Thursday, September 10, 2015

That Refugee Crisis and This Refugee Crisis

Op-ed written by Dr. Robert Rozett as seen in the Times of Israel.

In spring 1938, on the heels of five years of persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany that had recently extended to newly annexed Austria, it was clear that Europe, and the world, were in the throes of a severe refugee crisis. The term "refugee crisis" was essentially a euphemism, since it was not an amorphous situation, but rather circumstances resulting directly from masses of Jews fleeing dire Nazi persecution.  Of course this was still nearly three years before systematic mass murder would strike the Jews. And it was still six months before orchestrated massive violence would erupt on November 9th and 10th in the pogrom that came to be known as Kristallnacht. Yet even in spring 1938 Germany's persecution of the Jews was real, humiliating, profoundly painful and much too frequently, violent.

By the start of 1938 roughly one third of the 523,000 Jews residing in Germany proper in 1933 had left, or were on the verge of leaving. In addition, in the newly annexed German territories of Austria, Adolf Eichmann was poised to employ new coercive tactics to expedite the emigration of as many of the roughly 200,000 Jews of Austria as possible. He would be very successful.

In spring 1938, President Roosevelt and his Administration decided to convene a conference to deal, ostensibly, with the problem of Germany's fleeing Jews. Between the 6th and 15th of July, representatives from 32 countries met in the French spa town of Évian-sur-les-Bains.  It became rapidly clear at the time, and even clearer subsequently, that the Evian conference yielded no substantial solutions to the ongoing stream of refugees.  The various countries' emissaries set forth reasons why their nations could do little or nothing more than had already been done to help.  Each emissary voiced hopes that other countries would provide a solution.  In short the Evian conference was a dismal failure, ultimately fortifying the foundations of the Nazis' Final Solution.

"Evian, France, Representatives from various nations, sitting around a table at the Evian Conference."
Courtesy of Yad Vashem Photo Archives
Today Europe and the world face another refugee crisis of great proportions. Today's crisis appears in some ways much greater than that of the 1930s, with more complex and diverse characteristics and causes. It extends beyond several hundreds of thousands of persecuted persons belonging to one ethnic group, in one nation. Now, millions of people in extremis around the world are on the move and seek relief, refuge and a safe future.  It is truly a global problem.

Since 2011 more than 4 million have fled the brutal and bloody multi-sided war in Syria alone, a war that has left an estimated quarter of a million dead.  In Iraq, ISIS has targeted its enemies killing, enslaving, terrorizing and raping large segments of minority groups like the Yazidis, various Christians and those Muslims who do not follow the ISIS line, engendering massive flight.  As of the end of 2014, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 19.5 million people around the world have been driven from their homes because of armed conflict.

When today's refugees reach the shores of Europe or other safe havens, their new hosts are faced with daunting task of trying to accurately determine their status: Who among these unfortunate people is in immediate life threating danger. Whose life is threatened potentially? And who is seeking safety from places where life is "merely" wretched beyond the imagination of comfortable First World citizens? Clearly, weighty considerations, and not a little prejudice and selfishness to boot, preclude better-off countries from dramatically opening their doors wide to all the refugees. Yet, perhaps, we can derive a modicum of wisdom from history to help us grasp and deal sensibly and morally with this tragic, worsening situation.

When the world faced the crisis of Europe's persecuted German and Austrian Jews in the 1930s and might have solved the problem together, it failed miserably because it didn’t really try. It didn’t really want to try.

What is needed today is a new international initiative to aid the refugees - certainly not a sham like the Evian Conference, but a sincere and resolute effort to actually make a practical difference for the miserable millions.  This would go a long way towards the saving of many lives, and would also constitute an important gesture toward making amends for the world's past failures of conscience and action. Clearly many countries together can achieve more than one country acting alone. There are a number of already existing international organizations and agencies that could be part of such an effort, such as the UN, the World Bank, and major relief and charity organizations.   

In acting, we should all be guided by the saying attributed to Rabbi Tarfon in the Pirke Avot (The Sayings of the Fathers), a compilation of ethical teachings by early Jewish sages: "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it."
It may not be achievable to succor all or even the greater part of the tens of millions who need our help, but that does not mean that organized and concerted efforts should not be made to do whatever can already be done. Those efforts should begin now.

Dr. Robert Rozett is the Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries, author of Conscripted Slaves: Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front, Yad Vashem 2013, and co-editor with Dr. Iael Nidam Orvieto, of a forthcoming anthology of letters written by Holocaust Survivors and Allied soldiers after liberation to be published by Yad Vashem.

Marking the New Year

Ushering in the beginning of the Jewish New Year, a special online exhibition has been uploaded to Yad Vashem's website . "Marking the New Year" features approximately 50 items from Yad Vashem's collections, including greeting cards, documents, religious artifacts and testimonies - all relating to the Jewish New Year. Through these items, Yad Vashem offers a glimpse into some of the ways that Jews marked the High Holidays before, during and immediately after the Holocaust.

One of these special greeting cards comes from the Dasberg family. Simon Dasberg and his wife Isabella (née Franck) lived in Groningen, The Netherlands, where Simon served as the community Rabbi.  They had four children – Fanny (Zipporah), Dina, Samuel and Rafael. 

In 1943, the Dasbergs were deported to Westerbork and from there to the "star camp" in Bergen-Belsen.  Rabbi Dasberg took a Torah scroll with him to the camps, thanks to which he was able to perform the Mitzvah (commandment) of reading from the Torah, and even gave Bar Mitzvah boys the chance to be "called up to the Torah" (the Jewish tradition for boys turning 13).

"This year… I will not tease Rafael".
Rosh Hashanah Card from Samuel Dasberg, 10 years old, Bergen-Belsen 1944

In preparation for Rosh Hashanah 5705 (September 1944), the Dasberg children made "Shana Tova" cards in Bergen-Belsen.  They drew the symbols of the holiday – the Shofar (ram's horn) and the apple dipped in honey, decorated the cards with bright colors, and wished their parents a better year than the one they had just lived through.

Rafael, the youngest, aged 8, wrote in Dutch:

"This year I will be a very good boy, and I will never cry".

"This year I will be a very good boy, and I will never cry".
Rosh Hashanah Card from Rafael Dasberg, 8 years old, Bergen-Belsen 1944
The eldest daughter, Fanny (Zipporah) wrote the following in her card: "We will have a happy and sweet New Year even without apple and honey", and concluded with a prayer: "May peace come quickly in our days, and may we speedily return home with all the family. May you be inscribed for a good year."
"We will have a happy and sweet New Year even without apple and honey". 
Rosh Hashanah Card from Fanny Dasberg, 13 years old, Bergen-Belsen 1944
Tragically, the worst was yet to come.  In the course of the year, conditions in the "star camp" deteriorated, and Rabbi Simon Dasberg, Isabella and their youngest son Rafael perished in the camp.

Fanny, Dina and Samuel survived, and immigrated to Eretz Israel after the war.

Fanny Stahl (née  Dasberg) lives in Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv.  On a Gathering the Fragments collection day in Emek Hama'ayanot, she brought the "Shana Tova" cards that she had preserved from that dark period, and allowed them to be photographed for Yad Vashem Archives.

Even from the depths of despair in the ghettos, Jews hoped and wished for a Happy New Year, "L'Shana Tova Tekatevu", 'May we be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for a good New Year'.   

The exhibit is featured in English, Hebrew and Spanish.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Daughter of Survivors Learns About the Family She Never Got to Meet

By: Deborah Berman

Monique Keppler, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, recently submitted to Yad Vashem some 400 names of her extended family members who were murdered in the Shoah.  Through extensive genealogical research, Keppler traced her family line back several hundreds of years. However, when it came to the Holocaust period, she did not know much. Her parents rarely spoke about their past or about their family story during those dark days.

Sophia and Joseph Glasbeek
Monique knew that her family were natives of Amsterdam and that the large majority of them were murdered, along with many of the Jews of the city. "My mother passed away never knowing what happened to her family. One night they were herded into a truck and taken to the train station in Amsterdam. Miraculously, Mother was able to hide in the restroom. She stayed there for a long time and when she went back to the platform everyone was gone. Only she and her younger brother, who hid himself on the roof of their house, survived," she stated.
Monique shared her impressions of what has been a profoundly meaningful experience making use of information on Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names. She relates the following story about her pregnant Aunt whose baby was born and died in the camps. "It has been a very emotional experience to find the names of these many family members who I never knew, yet feel a connection with. I discovered that Mother's pregnant sister had her baby at Westerbork in June 1943. The next dates for both of them are [listed in] Auschwitz September 1943, on the same day. As I imagined the horror of having a baby in the camp and then being transported to Auschwitz I was filled with grief and sorrow, crying for many days."

The process provided much more than just information for Monique, it granted her a sense of closure and deepened her understanding of her own personal loss, "All my life I wanted to know about my family but my parents didn't speak about it. I was an only child and always hoped for more siblings while growing up. Having filled out more than 400 pages of testimony I am staggered by the extent of my loss. Thinking about what might have been - having a very large family instead of the tiny family we were," Monique explained. Monique was assisted by Ursula Szczepinska, curator of education and director of research at the Florida Holocaust Museum, a dedicated partner of the Shoah Victims' Names Project. 

Pictured, Monique Keppler's family members at the wedding of her Aunt and Uncle Sophia and Joseph Glasbeek in Amsterdam, 1942. All the people in the photograph were murdered during the Shoah.
For more information and assistance contact the Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Return to Life

Every year, Yad Vashem creates a calendar for the Jewish New Year. This year's calendar focuses on "The Return to Life," emphasizing Jewish life in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps after the war.  Included in the calendar are emotive black and white images from the Yad Vashem Archives, portraying everyday life in the camps. This calendar offers a visual representation of the life of hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors in Europe, illustrating their cultural, religious and communal ventures in the years immediately following the war.
Lasting from the end of WWII until the early 1950s, the period of the DP camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy was short-lived, but is notable by the vibrant Jewish life created therein. The living conditions were characterized, primarily at first, by hardship and scarcity. Postwar conditions were difficult, with inadequate amounts of food, clothing, medicine and other crucial supplies. The survivors' stay in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps, in children's homes and in internment camps was regarded by most of the Jewish refugees as a temporary arrangement. The shock of liberation, the realization that many of them were alone in the world, and the physical and emotional scars and deprivations burdened many survivors.
Nevertheless, despite all of their hardship, they managed to transform their new communities into centers of social, cultural and educational activity with a vitality to rebuild their lives: they held sporting events and celebrated Jewish holidays; they established theaters and orchestras and published newspapers; and they studied, acquired professions and raised families, preparing themselves for a new – and more hopeful – life after the Holocaust.

To read more about the return to life in the DP camps, visit Yad Vashem's website for two special online exhibitions, "The Return to Life in the Displaced Persons Camps, 1945-1956" and "DP Camps and Hachsharot in Italy After the War."

To purchase the calendar click 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

NBA Basketball players visit Yad Vashem

Photo credit: Itzhak Harrari
 Israeli basketball player and NBA star, Omri Caspi brought a delegation of American NBA basketball players to visit Yad Vashem today for the first time. Visiting with Caspi are his Sacramento Kings teammates, Rudy Gay, Demarcus Cousins, and Caron Butler as well as Chandler Parsons of the Dallas Mavericks, Alan Anderson of the Washington Wizards, Tyreke Evans of the New Orleans Pelicans and Iman Shumpoert of the Cleveland Cavaliers.  

Photo credit: Itzhak Harrari
During their visit at Yad Vashem, the basketball players toured the Holocaust History Museum, visited the Hall of Remembrance, toured the Children's Memorial and signed the Yad Vashem guest book.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Remembering, Discovering, and Connecting at Int'l Jewish Genealogy Conference

By Deborah Berman

Susan Edel with Deborah Berman of Yad Vashem at the IAJGS conference
This year's annual 35th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy – held in Jerusalem every decade - turned out to provide a remarkable moment for IAJGS participant Susan Edel, a dedicated genealogist from Petah Tikva, Israel. During a lecture she attended given by Dr. Haim Gertner, Director of the Yad Vashem Archives, she was surprised to see an image of the sheet music of her great-great grandfather, the famed Jewish composer I.M Japhet, projected on the screen before the crowded lecture hall. "I burst out mid-lecture. It was very exciting, I always get very emotional when anyone talks about my great-great grandfather. He was very close to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and he served as the choir master in his synagogue in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Seeing his music in this context, knowing that this book had survived Kristallnacht and the Shoah and that it had been restored to its rightful owners and now is preserved at Yad Vashem for generations to come, moved me deeply," explained Susan.

Page from the Music Book Belonging to Cantor Arthur Koh

As part of Dr. Gertner's presentation about a Yad Vashem initiative called "Gathering the Fragments": A National Campaign to Rescue Personal Items from the Holocaust Period, he related the story of the music book which was recently donated to Yad Vashem via the campaign. The book originally belonged to the Cantor Arthur (Avraham) Kohn from the Mannheim Synagogue in Germany.  Cantor Kohn was born in 1908 in Würzburg, Germany and he and his wife Martha (née Fieberman) had three children: Josef, Shlomo and Hannah.  The children were born in the 1930s in Mannheim during the period when Arthur was cantor of the Klaus synagogue in the city. During that time, he complied a music book, recording different liturgical compositions in order to remember the tunes of the prayers. 

The synagogue was burnt down during Kristallnacht in November 1938, when the Nazis unleashed a series of riots against the Jews. In the space of a few hours, thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed.  Following Kristallnacht, the Kohn family fled Germany and immigrated first to Argentina and then later, in 1950, to Israel. After Kristallnacht, Josef and Salomon Stein, members of the Klaus synagogue in Mannheim, entered the ruins of the synagogue and discovered Arthur Kohn's complete music book among the ruins. They took the book as a keepsake and immigrated to Israel. Salomon lived in Kibbutz Shluchot and kept the book in his home for many years. In 1988 Salomon discovered that members of the Kohn family were also living in Israel and gave them the music book that their father had written. 

Included in Kohn's book was original sheet music of "lecha dodi" written by Susan's grandfather. Susan, a seasoned genealogist, has served for several years as a dedicated volunteer on Yad Vashem's Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project and also volunteers in the tracing department of the Magen David Adom, handling many Holocaust related queries.

More information about the "Gathering the Fragments" campaign as well as a fraction of the fascinating stories behind the items behind them is available on Yad Vashem's website.

Yad Vashem is proud to be a gold sponsor and partner in programming at the 35th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, underway at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem, 6-10 July 2015. Some 800 researchers and Jewish genealogy enthusiasts from around the world have benefited from this partnership which has included a special guided research opportunity at Yad Vashem making use of our databases and unmatched resources for Holocaust research as well as expert staff lecturing on a variety of Shoah related topics and onsite researchers available at the resource room throughout the conference.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Corner

 Tin Solider in a Cardboard Box

Yad Vashem Publications' new release, Tin Solider in a Cardboard Box, by Ari Livne is a coming-of-age story that reflects great pain, but also optimism as to the human ability to survive.

Born in Vienna, Henri's (Ari Livne) life changed irrevocably when he was eight years old. After escaping with his parents to Belgium and several years of avoiding arrest, Henri was taken in by "Aunt Angele" a local woman living in Nazi-occupied Brussels. Henri adopted a false identity as a French-speaking Christian boy. His knack of staying calm under pressure, his acting abilities and his improvisation skills helped him escape from near-fatal traps time and again. With psychological depth and unrelenting tension, the complex relationship between the author's adopted and real identities comes to the fore in the descriptions of his daily fight for survival.

In times of suspected danger, Henri would hide in a camouflaged dugout in Aunt Angele's garden. During the hours spent there, he relied on his vivid imagination and daydreaming to transport himself to a world of fantasy where he could invite the people of his choice, for instance, his parents or other family members, and hold long conversations with them.  

In Tin Solider in a Cardboard Box, Ari Livne has reconstructed his childhood feelings to create a young hero in a world gone insane. With psychological depth and unrelenting tension, the complex relationship between his adopted identity and who he really was is described during the daily fight for survival.

Excerpt from book: 

"Since the single room in which we lived in had no space for more than two beds, a closet and a small table, it was impossible to move about and play. I remember lying on my bed most of the time and playing with the only toys I possessed in those years, a tin soldier and a small box made of some kind of corrugated material, possibly cardboard, both painted green. The box served as barracks, a bed for the soldier, a house and a training facility and I played with those two article for hours, for entire days…But, at some stage, I decided to stop playing with the tin solider and box. I made do with just my imagination, without having to hold anything in my hands. Everything now took place inside my head and I spent long hours in bed, daydreaming. I imagined myself playing with toys - a different toy every time - and I really enjoyed it."

Ari Livne lives with his family in Israel and has been a civil servant for most of his career.

Tin Solider in a Cardboard Box is available for purchase online or may be ordered by email at Yad Vashem.