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