Thursday, September 6, 2012

President of Israel Pays Tribute to Righteous Among the Nations Program


Israeli President Shimon Peres holding the memento
 presented to him by Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev

This past week, President of Israel Shimon Peres honored 50 years of activity of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations. In a moving reception at the President's Residence, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev gave the President a special memento - a copy of the testimony that Peres' father Yitzhak Perski presented to the Commission in 1965 regarding an English soldier named Charles Coward. Coward aided Perski when they were both being held in a German POW camp in Greece. Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Commission Chairman Supreme Court Justice (ret.) Jacob Turkel and committee members also participated in the special event.


President Peres remarked to the members of the Commission, "Your job is not only an historic duty, it is also an educational mission. The recognition of Righteous Among the Nations is important to those who lived then, but also to those who were born later. We all need to know and appreciate those extraordinary and brave individuals who risked their lives and showed that even during the darkest of days there were people with a shining inner spirit."


President Shimon Peres with members of the Commission
 for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations,
  Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev
 and Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau

Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations Chairman Jacob Turkel emphasized that "The job of the Commission members to decide who is eligible for the title of Righteous Among the Nations and who is not requires great powers of inner strength, intelligence and compassion. They undertake this holy work that has been placed upon their shoulders with devotion and love and out of a deep historic commitment."

British soldier Charles Coward joined the British army in 1924, and served five years in India. During WWII, holding the rank of sergeant major, Coward fought on the French front; in 1940 he was wounded and captured at Dunkirk. He escaped from captivity several times, and was eventually incarcerated at the Monowitz camp near Auschwitz. During this period, Coward helped save a number of Jews. Known as the "Count of Auschwitz," he had the idea of collecting precious chocolate and cigarettes from his fellow British prisoners, and exchanging them with Auschwitz guards for dead bodies. He substituted these bodies for Jewish inmates, who he helped to escape. On February 16, 1964, Yad Vashem recognized Charles Coward as Righteous Among the Nations.

The Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nation has been active for 50 years. The independent committee acts much as a jury and its final decisions are reached by a vote. The Commission is comprised of researchers, legal experts and historians, many of whom are Holocaust survivors, and all of whom are volunteers. To date, more than 24,000 individuals have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Italian Minister of Education and 30 high school students at Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies; meet with Yad Vashem Chairman Shalev and Italian educators attending seminar at Yad Vashem


Today, Italian Minister of Education and Research Francesco Profumo visited Yad Vashem.  During the visit, the Minister met with Italian educators who are currently participating in a teacher-training seminar at Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies, as well as with Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev.   Thirty outstanding Italian high school students who have written essays on the Holocaust, and have completed educational projects related to the memory of the Holocaust, accompanied the Minister.    The group spent over 3 hours at Yad Vashem, including an emotional tour of the Holocaust History Museum and meeting with senior educational staff at Yad Vashem. 
Yad Vashem Chairman Shalev (r)
and Italian Education Minister Profumo
joined by Italian educators, listen to
Dr. Nidam-Orvieto lecture in Italian about
Holocaust education
The visit is intended to strengthen the agreement that was signed last year by Israeli minister of Education Gideon Sa'ar and the Italian Ministry of Education. 
Chairman Shalev welcomed the Minister, and noted that,   “We are already seeing the fruits of the agreement that was signed by Minister Gideon Sa’ar and the Italian Ministry of Education.  Yad Vashem is prepared to provide educators with the best tools and knowledge in order to promote Holocaust education in Italy.”
According to the agreement, Italian teachers will be trained in teaching the Holocaust.  There will also be a youth exchange program between Israel and Italy.  As part of the agreement, each year the Italian Ministry of Education will choose teachers who will undergo training at Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies.  These educators will then teach the subject at high schools throughout Italy.  This week’s Italian educators’ seminar is the third such seminar this year at Yad Vashem.
Italian Education Minister Profumo
with Italian educators and students
at Yad Vashem following an emotional
visit to the Holocaust History Museum
and Children's Memorial
 
Shalev pointed out that, “Paradoxically,  as the events of the Shoah recede in time, it has become more meaningful.  Prof. Israel Gutman has often remarked that the Holocaust refuses to be a part of history; indeed it hovers around us, as part of our culture. It is important that educators - those  shaping our culture and our future - confront it,  as they are preparing future generations to be the citizens of tomorrow's society.”
The Minister said he is personally committed to deepening and broadening Holocaust education in Italy, and said that Yad Vashem epitomizes the proper approach to developing a culture of Holocaust remembrance, which Italy should and is adopting via long-term contact with Yad Vashem. 
Dr. Iael Nidam-Orvieto spoke about the importance of keeping the personal story in the historical context of the Holocaust while teaching in an age appropriate manner.    How to teach a trauma, without causing trauma, is at the center of the pedagogical approach of Yad Vashem.
“The memory of what happened then is part of European civilization.  It not only concerns the past, but also the present and the future,” said Minister Profumo at the conclusion of his visit,  “We don’t want to go back to a time when Man became an object.”