Monday, February 23, 2015

EHRI International Workshop at Yad Vashem: Holocaust Art – An Essential Tool for the Methodology of Constructing a Historical Narrative

Artworks created during the Holocaust, often intimate and fragile, at times extremely personal, can be viewed as important documents, written by means of artistic expression rather than with words. They constitute a most valuable tool for understanding the inconceivable reality of the Holocaust. A discussion of the methodology for integrating the visual into research and education about the Holocaust was initiated last week at Yad Vashem. The workshop raised the question of how to implement this approach in museums, classrooms and research.

The European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) held an international workshop, organized by the Yad Vashem Archives and the Museums Division, from February 9, 2015 to February 11, 2015 in Jerusalem. The Workshop entitled "Holocaust Art – an Essential Tool for the Methodology of Constructing a Historical Narrative” explored the role of the visual arts in an attempt to build a historical Holocaust narrative, examining the phenomenon through an array of approaches. The workshop included museum directors, curators, scholars and leading experts from all over the world such as Germany, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, U.K., U.S.A. and Israel. Participants presented lectures on various topics within the framework of Holocaust Art, such as: the use of art as visual testimony; setting Holocaust Art in its historical context; the role of the artist as recorder of history; and, methodologies to investigate art looted by the Nazis and the Provenance Research Project.

Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett presenting the opening keynote address.
The opening session took place on Monday, February 9, 2015 with welcoming remarks from Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. Shalev emphasized the importance of art on two levels: first, the interweaving of art as historical testimony in Yad Vashem's Holocaust History Museum, and second, the importance of seeing art and its creation, during the harshest of circumstances, as a component that preserved the artists' human spirit.

Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, Program Director of the Core Exhibition, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, presented the opening keynote address, entitled "Felt Facts: The Role of Art and Culture in the Holocaust Gallery at POLIN Museum". In this presentation, she argued for a removal of focus from art specifically, to an emphasis on visual culture broadly defined.     
The closing session took place on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 with a round table moderated by Haim Gertner, Director of the Yad Vashem Archives Division and member of the Executive Committee of EHRI; Yehudit Shendar, Retired Deputy Director and Senior Art Curator of the Museums Division and currently with Yad Vashem's Provenance Research Project, and Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg, Curator and Art Department Director in the Museums Division. The participants expressed enthusiasm for having had the opportunity to exchange knowledge and ideas with colleagues in the intimate atmosphere of this first of its kind workshop and concluded that there is a need to continue the collaboration between researchers and the various institutions dealing with these important issues. In addition, they stressed the necessity to acknowledge Holocaust Art as part of the mainstream in the field of Art History. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Holocaust survivor, journalist and author Roman Frister passes away in Warsaw, aged 87.

Roman Frister was born in 1928 in the town of Bielsko, Silesia, the only child of a bourgeois, well-off family.  Roman was given a multi-cultural education, with access to books in German, Polish and English. His parents had intended to send him to a prestigious boarding school in London straight after his Bar Mitzvah. 

When the war broke out, Roman’s family lived under an assumed identity thanks to forged identity papers that Polish friends of his father’s managed to obtain for them.  When the Jews were forced into the Bielsko ghetto, the Fristers stayed at home, but eventually had to move to Krakow, where they continued to use their forged papers. 

Roman, who looked “Aryan”, felt secure walking on the streets of Krakow while all the city’s Jews, including his own grandparents, had been forced to move into the ghetto.  The 13-year-old Roman decided that he would find a way to smuggle his grandparents out of the ghetto. After monitoring the daily running of the ghetto, he managed to sneak inside bringing with him the clothes of a priest, a nun and a novice.  He found his grandparents, who were astonished to see him.  After much argument, Roman convinced them to exit the ghetto with him dressed up in the garments he had brought.  Roman’s act of rescue granted his grandparents a few more months of life:  on discovering them hiding in a village, the Nazis murdered them.

Roman and his parents were eventually caught after they were betrayed.  His mother was murdered in front of him in the Krakow prison, and he was deported with his father to several camps, including Plaszow and Auschwitz-Birkenau.  “Chance played a major role in my survival,” relates Frister “As long as I knew how to take my chance when it arose. Once, I was caught while in a camp.  The SS man drew his gun, but the bullet got stuck in the barrel.  Chance, right? But if I had stood around until he reloaded, he would have shot me.  I ran, thus helping chance to help me.  This is a trait that characterizes me till today,” he said in an interview with “Yediot Aharonot” in 1993.  In another incident, Frister stole a prisoner’s cap after his own was taken, thus buying his life at the price of another Jew’s death. “If human life is the ultimate value, shouldn’t one do everything possible to stay alive, even at the cost of another’s life? Who can judge whose life was more important?  My life is worth more to me than the life of anyone else.  I’m not holy.  I knew that if I didn’t do it, I’d die.  Even today, I think I did the right thing.”

In 1957, Roman immigrated to Israel and entered the world of the media.  He was a journalist for the Ha’aretz newspaper for many years, lectured in journalism at the university and wrote several books.  One of them, “The Cap:  The Price of a Life”, is an autobiographical account.

In his book, Roman recalls his father’s dying words, spoken as he lay on his bunk in the Plaszow labor camp:  “…I only ask one thing. Just one. That you be a human being. A fair person. That you don’t take the morality of the camps with you into your new life. That you don’t adopt the laws of the jungle. That you forget what you acquired here.  The necessity to lie and cheat and hurt others. The contempt for law and honesty. And promise me that you will never – you hear – never steal.”   

Roman Frister will be laid to rest on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Response from Yad Vad Vashem regarding the on-site taxi service

In order to prevent inflated prices for tourists visiting one of Jerusalem's most popular sites, Yad Vashem decided to arrange for an on-site taxi service. Several months ago, a tender was issued which according to Israeli law was advertised in an Arabic newspaper, thus enabling Arab taxi operators to participate in the tender."

Yad Vashem placed no precondition in the tender regarding the identity of the cab drivers. Three Jerusalem taxi services, made offers for the tender. The best offer was made by Hapisgah Taxis and therefore they were chosen.  It is important to note, that the Hapisgah Taxi service did not submit any documentation to the Yad Vashem commission stating that the taxi service has a policy against employing Arabs. After clarifying with the manager of Hapisgah Taxi, the service said that they have no such policy. The Israeli Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the Ministry of Economy is currently looking into this matter.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

IRemember Facebook Wall

To mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day this year Yad Vashem once again launched the IRemember Wall on Facebook. The IRemember Wall is a unique and meaningful opportunity for the public to participate in an online commemorative event.  By joining the wall, one's Facebook profile is randomly linked to the name of a Holocaust victim from our Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names and then posted to the wall together with the photo and name of the Holocaust victim. Thousands each year have joined Yad Vashem's IRemember Wall.

The IR Wall was originally created in order to provide Yad Vashem's growing international group of Facebook followers a meaningful as well as participatory way to commemorate Holocaust victims. The random linking of one's FB profile with the name and story of a Holocaust victim ensures that even those who don’t have a personal connection to someone who perished, can join and be part of this online commemorative opportunity.

On January 27th, 2015 over 4,000 people from all over the world joined the IR Wall and immediately were able to view a photo of the Holocaust victim they were connected to as well as Pages of Testimony from our Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names providing information (when known) about where the victim was born, family members' names, place of death and more.

Yad Vashem was very moved by many of the meaningful comments people posted:
One participant wrote: "This is my 3rd year connecting to IRemember…it never fails to move me
Sara Plotka was born in Rozan, Poland in 1920 to Shlomo and Fruma. Prior to WWII she lived in Rozan, Poland. Sara was murdered in the Shoah at the age of 22."
Another participant commented, "It is an honour for me to have the chance to get personally involved each year. Without Yad Vashem's wonderful idea I wouldn't be able to spend the days reflecting on that one special person. I think about them all, all the time but it is so special to remember the one person for a short while."
Others wrote, "Always in my heart. We will always remember."

We would like to thank all of you who joined our IRemember Wall this year to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and for sharing your meaningful comments and messages with us.