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On Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day 5769, KKL-JNF and the B'nai B'rith World Center, held a moving ceremony at Martyrs' Forest, in the Judean Hills, dedicated to the deeds of Jews who saved other Jews in Germany and occupied Europe during the World War II inferno. These heroes, who risked their lives to guarantee the continuity of the Jewish people, were found in every country of Nazi-occupied Europe. This year, for the first time, the story of Jews who rescued other Jews during the Holocaust was featured in the movie "Resistance" which is currently showing at local movie theaters.
Participating in the ceremony were Michael Zantovsky, Ambassador of the Czech Republic, Avraham Grant, former coach of the Israel National Soccer team and himself the son of a Holocaust survivor; Menahem Leibovic, KKL-JNF deputy chairman; Dr. Haim Katz, chairman of B'nai B'rith World Center and Matthew Bilski, grandson of the famous partisan Zusia Bilski. Present at the ceremony were survivors and rescuers, a 200-strong Border Patrol guard of honor and over 400 high school students from greater Jerusalem.
Memorial Day at the forest began with the testimony of survivors and rescuers who fought in the underground against Nazi occupation in Europe. We joined one of the groups of Border Patrol cadets who were avidly listening to Eliezer Ben Tziyon, nicknamed "Bobbie" describing how he saved Jews within the French underground resistance. During the Second World War, they fought together with the Allies and as part of guerrilla forces operating in Europe, "the best and most daring fighters there were at the time!" Eliezer said proudly. He furthered described how, after the war, he and his friends in the underground supported the Jewish people's continuity by going out to search for Jewish children throughout Europe and helping them reach Israel.
When Eliezer and his friends arrived in Israel, they immediately enlisted in the Palmach and fought in Israel's War of Independence. He told the cadets about the sense of mutual responsibility, support and willingness to sacrifice that characterized the years he spent in the Underground and concluded with a request addressed to the youngsters as future soldiers: "Every hour, every moment, in every situation, whatever your orders might be, remember that standing in front of you is a child, a woman, a man - a person! Respect them and by doing so, you show respect for yourself."
After listening to Eliezer's moving testimony, the cadets joined their comrades and the guests at the central ceremony, at the Scrolls of Fire memorial, built by the famous sculptor Nathan Rappaport in 1974 to commemorate the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel. It is not by chance that this memorial is located in Martyrs' Forest. The forest is a joint project of KKL-JNF and B'nai B'rith, planting six million trees in memory of Holocaust victims. Between the trees are several smaller memorials to victims, some of them members of B'nai B'rith.
The ceremony, emceed by Reuven Na'amat of KKL-JNF's Education Division, began with the Border Patrol honor guard taking their place and the lowering of the flag to half-mast. Ms. Esther Devorah Rize-Mousel, a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, lit the memorial torch. Esther, the daughter of Yosef Mousel, a leader of the Dutch Jewish community, told the audience how she survived the Holocaust as a child thanks to Jews who saved her and supported her and her sister when they were orphaned from their parents. "We must commemorate not only our dear ones who did not merit surviving and coming to Israel, we must also remember those Jews who saved other Jews. By saving the few who could be rescued, they kept the Jewish people alive." Esther concluded with a song that was sung by children from Bengazi, Lybia in the concentration camp, Ashreinu. "How fortunate we are, how fortunate we are, how good our portion, how pleasant our lot, how beautiful our inheritance, how fortunate we are." She sang and the "Twilight Choir" and the entire audience joined in. "We are very fortunate to hear a song - which we feared might be eternally silenced - that started in Lybia and that was sung in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, now being sung in the hills of Judea."
Menahem Leibovic, deputy KKL-JNF chairman, remarked that "Although KKL-JNF was founded in order to redeem the land, the organization soon found itself developing sites, building reservoirs, and in the position of Israel's chief forester. Every tree in this forest is like a remembrance candle and the entire forest is like a memorial." Leibovic described tree planting in detail: how pines and cypress trees were blended in with indigenous Israeli flora like oaks and terebinths - a symbol of how Holocaust survivors were integrated into Israeli society. He concluded with the prayer that "there would be no more forests as memorials and that from now, forests will be planted for beauty and for enhancing the natural landscape."
Dr. Haim Katz, chairman of B'nai B'rith addressed his remarks to the youngsters. "Even during the Holocaust, there were young people who saved the lives of others thus risking their own lives. You must remember that the State of Israel is still in real and immediate danger, and that you, Israel's future generation will keep us going."
Commander Eliyahu Aharoni, deputy commander of the Border Patrol Basic Training base, explained how ties between the Border Patrol and KKL-JNF had recently strengthened, owing to the Nof Moledet - Homeland Vistas educational project, protecting nature and the forests. He quoted Mordechai Anielewicz, commander of the Warsaw Ghetto. "My life's dream has been realized. Jewish self-defense has become a reality!" He concluded with the hope expressed in the famous verse of the prophet Jeremiah: "No nation shall lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war any more." On behalf of the entire Border Patrol corps, he saluted both victims and rescuers.
Avraham Grant, former head coach of the Israel National Soccer team and himself the son of a Holocaust survivor, spoke about his father, Meir Grant, who survived the Holocaust as a child. "I come from the world of sport, where they teach you to win at all costs, always to be dedicated and ready to sacrifice. We must remember the survivors and continue to tell the story of their lives, even when they will no longer be with us." Grant dedicated the day to the heroes and rescuers of the Jewish people who fought for victory at any price - including that of their own lives.
Michael Zantovski, Ambassador of the Czech Republic turned to the audience and asked them to be patient, since he was going to speak in Hebrew. He spoke clearly and fluently about Jewish soldiers in the armies of various European countries, including the Czech army. "We must never forget. The very fact that we are here today is the greatest victory over the Nazis." He concluded with both a call to become "aware of every expression of racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance" and with a hope "that we will always find the inner strength to be heroes."
The final speaker, Matthew Bilski, is the grandson of the famous partisan Zusia Bilski, one of the Bilski brothers, who saved about 1,230 Jews in camps set up deep within the forests of Belarus. Mathew grew up in the United States and made aliya in 2005 to serve in the IDF Paratroopers Corps. He told a story that one day, when he was a private on a bus back to his army base, a friend called him, saying, "Bilski, come over here," since he had saved him a seat on the bus. A few minutes after the bus pulled out of the station, an elderly woman came over and said to him, "I heard your name was Bilski, do you have any connection to the Bilski brothers from Belarus?" Matthew said that he would never forget the expression on her face when he said that he was the grandson of Zusia Bilski. It turned out that this elderly woman was one of the 1,230 Jews who were saved by his grandfather and his brother. "That was the first time I really understood what great heroes my grandfather and his brother had been."
The 1,230 Jews saved by the Bilski brothers could have become 30,000 Jews over the generations. It was not in vain that Zusia Bilski once said that he prefers saving one Jewish woman to killing ten German soldiers "because 'whoever saves one Jew, it is as if he has saved an entire world'."
When the speeches were over, the Border Patrol soldiers and the students read aloud a few of the names of the 1,500,000 Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust. After the Yizkor and the El Malei Rahamim prayers, Kaddish was recited in a voice choked with tears by Dr. Frank Diamant, CEO of B'nai B'rith Canada, and the ceremony ended with the emotional singing of Hatikvah. Afterwards several groups of high school students stayed to listen to more testimonies of the survivors. Eliezer Ben Tziyon turned to a group from the Zionist Youth Village of Jerusalem with the words, "Be proud to be part of this nation. Be proud of the people you belong to!"
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