Yad Vashem Forgets Orthodox Jews


yad-vashemBy Dr. Meir Wikler

Throughout this coming year, the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of Yad Vashem will be commemorated with public lectures, ceremonies and celebrations. Amid all of the loud hoopla and accolades, however, a quiet crescendo of criticism of Yad Vashem has been appearing in the Jewish media for their portrayal of Orthodox martyrs and survivors of the Shoah, which one high ranking member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany recently described to this writer as, “tantamount to Holocaust denial.”

Yad Vashem has always been considered the gold standard by which all other Shoah museums have been measured. And the New Wing, which opened its doors in 2005, is a state-of-the-art, multi-media museum which has been visited by literally millions of foreign tourists and Israeli citizens. What could possibly be inaccurate in their presentation of Shoah history?

According to articles that have appeared in both American and Israeli magazines and newspapers, the distortions at the New Wing center on three major areas. Firstly, venerated Orthodox leaders are disparaged. One such heroic figure is Rabbi Michoel Dov Weissmandl, Z”L, in whose honor a New York City Councilman has recently proposed renaming a street in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn.

How does Yad Vashem denigrate Rabbi Weissmandl? The following text, for example, appears alongside his photo in the museum:

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 was duped by the Nazis. One needs to look no further than Wikipedia, however, to find this.

Thanks to the efforts of [Rabbi Weissmandl’s] ‘Working Group,’ which bribed German and Slovakian officials, the mass deportation of Slovakian Jews was delayed for two years from 1942 – 1944.

A second bone of contention is the inadequate representation of Orthodox survivors amongst the 50 – 60 videotaped testimonies which are played throughout the New Wing. As Jonathan Rosenblum wrote in The Jerusalem Post (8/1/06):

According to Dr. Michael Berenbaum, former director of the research institute attached to the U.S. Shoah Museum, 50%-70% of those murdered by the Nazis, ‘were traditionally religious Jews.’

Nevertheless, of the 50 or 60 eyewitness accounts of the Shoah in the New Wing when it first opened, not a single testimony from a Haredi survivor was included. And today, nine years later, only one has been added. The exact percentage of Orthodox survivors is certainly open to debate. Even Yad Vashem would concede, however, that Orthodox Jews represented far more than two percent of the survivors. Why, then, did Yad Vashem choose to so drastically limit the number of Orthodox survivor testimonies in the New Wing?

Finally, the entire issue of spiritual heroism during the Shoah is relegated to mere footnote status. 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. No, not all martyrs were Orthodox. But many were. And to include only token references to the myriad acts of mesiras nefesh(self sacrifice) and adherence to Yiddishkeit is to omit large chapters of the Shoah narrative. Why would Yad Vashem choose to leave out such an integral part of the historical record of the Shoah which is so meaningful and important to a large swath of the Jewish people?

In order to seek answers to these and other questions, this writer met with a high level member of the administrative staff of Yad Vashem in August, ’13. At that hour-long meeting, which was conducted off-the-record at the request of Yad Vashem, all the issues outlined above were presented. The Yad Vashem administrator said that action could not be expected before the High Holidays in September. “After the chagim,” however, a substantive response was promised. Now, months later, the silence from Yad Vashem invites speculation.

Does Yad Vashem feel the criticism will die down and go away if it is simply ignored? Do they believe by opening their archives to Orthodox scholars and training Orthodox tour guides they are entitled to immunity from any Orthodox criticism of the New Wing? Or, do they feel that correcting these historical distortions will compromise some larger agenda to support the secular side of the current clash between the religious and secular factions of Israeli society?

The martyrs and most of the survivors of the Shoah, many of whom were Orthodox, are no longer with us. But their descendents and the community they left behind are very much alive and flourishing. While we cannot save a single life that was lost in the Shoah, we can and must prod Yad Vashem to correct the distortions that dishonor the memory of religious victims and survivors because they can no longer speak for themselves.

This article first appeared at Times of Israel.

{Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. What is the real issue in this article? I am not sure I appreciate any counter current in Yad Vashem, perhaps just not enough of a flavor of the ultra orthodox’s preference. Still it would be nice to see history portrayed accurately. If that is an issue then this campaign has merit. you could always open their own museum or just continue to ask for a change at Yad Vashem. I see no reason to drag a fine institution through the mud of private paging affairs.

  2. This is far from all.

    What about how they describe the Warsaw Getto uprising? – No credit for the main players, who had 80% of the ammunition used, a group comprised of right wingers and Orthodox Jews, and all the credit is given to the insignificant leftist ‘red’ group who were in truth totally disorganized and disarmed.

    and much more…

  3. while the points that you bring up are valid
    the orthodox should have set up their own yad vshem and educate generations about the holocaust which they did not
    project witness etc is great but 25 years too late

  4. Dear Dr Wikler. Yad Vashem is Zionist institution with Zionist agenda. This should be sufficient answer to all your asked questions.

  5. Unfortunately, Yad Vashem, like the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., are secularist entities that pay homage mostly to the Jewish musicians, scientists, artists, and academics that perished by the hands of the Nazis, Yemach Shemam. The museums do throw religious Torah Jewry a bone with just a little token recognition.

    Although we in the Frum world are aware of the many citadels of Torah that were wiped out in Europe, we will probably never know for sure (because of the secularist nature of these museums) the exact scope of this tragic Churban.

    Although the Nazis did not differentiate in their viciousness to all European Jews, it is our secularist brethren that do differentiate in highlighting certain segments of the European Jewish World that perished more than others.

  6. you forget that in the 2006 era the person who ran Yad Vashem was the late Tommy Lapid! he was the Israeli poliitician who founded Shinui, a party which had some power for a while in Israel. The whole basis for Shinui was to eradicate Torah and Orthodox Yiddishkeit from the Israeli political scene. He ran Yad Vashem after he was thrown out by the voters! His son is Yair Lapid the current finance minister in Israel who is continuing in his darling father’s footsteps trying to hurt Orthodox Jews in every way, every day!

    What Nachas!

  7. To Mr. Redstate. Your ending is gross. As if you don’t differentiate in your paradigms of who are good and bad Jews.

  8. The Zionist are trying to show that the reason we need Israel is purely to prevent another Holocaust, and not the promises made from HaShem in the Torah. That’s why it’s on Har Herzl. That’s why when you finish walking through the museum and have just witnessed the horrors you see the modern Jerusalem skylight in all it’s Zionist glory.
    It’s all part of their agenda, FEH!

  9. In the end, there is a huge spiritual revival in the observant Jewish community.
    Tragically, the non-observant Jewish community is experiencing a tremendous spiritual holocaust.
    This should be our real concern.

  10. If Torah Jews were absent in the establishment of the museum, to enter the game in the 7th inning is illegal and inappropriate. Take a tour of Yad Vshem with Hanoch Teller, Mrs. Spero or any of the other Torah guides and your experience will be positive and extensive.

  11. the Nazis didn’t distinguish between Jews. why are so many of the comments doing it? the tragedy was across the board. I also resent the comments that there is something wrong with being a Zionist.If we had a State of Israel before WWII we could have saved all Jews, religious and not religious. Jewish life of all types was destroyed. The comments above show first hand what Sinas Chinom is….

  12. Rabbi Dr. Asher Wade – a Gerrer Chossid and a college professor (also a ger tzedek who used to be a Methodist Minister and an Army Chaplain) used to give frum tours of Yad Vashem (which I went on once) until he was banned by the frei chevra there

  13. The holocaust museum in Washington posted a job opening on the Internet under government job headings. Since, I did 10 years of research for survivor’s, I can do the job in my sleep!!! I called, and was bounced from one department to another with Christian names in charge!!!
    Of course, I did tell them in the HR dept. that such a holy job where research is needed on murdered Jewish victims should be handled by religious or at least Jewish people, I was laughed at.
    Now, look at the Glen Cove Holocaust center, headed also by a non Jew, secretary to her also a non Jew.
    Just who pays for thei salaries????? They play up to the victims of the European Holocaust, when in reality, are an outlet for whatever is trendy and pays their salaries: anti-bully education this year……Kathmandu, next year????

  14. There are at least 5 Orthodox Jews represented in the videos. There is the one obviously (1) Chasidic Jew, (2) Rabbi Lau’s brother, (3) a Jew who tells the story of a shirt he wears and is obviously Orthodox, (4&5) a Jewish couple who remained frum after the war and have many orthodox grandchildren.

  15. How do we keep Holocaust memory alive and what is our message to our children, grandchildren and future generations? In my opinion, all the museums in the world and all the books that are written will not preserve the memory of the Holocaust. In time, the Holocaust may become nothing more than a date in history. If we teach Holocaust and genocide together as one subject, we guarantee that the impact of the Holocaust will merely blend into other genocides. What is the solution? We must incorporate in our religious services and religious traditions, memoirs, readings, and liturgy, readings concerning the Holocaust. I have, therefore, already written a Holocaust Passover Haggadah and a Holocaust Siddur ( see on the internet: RosenbergHolocaustHaggadah.com). Reading about the Holocaust must become part of every Jewish holiday, particularly the High Holidays. I want to emphasize to those children and grandchildren who still have living survivors of the Holocaust in their families, ask questions now, don’t be afraid. Sometimes, a Holocaust survivor will not feel comfortable speaking to their children, but will be able to communicate their thoughts with their grandchildren. I ask that you do so before all the Holocaust survivors are gone.

    Remember the lives, the culture, the achievements, of those who perished in the Holocaust. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG, EDISON N.J.

  16. I’m staring at Nesivos Sholom: Haharugoh Olecha, by the late Admor of Slonim, zt”l. I remember the fabulous articles in Agudah’s publications in the 60s and 70s – of an academic and stylistic height not nearly approached by the business-boychiks in Washington and Yad Vashem. Long after their Torah-empty edifices have crumbled, the information about the qdoshim will remain. They were the “substantial” Jews, and their substance endures.