Jerusalem Working Group
for Recognition of Major Jewish Rescuers during the Shoah
POB 23718 Jerusalem 91236
Presented at International Rescuer Day 2007 - Jerusalem, Israel
Welcome to International Rescuer Day 2007, held on anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s abduction by the Russians from Budapest on January 17, 1945. Similar events are taking place around the world.
I shall speak to you about three issues: Raoul Wallenberg, rescue and obstruction by Jews during the Holocaust and Yad Vashem’s message “Remembering the Past, Shaping the Future”.
Tonight’s event is held to remember that during Europe’s recent dark and barbaric age there was also light, such as Raoul Wallenberg - the symbol of the rescuer.
In this context a few important matters come to mind:
It is said that he rescued from tens of thousands to a
hundred thousand Jews in Budapest although he was not a “professional”
rescuer. In contrast, during the same time the so called “professionals”,
such as world leaders, failed. Similar statement can be made about success
of major Jewish rescuers of Raoul Wallenberg’s caliber, and the gross
failure of Jewish leaders who were far too often literally and figuratively
OUT TO LUNCH, who were not only apathetic and unimaginative, and often
actively obstructed rescue. Because of this probably large numbers of us
died. A similar pattern of obstruction of rescue by the “professionals”
returned during the campaign to allow Soviet Jewish immigration. Once again,
it was the “amateur rescuers” who succeeded.
Rescuers like Raoul Wallenberg successfully negotiated with
the Nazi and Hungarian Fascist murderers, but it was not possible to carry
out such rescue missions in context of the International Communist Gulag
which swallowed an estimated 94 million lives. This is a fact we need to
reflect on. Also the fact that surprisingly Communism still has a positive
afterglow, despite its monumental crimes.
Despite our huge collective debt to Raoul Wallenberg and
many promises made at the highest levels to his family, as far as we know
the State of Israel did little if anything to convince Russia to release
remaining information about Wallenberg’s fate. Hungary?
Finally, it is to be said clearly that Russia, which abducted Wallenberg, was not the liberator of Europe but was Hitler’s ally, raped its way to Berlin and was the post-war era’s brutal imperialist and colonizer. Unlike Germany, Russia did no soul searching for its massive crimes and paid no moral reparation to its victims. Moreover, today Russia is providing Iran with nuclear capability threatening our lives and existence. Will we Jews again desperately need Raoul Wallenbergs?
Rescue and Obstruction
I speak to you tonight on behalf a volunteer, apolitical group called the Jerusalem Working Group. It was formed to assure appropriate level recognition is finally given to major Jewish rescuers, the Jewish Wallenbergs, that we speak truthfully about the Holocaust and we learn important lessons for our time. Neither of these goals has yet been achieved.
There were Jewish rescues with amazing ability and achievements. Names such as Rabbi Weissmandl and Gisi Fleischmann, Hillel Kook, George Mantello, Recha Sternbuch, Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld should be well known to every Jew.
Israel and Jewish organizations/Holocaust centers are determined to deny appropriate level recognition to Jewish rescuers. As a result of this denial we have no stamps, coins, meaningful curricular modules, major exhibits, state ceremonies and public places named in their honor. Nor do we present the regretful phenomenon of apathy, lack of imagination and obstruction of rescue during the Holocaust by Jewish leaders and the organizations they headed - also in the Yishuv. We also purposefully excise from history the Swiss people’s grass root protests which had a great impact on rescue. Collectively we don’t tell the truth and deny a significant part of Holocaust history.
We must demand that those few who cared for us and tried their best to save us from the evils of Europe’s recent barbaric period are appropriately recognized, especially in Israel and by Jewish communities world-wide. We must not allow this to become another ugly fiasco such as the robbing of Holocaust victims by Israeli banks and our other institutions, which, as far as we know have yet to settle – unlike the Swiss.
This week Rabbi Melchior’s Knesset committee firmly instructed Yad Vashem and the Ministry of Education to immediately address this issue. This is a laudable first step and the results are yet to be seen.
This aspect of Holocaust history has not been dealt with truthfully by us because we established Yad Vashem as an unregulated intellectual monopoly on Holocaust history without critical oversight. This problem is compounded by the fact that perspectives of major Holocaust centers around the world are over-synchronized, yielding a de facto intellectual cartel on the issue of rescue and obstruction. This too must change!
Professor Alan Dershowitz wrote to us: “Your work sounds interesting. The best way to break a monopoly is to compete with it in the marketplace of ideas. There is no monopoly on truth or history.”
We need a diversity of competing perspectives on the complex and important matters related to rescue and its obstruction. Today we have ostentatious Houses of Simplified Answers from which visitors walk out as carriers of pre-cooked, pre-chewed, ideologically motivated and tainted pat answers. What we need is more modest but authentic Houses of Questions from which visitors walk out as life long questioners, truth seekers and critically thinking individuals.
We need a Grown-Ups’ Version of History - the modality of thought and dialogue where reality is not black and white, where the good is sometimes blemished and the blemished often includes much that is good. We need to deal with Metziut Murkevet: Complex Reality.
We propose that the story of rescue by Jews and non-Jews be taught outside the overly stylized Holocaust studies. It should be made part of courses on character development, and the rescuers need to be presented as authentic role models and moral compasses which our youth desperately needs.
I encourage you to read our White Paper document providing background material on this subject. It can be downloaded from our Web site.
“Remembering the Past, Shaping the Future”.
With the above said I would like to address an equally important issue.
Yad Vashem has an important message in its visitors’ hall: “Remembering the Past, Shaping the Future”.
Indeed, in formal and informal education we need an authentic and fully truthful history of the past. It is noted that the Hebrew word for TRUTH: EMETH, starts with ALEPH and ends with TAF – that is from ALEPH to TAF without omissions and surely without makeup.
We also need to focus on the history of the future. As we reflect on our own education and our children’s studies it is puzzling that all our learning relates to the past and our education experience fails to prepare us for something even more important: the future and of course the present. Especially in our time, which is driven by multiple interwoven streams of exponential growth and ultra-rapid change, we must immediately change the balance and devote much time to also teaching the history of the future.
“Remembering the Past, Shaping the Future” can be yet another catchy slogan or it can be filled with deep, lasting and action oriented meaning. The Jerusalem Working Group hopes to participate in this together with others who are also dedicated to learn important lessons from our collective tragedy. In this task we must be solitary individuals in the community of questioners and truth seekers. Although difficult, we must look at the past without our usual political and other affiliations and biases.
We must be careful not to isolate Holocaust history from reality and current concerns in time. Surely we must not transform our tragedy into yet another Golden Calf or passing fad. Of course we must remember and faithfully pass on our memories to our children and share this memory with other Jews. We surely must assure that “Never Again!” remains one of our key guiding principles. On the other hand, we must also learn important lessons from the rescuers and internalize their values and approaches to seemingly impossible problems.
We must be sensitive to the major crisis around us – certainly in Israel and the region but also globally. We, who always blame the world that it didn’t care about our fate, must be especially sensitive to crisis such as rapid global warming and other ecological issues which are likely to have disastrous consequences to all forms of life, to problems of massive famine, to trafficking of women in Israel and internationally, to tragedies due to abandoned mine fields and other major disasters.
We should remember that to a large extent the world, including many Jewish leaders and the Yishuv, were apathetic and abandoned us during the Holocaust. At the same time we must also assure we don’t abandon ourselves, the following generations and people around the world in context of today’s and tomorrow’s imminent major tragedies.
Let’s resolve to go beyond remembering and to also act on the lessons learned. Let each of us ask of himself in his own realm of concerns “What would Raoul Wallenberg, Rabbi Weissmandl and Gisi Fleischmann, Carl Lutz, Hillel Kook, Aristides Sousa Mendes, George Mantello, Giorgio Perlasca, Recha Sternbuch, Sempo Sugihara, Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld and others like them do in my time in my place? What do I have to do for today's burning problems?”
I urge you reflect on what was and will be said tonight and ask how you can get involved and help. If you are committed to act I encourage you to contact my colleagues or I after the event.
In conclusion, I’d like to say how touched I am to be here tonight with my dear wonderful daughter Yael, who together with our other children and grandchildren would not be here if I was not rescued in Budapest in 1944/45. It is equally touching to be able to work together with special friends like Ms. Louise von Dardel: Raoul Wallenberg’s niece and Dr. Becky Kook: daughter of one of major rescuers -- Hillel Kook. It is wonderful to work with people with whom one shares values and whom one can fully trust.
My dear parents in Nazi and Fascist infested Budapest of 1944/45 could not have imagined that their son will one day have the singular opportunity to participate in an event such as this in our free Jewish country in Eretz Yisrael together with close relatives of those who did so much to overcome darkness and evil and did their best rescue us.