Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Preserving Memories for Posterity

by Avner Shalev
I am often asked how Yad Vashem intends to preserve the memory of the Holocaust after those who survived its horrors are no longer with us.
This question is informed by the apt perception that when Holocaust survivors share their stories with others, they serve as living testament to the Shoah's events and implications, thus strengthening the moral dimension of our commemoration endeavors.
Preserving the memory of the Holocaust and its relevance for future generations will always be contingent on how each generation shapes its identity and perceives its social context.  Unless that memory is actually integrated into each generation's collective identity, it will recede into one more distant chapter in Jewish and human history.
Over the past decade, we have witnessed a marked increase in the scope, variety and dissemination of Holocaust research, education and commemoration, as many Jews in Israel and abroad, as well as non-Jews, reveal a genuine interest in the Shoah. The desire to remember the Holocaust era and the need to connect with its annals, learn from them and understand their significance seems to be steadily growing, with young people around the world steering and expanding it toward ever-wider circles. This is apparent in Israel,  and it is evident as well in Jewish communities abroad, including the US, where some 73 percent of the Jewish respondents to the recent Pew Foundation report indicate that the Holocaust continues to plays a key role in their Jewish identity.
The need to continue a connection with this chapter in Jewish history, compounded by the objective challenges of passing time, have spurred Yad Vashem to intensify our information-gathering efforts among survivors and their families. We spare no effort in locating and preserving their testimonies, via videos, memoirs,  and recording the names of those who were murdered. We also systematically collect photos, documents, artwork and personal effects, and any other piece of information from and about victims and survivors, attesting to their own ordeals and those of their murdered loved ones.
Such diverse and inspiring sources - a clandestine letter smuggled to a loved one, a diary written under threat of death, artwork painted in a ghetto, etc. -- are truly invaluable. Preserving them effectively, long after the passing of those who originally bequeathed them to us, requires dedication, sensitivity and professionalism. Thus we make remarkable documentation accessible, so that it can be incorporated into numerous contexts of Holocaust remembrance and education.
Making these materials digitally accessible to the public is a complex and demanding endeavor, but it is our vital mission in the face of serious challenges to Shoah remembrance brought about by the inevitable passage of time.
Today, there is greater public understanding than ever that the Holocaust engendered deep rifts and chasms among the Jewish people. We must seek to bind these rifts in order to ensure ongoing safe, productive Jewish existence, and to secure the Holocaust's unique role in global discourse, with the aim of reinforcing basic human principles -- the right of all people to life, dignity and self-expression -- and of strengthening the fight against antisemitism, racism and xenophobia.
Avner Shalev is chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate.
A version of this article first appeared in Yisrael Hayom. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

101 Year Old Holocaust Survivor Completes Commemoration Efforts for Murdered Family Members

Dr. Yaakov Trosman with daughter Dina and Russian
speaking interpreter, Nelly Rubinov
The eldest child in a family of medical professionals, many of them doctors and nurses, Dr. Yaakov Trosman (101) of Denver, Colorado was born on March 20, 1913 in Luginky, Ukraine. Tragically in the fall of 1941 his parents, Dina and Natan, his grandfather, Chaim Gersh, his uncle Shmulik Trosman, grandmother Nechama Shapirstein, and many others from the Trosman family and town of Luginky were murdered in multiple actions carried out by the Germans throughout Ukraine. After serving in the Red Army, Trosman was eventually allowed to continue his medical studies in Alamaty, Kazakhstan and after the war, he was able to complete his schooling at the University in Odessa. In 1996, at the age of 83, Dr. Trosman immigrated to the United States, first to New York and later to Denver, Colorado.
Dr. Yaakov Trosman (101) of Denver, Colorado was born on March 20,
1913 in Luginky, Ukraine
Dr. Trosman and his daughter Dina (named after his mother), recently contacted Yad Vashem’s Shoah Victims' Names Recovery in Israel for assistance. Names Project staff then connected them with Tami Ellison of the YIZKOR project, a partner project in the greater Denver area. Trosman provided Ellison with a list of names of people from Luginky who were murdered in the Holocaust. Working with Russian speaking interpreter, Nelly Rubinov, they learned that the family had previously submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem to honor the memory of loved ones and friends. Ellison verified that the names the Trosman family, along with additional documentation Dr. Trosman obtained from Ukraine with details of his parents' murders, are indeed part of the permanent record in the Hall of Names and accessible through the online Names' database. Now they wanted to add a photo of his parents, Natan (Nutka) and Dina (Dunka).
The photo of Dr. Trosman's parents: Natan (Nutka) and Dina (Dunka)
added to the online Names' database
"We were able to access the historical record and print out material for the Trosman family who did not have copies of the material they had previously submitted," noted Ellison who has worked for several years to help collect names and photographs, and to update submissions from survivors and their descendants. "Working with survivors has been profoundly rewarding," adds Ellison.
As a result of their efforts, The Pages of Testimony were printed and presented to Dr. Trosman and his daughter, and the photograph of Dina and Natan Trosman forwarded to Yad Vashem to complete the family's memorial Pages of Testimony.
For more information about the Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project please contact: names.outreach@yadvashem.org.il

Monday, April 7, 2014

International Book Prize for Holocaust Research Awarded to Dr. Avihu Ronen and Prof. Bernard Wasserstein

Dr. Avihu Ronen presenting a lecture on his book about the way in which
 the Shoah was perceived in Israel's first few decades
Scheduled for last December but delayed by the unprecedented Jerusalem snow storm that month, the 2013 Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research, in memory of Abraham Meir Schwarzbaum, Holocaust survivor, and his family members murdered in the Holocaust, was awarded Thursday, April 4, 2014 to Dr. Avihu Ronen for his book, Condemned to Life: The Diaries and Life of Chajka Klinger (University of Haifa and Yedioth Books, 2011) and to Prof. Bernard Wasserstein for his book, On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War (London: Profile Books, 2012). At the event, Dr. Ronen presented a lecture on his book and Sabina Schwarzbaum, daughter of the late Abraham Meir Schwarzbaum upon whom the International Book Prize is named after, spoke about her father and his dedication to Holocaust commemoration. 
The judges noted that: “Of all the books that were presented to the Book Prize Committee this year, two books were especially notable. Condemned to Life by Dr. Avihu Ronen weaves together meticulous research regarding different chapters of the Holocaust, with a thorough and sensitive account of the way in which the Holocaust was viewed during Israel's first few decades. Through a critical examination of both of these two central aspects, the author, a respected historian and son of Chajka Klinger, an activist and leader of the underground in Bedzin, Poland, seamlessly combines them together without compromising either. The book offers a rare blend of logic and emotion, humanity and power - a combination that sweeps the reader with it from the very first page and makes the book suitable for both researchers and the general public alike.”
Dorit Novak, Director General of Yad Vashem and Professor Dan Michman,
Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research and Incumbent 
of the John Najmann Chair of Holocaust Studies attended the event
On the Eve provides a fitting response to the need, felt both in the research world and in higher education, for a broad, comprehensive analytical overview of European Jewry in its entirety and its situation and internal dynamics before the disaster. This lacuna has now been filled by Prof. Bernard Wasserstein’s study which is an excellent work of historical synthesis by a leading scholar that deals with the condition of European Jewry in the 1930's. The author deals with economics, politics, language, culture and intellectual life, institutions, beliefs, internal divisions and more. Elegantly written and organized in a generally thematic manner, the book provides a truly comprehensive, continent-wide step-by-step overview of the situation of European Jewry between the two World Wars which the author describes as "close to terminal collapse. Wasserstein has an unerring feel for telling an anecdote, poignant poem, folk song, or literary selection, all of which appear in abundance throughout his gripping narrative. On the Eve is a thought-provoking and rare academic introduction to European Jewish history during a crucial era, which provides an evaluative framework that allows for a deeper understanding of the Shoah and in many ways is a tour de force.
Sabina Schwarzbaum, daughter of the late Abraham Meir Schwarzbaum
upon whom the International Book Prize is named after, spoke about her
 father and his dedication to Holocaust commemoration
The Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research is dedicated to the memory of Holocaust survivor Abraham Meir Schwarzbaum and his family members murdered in the Holocaust: parents Yitzchak and Sara Salamonowicz, sister Rivka Friedman, and brothers Hershel, Gershon, Moshe and Pinchas Mendel. Meir Schwarzbaum, born in Czestochowa on Hanukkah, December 1922, survived the Holocaust in ghettos and camps, among them Theresienstadt and Buchenwald. Born Meir Salamonowicz and later known as Schwarzbaum, he built himself a new life after the war, dedicated to Holocaust commemoration. His daughter, Sabina Schwarzbaum, took it upon herself to continue his legacy, and to carry the torch of memory as an example for the generations to come.
The finalists this year were Alon Confino, Foundational Pasts: The Holocaust as Historical Understanding, Laura Jokusch, Collect and Record, Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe and Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, Okrzyki pogromowe. Szkice z antropologii historycznej Polski lat 1939-1946.
The members of the Yad Vashem Book Prize Committee for the year 2013 were: Committee Chairman Prof. Dan Michman, Yad Vashem and Bar-Ilan University, Israel; Prof. Sam Kassow, Trinity College, USA; Dr. Iael Nidam-Orvieto, Yad Vashem, Israel; Prof. Dina Porat, Yad Vashem and Tel Aviv University, Israel; Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, Israel; Dr. David Silberklang, Yad Vashem, Israel; Prof. Dr. Sybille Steinbacher, University of Vienna, Austria.