Yad Vashem and Its (Orthodox) Jewish Problem


yad-vashemBy Dr. Meir Wikler

Since the opening of its state-of-the-art New Wing in 2005, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem has been deluged by well-deserved accolades from the millions of tourists and Israeli citizens who visit each year. And it is considered by many to be the gold standard against which all other Holocaust memorials are measured. Why, then, has a crescendo of criticism of the New Wing been coming from some Orthodox Jews?

The disapproval of Orthodox Jews centers on three major aspects:

> Venerated Orthodox leaders are demeaned. For instance, the following text appears alongside Rabbi Michoel Dov Weissmandl’s photo. “In the course of negotiations over the summer of 1942, [Rabbi Weissmandl’s Working] Group paid ransom money to Dieter Wisliceny, Eichman’s delegate in Slovakia. For various considerations, the deportations were halted in the autumn of 1942, but the Working Group believed this was a result of their bribes.” This wording implies that Rabbi Weissmandl, a heroic figure, was duped by the Nazis.

> There seems to be inadequate representation of Orthodox survivors among the 50 to 60 videotaped testimonies that are played continuously throughout the New Wing. While the exact percentage of survivors who were Orthodox is open to debate, no one can deny that Orthodox Jewish survivors are vastly under-represented among these videotaped testimonies.

> There is a disregard for the issue of spiritual heroism during the Holocaust. The countless examples of Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps who risked their lives to study Torah and observe mitzvos are almost completely ignored.

Why would Yad Vashem set up the New Wing in a way that is so disturbing to a large swath of the Jewish people? With all these concerns, Orthodox Jews have been asked why they don’t meet with representatives of Yad Vashem. This past August, I did just that. The hour-long meeting with a high-level member of the administrative staff was conducted “off the record” at the administrator’s request. And all of the issues outlined above were presented. The administrator said that action could not be expected before the High Holidays. “After the chagim,” however, a substantive response was promised. Now, eight months later, I am still waiting. And the silence from Yad Vashem invites speculation.

Does Yad Vashem believe criticism from the Orthodox community will go away if it is simply ignored? Do administrators feel that by opening their archives to Orthodox scholars and training Orthodox tour guides they are entitled to immunity from Orthodox criticism?

The martyrs and most of the survivors of the Holocaust, many of whom were Orthodox, are no longer with us. While we cannot bring back a single life that was lost, we can, and must, prod Yad Vashem to properly honor the memory of Orthodox martyrs and survivors because they can no longer speak for themselves.

Dr. Meir Wikler is a psychotherapist and family counselor in private practice with offices in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Lakewood, N.J. He is a published author, most recently with “180 Rechov Yaffo: Bridge to a Bygone Era; 50 Stories of Emunah and Bitachon.

{Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. there is nothing to talk with them about because they bedavka omiited all the things mentioned, because judaism to them is not a religion so who cares if u are orthodox to them its all about zionism they dont want anything about the torah or g-d to be present and if they do mention g-d its tzum yoitzei zein

  2. Even if that paragraph were read to mean that the Nazis y,s were duplicitous, it is not an attack on orthodoxy or Rabbi Weissmandl.

  3. “The countless examples of Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps who risked their lives to study Torah and observe mitzvos are almost completely ignored.”

    The writer must be joking if he thinks that learning toreh counts as risking youre life?,risking youre life means going into fire or extreeme danger not learning toyreh,i cannot beleive the writer id that dumb.

  4. They are a bush’a. They’re very informed and have enough material to present the facts correctly. I think they feel that their funding is “better” without presenting a comprehensive picture. If we expect better from shqutim, we’re nuts.

  5. People of little emunah need physical memorials to hold on to and come to grips with the path.

    People of emunah internalize the events and carry them with them in their hearts forever.

  6. Not surprising. Yad v’Shem was created as a symbol of the State, because the horrific Holocaust is a ‘religion’ in itself to the secular government. True Torah Judaism is what they would love to discard because it has been a thorn in their sides. They need to please the world and not Hashem or His people.

  7. in reference to the only 50-60 videotapes
    perhaps the orthodox did not volunteer for it so not sure you can blame the museum

    all in all yad vashem has done a tremendous job in educating the public at large about the holocaust
    and sorry to say the orthodox (I being a proud one and child of survivors whose father ah made a video for the us holocaust museum in Washington)have done a very poor job if anything at all

    most yeshivas and bais yackov didnt touch the subject and what a shame as we and our children would have appreciated and revered our parents grandparents even more
    now there is a movement to educate but its too late most survivors are gone

    big mistake on the part of the yeshivos

  8. I could not agree more with Dr. Wikler. I would like to add another disturbing pt. When you leave the tour you are given the impression that the new secular Israel is our future without highlighting the great Yeshivas and rebirth of Torah & religious freedom in Israel. Yes, the frum should put lots of pressure on the powers in charge to accurately describe the pre – during – post Holocaust realities.

  9. A follow up question would be is how involved were we in setting up and contributing to Yad Vashem? Also do we send our yeshiva children to places like Yad Vashem to educate them about the Holocaust?

  10. I think there is much more missing at Yad Vashem than misrepresenting heroes like Rav Weissmandel,zt”l, not having more orthodox testimonies and not telling more stories of mesiras nefesh for observing the Torah. There is a serious lack of showing how vast,vibrant, meaningful and beautiful the religious communities were – the chassidic and litvak with all their traditions,learning and chesed. The enormity of the loss is not presented.

    Yad Vashem represents the State of Israel first and it doesn’t present an accurate history of the Shoah, especially regarding the brave hatzalah efforts involving orthodox Jews and, in contrast, the Jewish Agency’s shameful behavior. Its exhibits show the brutalities of the Germans against the Jews, but there is a much greater story it neglects to tell, and that is the story of the Jewish Torah-true spiritual survival and its flourishing all over the world today. Yad Vashem has a limited agenda and the full history and truth about the Shoah is not a part of it. Maybe one day a group could take action to make needed changes at this important site, iy”H.

  11. 8 & 12 the truth is in your hands.

    This is a major article/post yearly by Dr. wikler against YAd VShem. Main question is where was the frum, Torah community in the 1960 when the museum was being planned & designed. Our frum community likes to win every game except we don’t play all NINE INNINGS. We join in the middle and wonder why we can’t be the champions. None of my teenage bochurim in mainstream Mesiftas in NY have ever learned a word or fact of the Holocaust except what is taught at home. Why are we not teaching our youth & then being upset at Yad VShem? A tad hypocritical id say!

  12. The new Yad Vashem museum has come a long way ,compared to the old museum, where the idea of “like sheep to the slaughter” was very prominent. (meaning the only heroism that counted was the one of the Jewish fighters, the Partisans. The rest went willingly and shamefully” to their death.) The idea of ‘spiritual resistance’-albeit not ‘religious’ is very much emphasized throughout the museum.
    Esther Farbstein, orthodox expert on Holocaust studies from the religious and halachic aspect, has addressed the issues the writer mentions with the directors of the museum, and some changes have gradually been made. (amongst others a very moving testimony in the Kovno ghetto section of rabbi Gibraltar)
    Hopefully more of this will follow if the museum will realize they are catering for a orthodox public as well. If the chareidi world is a no-show,, how can they complain? what comes first, the chicken or the egg?