Holocaust Remembrance Day in Forest of the Martyrs:

We did not go like sheep to the slaughter.

By KKL
May 4, 2011 16:18
Shoah ceremony

Shoah 2. (photo credit: KKL)

Six million trees - living, green memorial candles commemorating the victims of the Holocaust - were planted by KKL JNF and B’nai B’rith in the Martyrs Forest in the Judean Hills.  KKL-JNF’s main Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony is held annually in this forest, in conjunction with B’nai B’rith.  The theme of the event this year was Jews who saved their fellow Jewish, and participants included Holocaust survivors, students and soldiers.

“The courage of the Jews who saved other Jews is a symbol and a beacon of brotherhood for our nation, and this is what makes us unique among the nations,” said Mr. Efi Stenzler, KKL JNF World Chairman, at the ceremony.  He described those who deny the Holocaust as “our worst enemies” and declared that one must not be silent in response to the repulsive words they speak.



Participating in the ceremony were students from schools in the Jerusalem area and, addressing them directly, Stenzler said, “We expect the younger generation to remember what happened during the Holocaust and to fight anti-Semitism, for the sake of the State of Israel and the survival of the Jewish people.”

The B’nai B’rith organization has undertaken a special project documenting hundreds of instances of the brave rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.  “Not all of them went like sheep to the slaughter,” said Dr. Haim Katz, Chairman of B’nai B’rith International.  “Sometimes it was the Zionist youth organizations that were involved in rescue, and sometimes it was the action of individuals, who could have saved only themselves but instead chose to help others.”  The trees in the surrounding forest and the Scroll of Fire monument, which was constructed by the famous sculptor Nathan Rapoport, served as an impressive background for the ceremony.  The bronze monument, eight meters high, is shaped like a scroll and depicts the history of the Jewish nation from destruction to renewal.



Especially moving was the participation of the many soldiers of the Border Police, who stood tall and proud, armed and in uniform, which was like a promise that a Holocaust could not recur as long as the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Force exist.  “As the educators of generations of soldiers and commanding officers, we ensure that our enemies will not prevail, and we take it upon ourselves to continue upholding the security of the State of Israel,” said Eliahu Aharoni, Deputy Commander of the Border Police Training Base.



Among the participants in the event were the six children of Yehoshua and Henia Birnbaum, who managed an orphan home in the Netherlands during the war, and later in Germany continued saving Jewish orphans in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp.  The Birnbaum children lit torches at the ceremony in memory of those who perished, and they were presented with Jewish Rescue medals by B’nai B’rith representatives.


Six million trees - living, green memorial candles commemorating the victims of the Holocaust - were planted by KKL JNF and B’nai B’rith in the Martyrs Forest in the Judean Hills.  KKL-JNF’s main Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony is held annually in this forest, in conjunction with B’nai B’rith.  The theme of the event this year was Jews who saved their fellow Jewish, and participants included Holocaust survivors, students and soldiers.

“The courage of the Jews who saved other Jews is a symbol and a beacon of brotherhood for our nation, and this is what makes us unique among the nations,” said Mr. Efi Stenzler, KKL JNF World Chairman, at the ceremony.  He described those who deny the Holocaust as “our worst enemies” and declared that one must not be silent in response to the repulsive words they speak.

Participating in the ceremony were students from schools in the Jerusalem area and, addressing them directly, Stenzler said, “We expect the younger generation to remember what happened during the Holocaust and to fight anti-Semitism, for the sake of the State of Israel and the survival of the Jewish people.”

The B’nai B’rith organization has undertaken a special project documenting hundreds of instances of the brave rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.  “Not all of them went like sheep to the slaughter,” said Dr. Haim Katz, Chairman of B’nai B’rith International.  “Sometimes it was the Zionist youth organizations that were involved in rescue, and sometimes it was the action of individuals, who could have saved only themselves but instead chose to help others.”  The trees in the surrounding forest and the Scroll of Fire monument, which was constructed by the famous sculptor Nathan Rapoport, served as an impressive background for the ceremony.  The bronze monument, eight meters high, is shaped like a scroll and depicts the history of the Jewish nation from destruction to renewal.

Especially moving was the participation of the many soldiers of the Border Police, who stood tall and proud, armed and in uniform, which was like a promise that a Holocaust could not recur as long as the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Force exist.  “As the educators of generations of soldiers and commanding officers, we ensure that our enemies will not prevail, and we take it upon ourselves to continue upholding the security of the State of Israel,” said Eliahu Aharoni, Deputy Commander of the Border Police Training Base.

Among the participants in the event were the six children of Yehoshua and Henia Birnbaum, who managed an orphan home in the Netherlands during the war, and later in Germany continued saving Jewish orphans in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp.  The Birnbaum children lit torches at the ceremony in memory of those who perished, and they were presented with Jewish Rescue medals by B’nai B’rith representatives.

Sonni Shai, daughter of Yehoshua and Henia Birnbaum, said that after they came to live in Israel, she often heard people say, “You went like sheep to the slaughter.”  “At first I was ashamed,” said Sunny, “but later I realized that my parents had been courageous and had risked their lives in order to save children.  They did not expect recognition for it or honors.”  She concluded by saying that although he saved hundreds of children, her father had been haunted until his dying day by the faces of the children he failed to save.  “Herr Birnbaum!  You promised to save us!” they would cry out to him in his dreams.

Young people from the city of Efrat sang songs and recited readings based on the letters written after the war by Yehoshua Birnbaum to relatives of the children he had saved.  “It is not for nothing that we were saved,” said one of his letters. “It is our duty to grow and become strong and prove to our enemies that we are stronger than them.”

Uzi Arad, former Director of the National Security Council, emphasized what actions must be taken in order to ensure that a holocaust not recur in the world.  “If they dare raise a hand against us, we cannot be helpless and unprotected, and if they nevertheless try to harm us, they have to find out that they will pay for it dearly. Anyone who thinks of causing us harm should know that he is risking his life.  Jewish brotherhood is a great spirit that comes from within us.  It is not enough to talk about solidarity.  Each of us must demand it from himself.”

H.E. Michael Rendi, Austrian Ambassador to Israel, noted that as a descendant of Holocaust survivors he understands very well the importance of this day.  As a representative of the government of Austria, he said that his country recognizes its responsibility for Nazi crimes.  “Looking back at the dark chapters in the history of Austria, we must work to ensure that events like those do not recur.  Nothing we do can ever compensate for the pain and suffering caused to the Jewish people.”

Soldiers of the Border Police and immigrant students from the Na'ale movement (student who immigrate without their parents) recited the names of people who rescued Jews in various countries in Europe, with each name representing stories of heroism in the hiding of Jews, providing food, medicine and clothing for them, identity papers, smuggling children, and so on.

Dudu Ashkenazi, KKL-JNF Director of Educational Projects, recited the Yizkor prayer.  The rabbi of the Border Police chanted the El Male Rahamim prayer.  Prof. Yitzhak Meir, B’nai B’rith Executive Officer and Holocaust survivor, recited the Kadish in memory of those who perished.  The ceremony concluded with the singing of Hatkva, which had poignant significance on such a day.  The event was emceed by Elisha Mizrahi, KKL JNF Southern Region Director.

After the ceremony, groups of students and soldiers went on tours of the Martyrs Forest, which commemorates many communities that were destroyed during the Holocaust.  The forest, which was planted in the 1950s, is comprised of a variety of trees including pine, cypress and eucalyptus alongside the natural woodland trees of the region such as oak, terebinth and birch.  In general, this is one of the preferred natural areas in Israel for outings and picnics, attracting numerous visitors from all over the country.  On Holocaust Remembrance Day it serves as an extraordinary memorial site, which honors the memory of those who perished and symbolizes the continuation of life after the Holocaust.

Testimonies of the Rescuers of Jews
Before and after the ceremony, special meetings were arranged for Jewish rescuers with the students and soldiers.  The younger generation listened intently to the personal testimonies, which described the atrocities of the Nazis and the heroic deeds done for the rescue of Jews.  The message was passed on from one generation to the next, along with the promise to never forget.

Meir Friedman, a holocaust survivor from Hungary, spoke about the “glass house” survivors of Budapest.  Friedman had been a member of the Bnei Akiva movement, and along with friends from other Zionist youth organizations, he worked to save Jews.  Activities included providing Jews with Swiss passports, as though they had been granted permits by the British mandate to emigrate to Israel.  Friedman said that “obviously there was no way to actualize immigration to Israel, but it allowed us to have 7,800 passports issued to Jews by the Swiss authorities.  Later the authorities were persuaded that we had meant 7,800 families, which allowed for the rescue of 40,000 Jews.  The passports were not sufficient for the great demand, so we forged additional ones.  For the issue of these passports, the Swiss government rented offices in a glass building in Budapest, which became part of the Swiss Embassy, and this building became a haven for about 3,000 people who hid there from the Nazis.

“People slept all over the place,” said Friedman to the young people, “on the tables and under them, in the cellars and in the attic.  At eight in the morning the place would appear as a regular office in case anyone came to check.”

Zvi Birnbaum, son of Henia and Yehoshua, told the students and the soldiers about how his parents had saved children in the orphan homes they managed in Holland and then in Germany.  “On one occasion my mother dared to lie to the commandant of the camp and told him that these children were the children of German soldiers who were on the front, and she thereby succeeded in saving them from transport.  She saved the lives of many children by maintaining strict cleanliness in spite of the harsh conditions in the concentration camp.”

All the Birnbaum children as well as other children from the orphan homes were saved by what was later called the Lost Train, a train that was meant to transport them to be killed in one of the death camps towards the very end of the war but instead meandered for two weeks without reaching its destination.  The passengers received no food or water during this time and survived by eating snow.  A quarter of the 2,000 passengers on the train died of hunger, illness and exhaustion.  Those who lasted arrived in Germany, and when the doors of the train opened in an area that had been conquered by the Russian army, they were liberated.

Holocaust survivor Eliezer Lev Zion spoke to a group of students from Jerusalem and said, “We were not heroes.  We simply had no choice but to try and save ourselves, our families, our people, from the hands of the Nazis who were hunting us.  It was not just a few individuals who were involved in rescue activities ,but numerous Jewish youth all over occupied Europe.  Everyone tried to help.”

Hanna Arnon, a Holocaust survivor from the Netherlands, told the students how she arrived in London as a refugee and from there was sent to Indonesia, to a camp operated by the Japanese army.  About eighty of her relatives perished in the Holocaust.  “Meeting the younger generation is very important,” concluded Arnon, “because we must never forget.  I am very impressed by the children, who know so much about the Holocaust and about the history of their families.”




For Articles, comments or use please contact:
Ahuva Bar-Lev
KKL-JNF – Information and Publications
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 972-2-6583354 Fax:972-2-6583493
www.kkl.org.il/eng


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