Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Partnership of Remembrance for Years to Come

A special International Mission marking Yad Vashem's 60th anniversary this month included an exceptional eight days in Poland and Israel.  At the closing event, Yad Vashem Benefactor Mark Moskowitz shared his reflections:

Good evening.
I am the son of survivors. My brothers and sister and I were always strongly aware of our parents’ tragic history and their remarkable survival. Even though our beloved parents, Rose and Henry, suffered unbearable losses, they imbued in us an unlimited sense of hope and determination, and a commitment to helping others achieve the fulfilling, happy and healthy life they found with one another. While they restarted their lives in the United States, their passionate connection to Israel was always, and continues to be, a source of strength. My late Father’s strong belief in G-d, his unwavering spirit and his commitment to tzedakah helped him overcome unspeakable tragedies and create a truly significant life for himself, his family and his community.

Today, I lead the business that my father founded 62 years ago, and continue his professional legacy as well as strive to carry on the vital traditions that he instilled in us. Attending the official Yom Hashoah ceremony –here at Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, has become an integral part of my life. Every year, it is held a week before Yom Hazikaron, the Memorial Day for fallen soldiers in Israel, and I am present to observe this most solemn day of remembrance. Together, these memorials intensify the historic bond between Israel and Jews worldwide.

In sharp contrast, like many other interesting and unique juxtapositions in Israel, Yom Ha’atzmaut, follows immediately the day after Yom Hazikaron. This is the time when we rejoice in the miracle that is the State of Israel, and we mark the unbreakable chain that links our fate as a nation all the way back to the days of Abraham.

These three events provide consecutive days of reflection for us as individuals… as a nation… and as a People. And our existence as a people is represented and understood in such a clear way right here, at Yad Vashem. This is where we begin to appreciate the history and ethos of the State of Israel and, in a greater sense, the heart of the Jewish nation. The fact that Yad Vashem is centered in Jerusalem, brings us a better understanding of the roots of the State of Israel and its importance to the Jewish People, and furthermore gives us a destination to view our history, right from the heart of the Jewish nation, and the strength to secure our future.

Yad Vashem has been an inspiration to me and an unparalleled resource -- not only of facts and history -- but also of emotional strength. It has provided me with context for the stories I heard from my parents while growing up. As in the case of so many Holocaust survivors, they were understandably reluctant to talk about all the terrible details with their children. But the bits and pieces of information I gleaned growing up truly came to light, in its horrific truth, in Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History Museum; like so many individual links coming together, connecting the past with the present.

Here is where truth is displayed in its most terrible form, as well as in its most hopeful. Here is where we can continue to connect the past with the present and bear witness long into the future. Collectively, we must safeguard the memories and be the sentinels for these crucial vaults of history, so that they are never forgotten and never repeated; and that others’ denials are recognized for what they are, abject dangerous falsehoods.

The profound effect that Yad Vashem has had on me defies description. Actively participating in supporting and maintaining this center of history and remembrance has become a true “center” of my life.

This anniversary milestone is an opportunity to appreciate how far Yad Vashem has come since its founding, and also to consider the myriad of challenges that it faces going forward. We are recognizing Yad Vashem’s amazing achievements of education worldwide, dissemination of history, a world-class museum, and recognition as the authority for Holocaust commemoration, education, documentation and research. Even the frequent visitors among us were fascinated by the presentations by various Department Heads on the careful, painstaking, deliberate and, what we can even describe as “holy” work done on a daily basis. Here, meticulous care is being provided to record, archive and index documents, artifacts and history. Innovative and creative ways to teach current and future generations about the Shoah are being developed. Moral values are being recorded and analyzed: those of Jews before the war, victims, the Righteous, and the perpetrators.

Most importantly, Yad Vashem is determined to document the identity and humanity of EACH of the victims and survivors, by connecting fragments of information from its repositories of documents, photographs, historical objects and testimonies. For example, like trained detectives, the archivists were able to attach a name, history, face, and life-story to a six digit number present on a mass gravestone at Bergen Belsen.

Yad Vashem’s International 60th Anniversary Mission has been deeply moving and equally rewarding. On behalf of the Mission participants, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Yad Vashem for encouraging us to participate and for organizing this terrific week.

The last 8 days turned out to be a time for deep reflection. For me, the highlight of our time in Poland was the Mission’s participation in the Israeli Army’s ‘Edim Be’madim / Witnesses in Uniform’ ceremony on the site of the ruined crematoria at Auschwitz. I could not help but wonder whether the millions of victims could have ever imagined the flag of a Jewish State raised anywhere, let alone in this place. In particular I asked myself what my 18 family members who were murdered at Auschwitz would have thought of their grandson / nephew / cousin / half-brother standing in this place where they saw nothing but despair and devastation, 70 years later, with the ability to tell their story… Who will tell their story in future generations? Who will tell the stories of the survivors?

It was uniquely special to have Avraham Harshalom and Ed Mosberg, survivors of Auschwitz, with us as witnesses, who were able to show us first-hand where they were and what happened to them in a particular spot. And with us, here tonight -- David Feuerstein, who also survived Auschwitz – as well as the many other survivors– all with stories of resilience, hope and determination. Who will tell their stories in the future? Who will safeguard the first-hand testimonies and be able to maintain their authenticity other than Yad Vashem?
On behalf of the second and third generations, our participation in this Mission reaffirms our commitment to carry on the legacy and memory of those who were murdered, the legacy and well-being of the survivors; and to carry on the torch of Holocaust Remembrance. Yesterday, Chaim Leventhal told me that, now that I have planted a tree in honor of a Righteous Among the Nations here at Yad Vashem as a participant in this Mission, I take on the responsibility to return regularly, to water it. I ask the second and third generation members to join me in this effort, and be Yad Vashem’s partner for years to come.

Thank you.

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