war. The memoir also provides singular insights into many aspects of ghetto life, including an important account of a hitherto neglected aspect of Jewish resistance-the massive building of bunkers in late 1942 and early 1943.

The Lensky family escaped the ghetto in March 1943 and hid on the “Aryan” side of Warsaw under assumed identities with the help of two Polish women whom Yad Vashem has recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

The book also includes an insightful, moving epilogue by Lensky’s son Yaacov, who relates his own fascinating story in the Warsaw ghetto, the Polish Uprising in August 1944, and more.
In Mordechai Lensky’s assessment, “Warsaw’s Jews lost their lives in three ways: as martyrs of faith, as martyrs of their nationhood and as martyrs for their families.” Most were of the last sort, he says, martyrs for their families, whom they would not abandon. The survival of this family is one testament to that.

The book was published as part of the Holocaust Survivors' Memoirs Project, a special initiative to collect and preserve the autobiographical accounts of Holocaust survivors.

The book can be purchased online for $21.00 including shipping, or directly from the Yad Vashem Publications Department at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Sober Assessment

Originally appeared in Haaretz, November 13, 2009

By Robert Rozett

The celebration is over and the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has come and gone. Now is the time for more sober assessments. Especially regarding the place of the Holocaust in much of the former Communist bloc, some serious issues remain to be resolved.

In the search for a useable past, dissidents, anti-Communists and nationalists are generally regarded as heroes. In some cases, they are genuine. Andrei Sakharov comes to mind as one such courageous individual who fought for freedom at great personal risk and is worthy of emulation as a humanist. Others, however, may well have strong anti-Communist credentials, but fall far short of displaying the kind of humanism embodied by Sakharov. During the Holocaust era, some of these so-called heroes took part in the persecution and murder of their Jewish neighbors, and others. Despite this, they are frequently glorified as patriots and paragons.

Father Josef Tiso, the head of the Slovak puppet government established through Nazi Germany in early 1939, is a clear example of a figure that has often been adulated in spite of his crimes. Tiso presided over the first, at least nominally, independent Slovak entity, and for this he is commonly revered. The regime he headed, however, played a crucial role in the murder of Slovak Jewry. The same could be said of Ante Pavelić, leader of the Croatian Ustaše government, another Nazi puppet that engaged in wholesale murder. Although such men were fervent nationalists and anti-Communists, they can hardly be regarded as patriots, since they fostered the murder of their peaceful, innocent neighbors. Not all people living in the former Communist bloc have fallen into the trap of lionizing such criminals. But significant elements either through ignorance or meanness of spirit have.

Among some in the former Communist states, the reaction to the Communist period has led to the opposite extreme. The glorification of Nazism and Fascism has found significant and vocal adherents. The extreme right, which promotes a racist, xenophobic and antisemitic agenda, regularly uses Nazi and Fascist symbols, images and language. Whether the Magyar Garda in Hungary or neo-Nazi skinheads in the former Soviet Union and other countries, they make the news and in so doing have become part of public discourse, and sometimes have even entered the political arena. In societies that committed crimes in the name of such ideologies, it is hard to accept that these hateful ideas have surfaced again. Even more baffling is how in the former Soviet Union, where the war against the Nazis was dogged and vicious, the Nazis are glorified by some of the new generation. These young people apparently live in splendid ignorance or callous disregard of what their parents and grandparents actually experienced.

Lastly comes the conflation of the crimes of the Nazis and Communists. Although both systems committed mass murders in an overlapping timeframe, they were different. Vastly different ideologies motivated them. And they chose their victims for widely different reasons. There is no question that the crimes of both are worthy of discussion, research and commemoration. But when melded together, the distinctions between them blur and blurred distinctions do nothing to further our understanding. They neither do honor to the memory of the victims nor ensure that the responsible are held accountable.

The way Jews are sometimes seen when the two crimes are melted into one is a salient example of what can occur when distinctions are blurred. The Jews were the Nazis’ foremost victims and in the lands dominated by the Nazis, many local residents played a role in their murder. In much of the former Communist bloc, where so many Jews were murdered under the Nazis, the idea that “Jew” equals “Bolshevik” is deeply entrenched. Thus Jews are often regarded as the foremost agents of Communist crimes, even if history shows this to be false. Conflating Nazi and Communist crimes, thereby, allows people to avoid taking responsibility for their society’s role in Nazi atrocities. They say to themselves: we might have had a hand in killing some Jews, but the Jews made us suffer much more.

The adoption in Europe of August 23, the day the pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was signed, as a day to commemorate the crimes of both regimes, has given the obfuscation of a multifaceted history a patina of official sanction. Instead of pandering to such distortions, European leaders should be leading a crusade to educate the public. Only through knowledge is there a chance to correct widely held misconceptions and learn to sidestep pitfalls on the road to perfecting the democracies that emerged after the Berlin Wall collapsed.

Dr. Robert Rozett is the Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries, and author of Approaching the Holocaust, Texts and Contexts, Vallentine Mitchell, 2005

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau to Speak at Special Event Marking 71 Years Since Kristallnacht

Join us on Monday, November 9, for a special event marking 71 years since the Kristallnacht pogrom. There will be a special evening service (Ma'ariv) at 5:15 p.m. in the Yad Vashem Synagogue, followed at 5:30 p.m. by an address by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council. The event will be in Hebrew. The Yad Vashem Synagogue contains Judaica from destroyed synagogues of Europe. The event is open to the public, but space is limited, so please RSVP: 02-6443769

About Kristallnacht
On November 9, 1938, the Nazis unleashed a series of riots against the Jews in Germany and Austria. In the space of a few hours, thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed. For the first time, tens of thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps simply because they were Jewish. The event came to be called Kristallnacht (“Night of the Broken Glass”) for the shattered windowpanes that covered German streets.

Also marking Kristallnacht, a unique online exhibition, It Came From Within offers information about this pivotal event and includes video testimonies of survivors, archival photographs and Pages of Testimony, all offering first-hand information and insights into the destruction and suffering inflicted on the Jews of Germany and Austria 71 years ago.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

She was a Real Hero

Today, I had the distinct privilege to attend a moving event honoring a very special woman who put her life on the line day in and day out to rescue a little boy during the Holocaust. For two years, Louise Roger hid little Huburt (today Ehud Leob) in her home in France. Today, Ehud and his family, along with the Yad Vashem Chairman and staff, the French Ambassador to Israel, Holocaust survivors and French educators, paid tribute to her in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem.

Louise Roger’s grandson Robert, when asked why his grandmother decided to hide Ehud, said, “She didn’t decide, it just happened. My father came to her with Ehud. It wasn’t a question, it was her heart speaking…. She was a simple woman with a huge heart….”

Reflecting on his time with the Roger family, Ehud Leob noted that, “They encouraged me to keep my religion, in the hopes that my parents would return… They not only saved my life, they saved my Jewish identity…I found refuge and love with her. She was a real hero… After the war, you could see a picture of me, of one little orphan. Today, I’m here with a big family. That is my victory.” Click here for the full story

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Magazine Now Online

The Fall edition of the magazine Yad Vashem Jerusalem has just been uploaded and you can now read it online. The cover article features a compelling issue - how much did the media know about the Nazi's plans for the Jews. A week-long scholarly workshop this summer tackled this topic - real-time media reports during WWII. Also in the issue - recent educational activities including an unique visit of Palestinian youth to Yad Vashem, a review of the Third National Teachers' Conference, and a group of special seminars for ultra-orthodox teachers.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Prime Minister of Spain Visits Yad Vashem

The Prime Minister of Spain,Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, visited Yad Vashem earlier today, touring the Holocaust History Musuem and taking part in a moving memorial ceremony in the Hall of Names. He was accompanied by Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, and President of the Spanish Society for Yad Vashem, Isaac Querub.

After visiting the Children's memorial and signing the guest book, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council presented the President with a copy Yad Vashem's unique Album, To Bear Witness.

Film Depicts 2,000 Years of Jewish History: "The World that Was"

Yesterday, a very special multi-media presentation, “The World that Was,” was unveiled in Yad Vashem’s Valley of the Communities. The short film depicts the richness and vitality of 2,000 years of Jewish life and culture before the Holocaust. Fittingly it is screened in the Valley, a massive 2.5 acre memorial to the more than 5,000 Jewish communities decimated in the Holocaust where more than 100 stone walls tower above the ground, engraved with the names of each of those communities, a testament to a what no longer exists.

Speaking movingly of the changes that have taken place in Holocaust remembrance over the years, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, underscored the importance of not just talking about how people perished in the Holocaust – the horrific ways that their lives ended – but remembering who those six million Jews and their communities were. Remarking upon the value of appreciating the lost communities, their institutions, and their way of life, he noted, “If someone doesn’t appreciate a phenomenon he will not feel any pain if that phenomenon ceases to exits.”

Mr. Brian Markeson, Chairman of the British Friends of Yad Vashem remarked: “It is essential to learn what was lost in the Shoah in order to understand its implications.” The new trustees of the British Friends for Yad Vashem, in Israel for a special 3-day mission, were recognized at the event for the culmination of the British Friends of Yad Vashem fundraising project endowing the “The World that Was”.

Thousands of teachers, IDF soldiers, and school children are expected to view the film each year.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Names Database Helps Cousins Discover Each Other 68 Years After the Shoah

Toby Levin and Shalom Rozen met each other for the first time late last week. Reaching through time and space, these two first cousins covered lost ground as they strove to get to know each other and their families - 68 years after the familial connection had been cut.

Shalom Rozen (Rozenblatt) survived the Holocaust and always believed that he was the only remnant of his family. Having lost his parents and five siblings, Shalom arrived alone on Israeli shores in 1946 and built a new life. Shalom's father Yehudah Leib had two older brothers, Meyer and Isaac who settled in the US just before WWI: Meyer to New York, and Isaac to Florida. The brothers did not stay in touch with each other and Shalom's attempts to locate his uncles and his extended family were only partially successful. During the 1940s he succeeded in locating his cousin in New York, Meyer's daughter, but was not able to track down the family of his other uncle, and over the years he continued to wonder - what happened to his Uncle Isaac.

Recently, Toby Levin (of Florida) dedicated her time to conducting exhaustive research
on her family's roots. With only minimal information - her father's name, Isaac Rozenblatt, and the name of his hometown - she conducted a search on Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names and to her surprise found Pages of Testimony that Shalom Rozen had submitted for his family, including information regarding their mutual grandmother, Isaac, Meyer and Yehudah Leib's mother.

Toby immediately realized she had in fact discovered members of her family and turned to The American Society for Yad Vashem in South Florida for assistance. With their help, she successfully contacted Shalom and introduced herself. After several emotional telephone conversations, Toby didn't hesitate and booked a trip to Israel for the upcoming Sukkot holiday to meet her newly discovered cousin.

Toby, along with her two brothers Jack and Stanley, met their cousin Shalom and members of the extended Rozen family, for the first time last week in Israel.
Toby and Jack then visited Yad Vashem accompanied by Asaf Tal, Shalom's grandson who is a staff member of Yad Vashem's International School of Holocaust Studies.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

97-Year-Old Survivor Sees her Story on Film

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of spending some time with some remarkable women: Marta Spiegel, Veronica Ferres, Anni Richter-Aschoff and Lia Hoensbroech, and Margarita Broich. Mrs Spiegel, is an amazing 97-year-old Holocaust survivor, who wrote a book about her experiences hiding with a family of farmers in Germany during the Holocaust. That book has now been made into a film, (directed by Ludi Boeken) called Saviours in the Night, and it has just premiered at the Jerusalem Cinametheque.
Ferres is the German actress and star of the film who portrays Marga Spiegel, Anni Richter-Aschoff is the daughter of the German farmer and Righteous Among the Nations who hid Marga Spiegel and her daughter for the duration of WWII, and Lia Hoensbroech, and Margarita Broich played Anni and her mother in the film. It's an inspirational story -- the Spiegels are the only Jews from their town of Ahlen to have survived the war, and to meet these amazing women, with the director who brought this true story to the screen was an unique experience. The group was very touched to visit the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem (pictured) and pay homage to the Righteous who took such risks to rescue the Spiegel family.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jewish New Years Cards Past and Present

When we were growing up, the amount of Jewish New Years' cards that arrived daily was more than we knew what to do with. We used the prettiest and most interesting of those that came to decorate our Succah. Right now there is an online exhibition that takes a look at some of the ways that Jews before, during and immediately after the Holocaust marked the Jewish Holidays. This includes a collection of Jewish New Years' cards from before, during and after the war. There is also a moving testimony about using a shofar on Rosh Hashanah in the ghetto, the story of a shofar made in secret, blown in a forced labor camp, and kept hidden even when in Buchenwald, and a Jewish Calendar created in one of the camps listing the weekly Torah portion and Jewish holidays.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rosh Hashanah Message from Rabbi Israel Meir Lau

Here's an inspirational message from Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, himself a child survivor of Buchenwald.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Faith during the Holocaust - Rosh HaShanah Prayers in a Forced labor Camp

On Sept., 15, 1944, Rabbi Naftali Stern, an Hungarian Jewish inmate of the Wolfsberg forced-labor camp, finished writing out the Rosh HaShanah service. He wrote it out from memory, writing with a pencil stub on scraps torn from bags of cement he had purchased with bread rations. Rabbi Stern had been a cantor in the city of Szatmar, and wanted to lead a service in the camp, which he did. After the war, he recalled,

"We prayed on Rosh Hashanah and the service was lovely, the service was good - to the extent that one can say that. But on Yom Kippur we were unable to pray; the Germans evidently were ready for it. On Rosh Hashanah they tolerated it; and I received a larger portion of soup in the afternoon, which was worth something, and I prayed. The entire service lasted less time than we do it today."
After liberation, he kept the handwritten pages in his home, stored inside the family maczhor. Every year he would spread out the pages and pray from them. After 43 years , the pages began to crumble and Stern decided to give them to Yad Vashem for safekeeping and preservation.

Rabbi Stern passed away in 1989, and in 2002, Yad Vashem published The Wolfsberg Machzor. It is not a prayer book, but is made up of 5 articles about faith and prayer in the Holocaust and includes 5 pages showing a scanned copy of Stern's handwritten Machzor.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

An Open Letter to Desmond Tutu

"...It is the Jews who paid for the Holocaust with the blood of some six million innocent victims - not the perpetrators, not the bystanders and not Arabs in Palestine or anywhere else. " Dr. Robert Rozett in an open letter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Read more here

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Page of Testimony Leads to Family Reunion

To say this is the most astonishing e-mail of my life would be an understatement. -- Gerald Schor

Some 64 years after the end of WWII, Nomi Schlomovitz, a Holocaust survivor living in Deerfield, Florida who lost most of her family in the Holocaust, saw a photograph of her father for the first time and discovered cousins she didn’t know existed: Gerald Schor, a former American living in Ra’anana, and his family. Nomi’s grandfather Zisha Katz was a well-known actor with the Yiddish Band of Warsaw (pictured here, center) . In the summer of 1939, he traveled to New York with his troupe for an extended run of performances. While in NY, the 47-year old actor stayed with the Schor family, sharing a room with his much younger cousin, 11-year-old Gerald, where after the evening’s performance the two would talk, developing a very close relationship.

Hearing rumors of imminent war, Zisha returned home to his wife Topsha and his children Boaz and Yaakov and Chana, his daughter-in-law. The Schor and Katz families lost contact, until, in 1942, the Schors read in a local Yiddish paper, of the suicide of the famous Yiddish actor Zisha Katz, who had taken his own life after learning that his family had been murdered.

But unknown to Zisha, Yaakov and Chana had actually escaped to Russia, where their daughter Zisel (now Naomi) was born. Yaakov died in 1943 in Siberia, when Zisel, named for her grandfather Zisha, was just a baby. After the war, Gerald’s father sought out any possible survivors in his family, placing advertisements in Yiddish newspapers in Europe. He found only three - and for over 60 years they believed that was the total number of survivors of their family who had lived in Europe at the outset of WWII.

“I'm the great-granddaughter of Zisha Katz. Can you be my cousin?"

Matthew, Naomi’s grandson was planning a bar mitzvah celebration in Israel together with his parents, grandparents and sister. In preparation for their visit, Nomi’s daughter Penny Glaser, of Long Island, NY, logged on to the Yad Vashem website in order to plan their visit. Noticing a link for the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, Penny searched to see if her great-grandfather was commemorated there. “I saw the Page of Testimony and thought, I didn’t submit it and my mother didn’t submit it, so who did?” At the bottom of the page was the signature “Gerald Schor, cousin.” Penny decided to do a little more research and quickly typed Gerald Schor’s name where she was amazed to discover that he had a Facebook page. After that things moved quickly. She sent an email to Gerald, and they confirmed that indeed, they were cousins. Since then, the families have been in constant contact, and are spending 3 weeks together in Israel. Shortly after the initial discovery, Gerald sent an excited email to Yad Vashem:

"…For over 60 years, we believed that was there were only three
survivors of our family who had lived in Europe at the outset of WWII.In June 2009 I was astonished to receive an e-mail from a woman named Penny who wrote: "I'm the great-granddaughter of Zisha Katz. Can you be my cousin?"…She wrote that despite the news which led Zisha to take his own life, his son Yakov and his wife Chana had somehow managed to escape to Russia when the Nazis invaded Poland. Chana gave birth to a daughter in 1942, whom they named Zeisel, in remembrance of Zisha Katz. Yakov died in Russia in 1943 but Chana and Zeisel survived the war, although Chana apparently was not able to find any of her husband's family afterwards. Zeisel, now named Naomi, eventually immigrated to America and now has two children and four grandchildren.

…next month when they arrive here for the celebration of Matthew's bar-mitzvah. Naomi and family will be meeting at least two dozen of her newly-found relatives in Israel. We are all thrilled. You can be sure that the memory of our relative Zisha Katz will be surrounding us all.We thank Yad Vashem for never allowing the world to forget those who perished in the Holocaust, and for helping to reunite us with members of our family whose existence we were completely unaware of."

Cynthia Wroclowaski, Outreach Manager of Yad Vashem’s Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project, arranged a special visit for the family to Yad Vashem. On August 31, 2009, the two families had an emotional reunion at Yad Vashem that included a moving memorial ceremony in the Synagogue. The family recited the names of relatives murdered in the Shoah, celebrated the new ones they had found, and marked the occasion of Matthew’s Bar Mitzvah in the city of Jerusalem. A tearful Naomi noted that this was a very bittersweet day for her; on the one hand remembering her murdered grandfather and father, and on the other hand celebrating her grandson’s bar mitzvah. “I dreamed all my life to see a picture of my father, now for the first time, I’ve seen his picture…A miracle happened and I found a wonderful family.”

Penny recalled that when she found the Page of Testimony and discovered the family, “everything clicked into place… out of the lost, comes the found. I’m so thankful that Yad Vashem made that possible with that link on the page.” Matthew spoke passionately about the need to strengthen Jewish identity, and one of Zisha’s nephews who lives in Israel noted that,

“Yad Vashem for me has become the foundation of the past upon which the future is built.” Gerald Schor recalled his summer experience with Zisha, and said, “On one of the happiest days of our lives, we learned this granddaughter had survived.” For two weeks, the families have caught up on over 60 years. “I will cherish the memory of these two weeks as long as I live.” It was an emotional event that celebrated Jewish continuity and connectedness.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Summer of Hope at Yad Vashem - Israel

Twenty-one year old Mollie Sharfman spent the summer as an intern at the International School of Holocaust Studies. Here's what she has to say
A Summer of Hope at Yad Vashem - Israel

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Yad Vashem Receives Original Auschwitz Plans

Last year, the original architectural plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp were discovered in an apartment in Berlin. Today, the German newspaper Bild who purchased the sketches, presented the blueprints to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke movingly of the importance of commemorating the Holocaust. "There are those who deny that the Holocaust happened," Netanyahu said. "Let them come to Jerusalem and look at these plans, these plans for the factory of death."

Kai Diekmann, editor in chief of Bild on presenting the plans to Yad Vashem:
“Whoever doesn’t remember the past may err in the future. The German nation carries immense shame, we think it fitting that this hellish plan be at Yad Vashem, and not here."

Yad Vashem's Chairman Avner Shalev indicated the importance of the plans:
There is historic significance in the noble decision of the newspaper to transfer the original plans to Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem. Beyond its importance for research is the message of responsibility. It gave me a strong feeling of obligation to continue our educational endeavors.”

Plan of Auschwitz I camp, including the massive headquarters, that were not built, 30.4.1942

The architectural plans, 29 documents in all, have been authenticated by experts from Germany's Federal Archives. Some of the documents bear notes in the margins, or signatures by senior Nazis, including by Head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. Read more about it in this interesting article in Forbes.

The plans will be displayed at Yad Vashem in January 2010, marking 65 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Memorable Concert at Yad Vashem

Last night, Maestro Giora Feidman charmed those gathered in the Valley of Communities at Yad Vashem with a very special concert. His masterclass students from around the world joined him for a concert of “Jewish Soul Music” (Klezmer), captivating an eclectic group.
The concert opened with the clear notes of Feidman’s clarinet approaching slowly from out of the Valley. As he slowly walked through the audience and approached the stage, the powerful notes emerging from his (translucent!) clarinet pervaded the air. The towering walls of the Valley, etched with the names of Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust, made a perfect and imposing setting - the music soaring out across the hills on the cool air of the Jerusalem summer evening.

The young and not so young musicians, ranging from talented Israeli high school students to seasoned professionals from abroad, clearly put their own “soul” into the music. They played solos, they played together in different combinations, but they never failed to move us with the music.
Feidman, an energetic and colorful performer par excellence, treated us to a truly exceptional performance, inviting us to join him. Soon everyone was tapping their feet, clapping their hands or singing along. Singing and humming along, I think we all filled the Valley with music and life. My 12-year, his grandparents and I were equally enthralled.
As we listened to the music, here in Jerusalem, we were struck by the living memorial to the Jewish world destroyed during the Shoah, and the celebration of Jewish life that continues.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Volunteers & Survivors Create Lasting Ties

Working with Holocaust survivors to assist them with filling out Pages of Testimony in memory of their loved ones who were killed during the war inherently involves listening to the stories of terror, loss and pain as they are filtered through the memories of those who bear witness. In many cases, Yad Vashem staff and volunteers often form special, lasting relationships with the survivors who share their personal tragedies in order to ensure that they will become an integral part of the Jewish national memorial of the Holocaust.

This is the story of Erna Adorian (née Isser), and Talma Ofel, a child of Holocaust survivors who volunteers for the Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project. The two first met last March when Talma visited Erna at her home in Ramat Gan, Israel to help her fill out Pages of Testimony for seven family members who were murdered in the Shoah. Last week Erna, 87, a survivor of Mogilev, a transit camp located in the Transnistria region of the Ukraine for Jews expelled from Bessarabia and Bukovina, visited Yad Vashem together with Talma and her late husband's son, Shlomo Livne, his wife Shani and their son Erez. One highlight of the visit - that included an emotional memorial ceremony at the wall inscribed with name of her hometown Sadgura in the Valley of the Communities and a tour of the Holocaust History Museum - was a visit to the Archives to view a piece of parchment paper that Erna gave to Yad Vashem for safekeeping.
The paper is a "map" documenting the location of her mother Dora Isser's grave in Mogilev. Tracing the map with a trembling hand, Erna told the incredible story of how her mother came to be buried and how she managed to get the map. Erna and her family arrived in Mogilev in October 1942 after a long and harrowing transport from Chernowitz. During their deportation they were often "stored" in bombed out houses and survived by bribing locals with the meager valuables they were able to salvage when they were forced to leave their home. After a few months of hard labor in Mogilev, Erna's mother fell ill and died. She would have been buried in a mass grave - the common fate of the majority of Jews who perished there - save for a German soldier, who, as Erna remembers it, accepted her mother's last dress in exchange for arranging her burial. Erna, who could not bear the thought of not having a record of her mother’s resting place, asked her uncle, who was a translator and worked in the office of a German soldier, to make a sketch of the location of the grave and to draw a tombstone on it. "I thought if I lived, she would want me to have record of where she rests," Erna explained.
Erna is the only member of her family that survived. She managed to save the map by hiding it in her shoe, her clothes and anywhere she could manage throughout the war. "Bringing this map to Yad Vashem, is like giving my mother a final resting place in Israel." To learn more about the Shoah Vicitms' Names Recovery Project click here

Cynthia Wroclawski, Manager
The Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project

Sunday, August 16, 2009

When Comparisons are Apt

How should we, as a nation who survived the Holocaust, relate to the plight of the refugees threatened with genocide? In this interesting piece, Dr. Robert Rozett addresses the issue of our sensitivity as a nation to other perspecuted peoples.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recommended Reading

Eddie Weinstein’s personal account of survival during the Holocaust, just re-published by Yad Vashem, is an especially moving and harrowing account of the Holocaust. He was only 17-years-old when he was sent to work as a forced laborer. Eddie was deported to Treblinka, but managed to escape, return to his hometown in Poland and warn the remaining Jews about the gas chambers and the fate awaiting whoever didn’t escape. He went into hiding with his father, escaping an incredible six times during the Holocaust. His story is told clearly and is filled with details that bring the narrative to life.

His book, 17 Days in Treblinka can be easily ordered online here (and shipped directly to you.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Remembering Janusz Korczak & Rhodesian Jewry

The other day, I attended the event marking 67 years since the deportation to the Treblinka death camp of Janusz Korczak, Stefania Wilczynska, and the children of their orphanage, from the Warsaw Ghetto. One of the last Holocaust survivors who was in the orphanage spoke movingly about his memories of Janusz Korczak.

Youth group member laying a memorial wreath in Janusz Korczak Square.

Janusz Korczak was the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, a Polish-born doctor, author and educator. Born in Warsaw to an assimilated Jewish family, Korczak dedicated his life to caring for children, particularly orphans. He believed that children should always be listened to and respected, and this belief was reflected in his work. He wrote several books for and about children, and broadcast a children's radio program. In 1912 Korczak became the director of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw. When World War II broke out in 1939, Korczak first refused to accept the German occupation and heed their regulations (consequently spending time in jail). However, when the Jews of Warsaw were forced to move into a ghetto, Korczak refocused his efforts on the children in his orphanage. Despite offers from Polish friends to hide him on the "Aryan" side of the city, Korczak refused to abandon the children.

Stefania Wilczynska was born in 1886 in Poland. In 1909, she met Korczak and the two began working together. When World War I began, Korczak was recruited and Stefania remained in charge of running the orphanage, which had expanded and now housed some 150 children. In 1935, she visited Palestine and lived at Ein Harod until 1939. With the Nazi occupation, the members of Ein Harod arranged for her the possibility of leaving Poland, but she turned it down and moved to the ghetto along with Dr. Korczak and the children.

In August 1942, during a 2-month wave of deportations from the ghetto, the Nazis rounded up Korczak, Wilczynska and the 200 children of the orphanage. They marched in rows to the Umschlagplatz with Korczak in the lead. He and Stephania never abandoned the children, even to the very end. Korczak and the children were sent to Treblinka, where they were all murdered.

Among the participants at the event in their memory were survivors, members of the Korczak society and youth movement members, as well as educators from Yad Vashem who reflected on the influence of Korczak's educational philosophy.

Also last week, was the annual event in memory of the Jews of Rhodes. In 1938, racial laws were imposed on the Jewish citizens-closing Jewish schools, limiting travel, firing workers and canceling the Italian citizenship of 103 Jewish families who arrived in Rhodes after 1919. On September 15, 1943, Rhodes fell into German hands and in July 1944, the expulsion of the Jewish community began. 1,641 Jews from Rhodes were murdered in the Holocaust. Among the 179 survivors, were 50 Jews that were rescued by the Turkish consul in Rhodes, Salahattin Ulkumen, who was later recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Righteous Among the Nations who helped Rabbi Lau

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau surrounded by his family and the two daughters of the Righteous, Feodor Mikhailichenko, in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations

Last week, Yad Vashem hosted a number of special events.
On Tuesday August 4,we had a very emotional event to honor the Russian prisoner who helped Rabbi Israel Meir Lau survive in Buchenwald. You can read all about it here:
and at:

As Rabbi Lau said during the ceremony, he and his entire family owe Feodor Mikhailichenko a debt of gratitude, and it was very moving to see one of Rabbi Lau’s grandchildren seek out Feodor’s daughters to personally thank them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Palestinian Youth Visit Yad Vashem

Yesterday, this group of Palestinian youth visited Yad Vashem. Here's an interesting article about their visit.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Young athletes from Holland, in Israel to take part in the Maccabiah,
take time out from their training to visit the Holocaust History Museum


Welcome to the new Yad Vashem Blog.

We’d like to tell you about interesting experiences that our visitors are having each day here at Yad Vashem. About what’s happening today on our campus and behind the scenes. About what our visitors are saying in our guest book, on their visits around the Campus. About the Maccabiah Athletes who are taking time out from their intense schedules to visit Yad Vashem. About the birthright Israel groups who come to Yad Vashem to tour the museum and meet a Holocaust survivor for the first time. Get a behind the scenes look at the academic conferences, workshops and cultural events that you might not otherwise hear about.

Our vibrant campus is filled with individual and group experiences that we would like to share with you. We hope you find this blog thought provoking and illuminating, and invite you to visit us often.