Thursday, April 29, 2010

Names Recovery Project Volunteers Receive Special Training

This week 40 new volunteers from across Israel participated in a training day at Yad Vashem, joining the ranks of the global network of volunteers assisting Shoah survivors and members of their generation with the task of commemorating family and friends killed in the Holocaust. The volunteers began the day by sharing their personal connection to the Shoah as well as what motivated them to joining the project.

The program included an historical overview of Yad Vashem's efforts to commemorate each individual Jew who perished in the Shoah on Pages of Testimony, special forms where the names, biographical details and, when available, photographs of Shoah victims, are recorded for posterity. To date, 3.8 million names have been entered into the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names.

Project staff conducted hands-on training highlighting guidelines for submitting a Page of Testimony. One volunteer was moved to tears when she found a Page of Testimony for her uncle who perished in the Shoah submitted by her mother, who she explained had never spoken about her wartime experiences.

The group continued on to a guided tour of the Holocaust History Museum, including a visit to the Hall of Names, where the Pages of Testimony are archived. At the end of the day, each volunteer received a referral for a home visit with individuals who contacted Yad Vashem and requested assistance completing Pages of Testimony, commemorating Shoah victims that they had knowledge of.

More information about the Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project is available on or directly from Yad Vashem at

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

“I will never forget them”

Evelyne Jacobson (left holding medal) of Montreal, and Irene Dutont of Switzerland, daughters of Marthe Helene Ducommun and Pastor Marcel Ducommun receive the certificate and medal on their parents' behalf today in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem. The Ducommuns were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for sheltering Jews during the Holocaust.

Speaking about the couple who hid her for two years, Rev. Marcel & Helene Marthe Ducommun, Holocaust survivor Nadia (Grubain) Rosenblum recalled how even during those difficult times, there were joyful moments. “I will never forget them.”

The Grubstein family had emigrated from Poland to France in 1932. When the Nazis invaded France in May 1940, the Grubsteins were among the many refugees that escaped to Southern France. During their flight, the family was arrested several times, sent to a detention camp, and eventually arrived in the Tarn District. Upon their arrival, Abraham and Sarah Grubstein, and their three children, Jacques, Morris, and Nadia, sought out the leaders of the Jewish community in Castres and requested assistance finding a place to hide. The family was referred to Reverend Cook, who in turn sent them to his colleague Reverend Marcel Ducommun in the village of Senegats.

Reverend Ducommun, who tended to the pastoral needs of three small villages, immediately agreed to provide shelter for the persecuted Jewish family. The family hid inside the church compound and were given free access to the parsonage, and Jacques and Nadia occasionally attended the local school where the Pastor’s wife was a teacher. Nadia recalled that the Reverend and his wife, Helene Marthe, visited them regularly, and gave them the keys to the library. “Thanks to them, I entered the world of music and study,” she said. When Father Ducommun, a member of the French resistance movement, would hear of imminent arrests, he hurried to warn the Grubsteins, who would flee and hide in coal miners’ huts in the vicinity of the village.

The Grubstein family was rescued by remaining under the Ducommuns’ devoted care for a period of two years. After the war, the Grubsteins became French citizens and Frenchified their name to Grubain. Father Marcel Ducommun passed away on May 2, 1990; his wife Helene Marthe passed away on June 11, 1994.

At the event honoring them today at Yad Vashem, a teary-eyed Evelyne Jacobson spoke about how moved she was to be at Yad Vashem to receive the medal and certificate on her late parents' behalf.

She told the audience about how she came to tell Yad Vashem about the story. "In 2005, I visited Israel. My father had toured Israel many times. One day, we spent the day in Jerusalem and we visited Yad Vashem. All of a sudden, I felt as if my Dad was walking with us and I mentioned it to my cousins. Memories from the past came back in full force." She described how she contacted Yad Vashem to find out about going about getting the Righteous designation for her father, and was told to find at least one family her parents had helped. "I could only remember the name of a little girl with whom I had played, Nadia, but I needed a family name. One evening, we were in Montreal, and I was working at my desk when a picture fell from a book I had fell out. A family of three children, and in the back a few words signed, Grubstein, Metz, 1945. We had looked everywhere.” After finding Nadia through the Internet, they met in August 2008 – after 63 years, for a very emotional reunion.

“My parents never hesitated to help anyone, regardless of religion, race or social background. They were committed to their faith and guided by it,” she concluded. “My parents were very modest and probably would not have asked for this recognition. I admire my parents for who they were and what they did. Today I am glad and thankful to receive this honor in their name."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

New release from Yad Vashem Publications

A new Yad Vashem publication has just now been released. Edited by the late Prof. David Bankier and Prof. Dan Michman, this volume addresses the representation and historiography of the Holocaust in post-war trials. The historical significance of the Nuremberg Trials is widely acknowledged, and it is equally agreed by most people today that the murder of European Jews was the greatest crime committed by the Third Reich. So why wasn't the Holocaust a central issue in any of the thirteen trials conducted by the International Military Tribunal in Germany between 1945 and 1949? The book addresses the Holocaust and its coverage by the media in the post war trials of Nazi criminals conducted in various European countries.

The publication of the book follows a symposium held in memory of Prof. Bankier at Yad Vashem this past Thursday. During the symposium Prof. Bankier's colleagues and students recalled his intellectual honesty and curiosity, as well as his personal integrity and humility. Prof. Bankier, the Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research passed away in February. The void he left behind is felt by all who had the privilege of knowing him.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Tangible Legacy

Following the enactment of the Nuremberg Race Laws, Heinz Samson was expelled from school at the age of 15, thereby preventing him from completing his studies. In 1939, Heinz, now 19, left his family home in Norden, Germany. With only ten Riechsmarks in his pocket, he made his way to London, where he waited for his family to join him. Sadly, they never arrived. Before leaving home, his parents Heinrich and Paula gave Heinz two treasured mementos: an intricately designed signet ring from his father and a silver pendant in the shape of a book from his mother. These were to be the final tangible legacy Heinz received from his parents.

Heinz's parents were deported to Minsk November 10, 1942 never to return. His sister Gerda was deported to Auschwitz on October 24, 1942.
After intensive efforts over many years, Heinz successfully recovered a few of the family's personal possessions confiscated from their home in January 1939 by the German authorities. In 2009, Heinz gave several of these objects to Yad Vashem for safekeeping, including the sentimental parting gifts he received from his beloved parents.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Unto Every Person There is A Name

They began lining up outside the Hall of Remembrance this morning at 11 a.m., each one receiving a number of white carnations before entering. Men and women, teens and seniors, stood patiently in line, waiting to recite aloud the names Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. Some remembered parents and siblings, some friends and neighbors, others fellow Jews they had never met. Some spoke out in bold strong voices and alone others quietly and surrounded and embranced by family members, each remembered aloud, refusing to let their names be forgotten.

Engraved on the floor of the Hall of Remembrance are the names of 22 of the most infamous of the extermination and concentration camps, and murder sites. Today they were strewn with white carnations in memory of those who died by the hand of the Nazis and their collaborators.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A powerful visual voice

Tomorrow a new exhibition will open at Yad Vashem. Curator of the exhibition Yehudit Shendar, writes about its significance in Haaretz:

A powerful visual voice

Sixty-five years after the Holocaust, the weight of memory continues to be borne by the survivors. Over the years, many have found ways to unburden themselves, some by means of the written word, others through verbal expression and a number by means of visual images - through film and art. When entering the new exhibition "Virtues of Memory" at Yad Vashem, one is struck by the colorfulness of the mosaic of artworks on display. The exhibit showcases works by Holocaust survivors grappling with memories from 65 years ago and beyond.

While each artist confronts a singular experience, the exhibition reveals recurring themes and modes of expression. Particularly striking is the depiction in color of images long etched into the collective memory in black and white, which reflected photographic developments at the time. Whether abstract or natural, amateur or professional, the reality experienced by the survivors is expressed in natural hues, also incorporating an expressionist element of the most intimate emotions of those who actually experienced the horrors.

The fact that art was created after the Holocaust in and of itself is noteworthy. Shortly after the war there were those, such as the German-Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno, who raised the question of the legitimacy of artistic expression after one has witnessed the atrocities of human nature. Poetry, he famously maintained, cannot exist in a world that also contained Auschwitz.

This discussion continues today. Are movies, dance, theater and other artistic expressions appropriate outlets for anyone wishing to grapple with the subject of the Holocaust? Or are the only people entitled to use these media, as recently suggested by American author Cynthia Ozick, the survivors themselves?

In the meantime, though, we have the opportunity to view these works by the "witness-survivors," as the late French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard called them, "who testif[y] to the incomprehensible, the indescribable." Indeed, the unique nature of the Shoah challenged the ability of anyone to describe or relate to it, including those for whom words were not an option. "How could I tell of a world that has been destroyed?" said artist-survivor Samuel Bak, who himself has a painting on display in the show. "How could I reach out for those elusive and indefinable memories? All these concerns became the concerns of my art."

During the five decades since its founding, Yad Vashem has collected hundreds of artworks from the brushes and chisels of survivors. Together they comprise a powerful body of visual testimony, one that complements the written and oral evidence provided over the years by so many of those who witnessed the events of the Holocaust first hand. Those who committed their memories to drawing paper or canvas, or by sculpting in stone or carving in wood, in a language that was visual rather than verbal, had much to say.

"Virtues of Memory: Six Decades of Holocaust Survivors' Creativity," which opens at Yad Vashem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 12, is the manifestation of this collection of artistic expression. The exhibition brings together the work of close to 300 Holocaust survivors from all over the world, made since the end of the war. Each of them has worked in seclusion, yet together they form a "Holocaust school of art" that surely deserves further study. The members of this unique "school" share similar themes and modes of expression. While each faced a succession of unique experiences, in their art, they highlight the dramatic junctions that mirror the annals of the Jewish people during the war years. The crematoria, the deportations, the families torn asunder and the burning, lost world - these are not symbols, but rather depictions, of the real world during those tremulous years.

In contrast to Yad Vashem's Museum of Holocaust Art, which displays art created during the Shoah itself, the new exhibition and its accompanying extensive catalog present the work of survivors. While the former records events in real time, post-Holocaust art is a personal system of remembrance that creates a legacy for others. In that sense one may say that the show is not solely an art exhibit, but an exhibit of memory. Images that were seared into the artists' memories are being transferred to ours.

Art is that most subjective of creative forms, but in the survivors' art we glimpse a truth that we - being removed from the events - may not otherwise be able to fathom. Each of the works is the voice of an individual; combined, they present a powerful ensemble, whose commanding expression of truth and memory calls out to us all.

Yehudit Shen-Dar is deputy director of the museums division and senior art curator at Yad Vashem

Everything is in Place for tonight’s Meaningful Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony at Yad Vashem

Holocaust Remembrance Day begins tonight, and the Yad Vashem campus has been preparing for this solemn day. Usually thousands of people visit the campus on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and tonight and tomorrow there are many events taking place. Already last week, you could already see the preparations in putting together the main opening event, in Warsaw Ghetto Square. Special lighting on scaffolding has gone up so that there is sufficient lighting (the whole event is shown live on Israel’s TV stations), thousands of chairs are being set up, the torches to be kindled are in place for the Official Ceremony which begins tonight at 8 PM.

You can read about the 6 torchlighters, Holocaust survivors who will each light a torch commemorating the six million.

This year’s theme for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day is The Voice of the Survivors, men and women who in their daily activities and creative endeavors honor the victims and strive to safeguard their memory for coming generations.

Soon after the ceremony finishes, you can watch the entire event on New information has been put up on the website including and educational material is available here and Names for Names Reading Ceremonies.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Yad Vashem Statement in Wake of the Polish Tragedy

Yad Vashem expresses deep sorrow over the terrible tragedy that has befallen Poland today, and sends its condolences to the families of those killed and to the Polish people.
The President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, who visited Yad Vashem twice, saw importance in maintaining the memory of the Holocaust, and the subject of Righteous Among the Nations was particularly close to his heart. Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev noted that “in addition to the President of Poland, other senior Poles killed in the tragedy included Tomasz Merta, Deputy Culture Minister, Andrzej Przewoznik, Secretary-General of the Council for National Memory, and Janusz Kurtyka, President of the National Remembrance Institute, all of whom had maintained close and ongoing professional relationships with Yad Vashem. We wish to express our deep sorrow over their tragic deaths.”