By Dr. Meir Wikler
If you have ever visited Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History Museum in Yerushalayim and left feeling disheartened, disturbed or even disgusted by the way Torah Jewry is portrayed, you are not alone. And if you are wondering whether there is anything you can do about it, please read on.
With the initial backing and encouragement of Rav Shlomo Brevda zt”l and, more recently, from Rav Eliezer Ginsburg shlit”a, I presented a detailed account of the objections of Torah Jewry to Yad Vashem’s museum which appeared in “Memorializing the Holocaust: A Debate” (Yated Ne’eman cover story, Jan. 15, ’16). To recap briefly, there are three major points of contention.
Firstly, there is a gross underrepresentation of frum survivors among the 50-60 videotaped testimonies of survivors that appear throughout the museum. When the new museum first opened in ‘05, only one of the men and none of the women speaking on these videos were identifiably religious. Chassidish and Chareidi survivors were not represented at all. This denied visitors the opportunity to hear from survivors who view the Holocaust from a Torah perspective. Since the opening, one Chareidi testimony has been added. But if the purpose of a museum is to present an honest and complete picture of its subject, then by omitting a significant segment of Jewry, Yad Vashem is simply not doing its job.
The second point of contention is that the Holocaust History Museum includes a distorted and wholly inadequate presentation of Hatzolah leaders and their rescue work. When the Holocaust History Museum opened, for example, only a small, unidentified photo of Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandl zt”l was displayed. Later, that small picture was replaced with a slightly larger one, accompanied by a text implying that Rav Weissmandl was duped by the Nazis. Such disparagement of an undisputed hero is an affront to the entire frum community.
There is also no mention made, whatsoever, of the superhuman and tireless work of Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l, Rav Avrohom Kalmanowitz zt”l, Mike Tress zt”l, and the volunteers of the Vaad Hahatzolah and Zeirei Agudath Israel, who raised funds and applied political pressure to rescue so many lives from otherwise certain death. Nor was there any reference to the historic march on Washington, D.C., of over 400 rabbonim on Erev Yom Kippur in 1943, or the kinder transports organized by Rabbi Dr. Solomon Schoenfeld zt”l which brought over 10,000 Jewish children to safety in England. For Yad Vashem to omit this critical chapter of Holocaust history is even more egregious.
Finally, the third point of contention is the inadequate portrayal of what has been termed the “spiritual heroism” of the kedoshim and survivors. The many examples of Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps who risked their lives to study Torah and observe mitzvos are almost completely ignored. Already published accounts could easily fill in the gaping hole of this major omission in the historical record of the Holocaust presented at the museum.
In his (or her) response, an unnamed spokesperson for Yad Vashem addressed the first issue as follows. “Many of the video segments in the museum tell the personal stories of the valiant efforts Jews went through in order to preserve their religious identity and keep their tradition alive under unbearable circumstances.” Is one or two out of sixty considered “many”? If Yad Vashem was trying to refute the charge of disproportionality, why not simply provide the exact number?
The spokesperson then went on to tout Yad Vashem’s “unparalleled and comprehensive website featuring a range of online exhibitions highlighting…ultra-Orthodox communities from Europe.” The points of contention, however, are with the museum, not the website.
The spokesperson also asserted that “Yad Vashem has developed a mutually respectful and productive relationship with the leading admorim and rabbonim from the ultra-Orthodox community.” If this is so, why must these “leading admorim and rabbonim” remain anonymous?
Finally, the spokesperson concluded, “Dr. Wikler…does not seem to represent the mainstream Haredi community.”
Since the publication of “Memorializing the Holocaust: A Debate,” four passionate, well-written letters to the editor have appeared in the Yated, penned by Reb Herschel Mermelstein, Reb Dovid P. Rose, Rabbi Yaakov Salomon and Rabbi Dr. Aaron Twerski, respectively. These letters castigated Yad Vashem for ignoring the substance of the charges and obfuscating the issues.
In all fairness, four letters hardly constitutes a groundswell of support. If Torah Jewry agrees with the complaints presented above, why have more people not written to the Yated? With only four letters received since the original Yated cover story was published, Yad Vashem could easily validate their claim that the criticisms outlined here do “not represent the [views of the] mainstream Haredi community.” But what if – just try to imagine for a moment – only one in ten who reads this were to send a letter of any length to the Yated supporting the grievances outlined above? Then hundreds of letters would be received, some undoubtedly published, but all then forwarded by me to Yad Vashem (as were the four received thus far). If Yad Vashem were deluged with these letters, could they then so easily dismiss our charges? Maybe, just maybe, they would have to sit up, take notice, and finally correct the dishonor shown to Torah Jewry at their museum, which is visited by millions annually.
Will you be the one in ten who will speak out for those who can no longer make their voices heard and cause the record to be set straight for all future generations? Or will you be one of the other nine who will simply sigh, shrug and turn the page?
The choice is yours.
Dr. Meir Wikler is a psychotherapist and family counselor in full-time private practice with offices in Lakewood, NJ, and Brooklyn, NY.