Holocaust Museum Tour ‘Redefining Heroism’
Today we will dedicate most of our day to YadVashem. The Holocaust was an event that shattered the Jewish world. About two-thirds of the Jewry of Europe did not survive. One-third of the Jews all over the world didn’t get the chance to see the year 1946. Entire communities that sometimes existed for 1,000 years. In a few hours, they were annihilated by the Nazis. During our tour, I will retell you the horrific stories of the survivors and those that did not make alive. I will try to break down the meaning of the term “Hero” in the Holocaust.
Even in Israeli society, this term has evolved over the decades. In the very beginning, immediately after the Holocaust. Only the ones that actively resisted the Nazis; For example the fighters at Warsaw Ghetto and participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; were embraced and considered to be real heroes. In other words, the young state rejected the narrative of the extermination camps and of those survivors that “went like cattle to the slaughterhouse”.
But after the famous Eichmann Trial when survivors came to the witness stand spoke for the very first time; while the entire country was listening to them something changed. For the first time, Israeli society was hearing how regular people tried to survive the horrors. They heard about the impossible dilemmas of a young mother that now had to divide a single slice of bread for her young kids. We will talk more about this subject next to the monument dedicated to the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes made by the artist Nathan Rapoport.
Holocaust Museum Tour: Righteous Among the Nations Boulevard
One form of heroism, more known among the general public is what we call the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’. In other words, all those non-Jews that decided to save the life of Jews during the Holocaust. One of the most known righteous among the nations is Oskar & Emilie Schindler but he is also one of the most controversial as well. Let’s examine his case and see if he was such a real hero as the movie Schindler’s Lists describe him. So first we know that Oskar Schindler was some kind of entrepreneur that tried several trades early in his life.
He was a German descent and was working for the Abwehr, a military intelligence service of Nazi Germany, in 1936. Moreover, in 1939 he officially joined the Nazi Party. After the war officially started by the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939; Schindler, looking for business opportunities, went to Poland and acquired an enamelware factory in Krakow, Poland that before the war was belonging to a Jew named Nathan Wurzel.
In the beginning, the factory he named Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (German Enamelware Factory) made only pots and pans for the German army. And slowly more and more Jews, that Schindler did not pay them any wages or social rights, found themselves working in his factory. When the ‘Final Solution’ began and when it became clear that Jews were sent to the Death Camps; that’s when Schindler witnessed the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto and was appalled. From that point forward, says Schindlerjuden Sol Urbach, Schindler “changed his mind about the Nazis. He decided to get out and to save as many Jews as he could.”
Holocaust Museum Tour: Oskar Schindler
Firstly Schindler was mostly interested in the money-making potential of the business. And hired Jews because they were cheaper than Poles. Since the wages were set by the occupying Nazi regime. Later he began shielding his workers without regard for cost. The status of his factory as a business essential to the war effort became a decisive factor enabling him to help his Jewish workers. Whenever Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews) were threatened with deportation, he claimed exemptions for them.
He claimed wives; children; and even people with disabilities were necessary mechanics and metalworkers. On one occasion; the Gestapo came to Schindler demanding that he hand over a family that possessed forged identity papers. “Three hours after they walked in,” Schindler said, “two drunk Gestapo men reeled out of my office without their prisoners and without the incriminating documents they had demanded.” But many criticize Schindler and point to the timing when he began to save Jews. It was already after decisive battles like The Battle of Stalingrad and The Battle of El Alamein.
In other words, Schindler as a shrewd businessman; knew that as a Nazi Party Member; and don’t forget that his factories at some point were making shells for the German Army as well. So he would have been trialed as a war criminal after the war unless he would do something radical. But we will talk about this some more when we will visit Oskar Schindler’s Tomb on Mt. Zion outside the Old City.
Holocaust Museum Tour: Irena Sendler
Next to the tree dedicated to the Schindlers, there is another tree which is a much more clear case. And I am referring to the righteous among the nation, Irena Sendler. She was a Polish humanitarian, social worker, and nurse who served in the Polish Underground Resistance during World War II in German-occupied Warsaw. Her story is simply an incredible story of heroism.
Around four hundred thousand Jews were crowded into a small portion of the city designated as the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazis sealed the area in November 1940. As an employee of the Social Welfare Department, Sendler gained access to special permits for entering the ghetto to check for signs of typhus, a disease the Germans feared would spread beyond the ghetto. Under the pretext of conducting sanitary inspections; she brought medications and cleanliness items and sneaked clothing, food, and other necessities into the ghetto.
During the war, she pursued conspiratorial activities. Such as rescuing Jews; primarily as part of the network of workers and volunteers, mostly women. Sendler participated, with dozens of others; in smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. And then providing them with false identity documents and shelter with willing Polish families or in orphanages. And other care facilities; including Catholic nun convents; saving those children from the Holocaust.
A Nun Convent Offered the Best Opportunity For a Jewish Child to Survive
To accomplish the transfers and placement of children, Sendler worked closely with other volunteers. The children were often given Christian names and taught Christian prayers in case they were tested. Sendler wanted to preserve the children’s Jewish identities, so she kept careful documentation listing their Christian names, given names, and current locations. According to American historian Debórah Dwork, Sendler was the inspiration and the prime mover for the whole network that saved Jewish children. She and her co-workers buried lists of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities. The aim was to return the children to their original families, if still alive after the war.
Sendler is Arrested By the Gestapo
The German occupiers suspected Sendler’s involvement in the Polish Underground and in October 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo, but she managed to hide the list of the names and locations of the rescued Jewish children, preventing this information from falling into the hands of the Gestapo. Withstanding torture and imprisonment; including breaking her arms and legs. Sendler never revealed anything about her work or the location of the saved children. She was sentenced to death but narrowly escaped on the day of her scheduled execution, after Żegota bribed German officials to obtain her release.
Holocaust Museum Tour: Mt. Herzl
Today Mt.Herzl is the site of Israel’s national cemetery and other memorials. It is named after Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism. Herzl’s tomb lies at the top of the hill; and we will visit his tomb during our visit. But the very first monument I would like to elaborate on is the Memorial for the Last of Kin. This monument is dedicated to those 144 Holocaust survivors that came to Israel after WWII and had fallen in the various fronts. But by them sacrificing their lives for the young state their entire family was wiped out as well; since there was no one from their family that survived the Holocaust.
Private Gutman: From the Forced Labor Camp to the Battle Field
Private Mordechai Gutman survived the Holocaust but his family wasn’t so fortunate and were perished entirely. After the Second World War, he lived for a short time in Hanover, Germany. And in June 1946 he arrived on a boat trying to enter Palestine illegally. Then near the shores, the British apprehended the boat and sent Mordechai like all the rest of the passengers to Atlit Detention Camp. After two weeks he was released and worked as a carpenter.
When the 1948 war began he joined the Harel Brigade of the Haganah and in May 1948 he died in combat fighting against the Jordanian Legions at Radar Hill. We know that During World War It was a British military installation located on top of the hill. The Local Jewish military thought that the installation was an anti-air radar for the protection of Jerusalem. In fact, it was a relay station, to boost the radio signal. The installation was handed over to the Jordanian Arab Legion on May 10, 1948, prior to the second phase of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In total there were 23 attempts by the Palmach’s Harel Brigade to conquer it and all failed. Even though the Jewish force held the position for four days starting May 22, 1948.
Real Heroes That Had Everything to Lose
Despite the fact a law was passed in the Israeli Parliament not to send only children to the front; not to mention those that are considered to be the last remnant of their entire family. But this directory was not implemented by the Israeli army commanders due to the fragile situation on the fronts. Also sometimes the survivors themselves insisted on serving in combat. They mention in later testimonials that this way they wanted to gain the self-dignity that was taken from them by Nazis. Being a part of the fighting force gave them the feeling of being meaningful. Also taking part in combat proved that in the right conditions they will not go like “cattle to the slaughterhouse”. But quite the opposite, they are brave and courageous men and women.
Holocaust Museum Tour: The Salvador Monument
During the Holocaust and immediately afterward; there was nothing more that Jews wanted than to find a safe haven. Palestine naturally was one of the main destinations Jews wanted to come to. But there was a big problem, the British were allowing very few Jews to enter Palestine in accordance with the British imposed restrictions. At that time the Aliya Bet was formed. In short, the Aliya Bet was the code name given to illegal immigration by Jews, most of whom were refugees from Nazi Germany, and later Holocaust survivors; to Mandatory Palestine between 1934–48, in violation of the restrictions laid out in the British White Paper of 1939.
Over 100,000 people attempted to illegally enter Mandatory Palestine. There were 142 voyages by 120 ships. Over half were stopped by the British patrols. The Royal Navy had eight ships on station in Palestine, and additional ships were tasked with tracking suspicious vessels heading for Palestine. Most of the intercepted immigrants were sent to internment camps in Cyprus.
By Any Means Possible, Under Any Conditions, Israel Is Our Destination
The means to get to the Promise Land were impossible; the conditions were unbearable. But still, Jewish refugees while willingly risking their lives; choosing to come here and form part of the new nation. One of the best examples of that is the story of the ship Salvador. Salvador was a ship that sank in the Sea of Marmara on 12 December 1940. It was carrying Jewish emigrants from Bulgaria. There were 238 Jews, 204 passengers, including 66 children, were lost.
Of 123 survivors 63 were sent back to Bulgaria; the rest resided in Istanbul and were on the immigrant ship Darien II which was intercepted by the British on March 29, 1941; the emigrants were interred in Atlit Detention Camp for a year and a half before they were finally released. In 1964, the remains of the victims were transported for eternal burial in Israel. And are now buried here; in the National Civil Cemetery of the State of Israel at Mount Herzl.
Holocaust Museum Tour: Yitzhak Rabin’s Tomb
There no other man like Rabin that knew the heavy price of war. Rabin the 5th Prime Minister of the State of Israel dedicated almost his entire life to military life. First as a young commander in the Haganah. Then he went up the ranks as an officer in the IDF. Till he was appointed Chief of Staff of the I.D.F in 1964 and oversaw Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. His first term as Prime Minister was Following Golda Meir’s resignation in April 1974; After the Yom Kippur War fiasco. So Rabin succeeded Golda Meir as Prime Minister of Israel on June 3rd, 1974.
Rabin was someone that stared at death in the eye. And also sent young boys and girls to their death so many times knew the high price to pay when you go off to war. Also, he realized that a nation can not live entirely on its sword. And like it’s mentioned in Avot D’Rabbi Natan 23: “Who is the strongest of all? One who can turn an enemy into his friend”.
When Rabin was appointed PM for the second time in 1992 he tried to do the impossible. Rabin knew the risks. He understood very well that if he tried to make peace with the Arabs around us like he did; it would cause great resistance among the right-wing. Especially with the Palestinians. During our tour, I will elaborate much more on how the peace process tore the Israeli society into shreds that eventually lead to Rabin’s murder.
Holocaust Museum Tour: Theodor Herzl Tomb
Theodor Herzl in effect invented Zionism as a true political movement. Born to a prosperous, emancipated Budapest family; he was fluent in German and French but LACKED Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian; he was secular, cosmopolitan intellectual; a doctor of law, and a minor play writer. What catalyzed Herzl’s conversion to Zionism was the Dreyfus affair in France.
Herzl in more ways than one is a modern profit, the new Moses if you want. Imagine In 1894-1895 Herzl attended the trial of Alfred Dreyfus; an assimilated Jewish officer in the French army who was framed for treason. Herzl was appalled when he witnessed the Parisian mobs shouting, “Death to the Jews.”
This anti-Semitic atmosphere was a turning point in Herzl’s life. He began to understand that the Jewish problem demanded a national and political solution. So he believed that by establishing a state for the Jewish people then finally they will find safe haven. On our tour, we will also visit the Herzl visiting center that tells us about his life and interesting details from his biography. Now sadly he died in 1904, at the age of 44. So he was never able to actually see the state he dreamed about.
Holocaust Museum Tour: Herzl, a Hero With a Vision
From my standpoint, I consider Herzl a real hero for his vision. And the courage he must have needed to start the Zionist Movement. I would like to remind you that in the beginning, this upcoming movement was not popular at all. If you were young at age and enthusiastic; then you might have become a Zionist. But most Jews didn’t sympathize in the beginning with Zionist goals. The Jews living in Europe at the least till the Holocaust that started in 1933 and even sometime after; didn’t see the advantage of living in what they considered their home and come to Palestine.
And I remind you that back then Palestine was all sand dunes and camels. Jews that were forming the middle and upper class did not see that as an option. This is very much true to this day. Most of the Jews today are still not living in Israel but in the Diaspora. For most Jews, till today Israel is their second home but still swapping for a comfortable life elsewhere is not that easy.
So I invite you to join one of my tours of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and Mount Herzel! I am sure it will leave pondering! So book now and get the best quote possible!