Thursday, December 29, 2011

Abdelwahab: the full picture

An opinion piece that ran in the New York Times accuses Yad Vashem of having different standards for recognizing rescuers of Jews as Righteous Among the Nations, because a Tunisian man, Khaled Abdelwahab was not recognized as a Righteous.  Nothing could be further from the truth.   

From Irena Steinfeldt, Director, Dept. for the Righteous Among the Nations, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem:

When Yad Vashem was established to commemorate the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, it was tasked with another mission: to honor the Righteous Among the Nations - those non-Jews who had taken great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust. The Righteous program is an unprecedented attempt by the victims of an unparalleled crime to search within the nations of perpetrators, collaborators and bystanders for persons who bucked the general trend of indifference, acquiescence and collaboration. 

For five decades, Yad Vashem has worked toward this goal, in the process identifying some 24,000 Righteous Among the Nations, without regard to their countries of origin, age, religious denomination, sex, or ethnicity.   The Righteous include Christians of all denominations from around the world, as well as Muslims from Turkey, Bosnia and Albania and other countries.  The Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, an independent body comprised of Holocaust survivors and historians, examines whether the rescue story can be substantiated by primary sources and if the person in question took risks in order to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. 

Holocaust survivors describe myriad forms of help, encouragement and assistance provided by non-Jews, which helped them survive.   However, the Yad Vashem law uses a more restrictive characterization when designating the Righteous Among the Nations, delineating a small group within these wider circles of men and women who supported Jews in the darkest hour of Jewish history.  The Righteous, according to this definition, were people who not only helped the Jews, but were prepared to pay a price for their stand and even share the victims' fate. 

From its inception, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous noted that the risk in helping Jews during the Holocaust differed from one country to another and from one period to another. In the case of diplomats, who enjoyed diplomatic immunity and only in exceptional circumstances were in physical danger, the Commission decided they would be recognized if they risked their positions In all cases, however, there must be demonstrated risk for actions to rescue Jews, before someone can be recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations.

As in each case, the file of Khaled Abdelwahhab from Tunisia was meticulously researched and carefully evaluated by the Commission. 

According to the testimonies, Abdelwahhab hosted the extended families of Boukris and Ouzzan on his estate during the period of German occupation in Tunisia after their house in Mahdia had been billeted by the Germans.  The testimonies describe his kindness and protectiveness during this time. 

A close examination, however, revealed that as much as his deeds were admirable, in doing so he broke no law and the Jews stayed on his farm with the full knowledge of the Germans. According to Annie Boukris, the men continued their forced labor service under German supervision, and had contacts with other Jews of Mahdia who had been evicted from the town and concentrated on a Jewish-owned farm nearby.

Edmee Masliah (Ouzzan) explained that the Germans would come from time to time to Abdelwahhab's estate and check if they were all present; she describes how when seeing the Germans approach, they would put on their yellow badges and wait for the Germans to count them. Eva Weisel said that her father would go back and forth to Mahdia to bring food and that when they needed medicines, they would get them from the German medical facility that was across the road from the farm.

The picture we gain from these testimonies matches the historical facts and the evaluation of historians that were consulted in the course of the investigation of this file
Because the German occupation of Tunisia lasted only six months, the plans to implement the final solution there never came to fruition.  There were also no laws or regulations preventing Abdelwahab from hosting Jews, and he therefore never had to face the ultimate test. Thus, the Commission concluded that in the absence of risk, he was not eligible for the Righteous Among the Nations designation.

The commission's decision in this case reflects its commitment to evaluating cases without prejudice and without ceding to other considerations, even if there are those who believe that recognizing Abdelwahab could somehow help in the fight against Holocaust denial. 

The account of this honorable Tunisian's solidarity with the Jewish victims commands our deep appreciation. It should be remembered and will certainly inspire people worldwide. Indeed, Yad Vashem's publications department has published his story in Hebrew. Yad Vashem is committed to preserving and imparting this and other stories, and to continue its search for the rare moments of humanity in the darkness of the Holocaust.

You can find out more about the Righteous here

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hanukkah during the Holocaust

Yad Vashem wishes everyone a Happy Hanukkah. 

Here's testimony of Holocaust survivors describing Hanukkah during the Holocaust (English subtitles)  

Also check out the online exhibition "Hanukkah - The Festival of Lights: Before, During and After the Holocaust"  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

President of South Sudan Visits Yad Vashem

Photos:  Isaac Harari / Yad Vashem

The President of South Sudan Salva Kiir visited Yad Vashem this morning, accompanied by four of his government ministers.  He was greeted by Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem, and toured the Holocaust History Museum and Hall of Names, guided by Dr. Robert Rozett, Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries.  He participated in a Memorial Ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance and visited the Children's Memorial. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Keep the Light of Holocaust Remembrance Burning This Hannukah


Westerbork transit camp, the Netherlands, Hannukah 1943.
Children crowd around the lighting of Hannukah candles. The very next day most were deported to Auschwitz.

Hannukah is a time of joy and hope, celebrated by Jewish parents and their children around the world. The brightly lit candles symbolize the triumph of good over evil, weak over strong, and light over dark.

To this day that same message of hope holds true.  Yet there are still those who are intent on spreading a message of hate.

Each year, drawing upon the stories of the Jewish victims and survivors of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem’s educational programs connect more than one million visitors, Jewish educators and students to their heritage, giving them a renewed and strengthened sense of identity, as well as the tools to deal with the challenges of Holocaust denial and antisemitism.

On Hannukah 1943, even in the darkness of the Holocaust, these children sought to maintain their connection to their Jewish heritage. You can help us pass their legacy on to future generations.

Only with your help will we be able to reach our year end goal of $450,000.
Click here to make your donation.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Day of Infamy

First published in the Jerusalem Post, December 7, 2011

On December 8, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – (is) a date which will live in infamy.” Of course he was talking about the Japanese surprise attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, the attack that catapulted the United States into the Second World War 70 years ago.

Catapulted is right, because beforehand, the clear majority of Americans did not want to see their husbands, fathers and sons embroiled in another war on a distant continent. Only after war reached America’s farthest shore, did American begin a concerted effort to fight not only the Japanese, but the Nazis and their European partners, as well.

As momentous as the attack on Pearl Harbor was, December 7, 1941 was also the date of another event of no less consequence for mankind. The first transports set out for the first extermination camp, Chelmno, which began its murderous operations the following day, December 8.

Over the course of the next three-and- a-half years, the Nazis would murder some three million Jews in a handful of extermination camps, most infamous among them Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Another three million Jews were murdered in a wide variety of venues, first and foremost in the killing fields of Eastern Europe by shooting – a process that had actually begun several months before Chelmno went into operation. December 7, however, marks the start of the unprecedented industrialized mass murder of innocent human beings at a complex designed solely for that purpose.

The American entry into the war, as students of history and political science know, is really the beginning of America embracing its role as a great world power. It is true that Nazi Germany was defeated primarily on the ground by Soviet forces in a long, drawn out and extremely deadly war. Indeed in retrospect, it may be argued that the downfall of Nazi Germany was already sealed when the German military failed to defeat the Soviet Union decisively before the onset of the Russian winter in 1941. Germany simply did not have the wherewithal for a long protracted war, especially in the face of Russian winters.

Nevertheless, America's role in the defeat of Nazi Germany was crucial. To a very large degree, it was American supplies that allowed the Soviets to fight for four long years, and certainly after the D-Day invasion of June 1944, the American fighting man made a considerable contribution to the fall of Nazi Germany. The reluctant entry of the Americans into the war on December 7, 1941, to say the least, greatly hastened the destruction of Hitler’s regime.

Significantly, another outcome of the attack at Pearl Harbor was the dawn of the age of nuclear weapons. The first nuclear weapon was not deployed against Nazi Germany, rather the Americans deployed it against Japan in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after Hitler’s regime had already crumbled.

The use of the most devastating weapon in history brought about a swift end to the other half of the bloodiest conflict ever, the war in the Pacific. In its wake, the world now would face issues of nuclear arms proliferation and escalation, nuclear arms deterrence, and still true today, the very real fear that such weapons in the wrong hands could wreak new and unimaginable destruction.

In the immediate postwar period, American power, bolstered with nuclear might, gained additional ground. Whereas Europe was devastated by the fighting America was strengthened, overcoming the Great Depressionand coming out of the war with vastly increased industrial capabilities.

While Europe embarked on a painful process of recovery after 1945 (made easier by American aid) America embarked on an extraordinary period of prosperity.

So December 7, 1941 lives in infamy for the surprise attack of the Japanese on the United States, but it also marks as a watershed event in modern history.

The start of systematic industrialized mass murder in Chelmno is less well known, but has no less importance for mankind. In the Chelmno extermination camp the Nazis murdered over 150,000 people, almost all of them Jews. The murder method was asphyxiation in gas vans – group after group, after group.

As is now well known, before being murdered in the extermination camps, Jews were shorn of their hair, fleeced of their valuables and robbed of their clothing and any other possessions they had brought with them. None of this material was meant to go to waste, and much of its found its way back into Nazi Germany where many ordinary citizens benefited from it.

The idea that in the name of an ideology a regime could plan and carry out the despoliation and murder of an entire people, using the most modern means available and doing so in a “rational,” “dispassionate” way, continues to reverberate profoundly.

The murder of the Jews, and especially the use of modern means to do so, may well mark the beginning of a retreat (now well advanced) from the notion that technological progress is always by definition for the greater good. It certainly underscores the idea that advances in science and technology should not occur in a moral vacuum.

Especially when technological know-how outstrips our ability to understand its implications or when people willfully ignore those implications, the door to nefarious acts and even radical evil opens.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the advent of murder in the first extermination camp, Chelmno, are historical signposts that need to be marked and remembered. The first for its great impact on the course of human affairs and role in the ultimate defeat of the consummate evil embodied by the Nazis, and the latter as a ghastly warning of what can happen when technologically advanced barbarians, imbued with an ideology of hate, have the unfettered freedom to act.

After 70 years, the significance and caveat of December 7 remain as compelling as ever.

The writer is director of the Yad Vashem Libraries, author of Approaching the Holocaust, Texts and Contexts, (Vallentine Mitchell, 2005). His study on Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front will soon be published by Yad Vashem and University of Nebraska Press. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Jerusalem of Lithuania – New Online Exhibition

On the eve of the Holocaust, the Jewish community of Vilna was the spiritual center of Eastern European Jewry, the center of enlightenment and Jewish political life, of Jewish creativity and the experience of daily Jewish life. It was a community bursting with cultural and religious life, movements and parties, educational institutions, libraries and theaters; a community of rabbis and gifted Talmudic scholars, intellectuals, poets, authors, artists, craftspeople and educators. Known as "The Jerusalem of Lithuania," some 60,000 Jews lived in Vilna where they constituted 30% of the total population. The Jewish community of Vilna which had flourished for hundreds of years was decimated during WWII. This exhibition utilizes texts, video testimonies, photos and more to present episodes  from Vilna's illustrious history.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chinese Educators Inspired at Yad Vashem

“By participating in the seminar, I deeply recognize the importance of Holocaust education. I think the essential goal of Holocaust education is ‘to remember the past, to live the present, to trust the future.’ (Abba Kovner)” - one of 29 Chinese educators who spent two-weeks at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem

Earlier this month, 29 educators from Macau, Shanghai, Shangdong, Nanjing and Kaifeng, Xian, and Zhengzhou came to Jerusalem, Israel to take part at the second Chinese seminar for Educators at Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies. MA and Doctoral students, university department heads and professors as well as a participant from the Nanjiing Massacre Memorial Museum, all came for in-depth study of the Holocaust and how to teach it in the classroom. The group also an opportunity to tour in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other areas in Israel and experience a singular communal Shabbat Jerusalem.
The special 2-week seminar was comprised of academic lectures and presentations of educational resources including Antisemitism, the Final Solution, the Allies and the Holocaust, the Righteous Among the Nations, Nazi Racial ideology, the unprecedentedness of the Holocaust, and Yad Vashem’s pedagogical approach to Holocaust education. Among the seven survivors that met with the group at Yad Vashem were two ‘Schindler Jews’ (Jews rescued by Righteous Among the Nations Oskar Schindler) who shared their experiences in the Emile Factory in Krakow and the best friend of Anne Frank spoke extensively of their friendship as young children.
In the end, the reflections of the participants themselves speak of what has been accomplished in such a short, but intense, study period. In the words of one of the participants, "These two weeks in Israel is my most beautiful memory in my life…With this new knowledge.…I will do my best to tell the spirit of the Holocaust and the Jewish people, to promote the friendship between China and Israel."

Last year a similar seminar inaugurated Yad Vashem’s ongoing activity in China; and since then Yad Vashem experts have been to China to hold seminars there as well. The seminar is sponsored by the Adelson Family Charitable Foundation. Dr. Miriam Adelson is Chairperson of the Council for the Promotion of Israel-China Relations.

Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies conducts dozens of seminars annually for educators from around the world, and produces educational material in many languages.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Yad Vashem Holocaust Database Unites Lost Cousins

Aron Heller, AP

For five long years during World War II, Nahum Korenblum never left the side of his younger brother Yaakov as the two fled the Nazi invasion of Poland, escaped forced labor camps across Europe and ultimately joined the Soviet Red Army. There, they were separated and dispatched abroad, never to meet again.
On Thursday, more than a decade after they died, their children were united at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial thanks to a recently uploaded family photo discovered on its comprehensive online database of Holocaust victims.
It was just the latest successful byproduct of the memorial's database, established years ago as a means of commemoration aimed at gathering the exact names of all the 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide. But since the database went online in 2004, it has become a powerful genealogy tool that has led to hundreds of emotional reunions of long lost families.

In 1958, shortly after Yaakov moved to Israel, he and his wife filled out a page of testimony at Yad Vashem commemorating his dead parents. Nahum had meanwhile settled in Ukraine, where his surname was mangled into Koramblyum. For the rest of their lives, the brothers searched for each other in vain, the paper trail often coming to a dead end because of the differing spellings of their names.
In 2006, Yaakov's daughter, Bracha Fleishman-Korenblum, updated the online entry, attaching an old black-and-white photo of her grandparents and four of their children – including Nahum and Yaakov.
Two months ago, one of Nahum's American grandchildren stumbled upon the entry and was shocked to recognize his grandfather in the picture. He reached out to the Korenblum clan in Israel and a reunion was put into motion.
This week, Gennadiy Koramblyum, of Queens, New York, and his son, who is named after Yaakov, arrived in Israel for the wedding of one of their newly discovered relatives.
"It was joy, I cried, I didn't sleep for two nights," Gennadiy Koramblyum said. "Since I was a little boy, I remember my father told me 'I have another brother, he is somewhere.' He said 'I always held him in my hands, I never let anyone separate us.'"
Koramblyum's father moved with the family to the United States in 1991 and he died there in 1997. Yaakov passed away in Israel four years later.
"I am sure they are happy now upstairs seeing us all here together," Koramblyum said, shaking. "This means everything to me."
His Israeli cousin shared that sentiment, saying the children's' joy was mixed with sorrow that their fathers never managed to reunite.
"It's sad, but they meet in heaven," said Rafael Korenblum, who bears a striking resemblance to his late father Yaakov. "A circle has been closed. There was something unresolved all these years, it lingered and now there is closure."
Cynthia Wroclawski, the manager of Yad Vashem's name recovery project, said such breakthroughs are being made possible by the increased openness of aging survivors and the curiosity and tech-savvy of their descendants.
"The lock is being opened by the younger generation. They have more intuition and more interest," she said. "That's the power of the database, the torch of memory is being passed."
The project began in 1955 and had reached 3 million confirmed names by the time the online database was launched. More than a million more names have been added in the seven years since.
Efforts are continuing, primarily in eastern Europe, where name collection is particularly difficult because Jews there were often rounded up, shot and dumped in mass graves without any documentation. The names of Jews killed at German death camps, on the other hand, are easier to collect because of meticulous Nazi records.
The information can be accessed online in English, Hebrew and Russian. Yad Vashem actively encourages survivors and their kin to come forth and fill out pages of testimony for those killed, before their names and stories are lost forever.
"We are not giving up, there is still much more to do," Wroclawski said. "For these families, you see the rift of the Holocaust is getting smaller and that some kind of healing process is taking place."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Google Street View Trike Comes to Yad Vashem

Last week visitors to Yad Vashem were surprised to see a tricycle being navigated around the Campus with a camera, almost like a periscope, perched on the back of the trike. Google's Streetview Trike had arrived for a several hour ride around the Mount of Remembrance. Negotiating the different paths, gardens, monuments - and even the Visitors' Center – the Trike, specially fitted with cameras that allow 360-degree imagery, captured images of the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations, Warsaw Ghetto Square and the monuments and gardens throughout the 45-acre Campus. The images will be integrated into Google Street View, allowing exploration of Yad Vashem's unique outdoor grounds and memorials from anywhere in the world.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Helping others discover family connections

by Rose Feldman

When Yad Vashem made its Central Database of Holocaust Victims' Names available to the public on the Internet in 2004, it provided a treasure chest of information to all those researching their families who disappeared in the Holocaust. Many families had been spilt by immigration during the 19th and 20th centuries with siblings immigrating to different continents and in some cases part of the family staying behind in Europe. The Holocaust severed all contact with those members of the family that remained in Europe and the new generations did not know them or of them.

The initial 800,000 Pages of Testimony in the Database were filled out in the late 1950’s. Great efforts were made on the part of Yad Vashem to reach out to the survivors of the Holocaust in Israel and those members of the families who had made aliyah before World War II. The Pages were designed as a memorial for victims of the Shoah, but they incidentally provided a source of genealogical information. But at that time in Israel few people had telephones, many immigrants lived in immigrant housing, and the Pages of Testimony were not necessarily filled out with all available information. These three factors made finding the person who filled out the Page a nearly impossible mission.

Being involved in genealogical research, I volunteered to answer requests about forms filled out by people in Israel. During the database's first three years online, I received over 1,000 requests by e-mail. The ratio of success of finding the person that filled out the Page was 1:4. Not bad considering most of the forms were filled out more than fifty years ago. What enabled those that were lucky to connect to members of their families? Uncommon family names that were not changed to a modern name; living in a small community where the home was passed on to the descendants; and sometimes even just a family name being the name of someone I knew personally. At times I suggested that information about deceased submitters of Pages of Testimony could be found from the Hevra Kadishas (Jewish Burial Societies). Several had online websites, and information could be found about who arranged a burial – another source of discovering family connections.

The excitement of receiving letters telling of family reunions, even if it was of second, third and fourth cousins was reward enough for the time I volunteered. I personally found my paternal grandmother’s family, who didn’t know that a branch of the family had left the Ukraine in the 1920s and made aliyah to Israel. With the ongoing expansion of this Database to include additional sources and joint projects with the archives in Eastern Europe, it will continue to be a useful resource for genealogical researchers.

Rose Feldman is at: where you can keep up to date on archives, databases and genealogy in general and Jewish and Israeli roots in particular.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reflections on a summer of collecting names

Rose Rosen, a volunteer coordinator for Yad Vashem's Shoah Victim's names Recovery Project in central Florida shares her thoughts and personal experiences on assisting survivors in commemorating their family and friends who were killed in the Holocaust by filling out Pages of Testimony. Read more here

Monday, September 12, 2011

Orchestra Brings New Dimensions to Survivor Testimonies

On September 8, 2011, a unique concert featuring the stirring words of Holocaust survivors, performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra - IBA, soloists and choirs from Israel and the United States, and conducted by Gil Shohat took place at Yad Vashem.
Created by composer Dr. Lawrence Siegel and named for the Jewish prayer for the dead, Kaddish - I am Here conveys the stories of Holocaust survivors in their own words, in their own languages, providing a window into their experiences. One of the key movements is a litany of thousands of names of Holocaust victims.

The September concert at Yad Vashem’s Warsaw Ghetto Square is part of Yad Vashem’s ongoing activities to commemorate the Holocaust through the arts.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Her Mission is Over"

“My grandmother is resting more peacefully today, knowing her mission is over.”

With these words Magdalena Wojciechowska of Lodz, Poland handed a simple necklace to Michael Tal, an artifacts curator in Yad Vashem’s Museum Division. The necklace had been in Magdalena’s grandmother’s possession for over 60 years; but she always wanted to return it to its rightful owners.

The necklace was given to Magdalena Wojciechowska’s grandmother, Julia Podwarska-Nyderek by an anonymous prisoner of Auschwitz. Wojciechowska’s grandmother lived outside of the camp’s gates, and would regularly leave food for prisoners who worked outside the camp, in pots she would hide in the bushes. One day, she found a jeweled necklace in one of the empty pots, left as a gesture of gratitude by one of the prisoners.

Magdalena Wojciechowska spoke movingly about the necklace and her decision to give it back to the Jewish people:

“Noach Flug, a tireless advocate for the rights of Holocaust survivors, died in Jerusalem two weeks ago. Reading his memoirs, I found the sentence: 'We saw
people going to work. So we cried out: Give us water, give us bread!'

GIVE US WATER, GIVE US BREAD - that was all my grandmother wanted to do, to feed those poor hungry souls she saw passing by her every morning and night. Noach Flug was a prisoner of Auschwitz, and for all we know, maybe he was one of those souls, or even knew one of those who left the necklace for my grandmother in gratitude for the food she was leaving them. Now Noach is no longer with us, but I am sure he is looking down upon us and smiling, happy to see such a tiny piece of property return to its rightful place and its rightful owners. My beloved grandmother Julia had kept this necklace in a heart shaped box. She always knew the necklace was not hers to keep. She always knew that the necklace had to be returned to whoever gave it to her. She never expected anything in return for what she did, and always made us know that if we ever could, we should give the necklace back.

I do not know whether to call it fate, or diving guidance --- I met Mr. Bobby Brown [Executive Director of Project HEART] and found out about the HEART project. I was so moved. I mean THAT WAS IT, The absolute right place for the necklace. From the heart of my grandmother to the HEART of all the Jewish people. I need look no more. And I know that project HEART, through its mix of Internet and new technologies, together with the strength of the Jewish HEARTS and minds will achieve the justice so long denied Noach Flug, his family and all the victims of the Holocaust and their heirs.

Past the Holocaust, the dark years of the Polish Communist Regime, to this day and time in the 21st century; and from Auschwitz, via Katowice, Lodz, New York and
Jerusalem to Yad Vashem, the necklace given to my grandmother ends its journey
here, TODAY, in the heart of the Jewish People. MY MISSION IS OVER. My
grandmother is resting more peacefully now, her aspiration accomplished. I can
only say thank you for all those who helped me in the realization of her wishes.”

[photo courtesy of Jorge Novominsky]

Holocaust-Fugitive Girl's Art Brings Tears at Yad Vashem Show

Check out this article from Bloomberg on the San Francisco Chronicle about art that was created during the Holocaust by a little girl in hiding, and that has now gone on display at the Museum of Holocaust Art at Yad Vashem:

Renata Braun (Rina Levy) (1931-1969)
Nobleman kissing the hand of a Lady, probably a scene from Aleksander Fredro’s play “The Revenge”, 1943-1944
Gouache and watercolor on paper
Collection of the Yad Vashem Art Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Permanent loan, courtesy of the artist’s Family

Monday, August 15, 2011

Gene Simmons and family visit Yad Vashem

Earlier this year, Gene Simmons, Shannon Tweed and their son Nick toured Yad Vashem during a visit to Israel. They visited the Holocaust History Museum and the Archives, where they learned more about Gene's family's Holocaust experience. They were guided by Martine Cohen, a Yad Vashem Guide.

Here is the clip which aired recently on "Gene Simmons: the Family Jewels" on A&E:


Gene Simmons was born in Haifa, Israel in 1949 and is the only child of his mother, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary. He is the co-founder and bassist/vocalist of the band Kiss.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Yad Vashem Firefighting Staff Receive Certificates of Apprecation

Yesterday, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev and Director General Natan Eitan presented certificates of appreciation to the employees who fought the fire that threatened Yad Vashem last week. At a special ceremony they paid tribute to some 30 Yad Vashem workers who stood on the front lines, fighting last weeks' wildfire in the Jerusalem Forest that threatened Yad Vashem's Campus. Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev commended the group of Jewish and Arab workers for their courage, and noted they did not hesitate to place themselves on the frontlines of the fire, implementing training they had received earlier this year. "I am here to tell you, friends: You did the job."

Reading from the certificate Shalev said, "Sunday, July 17, Yad Vashem faced a dangerous and difficult event: A fire broke out suddenly in the Jerusalem Forest and threatened to damage the Museum, the School, and our Archives. These are central buildings, well-known and vital to our activities as a commemorative institution, that educates the entire world about the Holocaust and its meaning for mankind. Some of Yad Vashem's employees took an important part in distancing the flames from the Institution. You are counted among this group of workers, which expressed their loyalty in a determined and especially dedicated way. Your joining in the firefighting activities and your standing steadfast in the face of the fire, added to the removal of this threat to Yad Vashem during critical minutes. Yad Vashem's managers, which worked side by side with you and your colleagues, were amazed by your courageous behavior, as were the entire Yad Vashem family who heard what happened that day."

In the words of Sami Abu-Diab, one of Yad Vashem's longtime workers, "I have been at Yad Vashem for 12 years, taking part in Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremonies. The night of the fire, I spent the night at Yad Vashem with 2 other workers as well as firefighters. This is like our home, it is our place."

(photos by Yad Vashem and Jim Hollander/EPA)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reflections on the 4th National Conference on Holocaust Education, July 5-6, ‏2011

by Richelle Budd Caplan, Director, European Department

In June 1981, Abba Kovner stated, “As long as it is not too late, we must recognize that the Holocaust is not the obsession of those who survived, and that the identification with the six million victims, and the elements of that period are not just the concerns of those who experienced it themselves, but part of the long collective memory of the Jewish people, and the place of the Holocaust is in the historical consciousness of every Jewish generation everywhere.”

This week, almost exactly thirty years later, Kovner’s words reverberated in the hearts and minds of more than one thousand Israeli teachers who gathered at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem to participate in the fourth national conference on Holocaust education, “The Individual and the Collective during the Holocaust.” During her remarks at this conference, Professor Dina Porat, incoming Chief Historian of Yad Vashem, related to Kovner’s personal dilemmas during the Holocaust, touching on the tension between his perceived responsibility to himself, his family and to his community. Kovner wrestled with his memories, and the choiceless choices that he faced during the Holocaust period, until his death in 1987.

Sitting among educators from throughout the country, inside a large tent that was especially built for this event, it quickly became evident that their commitment to teaching about the Holocaust was of the utmost importance to them – not only professionally but also personally. Holocaust survivors sitting among them were clearly moved by the teachers’ dedication as well.

However, at one point, a question popped up in my mind: Would Kovner and his generation have approved of such a mass gathering of educators, discussing the pedagogical imperative after Auschwitz, rather than a more intimate setting of a smaller group in the School auditorium? Although we will never know the answer to this question, hopefully he would have been pleased that the message of his generation has become engraved on the memories of future generations.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Story of Strength - Rescued by the Grace of his Voice

"Everyone must do the maximum that they can"

Yesterday, along with some 50 teachers attending a break-away session at Yad Vashem's Teachers ‘conference, I was privileged to "listen in" on an intimate conversation between David Zucker – who as a young boy escaped with his family to England – and his daughter – Shulamit Imber, Pedagogical director of the International School for Holocaust Studies. Zucker's family moved from a small town in Poland to the larger German-controlled town of Boytem in 1921. (After WWI, the area was placed under German control, granted by the League of Nations.) The city of 100,000 had around 10,000 Jews, and Zucker's father was a mainstay of the Jewish community – the cantor, shochet (ritual slaughter) and mohel (circumciser). A group of young men gathering at their home every Shabbat to hear his learned father, and their house was always filled with family, friends, Torah learning as well as German culture, including opera.

Zucker gave us a unique glimpse of Jewish life in Germany the 1920s, from the viewpoint of a young boy. The community and its resources were small, and while there were both an active Reform and Orthodox congregation, during the cold winter months, the two groups held Friday evening prayers harmoniously together – saving the cost of heating an extra building.
The Zionist Zucker family encouraged Zucker's older sister and brother to emigrate in the mid-1930s and fulfill their dreams of living in Eretz Israel –something that seemed perfectly natural at the time. Zucker was nine years old when the Nazis came to power. Boycotts of Jewish-owned shops ensued; the town was filled with people wearing pins that supported Hitler. Zucker was refused entrance to middle school where four of his siblings had previously studied although he passed the entrance exam (the class was suddenly "full"), and things began to change for him. In 1936, Zucker left his parents, and traveled with a cousin to Danzig, where he spent six months living with the mother of his stepmother so he could go to school.

Around this time - in the summer of 1936 – Zucker's father went to visit his sister in England for a family bar mitzvah. Sensing the encroaching danger for the Jews in Germany, she encouraged him to get a job in England in the Jewish community in Cardiff. Despite the pleas of the Boytem Jewish community – promises of a lifetime job! – the family left Boytem, their possessions in a handcart, in the middle of the night to join their father in England.

The city of Boytem was due west of Auschwitz, and the Jews of Boytem were among the first to be deported to the extermination camp. The promise of a job serving a Jewish community in Leeds provided the Zucker family with the necessary permission to emigrate to the UK, thereby saving their lives.

We listened to two moving recordings of David's father – Shulamit's grandfather – filling our classroom with beautifully sung liturgical passages that essentially saved his family from death.
Remarking on his immense inner strength, David told Shulamit: "It is in my genes – everyone must do the best they can.”

David Zucker went on to become a construction engineer, building among other things the model of Jerusalem now on display in the Israel Museum (for many years at the Holyland Hotel), the Carmelit in Haifa and Heichal Shlomo. In 2008 he was named "Patron of Jerusalem." Today, his daughter Shulamit dedicates her life to helping educators around the world meaningfully address the Holocaust in their classrooms and beyond.

Monday, July 4, 2011

1,200 Israel Teachers to Attend Yad Vashem Conference

Each year Israeli school teachers get a much needed summer recess from the pressures the school year. This week – only a few short days after the close of the school year - close to 1,200 Israeli pre-school, elementary and secondary school teachers are taking part in a two day conference at Yad Vashem. The International School for Holocaust studies is hosting the largest conference of its kind.

Here's what teachers in Israel are saying:
81% - of teachers of all age groups - stated that they discuss the Holocaust during their educational activities
72% noted that during the last 5 years their students are increasingly interested in the topic of the Holocaust
79% of middle school teachers said that they require additional educational materials for teaching about the Holocaust
85% of the nursery school teachers stated that pre-school children ask questions about the Shoah

From a survey among the conference participants, the Smith Institute, July 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Prof. Bauer on the cause of World War II

Murderous mutation of anti-Semitism
On the 70th anniversary of Hitler's invasion of the USSR, Yad Vashem Academic Advisor Prof. Yehuda Bauer proposes a theory to explain the reason why the Fuehrer led his people into war.
The full article ran in Haaretz this weekend.
The article is based on remarks Prof. Bauer delivered at the Symposium held by Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research last week.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Honoring an Ecuadorian Righteous Among the Nations

"My mother and I owe him our lives - he saved us.” -- Holocaust survivor Betty Meyer speaking at today's event honoring Righteous Among the Nations Dr. Manuel Antonio Munoz Berrero.

Today a special event was held at Yad Vashem posthumously honouring the first Ecuadorian Righteous Among the Nations. Family members of the Righteous and the rescued from around the world were in attendance as were Holocaust researchers and members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations. The full story is here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Symposium at Yad Vashem marks 70 years since German invasion of Soviet Union

“The Nazi invasion to the Soviet Union is a distinct and significant watershed. With the invasion, the war became a World War and the destiny of the Jews was determined: the mass-murder of the Jews began in earnest, with brutality reaching an unparalleled level.”

With these words Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev opened an academic symposium marking 70 years since Operation Barbarossa - the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.
The Symposium took place with the support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group and European Jewish Fund, and the Gutwirth Family Fund.

Holocaust historians gathered together early this week at Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research to discuss various political, economic and military aspects of the war in the Eastern Front and its devastating impact on the Jews. Operation Barbarossa was a campaign that determined the outcome of the war according to Dr. Daniel Uziel, a historian working in the Yad Vashem Archives. Despite the comparative advantage maintained by the Soviets, in terms of number of troops, planes and tanks, the Germans achieved exceptional results during the first month of the Operation. Their technological superiority and the element of surprise in their initial attack gave them an unprecedented advantage. Nevertheless, the Germans suffered from logistic difficulties, exhausted troops, and internal conflicts between Hitler and the German generals regarding the war strategy. Those difficulties gave the Soviet leaders an opportunity, and time to mobilize reserves and send troops from the Far East to the area of battle. The harsh Russian winter took a tremendous toll on the exhausted Germans, who lacked the necessary supplies and appropriate winter gear. The Germans now realized that victory in the war was uncertain.

The Germans, who suffered great losses on the Eastern Front, now lacked supplies and military equipment and were in desperate need of an inexpensive manpower. Dr. Yitzhak Arad, a former partisan, chairman of Yad Vashem (emeritus) and world-renowned researcher on the Holocaust on the eastern front described the inadvertent rescue of some Lithuanian, Latvian and Minsk Jews, who were spared in order to be used as labor in the Occupied Soviet territories.

The traditional assumption that the Wehrmacht was a professional army that did not take part at the murder of the Jews was refuted by Dr. Leonid Rein, of Yad Vashem's International Research Institute. He discussed new findings proving the direct participation of the Wehrmacht in the mass murder of Jews such as the mass murder in Liepaja.

Prof. Mordechai Altshuler, of The Hebrew University Jerusalem, discussed the destruction of formerly held convictions among Jews. The Soviet Jews’ belief in the invincibility of the Red Army was shattered, and the lack of stability reignited local antisemitism. The Soviet Jews, who believed that antisemitism in the Soviet Union had ended, woke up to a harsh new reality.

The Institute will hold two additional symposia this year examining different aspects of the invasion. New information has also been uploaded to the “Untold Stories” Research Project which tells the story of the murder of Jews in the occupied areas of the former Soviet Union that began with the German invasion of the former USSR on 22 June 1941.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Grey's Anatomy stars visit Yad Vashem

Today, Kevin McKidd and Sarah Drew (Dr. Hunt and Dr. Kepner on 'Grey's Anatomy') visited Yad Vashem along with Lucas Neff and Shannon Woodward ('Raising Hope'), Gregory Smith ('Everwood' and 'The Patriot') and Zach Levy ('Chuck'). The group visited the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations (pictured), and had an emotional tour of the Holocaust History Museum, the Visual Center, the Hall of Remembrance and the Children's Memorial.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

70 Years since Operation Barbarossa

A new mini-site dedicated to Operation Barbarossa has just now been uploaded to It is now 70 years since the military invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 which marked a turning point in the Nazis' plan to "solve the Jewish problem." Hundreds of thousands of Jews managed to flee into the depths of the Soviet Union, but approximately 2 million Jews remained under Nazi occupation and were the victims of mass murder carried out by the Einsatzgruppen units. In less than half a year, by the end of 1941, about half a million Jews had been murdered within the areas of the Soviet Union conquered by the Nazis.

Research Institute Symposium

On Monday, June 20, the International Institute for Holocaust Research will hold the first of three daylong symposia marking 70 years since Operation Barbarossa. The public is invited to "Exploring the invasion of the Soviet Union as an Ideological War: Symposium Exploring the invasion of the Soviet Union as an Ideological War" which will take place at the Yad Vashem Auditorium in Hebrew and Russian.

Historians will gather to discuss political, economic and ideological aspects of the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and its critical and destructive impact on the Jews living in those areas, the Wehrmacht’s role in the murder of Jews in the first months of the Eastern front war, and the Jews’ mistaken beliefs in the great military power of the Red Army and that antisemitism among Soviet citizens was a matter of the past. Among the lecturers will be Dr. Yitzhak Arad, a former partisan, chairman of Yad Vashem (emeritus) and world-renowned researcher on the Holocaust on the eastern front. Dr. Yevgeniy Rozenblat, a researcher from Belarus will speak about the relationships between Poles, Belarusians, and Jews in the first months of the war. Prof. Mordechai Altshuler of the Hebrew University will address the shattering of myths amid Soviet Jewry. New material from Yad Vashem’s The Untold Stories: The Murder Sites of the Jews in the Occupied Territories of the USSR Research Project will also be presented.

The symposia are taking place with the support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group and European Jewish Fund, and the Gutwirth Family Fund.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Yad Vashem Among Top Ten Reasons to Visit Israel

Yad Vashem is included as one of the top 10 reasons to visit Israel and number 5 in a list of Top ten sites in Israel.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Meeting the Challenge

by Szilvia Peto-Dittel

History teacher and youth educator Péter Heindl is more like a father figure than a teacher to his students in Magyarmecske, a remote and poverty-stricken Hungarian village near the Croatian border. After returning from a teacher training course at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies, Heindl not only shared his fascinating experience with “his kids,” but was also eager to teach them the human and moral significance of the history of the Holocaust.

In order to raise his students’ interest and curiosity, Heindl hung on the school notice board an old photo of a young, school-age girl with the following lines underneath: “Lili Ney: a girl from Magyarmecske disappeared from our village. A few weeks later she was killed. Who was she? Why did she die? She was not the only person from Magyarmecske to suffer this fate. Let’s find out together the history of Lili Ney and the others!” The poster had an enormous effect on the students; dozens wanted to take part in the investigation sessions Heindl scheduled one afternoon a week for the entire school year. “The crime story opening solved one of the biggest challenges of Holocaust education,” explains Heindl, “how to involve young learners in dealing with a gloomy topic that only adults feel is important enough to remember?”

During the series of “detective workshops,” Heindl and the students gradually found out the truth about the events of WWII. Heindl, the “chief detective,” carefully chose and planned the program from week to week, making sure that each phase revealed more details, and the students did not lose interest over the yearlong process.

With the help of a local historian and researcher (István Vörös, also a Yad Vashem graduate) they learned about the various religious communities in the village at the time of the war, and discovered that there were once 17 Jewish and two Roma families living there. “Aunt Cinka” (Bence Kálmánné), an eldery lady from the village who still remembered the events from 64 years earlier, took the group on a guided tour of the village, pointing out former Jewish houses and describing each family that lived there, as well as their deportations and the plunder of their possessions. Students were shocked to find out that a real mass murder had taken place in their small village. Based on Aunt Cinka’s account, a Jewish survivor from the village, László Szántó (Steiner), was traced in Budapest. Szántó visited the young students in Magyarmecske, bringing with him some old photos, including one of himself with the two children from the Ney family outside their house.

Further lessons for this special group of investigators included a visit to the closest living Jewish community in the city of Pécs and a meeting with their chief rabbi, András Schönberger; a conversation about questions of responsibility with the Catholic priest of Alsószentmárton, who actively ministers Roma groups in Magyarmecske; a visit to the Jewish cemetery in Kacsóta, where most of the Jews from Magyarmecske are buried; and a two-day excursion to the Holocaust Memorial Center and the Jewish quarter and museum in Budapest.

The school year ended with the discovery of the house belonging to Righteous Among the Nations Erzsébet Tóth (née Juhász). Inside the house, the current owners were surprised to be shown an original hiding place. “The topic was a perfect one to close the detective story,” Heindl says. “It drew my students’ attention to positive examples of human behaviour in times when inhumanity prevailed.”

The end of the school year, however, did not mean the termination of the project, which had already surpassed all the expectations of its creator. On 8 August 2008, the whole village actively joined the group’s initiative, and a memorial plaque to commemorate the 11 Jewish victims from Magyarmecske was dedicated on the wall of the local school (once home to the Jewish Ledrer family). An exhibition was also organized from the findings of the student group. The national media took great interest in the project, and coverage of the work was broadcast and reported in several different forms. As a result, Heindl soon received an emotional phone call from Judit Ney, Lili’s niece, who had read a newspaper article on the project. More family photos were gained from Judit, one of which shows the Ney children standing together with the Roma children of the village. “My eyes filled with tears when I saw the photo,” recalls Heindl. “No matter how small the Jewish community is now (only two survived), almost seven decades after their destruction, it has become a living community once more – for my students as well as the entire village.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Yad Vashem Chairman to be Honored as Patron of Jerusalem

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev will receive the prestigious Yakir Yerushalim (Patron of Jerusalem) award in recognition of his activities. The award will be presented this evening (Wednesday June 1) on Jerusalem Day in a ceremony in the Tower of David Museum. Since 1967, the award has been presented by the Mayor of Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day to individuals who have contributed to the capital city of Jerusalem, and whose public service has been focused in Israel's capital and on its behalf.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dutch Righteous Among the Nations Honored Today

Today, a special event honoring the late Johanna (Pieterse) & Jacobus Witte as Righteous Among the Nations was held at Yad Vashem.
During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the Jewish Kalfus family decided to go into hiding, and their four-year-old son, Leopold Robert Kalfus was brought to Johanna and Jacobus. Robert was introduced as a nephew of Johanna and was treated as one of the couple's children. He slept in the attic with the two Witte sons, Cees and Jan, soon calling the Wittes Uncle Jaap and Aunt Jo. Despite increasing risk, Robert remained hidden on their farm. The Wittes looked after Robert for two years; during this period they also sheltered a downed Allied pilot.
“I am standing here in Yad Vashem, 66 years after the war. I cannot express in words the emotional turbulence I am feeling right now,” said Robert at today’s event. “I am thankful that I survived, thanks to the courage of Johanna and Jacobus. I joined the Witte family as a nephew. The hope and the love that they have showered upon me were a substitute to my lost childhood. I am happy to be here today with my children and grandchildren. I would like to thank Yad Vashem for this ceremony.”

“Johanna and Jacobus lacked for nothing,” said Amb. Michiel den Hond, Ambassador of the Netherlands in Israel, “They could choose to keep a low profile and go through the Holocaust without any danger. Instead, they took into their home a four-year-old boy, and took care of him as their own child. Even after their death, their legacy lives on. This is the outcome of being a human being even under these hard conditions.”

Robert’s son Danny expressed the family’s appreciation to the Wittes. “We are here to celebrate life itself. The rescuing of one is the rescue of many generations. We would like to thank the Witte family from the deepest place in our hearts. We will never forget what you did for us,” he said.

Monday, May 16, 2011

State Ceremony Marks VE Day

Yad Vashem marked the Allied Victory over Nazi Germany in an inspiring and moving ceremony. Partisans and Veterans decorated with medals stood proud as the IDF Chief Cantor Lt. Col. Shai Abramson sang the traditional prayer of thanks, and the The Israeli Police Orchestra, conducted by Inspector Eitan Sobol played a medley of patriotic songs.

“We are gathered here in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, the place to which Jews yearned for over two thousand years, in order to mark the victory of the Allied forces over Nazi Germany, and to salute Jewish bravery,” said Ehud Barak, Israeli Minister of Defense. “My brothers - veterans and partisans - as the Minister of Defense of the State of Israel, I salute you.You have fought not only for your own lives, but also for the future of the Jewish people, and the future of all humanity.”

Chairman of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, spoke about the special role of Jews who fought for the Allies. “The fighting of Jews was unique. As citizens they fought in order to defend their countries against a cruel enemy. But they have also fought for their personal and collective existence, on behalf of the entire Jewish people."

Captain Vadim Kornblitt, grandson of a veteran of the Red Army, drew a connection between the past, the future and the present. “It is a great honor to be here today among you. Among decorated soldiers and heros. We cherish you and will continue to tell your story - to embrace your heritage….I am proud to follow in your footsteps. I would like to thank you for the opportunity to serve the State of Israel and to defend you.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tony Blair at Yad Vashem Today

Today, Quartet Representative Tony Blair took an in-depth tour of the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem. Following his visit, he wrote the following in the guestbook:

"Thank you for what will remain with me forever. It is hard to describe what this means to me or how profoundly it affects my emotions. For me, this is a memorial, it is a tribute, it is a reflection of an event almost too terrible to contemplate. But it is also a warning, a warning of the wickedness of which humanity is capable. I leave here with that warning in my mind. I also leave, however, with a sense of hope, because amidst all the evil and tragedy, those that survived built a better world and had the grace and wisdom then to build this testament to suffering and to the human spirit."

Gathering the fragments

Yad Vashem has launched a nation-wide project to encourage people who have Holocaust-era documents, artifacts and photos to deposit them with Yad Vashem for preservation and safekeeping.

Here's an interesting piece by Dr. Robert Rozett on the idea behind the campaign:

Gathering the Fragments, The Jerusalem Post, May 1, 2011.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Israeli cousins unite thanks to a Page of Testimony

“I was looking for information about the dead, instead I found a live relative”

Over half a century after their grandparents were murdered by the Nazis in Poland, first cousins Liora Tamir and Aryeh Shikler met for the first time at Yad Vashem over the Passover holiday.

(Photo: Isaac Harari / Yad Vashem)

Tamir was born in the Soviet Gulag town of Vorkuta in 1946. Tamir’s mother, Yona, promised her that when she turned 15, she would reveal the family’s story to her. But Yona Shapira died when Tamir was only 12, leaving her an orphan with no information regarding her family roots. Tamir spent the rest of her youth in an orphans’ home in Leningrad and believed that she was alone in the world.

“Excitement doesn’t even describe what I felt,” said Tamir after meeting her cousin Aryeh. “I felt that I had gone to another space, where I am not alone. I understand that I need to get used to thinking of myself as part of something: Before, I had my children, but now there is an entire family.”

Tamir’s daughter, Ilana, launched a determined search through archival information for clues about her grandmother, Yona Shapira. She discovered that her grandmother traveled from Poland to British Mandate Palestine in the 1920s and was arrested and deported by the British because of her communist activities, which ultimately led to her being sent to the Gulag town of Vorkuta where Liora was born.

After receiving documents from a KGB archive confirming the names of Liora’s grandparents, Golda and Naftali Herz Shapira from the town of Brody, she searched Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims Names and found a page of testimony under their names submitted in 1956 by a Simcha Shikler — Aryeh’s father. Ilana then tracked down Shikler’s son Aryeh, and also found his granddaughter Limor Ganot via Facebook.

“It definitely feels like I cracked a mystery and we now we have a better picture of our family,’’ said Ilana Tamir. “I feel like I gave my mother a gift, I gave her a family. We had a hole in our hearts, and we didn’t have a family or blood relationships with anyone — and suddenly a family was born.’’

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Justin Bieber visited Yad Vashem

Justin Bieber, in Israel for a concert last week, took time out to visit Yad Vashem with his family. After the visit he tweeted:

also got to visit Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. An incredible place and something i will never ever forget.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Making Holocaust Studies Relevant

By: Adina Abecasis

As a teacher of Jewish Studies for the past 20 years in both England and Gibraltar, one of the major obstacles I have encountered is how to best teach the Holocaust to a generation that, regrettably, has not been sufficiently informed or educated regarding this momentous part of our recent history.

The oft-quoted citation “history repeats itself” resonates strongly with the Jewish people regarding circumstances of persecution and antisemitism. As a child of survivors, I passionately believe that no matter how difficult it may be to teach this subject matter, everyone must be educated on this subject. I know this is a challenge, but I believe it is one worth expending energy to solve. Inscribed on one of the barracks in Auschwitz I is a quote from George Santayana stating: “One who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.” Teachers bear the tremendous responsibility of accurately and effectively educating their pupils of such life lessons.

Still, the dilemma over how to prepare materials for this difficult subject remains a taxing one. Recently, I found the help I was searching for: an opportunity to join a group of British educators for weeklong program at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Thanks to The British Friends of Yad Vashem, some 20 British primary and secondary teachers involved in Holocaust education were invited to this tailor-made seminar, in which we heard lectures and held discussions with top experts and historians on topics ranging from antisemitism and Nazi ideology to a historical perspective on the ghettos and using poetry to teach the Holocaust. We were furnished with a range of methods to teaching the difficult subject matter, and provided with vital tools for combating Holocaust denial. We took guided tours of the Yad Vashem campus, including the Holocaust History Museum, the Archives, the Valley of the Communities, and the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations. We also met with Holocaust survivors and visited various sites in Jerusalem. One of my colleagues told me that the seminar indeed "opened her eyes to new ways of teaching the Holocaust."

But to me, the most important aspect of the seminar was how to adapt each lesson to make sure it is age appropriate, and allows students of all backgrounds to feel they are in a safe learning environment. The lecturers took pains to explain that teaching the Holocaust should never be a negative or scary experience, rather an environment in which students can discover their identity through the life lessons the topics can teach us.

Now that I am back in the classroom, I am still digesting all that I learned. But among the ideas that most impacted me was with how much of my own Jewish self I have become more in tune. This in turn has helped me focus on encouraging my students to learn about their own identities, as well as increase their awareness of the different communities around them.

Above all, I firmly believe that we must all insist that the national curriculum in every school include Holocaust education. It should not be mentioned only in the context of World War II. The extent to which the Jewish nation was persecuted and murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices is a part of who we are, as Jews, but it is equally part of who we all are, as members of the human race. Its implications are always current – recognition of right and wrong, balances of power and the humane treatment of others, the value of life and the tragedy of death. The Holocaust was an extreme example of the extent that humans can fall to the lowest depths of morality, or soar to the highest ethical peaks. It was cataclysmic, and as such its impact is still felt by all of us, and is very much part of our identity. But it must be learned – and taught – correctly, so that its meaning is properly absorbed.

I am extremely grateful to Yad Vashem for all the hard work that they have put into making teaching resources adaptable for all the age groups. The lesson plans and suggestions on the Yad Vashem website have allowed me to create a working syllabus for all the children I teach, and are invaluable to thousands of other educators worldwide, most of whom are unable to visit the Mount of Remembrance.
I am now preparing my Year 12 students for their annual trip to Poland, and with the tools and teaching methods I acquired during the seminar I know my students will have a much more enriching learning experience, enhancing awareness of their own Jewish and human identity. I know this will lead them down the best path towards whatever the future holds.

Adina Abecasis, Hasmonean High School Jewish Studies and Head of Holocaust Ed. Enrichment, London

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Remembering the Jewish community of Macedonia

“The shortest journey”, wrote the Israeli poet Lea Goldberg, “Is upon the years. … The shortest journey is the journey to the past”. The past had a significant presence in the annual commemoration of the Jewish community of Macedonia recently at Yad Vashem’s Synagogue. It seems that the journey to the past becomes more and more difficult. The journey through the years becomes hard and impossible, when the people who are able to remember are dwindling rapidly. People that can remember the rich Jewish life of this community, which was eliminated in the fires of Treblinka. “How can one memorialize an entire community?” asked Eliezer Papo, the vice principal of the Ladino cultural center in the Ben Gurion University. “For that we have to go back, make a personal, individual memorial, and portray short scenes from the community life.” He described a vital Jewish community, which revolved around the Jewish tradition. He highlighted the synagogue as the center of communal life and the Zionist activity of a community who referred to Zionism as a part of the Jewish tradition. Irena Steinfeldt, head of the department of Righteous among the Nations at Yad Vashem, related that a spark of light in the darkness of the war came in the form of Bishop Smiljan C’ekada, a Catholic priest from Skopje, who was recently recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations, thanks to the research of the late Holocaust survivor Jenny Labelle. Labelle’s research followed the footsteps of the Bishop who demanded the release of the Jews that were kept in the camp ‘Monopol’ before transfer to Treblinka. The Bishop also hid Jewish children in his monastery, saving them from certain death. Paio Avirovitz, the ambassador of Macedonia in Israel, drew a line between the past, the present and the future of the Jewry of Macedonia. He described the Holocaust of the Macedonian Jews as a “tragedy that lives on in the collective memory of the Macedonian people”, and referred to the Holocaust research center that was recently opened in Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia, where the Jewish neighborhood stood before the Holocaust. “The victims have symbolically returned home. The national memory has a home. Each Macedonian Jew who perished in Treblinka has a home. Macedonia has its own Yad Vashem.” At the end of the event, representatives of Yad Vashem urged attendees to help Yad Vashem save fragments of memory, by giving Yad Vashem objects, documents, papers, photographs and even personal testimonies, in order to insure that the traces of the community will be forever remembered. -- Talia Alon

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Purim during the war years

Today in honor of Purim, the day celebrated in commemoration of a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination, you can view a special online exhibition with pictures from Purim celebrations in Europe before, during and after the Holocaust.

Happy Purim to all those celebrating!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Yad Vashem on Jeopardy

On Wednesday, March 9th, Yad Vashem was featured as a category on "Jeopardy!"
"Jeopardy!", the #2 series in syndication, averages 9 million daily viewers and since its 1984 syndication debut, "Jeopardy!" has been honored with 28 Daytime Emmy Awards, more than any other syndicated game show. Eleven Emmys have been awarded for Outstanding Game Show/Audience Participation. Its host, Alex Trebek has won five Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Game Show Host.
You can see Yad Vashem around the 5:30 minute mark

Monday, March 7, 2011

Block 27 at Auschwitz closed as of March 7, 2011

From March 7, 2011 the exhibition in Block 27 "The Martyrdom and Struggle of the Jews in Europe from 1933 to 1945" at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum will be closed as work begins on preservation and renovation of the barrack, and building of the new exhibition.
The Hall of Remembrance will still be available for Israeli groups visiting the Auschwitz Memorial. The new exhibition, being prepared by Yad Vashem, will open in 2012.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Bronka Klibanski, Holocaust survivor, partisan, woman of valor, 1923-2011

On 23 February, Bronka Klibanski (née Winicka) - Holocaust survivor, fighter, researcher and author - passed away, leaving behind a heritage of resistance, courage and admiration from all who knew her. Born in Grodno, Klibanski was a member of the Dror Youth Movement who joined the Bialystok ghetto underground and worked closely with its leader Mordechai Tenenbaum, about whom she recently published a book. Klibanski became a kasharit (courier) - one of the brave young Jewish women who took on assumed non-Jewish identities and risked their lives on missions of reconnaissance, food and weapons smuggling in and out of the ghetto. These couriers were brazen in their courage as they used their looks, wits, and whatever other method they could to carry messages, smuggle documents and weopons, and provide information to Jews in ghettos around Poland.
After the war, Bronka was dedicated to Holocaust remembrance and research, and she was one of a last of the generation of Holocaust survivors who also worked professionally and objectively to commemorate the Shoah.
Bronka was a noble and brave woman who gave her all to her people during their hour of need and to Yad Vashem and its archives in their memory and their honor. As a member of the Yad Vashem Council, she was active in its work here for the rest of her life. We salute her resilience and courage and will treasure her legacy that continues to inspire us all.