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.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Tribute to Heroes

Today, in an emotional and gripping ceremony at Yad Vashem, Petro and Kateryna Durniak from Ukraine were posthumously honored as Righteous among the Nations. Their daughter, Christina-Ludmila Kril flew in especially from Ukraine to accept the medal and certificate on their behalf. Members from the Ukrainian Embassy, along with Fredi Gruber, son of Righteous Josef Gruber and friends of Petro Durniak attended the event.  

The ceremony began in the Hall of Remembrance where Christina rekindled the Eternal Flame in memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust. The ceremony continued in the Yad Vashem synagogue where Christina humbly accepted the medal and certificate of honor. Christina told the exceptional story of how her parents graciously saved the life of a young Jewish girl, Anna-Barbara and took her into their home as one of their own. In the summer of 1942, when 50,000 Jews from Lwow (today Lviv), were deported to their deaths at the Belzec Extermination Camp, David Winter and his wife made the painful decision to to separate from their newborn daughter, Anna, in order to increase her chances of survival. They secretly took Anna out of the ghetto and asked David's Ukrainian friend Petro Durniak to watch over their baby daughter. Kateryna was pregnant, and soon gave birth to a child. The couple changed Barbara’s name to Anna, and introduced the two children as twins. Tragically their own child died shortly afterwards. Durniak grew very attached to little Anna-Barbara, and his wife often complained that he preferred her to their daughter Christina, who was born in 1944.

Petro Durniak

Kateryna Durniak

The Winter couple survived the Holocaust and the first news they heard of their daughter came from David's brother, Nachum Winter. Nachum was a soldier in the Red Army and after his hometown Lwow was liberated, he requested time off and traveled to search for any of his relatives who may have survived.  He found his niece at the home of Kateryna Durniak (she and Petro were separated at this time) and gave her his monthly salary in gratitude for care of his niece. Before he left he took a photograph with his niece. When Nachum discovered his brother and his wife at one of the refugee camps in Central Europe, he informed them that their daughter was alive and sent them the picture he had taken with Anna-Barbara. David and his wife contacted Kateryna and organized for Anna-Barbara's transfer to them, across the border of the USSR.

The Winter family moved to Israel, but shortly afterwards they emigrated to Austria. With time, the Winters lost contact with the Durniak family. However, the Durniaks never forgot Anna-Barbara. Kateryna kept her picture in a family photo album and after her death, her daughter Christina kept the photograph.

The rescue story of baby Anna-Barbara came to light in 2013 when Fredi Gruber, whose father Josef Gruber was recognized as Righteous among the Nations in 2005, traveled from his home in Israel to Lviv to meet his father's family.  Fredi also searched for any descendants of his father's friend, Petro Durniak. He arrived at Christina's home and she showed him the picture of Anna-Barbara as a small child. Upon his return to Israel, Fredi turned to Yad Vashem and told Anna-Barbara's rescue story. After further investigation, the Department of the Righteous among the Nations uncovered a testimony given by Fredi's mother, Antonia Gruber, in 2005. In a single sentence she mentioned that her future husband's friend, named Durniak, had rescued a Jewish girl. In addition, a testimony from 1961 of Nachum Winter was found in the Yad Vashem Archives where he gave a detailed explanation of how he discovered his niece. Attached to his testimony was the picture that was taken of Nachum and Anna-Barbara at Kateryna's home. These two photographs, the one saved by Nachum from the Durniak family, and the photograph that was in David Winter's testimony, clearly show the same child. Therefore, with the help of testimony which was given more than fifty years ago, Yad Vashem was able to connect the two parts of this story. 

Anna-Barbara as a child

When Christina spoke of her mother, she said that she had a difficult childhood growing up. Despite her hardships, when faced with the responsibility of taking in Anna-Barbara, her mother said there was no other option. "My mother was orphaned as a child. People who suffer either become bitter and vengeful or choose to be sensitive and care for the suffering of others. Clearly, my mother chose the latter." Fredi Gruber, son of Righteous among the Nations, Joseph Gruber also said a few words during the ceremony. He said that his parents were good friends with the Durniaks and called the Durniaks 'heroes.' He also spoke about his initial meeting with Christina in Lwow. When Fredi first met Christina in August 2013, he suggested to her that he thought, her parents should be honored as Righteous among the Nations. However, Christina said, "But why? They aren't alive anymore." Fredi and Christina then met at a later time and she told him when her mother was dying she asked, "Where is my Anna?" Fredi asked her again if she would object if he recommended her parents be honored as Righteous to Yad Vashem and Christina finally agreed.

Christina-Ludmila Kril with a member from the Ukrainian Embassy at the Hall of Remembrance  

The ceremony concluded at the Garden of the Righteous among the Nations where the Durniak's names were revealed on the Wall of Honor. Christina proudly posed for pictures next to her parent's names. She was also joined by Fredi Gruber who excitedly pointed out both the Durniak's names and on the adjoining wall, his parents' names. The inspirational story of the selflessness and bravery of the Durniak couple who risked their lives to save a young Jewish girl will never be forgotten. 

Christina-Ludmila Kril accepted the medal on her parent's behalf 
Christina-Ludmila Kril with Fredi Gruber at the unveiling of her parent's names at the Garden of the Righteous among the Nations 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Yad Vashem comment on the theft of part of the "arbeit macht frei" sign from Dachau

While we do not know who is behind the theft of the sign, the theft of such a symbolic object is an offensive attack on the memory of the Holocaust.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Recognizing the Rescuers

Some 70 years after the last days of the Holocaust, inspiring stories of rescue continue to come to light. Today, in an extraordinarily moving ceremony at Yad Vashem, Antoine Sala and his daughters Henriette, Louise, Marie Paule and her husband, Giovanni Angeli were posthumously honored as Righteous Among the Nations. Veronique Dorothy, Marie Paule and Giovanni's  granddaughter, arrived especially from France to attend the ceremony and accept the medal and certificate on her family's behalf. Holocaust survivor Henri Dzik who was rescued by the Sala Family, met Veronique and proudly introduced her  to his extended family – children, grandchildren, and more - who literally embody the Talmudic saying embossed on the medal: Whosoever save a single life, saves an entire universe  
            The ceremony began with a memorial service at the Hall of Remembrance where Dorothy lit the Eternal  Flame in honor of her grandfather, Antoine Sala and his daughters Henriette, Louise, Marie Paule and her husband, Giovani Angeli. Afterwards, the ceremony continued at the Yad Vashem Synagogue where the exceptional story of the Sala family was told of how they graciously took Henri into their homes and saved his life. Antoine Sala was a barber who lived with his children in Pau, France. One of his daughters, Marie-Paule, was married and lived near her father with her husband, Giovanni Angeli. In 1942, the two families hid Henri Dzik, a Jewish child from Paris, and protected him until the end of the war. At the beginning of the war, Henri's father, Maurice volunteered for the French army. When France surrendered, he was released, however he decided not to return to his family in Paris but stayed instead in Pau. Henri and his mother Anna stayed in Paris. On July 16, 1942 during the Vel d'Hiv roundup, Henri spent time in a summer camp for Jewish children in La Varenne, France. Anna managed to escape when the French police arrived and fled Paris together with her sister Esther and one of their neighbors. She was very worried about Henri and asked her sister to help her return to Paris, and the three of them crossed the French demarcation line and were joined by Maurice in the "free zone."  They made contact with the Sala family and Henri was sent to them.

Dorothy Veronique lighting the Eternal Flame at the Hall of Remembrance

The Sala family took care of Henri and treated him as if he were family. He became attached to Marie-Paule's children, especially Yvan who was the same age as him. He spent his days with Giovanni and Marie-Paule, but due to the lack of space in their apartment he went to Antoine's home to sleep at night. Henri quickly got used to his new life. Thanks to the devoted care of his rescuers, Henri managed to live a fairly normal life, protected from danger and fear. At the end of the war, Maurice Dzik, who had joined the French forces that fought in North Africa, came to collect Henri, and the family returned to Paris. The two families kept in touch for about a year, but over time the connection was lost. The families reconnected recently, after Henri's son discovered Yvan, who remembered his childhood friend Henri from the period of the war. 
After Dorothy humbly accepted the certificate and medal on behalf of her family she read a  speech from her father, Yvan Angeli who was unable to attend the ceremony. Yvan noted that is a shame that his family could not be here today to accept this award however "It is with great pride and appreciation, that myself along with my wife, my children Igor and Veronique, honor those who protected Henry Dzik and are unable to be here today with us." Thanks to the devoted care and bravery of the Sala family, Henri recounted how he managed to live a generally fairly normal life and survived the war. Henri commented: "They were well aware of the perils that awaited because of my presence among them. Their solicitude at all times have saved me."  Henri now has a vibrant and beautiful family who were so excited to partake in this ceremony. Henri said that along with his family will be forever grateful to Dorothy and her family for risking their lives to save Henri. 

Dorothy Veronique and Dora Weinberger, commission pour la designation des justes accepting the certificate and medal of honor

The certificate and medal of honor

The ceremony concluded at the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations where together Henri and Dorothy eagerly unveiled the Sala family names on the Wall of the Honor. Henri and Dorothy posed for pictures next to the wall of names along with Henri's family. It was a moving and special moment to see Dorothy together with Henri and his beautiful family who are here today thanks to the unforgettable bravery and heroism of one special family.

Dorothy Veronique and Henry Dzik unveiling the Sala family names on the Wall of Honor

Dorothy Veronique and Henry Dzik and family 


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Archeological Digs Reveal Sobibór Gas Chambers

Archeological excavations at the Sobibór extermination camp have been conducted by Yoram Haimi and his Polish associate Wojciech Mazurek since 2007. In 2013, the Dutch archeologist Dr. Ivar Schute joined the project, which is being carried out in coordination with Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research, the German-Polish Foundation and the Majdanek State Museum. Over the years, thousands of personal items have been found at the site, including rings, pendants, earrings, jewelery, perfume bottles, medicine cases and food utensils. 
This week, the water well used by prisoners at Camp I, in which the uprising took place, was also discovered. The well contained numerous personal items belonging to Jews; the Germans filled the well with waste during the camp's liquidation.
Dr. David Silberklang, Senior Historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research and Editor-in-Chief of Yad Vashem Studies, commented on the new findings at Sobibór: "The discovery of the gas chambers at Sobibór is a very important finding in Holocaust research. It is important to understand that there were no survivors from among the Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers. Therefore, these findings are all that is left of those murdered there, and they open a window onto the day-to-day suffering of these people. We will now be able to know more precisely what the process of murder was in the camp, and what the Jews went through until they were murdered. Additionally, finding the gas chambers and their capacity will enable us to estimate more precisely the number of people murdered in Sobibór." Dr. Silberklang added that these findings complement what is already known about the camp from survivors who escaped during the uprising from the camp.
Archeologist Yoram Haimi: "After eight years of excavations at Sobibór, this is a great acheivement for me and the research staff. Finally, we have reached our goal – the discovery of the gas chambers. We were amazed at the size of the building and the well-preserved condition of the chamber walls. The most poignant moment was when we found a wedding band next to the gas chambers, on which was the Hebrew inscription: "Behold, you are consecrated unto me."
The Sobibór extermination camp was located near the village and railway station of Sobibór, in the eastern part of the Lublin district in Poland, not far from the Chełm-Włodawa railway line.The camp was established along with the extermination camps of Treblinka and Bełżec as part of "Operation Reinhard." During the period of the camp’s operation, April 1942 - October 1943, some 250,000 Jews were murdered there. In the wake of the camp uprising on 14 October 1943, the Germans decided to dismantle the camp. The site has remained bare, lacking any characteristic traces of it being a former extermination camp. In order to provide information about the specific details of the camp, until now researchers used survivor testimonies. However, these testimonies provided information about only part of the camp, which made an actual blueprint and reconstruction of the whole camp impossible.