Grapevine: Symbolic graves

Many of the items on display in the Museum of German Jewish Heritage signify the contribution of German-speaking Jews to the creation and development of the State of Israel.

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September 1, 2019 01:01
MUSEUM OF German Jewish Heritage director Ruthy Ofek visits Tefen Industrial Park with German Consul

MUSEUM OF German Jewish Heritage director Ruthy Ofek visits Tefen Industrial Park with German Consul General Lars Kettner. . (photo credit: COURTESY GJH MUSEUM)

The Valley of Communities at Yad Vashem contains more than 5,000 names of places in which most, if not all, of the Jews who once lived in these cities, towns and villages were murdered during the Holocaust, or died of malnutrition and disease. The names of these communities are engraved in the stone walls and free-standing rocks.

The memorial in Jerusalem is impressive, just as every section in the sprawling Yad Vashem complex is impressive. There are no graves here, but many visitors weep by the engravings which they see as monuments to those of their forebears who did not survive.

There is more reason to weep in Poland in what used to be the Treblinka death camp. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the 80th anniversary of which is being commemorated today, September 1, Poland had the largest and most diverse Jewish community in Europe. The overwhelming majority met their deaths in Auschwitz, Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka. At the entrance to the Treblinka camp, there is a symbolic cemetery with 17,000 small to large stones in varying shapes as well as in different sizes. Each stone has the name of a community written on it. The post-war Polish government purchased most of the land containing the Treblinka death camp and built the memorial between 1959 and 1962. In 1964, at a time when antisemitism was rampant in Poland, Treblinka was declared a national monument of Jewish martyrdom.

Czestochowa was one of the first Polish cities invaded by the Nazis. It came under German occupation on September 3, 1939. On the following day, the Germans killed 300 Jews, and continued beating, plundering and killing over the following three days. In June 1943, there was an uprising in the Czestochowa Ghetto, but the Jews, weary from forced labor and malnutrition, were no match for the German soldiers, and 2,000 Jews were killed.

In the early period of the war, most Czestochowa Jews did not believe that they would be deported because Czestochowa was an important source of production for the German army. It had a munitions plant and a foundry. But in the final analysis, most of the Jews of Czestochowa and neighboring towns were deported to Treblinka. The first such “Aktion” was on September 21, 1942. It was Yom Kippur, the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar. SS personnel, aided by Ukrainians from Trawniki, forced Jews out of their apartments and made some 7,000 of them march to the railway ramp at Zawodzie where they were pushed into cattle wagons and deported to Treblinka.

There are few survivors of that awful night. Among those who live in Israel is Gaby Horowitz, who will share his memories at the 77th annual commemoration of the beginning of the liquidation of the Czestochowa Ghetto. The memorial event held in conjunction with Yad Vashem will take place at 5 p.m. on Sunday, September 22 at Wohlin House, Givatayim.

In addition to Horowitz, speakers will include Alon Goldman, chairman of the Association of Czestochowa Jews in Israel who will talk about the 40,000 Czestochowa Jews who were murdered, commemorative activities in recent years and plans for 2020; and Na’ama Galil, project manager at Yad Vashem’s Commemorative Department, who will lecture on “Resistance and struggle in Czestochowa during the Holocaust.”

■ EVERY REASONABLY healthy person aged between 18 to 44 or even 50, in some cases, has the opportunity to save a life. It’s a rare privilege, and all it requires is a willingness to be a bone-marrow donor.

That privilege began in a desperate race against time to save the life of 22-year-old Jay Feinberg of New York. The year was 1991 and he had been diagnosed with leukemia. Doctors said that his only chance of survival was a bone marrow transplant. The trouble was that no one in his family proved to be a suitable donor. The search widened to the whole of North America and to Israel. Willing potential donors in Jerusalem lined up for well beyond a kilometer to provide a sample swab. The search went on for four years, and just when everything seemed hopeless and Feinberg and his family had psyched themselves up for the worst-case scenario, a suitable match was found. Feinberg survived and is today the founder and CEO of the Bone Marrow Registry. Similar registries have been established around the world as the result of his initial quest. The Israel Registry is run by Ezer Mizion. Apparently the registry run by Feinberg cannot help 10-year-old Elan Shademan of Beverly Hills, California, who has been diagnosed with MDS, a rare severe blood disorder where his only chance for survival is a bone marrow/stem-cell transplant. His family and friends have been unsuccessfully searching for a suitable donor for four months.

Elan has had to start chemotherapy to keep his disease under control. His is a complicated case, as he has other genetic abnormalities including GATA 2, monosomy 7, and MSH6 deficiency, further enhancing the dire need for stem cells. His ancestral background is European and Iranian. Although ethnic background is a factor in DNA matching, it is not always. So anyone willing to help should contact healthelan@gmail.com

■ SOONER OR later, most German, Austrian and German-speaking Swiss diplomats find their way to the Heritage Museum of German Speaking Jews at the Stef Wertheimer Tefen Industrial Park. Among the most recent of diplomats to go north for this purpose, was German Consul-General Dr. Lars Kettner, who was given a personal guided tour by the museum’s director and curator, Ruthy Ofek, who originates from Vienna, and so feels very much at home in the environment, especially when there are social and cultural events at which the most common language is German.

Many of the items on display in the museum signify the contribution of German-speaking Jews to the creation and development of the State of Israel. Of course, there’s Stef Wertheimer, the industrialist, social activist and philanthropist, but perhaps where German-born Israelis shine most is in the field of law. The ratio of German-born judges in the early years of the Supreme Court is quite amazing, given that so much of Israeli law is based on British law. Israel’s first Justice Minister, Pinchas Rosen, who served several terms in the role, was originally called Felix Rosenblueth. When charged with establishing the Justice Ministry, Rosen drew on his yekke friends and colleagues, such as Uri Yadin, originally known as Rudolf Heinsheimer, and Haim (Herman) Cohn. Some of the other, but certainly not all of the German-born legal experts, include Moshe Landau, Moshe Smoira, Menachem Elon, Benjamin Halevi and Gabriel Bach. The State Comptroller’s Office was almost entirely staffed by yekkes.

German-born actresses Hanna Maron and Orna Porat were leading figures in Israeli theater.

German-born physician Moshe (Moritz) Wallach, who came from Cologne, was the founder of Shaare Zedek hospital. Nobel Prize laureate in Economics Robert Aumann was born in Frankfurt. Composer Paul Ben-Haim was born in Munich as Paul Frankenburger.
Many of the founding faculty at the Haifa Technion came from Germany.

Then there were figures such as Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat, and long-time journalist and peace activist Uri Avnery, and so many others in so many different fields of endeavor. Kettner was impressed by what he saw, and regretted that his wife had been unable to join him on such an interesting visit, as she was taking care of their first-born two and a half months old son, who is technically a little sabra, as he was born in Israel. As he still has two and a half more years to serve in Israel, Kettner is convinced that his son will become a sabra in every sense of the word.

The Germans are known for their hardiness, and if he needed proof at all, Kettner found it when he met with Miryam Pulyn, 93, a veteran volunteer at the museum, and the two were thrilled to discover that they both came from Hamburg. She invited him to come back during Sukkot when the museum will host an exhibition titled, That’s my secret – Now I can tell it. The exhibition will reveal some of the romantic secrets of German Jewish families which have not been previously told.

■ TO MARK the 84th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, who was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem and later of Palestine when it was under the British Mandate, followers of his teachings will visit his grave on the Mount of Olives on Tuesday, September 3, to recite Psalms and prayers on behalf of all the people of Israel, and on Thursday, September 5, will mount a late-night study vigil in a huge marquee facing the grave. Every 20 minutes from 9 p.m. onward, a series of rabbis, including Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, will deliver a lesson in the spirit of HaRav Kook and the evening will conclude after midnight with a musical rendition by Yonatan Razel. Music on the Mount of Olives at midnight must be a very special experience. Women will be welcome, but will have to abide with segregated seating. For further information call: 055-2436698

greerfc@gmail.com


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