Thursday, December 27, 2012

First Ever Seminar for Indian Educators at Yad Vashem

Educators from India at the Partisans' Panorama
on the Yad Vashem Campus
A group of twenty senior educators from across India recently participated in a special seminar at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies. The group included secondary school teachers, high school principals and university lecturers who teach a variety of disciplines. For many, it was their first trip outside of India. During the seminar, the group experienced in-depth tours of the Yad Vashem museums and campus, met with Holocaust survivors, and discussed historical and pedagogical questions with Holocaust researchers and educators.

"The young people in our country have to understand world history and respect every religion," commented one of the participants, a high school principal.  The group attended lectures on a variety of topics, among them: using technology to teach the Holocaust, Nazi racial ideology and the ‘Jewish Question’, the ‘Final Solution’, and everyday life in the ghettos. They also had an opportunity to tour Jerusalem and other areas in Israel. The seminar took place with the support of the Adelson Family Foundation and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End of 1942 A Turning Point in WWII and in the Comprehension of the Final Solution?

By Prof. Dina Porat

This week Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research is hosting an international conference marking 70 years since the end of 1942, believed by many historians to mark a turning point in the course of WWII – and the Shoah. Over four days, concluding today, some 50 guest lecturers from 15 countries gathered at Yad Vashem to discuss key questions regarding this historical period: What did the Allies know and believe by the end of 1942 regarding Nazi policy? How much accurate information had the Vatican, the media, the Red Cross and the intelligence community received, and what messages did their declarations and statements convey? How crucial was the North African theater to the subsequent direction taken by the war? And most notably, when did the leaders of various Jewish groups and communities know about the destructive intentions of the Nazi regime, and did the late realization of the truth stand in the way of possible response measures? 

The sheer scope of mass murder perpetrated by Einsatzgruppen since June 1941, with the invasion of the USSR, began to be known in early 1942. During that year, more and more information came through, and in August it was further strengthened by the Riegner Telegram – a message warning the Jewish organizations in the free world of Germany's plans to kill 2-3 million people at death facilities. In late October a group of exchanged citizens arrived in Eretz Israel from Europe and horrified the yishuv (the Jewish community under the British mandate) by what they had to tell; US President Roosevelt notified the leaders of the Jewish community in America that US intelligence confirmed the truth of these reports. In late November, the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem issued a press release to the effect that a systematic murder operation was underway in Europe, and on 17 December, the Allies made another solemn announcement to this effect at the British parliament, fortifying it with a threat of trial and persecution for all war criminals seized after the war.

However, at the same time, the military front was also experiencing a change in course: in October 1942, the Germans lost the battle at El Alamein. From that point on, the wheel of war started turning in the opposite direction: in February 1943 Britain launched an offensive to recover several strategic locations surrendered during the first half of the war, particularly in the Middle Eastern region.

"'Operation Torch' (7 November 1942) was certainly a turning point in WWII," argues Dr. Haim Saadoun, Director of the Documentation Center for North African Jewry during WWII at the Ben-Zvi Institute – co-sponsors of the conference. "This was the first military initiative of the Allied forces; it changed the standing of France in North Africa and greatly influenced the lives of Jews living in the region."

The conclusions thus far seem to indicate that exactly at the time when news of the mass murder of European Jewry was finding its way to the international forum, and precisely when the yishuv and communities of the free world began to propose rescue programs, collect funds and seek the Allies' assistance, Britain and America directed all their energy towards achieving military success on the front lines, thus making all plans of rescuing Jews appear as hindrances to the war effort.

Although at the end of 1942 the extermination of European Jewry became a publicly known reality, the complicated process of understanding an extermination plan of such unprecedented cruelty, too horrific almost for the human mind to comprehend, still remains at the very heart of extensive pondering. Despite the impressive research being presented at the conference and the lively discussions that follow, it seems that many of the familiar questions are yet to be answered.

The author is Yad Vashem's Chief Historian.

A version of this article will appear in the upcoming Yad Vashem Jerusalem Magazine.  For more articles about news and events at Yad Vashem click here.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shoah Survivor Commemorates the Brother he Never Knew

"I didn’t think of myself as a Holocaust survivor, my mother was the Holocaust survivor", says Lerner, "That changed one day in a conversation with my son Baruch (Bori) when I referred to myself as 2nd generation and he said 'sorry dad but you won't take that honor from me', that’s when I realized that I was a Holocaust survivor. Finally in 2007 I filled out a Page of Testimony for my brother, because I also realized that he too was a Holocaust victim and I wanted him to be remembered."

Born in Nazi occupied France in 1942, a child of war, Daniel Lerner never met his older brother Paul, who died as an infant. His parents, Baruch (Boria) and Hadassa, had fled Paris for the south of France in the wake of the German invasion in 1940 and were interned in the Gurs prison camp in France. Paul was born six months later, in the town of Albi. Lerner’s parents were later moved to the camp of Argeles-sur-Mer, where Paul died. They managed to escape and returned to Paris, where they fought for the Jewish-communist resistance movement. In Paris they gave birth to their second child, Daniel. In June 1943 they were arrested by the French police and turned over to the Germans. Baruch was sentenced to death and executed on Oct. 1, 1943. Hadassa was sent to Auschwitz. She survived and following liberation was reunited with Daniel, who was hidden by a Jewish family, under false identity, in a small village, to which he was brought by a non-Jewish resistance member. After the war Hadassa and Daniel came to Israel.

"For all those years I barely looked at the two photographs of my brother and the stack of pre-war letters that my father wrote to my mother", explains Lerner. Ironically, he says that something in him shifted after his son was murdered in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem in 2002, and he decided to re-open his connection to the past.

In May 2012 13-year-old Trevor Goodman from California contacted an organization called Remember Us, a group which twins children preparing for their bar/bat mitzvahs with the memory of children lost in the Holocaust. Trevor had a special request – to commemorate a child from Albi, France - the hometown of his grandmother Marie Kaufman and where she was hidden as a child during the war. After accessing Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, Paul Lerner's information was sent to Trevor.

Paul Lerner’s Page of Testimony included contact information in Hebrew for his brother Daniel Lerner who had submitted the Page. With the help of an Israeli cousin who translated the address, Trevor wrote a letter explaining how he planned to honor Lerner’s brother during his upcoming bar mitzvah. He sent the letter, not knowing if it would reach Lerner, since he had no way of confirming whether or not he still resided at the address he submitted on the Page of Testimony.

"I received a letter from someone unknown to me and thought 'something's strange here, this must be a mistake.' It is hard to throw me off balance after what I've been through in my life, but after reading it I was stunned." The letter surprised Lerner who did not realize anyone else knew of his brother’s existence. "I was moved, I cried, which doesn’t happen to me very often." Lerner replied to Trevor’s letter in English. “I can find no words to express my feelings about what you are doing to commemorate my brother,”

Lerner was invited to Los Angeles to attend Trevor’s bar mitzvah. After being in contact via e-mail and Skype, he accepted the invitation, changing plans he’d made to travel to Paris to conduct doctoral research on the Jewish-communist resistance in France during the Holocaust, of which both his parents were members. Lerner joined Trevor at his Bar Mitzvah celebration to express his gratitude that Trevor had chosen to commemorate his brother.

This was not the first time the information on a Page of Testimony has had a profound impact on Lerner. During a trip to France in 2001 to meet with members of the family who helped save him during the Holocaust, Lerner conducted extensive research on his father’s activities and was able to secure hundreds of documents pertaining to Jewish resistance fighters. Daniel contributed copies of the documentation to Yad Vashem's archives including a photograph of Baruch (Boria) Lerner, which is displayed in The Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum along with text that Lerner authored providing a brief description of his father's wartime activities.

In 2003 when Lerner searched Yad Vashem’s Names Database for information on his father, he found several entries, including a Page of Testimony submitted to by a woman named Sabine Elzon, who was then a volunteer at Yad Vashem. Lerner contacted her daughter Berthe, also a volunteer at Yad Vashem and found out that Sabine, who was a "Kasharit" (female courier) in the Jewish-communist Resistance knew his father. For Lerner it was an opportunity to gain a new perspective on his father who had been murdered so long ago. "She told me about some conversations she had with my father, how happy he was when I was born, and that his purpose in fighting was to ensure his baby a life in a better world… She remembered my mother's name and even my name (Claude later changed to Daniel) which was rare, since he was very cautious and kept details of his personal life secret," he stated.

For Daniel Lerner sharing Trevor's bar mitzvah in commemoration of his brother Paul has helped him re-connect with his family's past, in addition he has formed close ties with Trevor and his family with whom he remains in contact. "From an emotional perspective it made me feel proud that someone remembered him as well; someone remembered my brother. To me that is the most important thing, that he be remembered."

For more information on Yad Vashem's Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project please contact:

For more information on Remember us please contact: