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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Holocaust Survivor receives the Yad Vashem Lifetime Achievement Award

Yesterday, Yad Vashem's annual awards for commitment and excellence in the field of holocaust education were awarded in a moving ceremony. The Edmond J. Safra Auditorium was filled to capacity with students, teachers, parents, educators, Holocaust survivors and their families.

The Lifetime Achievement Award in Holocaust Education was awarded to Holocaust survivor Asher Aud. Although retired, Asher is still very active and travels to Poland about 4-5 times a year. Despite the physical and emotional difficulties of these journeys, he knows how important they are, "it's not a trip, it's a job," he noted.
Asher Aud accepting his award from Dorit Novak
Director General of Yad Vashem 

Asher generously devotes his time to speaking to soldiers, youth delegations, and the general public about his experiences during the Holocaust. "Apparently, I survived to tell the coming generations," explains Asher "and that is my mission in life. Every moment I am with children or soldiers, I experience victory." Asher attended the ceremony with his lovely wife, Chaya whom he lovingly thanked, remarking that "it's because of her that I stand here today." Asher thanked Yad Vashem for the privilege of receiving this special award and said that he stood here today, representing the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.  He ended his words crying out emotionally, "Am Israel Chai!"

Asher Aud was born in 1928 in Zduńska Wola, Poland as Anshel Sieradzki to Jocheved and Shmuel Hirsh Sieradzki, a tailor. Asher had an older brother, Berl and a younger brother, Gabriel. In the spring of 1940, a ghetto was established in the town and Asher's family was ordered to move there. The Germans carried out a number of aktionen in the ghetto; in one of these, Shmuel and Berl were deported.

Asher Aud addressing the audience
In August 1942, the ghetto was liquidated and the remaining Jews were sent to the Jewish cemetery where they were held for two days without food or water. The Jews were forced to walk between two rows of German soldiers who took turns beating them. Fourteen-year-old Asher was sent to forced labor in the Łódź ghetto and Jocheved and Gabriel were deported to Chełmno where they were murdered.

In Łódź, Asher foraged for food in garbage heaps and worked in a factory making straw shoes. He fell ill with typhus but recovered. In August 1944, the Łódź ghetto was liquidated and Asher was deported to Auschwitz.

In January 1945, Asher was sent on a death march. He also survived the Mauthausen and Gunskirchen camps. After liberation, he reached Italy with the assistance of the Jewish Brigade.

In November 1945, Asher immigrated to Israel. He lives with his wife, Chaya Aud and they have three children and 10 grandchildren.

Asher was also recently a torchlighter on the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day ceremony in May 2014. To see and hear Asher telling his story, click here.

Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies grants the prestigious prize in five categories: the Lifetime Achievement Award, Children's Holocaust Literature, Outstanding Matriculation Papers on the Holocaust, Outstanding Educational Curricula, and Outstanding Educational Curricula on French Jewry during the Holocaust.

The awards are generously supported by the Najmann Family, Sandra Brand in memory of her son, Bruno Brand, who perished in the Holocaust, the Luba and Mark Uveeler Foundation, the Foundation pour la Memoire de la Shoah and the Aloumim Association.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Grateful Experience

Written by Heather Gillies

A few weeks ago, I met Rena Quint, a child survivor of the Holocaust. That morning I had the privilege of hearing her story, and through the Twinning program at Yad Vashem I was able interview her personally. My name is Heather Gillies, and I'm a student from San Diego studying for a semester at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University. In these few months that I have been living in Jerusalem, I took the opportunity to volunteer at Yad Vashem, and wanted to develop a personal connection with a survivor.

Heather Gillies and Rena Quint at Yad Vashem
Born in Piotrkow, Poland, not far from Krakow, Rena lived in the Ghetto with her two brothers and parents. One day all 2,000 Jews were rounded up in the small local synagogue. Foreseeing immediate danger, a man that Rena called "uncle" told her to run away. She tells me that she doesn't understand why a young child of maybe 5 or 6 would let go of her mother and run away, but her life was momentarily spared as she escaped the synagogue and her entire community was sent to Treblinka. She never saw her family or any one of those people ever again. Her father, meanwhile, worked at a glass factory at a work camp. She was brought to him, and in order to survive Rena's father changed her identity to that of a ten year old boy. Rena worked by bringing water to the workers, and remembers the Nazis' dogs that stood by watching, whom were randomly unleashed onto any unsuspecting worker. A worker who was injured by the dogs was considered useless, and immediately shot by the Nazis. Although Rena has struggled to piece together the reality of her past and find truth in her memories, she says that some things are unforgettable. The vicious demeanor of these dogs, and the smells of death and disease are some of these things that are ingrained in her memory.

On one fateful day, Rena and her father were rounded up with many others from the glass factory and sent to Bergen-Belsen. Her father entrusted her care to a school teacher he had met, and handed her pictures of her family. Thinking that Rena was hiding a jewel in her hand, a Nazi soldier took the pictures and ripped them, tossing them into the snow. To this day Rena cannot remember the faces of her family. Her father was sent to Buchenwald and she stayed with her "new mother" in Bergen-Belsen. They slept on the stone cold floor with rats and lice, ate soup made from dirt, snow, and turnips, and witnessed the deaths of thousands of people. She remembers being able to understand when death was coming. One day, new soldiers showed up in the camps. People who could barely walk or speak were now running and shouting, "You're free, you're free!" But Rena explains that she didn't really understand what freedom meant. She was liberated from Bergen-Belsen with Typhus and Diphtheria, and was sent to a DP camp in Sweden where she recovered. Every day a Christian couple came to take care of her and bring her toys and candy. They offered to adopt her one day, but the people around Rena told her that she was Jewish and that she belonged in Palestine. She had no idea what it meant to be Jewish. She was transferred to another DP camp where she met Anna, her next mother. When Anna's own daughter died, Rena took her place as Anna's daughter, and boarded a ship to America.

During her life in the United States, she learned how to be Jewish and what a real childhood was like. No one asked her about the Holocaust. Rena remembers that one day Anna disappeared. She came back in a black car that people around her called a hearse. There was a grave dug for her, and a ceremony, and everyone around her was grieving. Rena didn't understand why everyone was crying over the death of one person. In the camps, so many died and no one cried. Rena was eventually adopted by a family in Brooklyn – her sixth and final mother. She went to school, graduated, and eventually moved to Israel with her husband, and volunteers at Yad Vashem.

Rena guiding a group at the museum at Yad Vashem
After Rena finished telling her story, I sat down with her to ask some questions of my own. Like me, living in Israel has been a source of strength and life for her. She is proud of her adopted mother who lived to be 100 years old, and of her 22 grandchildren, three of whom attend school at Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford. She is proud of the binder of documents she has amassed: her birth certificate, her medical records, pictures of her old apartment and synagogue. This is proof to herself that her story was not imagined – everything she remembered was true - and proof to the deniers who claim that these atrocities never happened. She tells her story with grace and ease, fully understanding of its significance in the collective Jewish narrative. When I ask her if she connects with the Jewish people and with Israel, she answers without hesitation: "Absolutely." She inspires me to be better – to help foster a greater future in which Jews no longer have to live in fear. I listened to her explain how she didn't know how wonderful life could be until she was free with a loving family. She said, "Before I was liberated, I thought that everyone slept on the floor, and didn't know that people got up in the morning, showered, and went to the kitchen to decide what to eat for breakfast." These little things that we take for granted every day were luxuries for so many survivors during the Holocaust. Survivors like Rena teach us to appreciate the blessings we have: our families, our homes, and our heritage. I am so fortunate to have shared in this experience with Rena and to have heard her story of survival and life.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Yad Vashem Seminar Graduates Promote Holocaust Education in Turkey

by James Joseph McIntosh

A seminar on Holocaust studies for a group of academics from Turkey has generated some exceptional and diverse educational activities just one year later.  In June 2014, the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem, in cooperation with the Aladdin Project, organized a first-of-a-kind seminar which was attended by an outstanding group of educators. The extended program began in 2013, with an international conference at Galatasaray University in Istanbul, followed by  participation in an online course designed by Yad Vashem's experts. This summer, the seminar graduates have already begun to incorporate the study of the Holocaust into their classrooms, effectively become emissaries for Yad Vashem in their home country.

Academics from Turkey attend a session at
 Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies
One graduate, a professor at a university in Istanbul who requested he remain anonymous, is using Yad Vashem online materials to teach about the Holocaust.  In the lead-up to class discussions on the Holocaust, his students viewed Dr. David Silberklang's online presentation  and read passages from the websites of Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In class, the professor gave a half-hour introduction to the Holocaust, including Jewish life in Eastern Europe, Emancipation, the Dreyfus Affair, the 1881 pogroms and the 1903 Kishinev Pogrom, the rise of Nazism in Germany, and antisemitism.

"The students told me they were profoundly moved when they watched Dr. Silberklang's explanations, and were horrified by the level of cruelty," said the professor. "Some of them admitted to crying while watching the video."
The professor teaches Turkish and international students together, and they had a diverse knowledge base.  "My German student seemed to know more about this subject than all the other students," said the professor. "My Polish student, on the other hand, talked about the increasing interest in Jewish life in Poland. The Turkish students knew much more about World War I, which preceded the Turkish War of National Liberation (1919-1922), than World War II, because Turkey was not involved in the latter."
Yad Vashem staff presentation of cutting-edge educational resources provided participants with essential tools for teaching their students.  James McMillan is a British citizen who teaches English at the Enka Private School in Adapazarı, Turkey.  "The Yad Vashem website is a wonderful help, and one of the few places where I can find accurate information," he said.  Prior to participating in the seminar in Jerusalem, McMillan took a Turkish student group to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial Museum and Jewish sites in Krakow.  "As far as I know, we were the first Turkish school to educate students about the Holocaust, as well as to visit two of the authentic sites where so much terror and murder had occurred," he said.
James McMillian's students during a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau
An active contributor to the Facebook page of the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem, social media has enabled McMillan to make contact and speak with many descendents of Holocaust survivors.  "I have also made friends with Mrs. Toba Abramczyk, whose father survived four camps, including Auschwitz, then survived one of the death marches, said McMillan.  He expressed the hope that his students would have the opportunity to speak with her via Skype and learn about the second generation of Holocaust survivors as well.

Teaching the Holocaust and other genocides to students in Turkey can be very complex and challenging in the context of Turkey's own history and the current mid-east realities." Teaching about life before the war is so important because it gives the victim a face, a life, a background," said McMillan.  "This is our ultimate response to racism and prejudice, and I am committed to transmitting that message to my students."