Because the next of kin of Holocaust victims whose date of death is unknown, and who may have no specific place of burial because their bodies were burned by the Nazis and their collaborators, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel designated the 10th day of Tevet in the Hebrew calendar as a day of mourning on which to recite the Kaddish prayer for the dead.
The date, which this year falls on Tuesday, December 18, coincides with a minor fast day, commemorating the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. The fast begins at the first light of dawn and ends at nightfall.
Its observance as a day of mourning for victims of the Holocaust is more widespread in haredi communities than in secular. In some haredi communities, it is observed instead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoa as it is known in Hebrew, because Yom Hashoa falls on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which for many years was attributed solely to Hashomer Hatzair youth led by Mordechai Anielewicz. In recent years, it was proved by Moshe Arens, a former foreign minister and defense minister of Israel, in his book Flags Over the Warsaw Ghetto: The Untold Story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that Betar Youth also fought against the Germans in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Another reason that haredim prefer the 10th of Tevet is because Yom Hashoa falls in the Hebrew calendar month of Nissan when mourning is not customary.
In advance of the 10th of Tevet, President Reuven Rivlin met on Thursday with representatives of Ganzach Kiddush Hashem, an educational and cultural organization based in Bnei Brak, which has established a Holocaust Museum that honors victims and survivors of the Holocaust who maintained their religious Jewish values and traditions under the most horrendous of circumstances.
The group included Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, Chair of Ganzach Kiddush HaShem Rabbi David Sakolsky, Rabbi Zvi Sakolsky, former Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau who chairs the Yad Vashem Council and Chairman of the of Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev, as well as many supporters of the project.
A mini exhibition culled from Ganzach Kiddush Hashem was displayed in two rooms of the President’s Residence, and included art works by graphic artists of their visions of how Holocaust remembrance can be perpetuated.
Lau, who was one of the youngest Holocaust survivors to come out of the death camps, said that he had been the matchmaker between GKH and Yad Vashem, because it was essential to bring awareness of the importance of Holocaust memory to the younger generation. The history of the Holocaust is so deep and so wide that no-one can absorb all of it, he said. “You can talk about it and read about it, but it was so massive that no-one knows it all. It’s impossible.”
The late Rabbi Moshe Prager, who was the founder of GKH, had been a well-known journalist in the Warsaw religious Jewish press when WWII broke out. He was also a cousin of Yisrael Alter, the Gerer Rebbe whom he helped smuggle out of Poland to Mandate Palestine.
One of Prager’s friends was the director of the Warsaw office of the Lloyd Triestino shipping company, and Prager was able to secure a ticket to Haifa for the Gerer Rebbe, only on condition that he would accompany him. He was reluctant to leave his family behind – but they insisted. Sadly, none of his immediate relatives survived, and he made it his life’s work to salvage anything and everything he could from the Holocaust and from the once glorious history of European Jewry and to record it for the benefit of generations to come.
As it happens, Shalev who was born in Bnei Brak, knew Prager quite well, and was very happy when Lau proposed cooperation between the haredi institution and Yad Vashem.
Lau said that reciting Kaddish on the 10th of Tevet was a means of regenerating the spirit of the victims.
Litzman who is the son of Polish Holocaust survivors, was born in a refugee camp in Germany. He emphasized the importance of Holocaust education so that future generations would know not only what happened to their forebears, but why, and would pass on the story to their offspring. “Museums such as GKH tell the story of our people,” he said.
As far as cooperation goes with Yad Vashem, Litzman said “what we all have in common is the right to remember.”
A video made with religiously observant survivors had a common theme. There were photographs of atrocities after which one of the survivors says: “People ask how anyone can continue to live after the horrors that we witnessed. But I decided to live and tell the story.” Another said that he’d promised himself that if he survived, he would try to make the world a better place.
Rivlin told his guests that he had lit the second Hanukka candle in the presence of Holocaust survivors and had used a hanukkiah that had been salvaged from a Polish town in which there were no Jewish survivors.
The haredi community placed great value on maintaining Torah and mitzvot in whatever way possible in the camps, said Rivlin, who described this as “the courage of the spirit.”
He stressed that it was imperative to continue investing in Holocaust education and research which will help to carry the torch of memory from generation to generation.
Prager had written a Holocaust Megilla (scroll) which Rabbi David Sakolsky presented to Rivlin, saying that it had been vital to construct a permanent display center for all that Prager and others had collected in order to strengthen the memory of the Holocaust and the preservation of Jewish tradition during the Holocaust so that it becomes part of the collective memory of the Jewish people.
GKH had conducted a competition among graphic artists to see how they expressed their visions of Holocaust memory. The majority focused in different ways on an arm with an Auschwitz number tattooed on it, and the verse recited when wrapping phylacteries around the arm. But there were no phylacteries available in the camp, and the stripes of the leather straps, are presented in the lightest of shadows, as if neither memory can be complete without the other.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>