Today I went to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum and had the opportunity to meet with two colleagues, Irena Steinfeldt, the Director of the Righteous program and Richelle Budd-Caplan, the Director of European Education. I have known them both for many years and for the first time met Richelle in person as every other time I was at Yad Vashem she was away. Richelle arranged for me to do the exchange with Meriam in 1998 that I mentioned yesterday.
Irena was able to take out the file on the Wolf family rescuers. The file was very interesting and revealed some important information about our work with Trsice, Czech Republic. For those of you who don't know about our project in Trsice: This is a place we have visited for the past three years as a result of researching the rescuers of the Diary of Otto Wolf. This is a diary we read in the Holocaust class in which Otto, his mother, father and sister were taken in by families in Trsice and hidden in underground hideouts and homes. Each year we visit the village hosted by the mayor and by the remaining rescuers. The undergroud hideouts still exist and we have been raising funds to build a memorial at the site which will hopefully be dedicated this April.
First the file revealed that Milos, the survivor who has arranged for us to meet the rescuers and continues to work on the project, had written many letters to Yad Vashem in the 90's asking for them to certify the rescuers for their actions. I copied some documents that he had written in English and learned how the search for Lici, the sister, in America took some time. They had difficulty finding her and then getting her to respond. At one point the file was almost closed because they hadn't received verification from Lici. Milos worked tirelessly to certify these rescuers and their efforts and to keep the memory alive of the Wolf family. Milos is a survivor of Auschwitz and knows all too well the necessity for remembering those who suffered and those who participated in rescue.
Since I last visited Yad Vashem, they opened an entirely new museum. As you enter the museum you see a very large image which is a digitized collage of images, both still and film, of Jewish life before the war and images from the Holocaust period. It is a very compelling opening to the exhibition. My students will recall the opening image at USHMM of American soldiers liberating Orhdurf. The opening collage set the tone for the Israeli approach to the exhibition.
The museum is shaped like a triangle with side rooms that force the visitor to move from exhibition to exhibition by moving back and forth through the triangle. Survivor testimony is woven throughout the entire historical narrative and aligns very well with each content strand presented in the museum. The most compelling aspect of the narrative included two aspects for me. First a series of photographs taken in Serbia of Jewish men who were ordered to be rounded up by the Nazis. The sequence of photos showed the men arriving at the forest, all of their belongings were taken from them and they were given shovels. As you scroll through the images, you see the men digging ditches. Several meters away each man was taken into the forest, shot and buried in the trenches that they had dug themselves. It was a horrifying series of images in which their stark facial expressions were painful to view.
Lastly, the final room of the exhibition was very moving. You will see several pictures in this post of the final room which includes images of victims, walls filled with pages of testimony and an abyss which obviously forces the visitor to recognize the victims and remember what was lost. As you leave the exhibition you look out into the hills of Jerusalem and you are amazed at the beauty before you and the fortitude of this nation after the Holocaust to build such an amazing nation.