Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Corner

Letters Never Sent

Yad Vashem Publications' new release, Letters Never Sent: Amsterdam, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen by Mirjam Bolle is a personal historical account of persecution, distress and anguish.  
In early 1943, Mirjam Levie, a young Jewish woman from Amsterdam, began writing letters to her fiancée, Leo Bolle with whom she was deeply in love. Bolle had immigrated to Eretz Israel a few years earlier. "I am vain enough to believe that this diary may be found hundreds of years from now and serve as an important source of information. That's why I included all the trivial things, because they may provide an outsider with a more vivid picture. After all, I'm so caught up in all this that I can't put myself in the shoes of a person who isn't going through this himself and therefore knows nothing about it. Perhaps one day our children will read it."

Her letters, which were never sent, were written during the deportations of the Jews from Amsterdam; during her incarceration in Westerbork, the main transit camp for Jewish deportees to the death camps in Poland; and during her imprisonment in Bergen-Belsen.
As secretary in the controversial "Joodsche Raad voor Amsterdam" (the Jewish Council for Amsterdam), Mirjam's letters are the only remaining source to describe events from the viewpoint of one of its members. Mirjam managed to hide the letters she wrote in Amsterdam and Westerbork; and those she wrote in Bergen-Belsen she brought with her when she was released as part of an exchange between Dutch Jews and German POWs, and arrived in Eretz Israel on July 10, 1944.

Excerpt from book: Westerbork
Letters Never Sent
"My darling. I'm all alone in the school at the moment. "Alone" is a relative notion, for there are at least 100 children outside, with all the noise that playing children make…I had got as far as our arrival at the station. As I wrote, this was an extremely difficult moment. I kept looking around me to see if there was any chance of escape, but there wasn't. Hundreds and hundreds of people filled the platform, nothing but familiar faces, of course…The wagons were unbearably hot. And we had to sit on the floor, of course. Now this matters little to me, but imagine the elderly people. Besides, people kept fainting, while some suffered panic attacks and others had their hands trampled on so they were bleeding. It was a pitiful sight. The train was interminable, and still more people filed onto the platform, huffing and puffing with their heavy luggage. Some, elderly people and parents with young children, sat on top of their luggage on the platform, waiting for someone to help them onto the train. Just like migrants. Many were in tears, naturally, while others just sat there staring. Children were wailing, there was screaming and shouting, but also some jolly greetings, such as "You are here as well?" from spirited youngsters…"

Letters Never Sent: Amsterdam, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen is available for purchase online or may be ordered by email. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

From Our Artifacts Collection: Hanukkah Menorahs

In celebration of Hanukkah this week, highlighted below are a few exceptional Hanukkah menorahs from Yad Vashem's Artifacts Collection. The creative and original menorahs are remnants of the cultural and religious life of Jewish communities that attempted to maintain Jewish tradition during the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection, Donated by the Remonstrant Church, Netherland.

This nineteenth century Hanukkah menorah was found, wrapped in newspapers dated 1941, under the floor of the former synagogue in Alphen aan den Rijn, Holland during renovations carried out in the 1980s. The Jewish community of Alphen aan den Rijn was destroyed during the Holocaust. The synagogue, in which the menorah once stood, became a church. 

Yad Vashem artifacts Collection, Donated by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania, Bucharest.

This brass Hanukkah menorah was made from available materials by Jews who were deported from Romania to the area of Transnistria during the Holocaust, where they were abandoned by authorities. 

Yad Vashem Artifacts collection, Gift of Bella Bialik, Tel Aviv

This compact silver Hanukkah menorah folds up into the form of a prayer book. It was presented to Mordecai Rumkowski, head of the Judenrat in the Lodz Ghetto by Ziso Eybeshitz who ran the paper factory in the Ghetto. The menorah was found in the ruins of Rumkowski's home in the Ghetto.

View more photos from Hanukkah before, during and after the Holocaust on Yad Vashem's online Exhibition: "Hanukkah- The Festival of Lights."

Monday, December 22, 2014

"All of Israel are Responsible for One Another"?

International Research Conference at Yad Vashem

The Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research hosted an international conference from December 15, 2014 to Thursday, December 18, 2014.  The conference entitled, "All of Israel are Responsible for One Another”? included researchers, historians and leading experts from all over the world, including Israel, Italy, Sweden, Austria, U.S.A., Germany and Canada. They presented lectures on various topics including solidarity, mutual help, animosity and tensions within Jewish society in Nazi Europe. The conference took place with the generous support of the Gertner Center for International Holocaust Conferences and the Gutwirth Family Fund.

“The conference addressed important and challenging issues, and raised central questions relating to coping mechanisms of the individual and the community in various situations during the Holocaust,” said Director of the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Dr. Iael Nidam-Orvieto. “It raised questions about the lack of, or existence of Jewish solidarity, explored conventional wisdom, and offered different types of reactions and coping vis-a-vis times of extreme crisis – from organized rescue through hostility and division.”

The opening session took place on Monday, December 15, 2014 with remarks from Professor Dan Michman, Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research of Yad Vashem and Incumbent of the John Najmann Chair for Holocaust Studies. Also addressing the opening session included: Yad Vashem Director General Dorit Novak, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Yad Vashem Chief Historian Dina Porat. Prof. David Engel, Maurice R. and Corinne P. Greenberg Professor of Holocaust Studies and Chair of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, presented the opening keynote address, entitled On Jewish Solidarity in Modern Times: What Might the Experience of the Holocaust Reveal about Modern Jewish History? Other topics addressed during the conference included families in Eastern European ghettos confronting starvation, deportation and murder; revenge and justice in the prewar concentration camps; and leadership and alternative leadership in the Kovno ghetto and Jewish communications during the Holocaust.

The concluding session took place on Thursday, December 18, 2014 with remarks from Prof. Dan Michman. "The conference addressed the aspect of expressions of Jewish solidarity and tensions within Jewish society in Nazi Europe through several perspectives: the dimensions of the ideal of mutual responsibility in the Jewish tradition, and its meaning for situations in the Holocaust; the question of the connection between unity and power in modern Jewish history and its repercussions for that period; and a broad variety of situations in which solidarity was tested - in camps and ghettos, by organizations and individuals, in thought and actions. The papers showed also that there were several levels of solidarity. Altogether, some recent claims that all solidarity collapsed were proved as being gross exaggerations."
Steven Katz, Boston University, U.S.A.
In addition, a keynote addressed by Steven Katz, Boston University, U.S.A. on Kol Yisrael Arevim: Interpreting the Concept of Jewish Solidarity. Katz noted in his closing address, "As we listened intensively to the informative papers on a wide range of topics related to many geographical areas given at this conference, I would add the following based on what I've heard and learned… Despite the extraordinary context of the Shoah, unlike any previous context in Jewish or world history we have together been told of examples of Jewish solidarity…in the Polish ghettos and among the Jewish underground… the case of Jews in Eastern Europe who cared for each other…the responsibilities by doctors and nurses in the Warsaw ghetto…how they collaborated with each other in labor camps…most extraordinarily we heard about solidarity evident even at Auschwitz. I strongly agree with Professor Dalia Ofer that each context needs to be studied separately and in detail…when you finish that exploration, it seems to me that there still however leaves many questions. The really puzzling question, the truly deep and provocative question… based on the cumulative evidence…is not why there were so many failures in Jewish solidarity, so much selfishness …but rather the important issue given the conditions of intentional dehumanization, hunger, brutality, sadism, sickness, disease, rape, and the natural desire to stay alive…in this context the really profound issue is: How could there have been so many acts of moral courage, of mutual care, of ethical response? Perhaps millennia of Jewish solidarity and emphasizing, "All of Israel are responsible for one another" did make a difference. However limited and constrained, however unpredictable and uncertain, however bent by the crooked timber of mankind this difference was. In light of what I learned this week, I would argue that this is an authentic possibility that requires and deserves further reflection." 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holocaust-Era Menorah home for Hanukkah

Following tradition, each year the Mansbach family comes to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum to bring home their menorah to use during the festival of Hanukkah. The menorah was donated to Yad Vashem by the Mansbach family and is on permanent display in the Holocaust History Museum. Today, Yehuda Mansbach, the grandson of Rachel Posner, came to Yad Vashem to take the menorah home where he will light the candles in celebration of Hanukkah. This year, the Hanukkah menorah will also be used in a Hanukkah ceremony for the soldiers in the IDF battalion of Mansbach's son.
Yehudah Mansbach carefully packing up his grandfather’s Hanukkah
 menorah which is on display at Yad Vashem throughout the year,
 except during the festival of Hanukkah. Photo: Marisa Danson    
Rabbi Dr. Akiva Posner, Doctor of Philosophy from Halle-Wittenberg University, served from 1924-1933 as the last Rabbi of the community of Kiel, Germany. After Rabbi Posner publicized a protest letter in the local press expressing indignation at the posters that had appeared in the city:  "Entrance to Jews Forbidden," he was summoned by the chairman of the local branch of the Nazi party to participate in a public debate. The event took place under heavy police guard and was reported by the local press. When the tension and violence in the city intensified, the Rabbi responded to the pleas of his community to flee with his wife Rachel and their three children and make their way to Eretz Israel. Before their departure, Rabbi Posner was able to convince many of his congregants to leave and many in fact managed to leave for Eretz Israel or the United States. The Posner family left Germany in 1933 and arrived in Eretz Israel in 1934. Some eighty years later, Akiva and Rachel Posner's descendants continue to light the Hanukkah candles using the same menorah that was brought to Israel from Kiel. 
Both the Hanukkah menorah and the photograph are on display at Yad Vashem. 

The Mansbach family menorah 
 Rachel photographed the menorah from the
 window ledge of the family home looking out on to 
the building across the road 
decorated with Nazi flags just prior to the elections that 
would bring Hitler to power,
On the back of the photograph she wrote (in German),
“Hanukkah 5692,
‘Death to Judah"
So the flag says.
 ‘Judea will live forever,’
 So the light answers.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Corner

The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann: Vienna-Prague-Buenos Aires

Yad Vashem Publications' new release, The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann: Vienna-Prague-Buenos Aires, is a personal testimony of Ilse Kaufmann's survival in the Holocaust.   

Each story of wartime survival is different, but knowing whom to trust is a dilemma shared by many who were struggling to survive the reality of war. In Ilse's story, a bottle of cognac saved three people, a marriage proposal saved two families, and the help of a loyal governess made all the difference. Growing up in in prewar Vienna as the only daughter of her adoring banker father and beautiful mother, Ilse Kaufmann (nee Hahn) had a sheltered childhood. When the Germans invaded Austria in March 1938, Ilse was in Olmutz, a small town in Moravia, visiting her Aunt Alicia. Ordered by her father not to return home, she found herself alone with her Aunt, worried about her parents who were caught in occupied Vienna. Four months later, she was joined by her parents in Czechoslovakia, and the family's struggle and long journey to freedom began.

Ilse's marriage to Adalbert (Bela) Kaufmann, a hotel manager whom she met in Prague, assisted the family in establishing connections with the Argentine embassy, and in late 1941, her parents acquired Argentine passports, which enabled them to flee Czechoslovakia. A year later, Ilse, her husband and their son were among the last Jews remaining in Prague. With their "non-German" passports they successfully made the journey to Spain via Berlin, then crossed the border to Lisbon and secured a place on one of the final ships to sail across the Atlantic Ocean during the hostilities, arriving in Argentina in early 1943.

Ilse wrote her life story with the assistance of Helena Pardo, who was introduced to Ilse by a mutual friend, and the co-writing of this book created a lifelong friendship between the two women. In the foreword chapter of the book, Pardo describes Kaufmann as "a woman who fought not only for her own life but also for the life of her loved ones; a woman who had the people she most loved taken away from her by death."

The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann is a story of rescue, love, family and friendship, and is a heartfelt chronicle of survival.

Excerpt: "That night, at three in the morning, we woke up with a start to the sound of boots marching, fists pounding on our front door and the doorbell ringing insistently. "Open up! Gestapo!" a voice yelled outside the door. They entered immediately and began searching and breaking everything. They even had the nerve to pick the child up out of his crib. I had just managed to make it into the bathroom to conceal a document my father had entrusted me with, placing it inside the hem of my nightgown."

The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann: Vienna-Prague-Buenos Aires, by Ilse Kaufmann and Helena Pardo, is available for purchase at the Yad Vashem online store.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Yad Vashem Mourns the Passing of Naphtali Lau-Lavie

Yad Vashem mourns the passing of Holocaust survivor, journalist, author and diplomat Naphtali Lau-Lavie yesterday at the age of 88. Naphtali was the older brother of Yad Vashem Council Chairman and former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau.
The two brothers, who were born in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland, survived the Holocaust together, after their parents and other siblings were murdered.  Sixteen-year-old Naphtali was entrusted with the care of his five-year-old sibling, and looked after him through the Czestochowa slave labor camp and then in Buchenwald, where they were liberated by American forces in 1945.

"For three years, I served as father and mother, guardian and protector to my younger brother Israel Meir, or 'Lulek,' as we called him," wrote Naphtali in his autobiography, Balaam's Prophecy. "I often felt despair attacking me, flinging me helplessly to my destruction. I think it was the mission my father gave me, to bring my younger brother to safety and to ensure the continuation of our family’s rabbinic dynasty, that kept me alive and gave me the will to continue fighting for our lives, rather than succumb to the horrible fate that befell the rest of our family."

After arriving in the Land of Israel, Naphtali joined the Haganah and spent the rest of his life in service to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. He worked as a newspaper military correspondent; a spokesman for Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir; Israel's consul- general in New York; and Vice Chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, investigating Jewish properties that had been confiscated by the Nazis as well as the Soviet regime. He was also deeply committed to Holocaust commemoration: he was a member of the Yad Vashem Council and gave extensive accounts of his wartime experiences. Segments of his testimony are featured in Yad Vashem's Holocaust History Museum on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau described his older brother Naphtali as his "real hero," in his memoirs, Do Not Raise Your Hand Against the Boy. "Naphtali had a mission, and he could not allow himself to fail. This mission helped him to stay alive. He suffered weeks of sleeplessness, cold, hunger, and disease, which brought him to lose all interest in life. But he knew he could not sink. He could not give up."

Yad Vashem extends its deepest condolences to Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Naphtali's wife Joan, and his children and grandchildren.