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

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