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(photo credit: Bnei Akiva/Testimony House)
The Testimony House for the Heritage of the Holocaust in Moshav Nir Galim, near Ashdod, opened its galleries last week to an exhibit documenting the Bahad-Bnei Akiva youth movement's activities in promoting Zionism in pre-World War II Britain.
Zvika Klein, spokesman for World Bnei Akiva, told The Jerusalem Post that the museum's decision was an important step toward recognizing Bnei Akiva's role in establishing the State of Israel.
"Bnei Akiva hasn't get enough credit toward the establishment of the state and helping Holocaust survivors," he said. "We have been happy to work closely with the museum, which is doing an amazing job.
"Especially because of recent incidents involving the UN and [Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it is becoming more and more important that we document what went on during the Holocaust, in order to prove that it actually existed. There are so many amazing stories about what Bnei Akiva has done, including taking care of Jews after the Kindertransport and enabling them to flourish in England and later, in Israel," Klein added.
The Testimony House focuses on the lives and principles of those affected by the Holocaust rather than on the Holocaust itself, and documents Zionism during the period of the British Mandate (1917-1948), leading up to the creation of the state.
Exhibits include artwork of Holocaust survivors, including models of now-destroyed synagogues and paintings, as well as Judaica that survived the Holocaust, such as Torah scrolls and synagogue decorations.
More than 200 people, including over 150 veteran members of Bahad-Bnei Akiva together with their families, came to celebrate the opening of the museum to the documentation of British Holocaust survivors' experiences and to pay tribute to Arieh Handler, a British Jew who founded the Bahad youth movement and worked tirelessly to rescue children from Germany during the war.
"Nir Galim was founded by Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Central Europe, but even though all the people on the moshav knew one another's [Holocaust] story, the subject remained very much taboo until the 1980s," said Eli Moskowitz, a guide at the museum.
"In the late '40s and early '50s, Israelis didn't speak about the Holocaust. In 1961, the Eichmann trial had the effect of changing the attitude of the average Israel, but that wasn't the case in Nir Galim and people still didn't talk about it openly.
"But as the cofounders started getting older, they realized that by them not talking, they were preventing future generations from knowing what happened.
"During the '80s, people started to talk a little more openly about their experiences and, in the early '90s, the decision was made to concentrate the memories in the museum and in archives, and establish a house of testimonies to teach future generations about the Holocaust," continued Moskowitz.
The atmosphere at the gathering was one of both warmth and pride; some attendees hadn't seen one another for more than 50 years and were delighted to rekindle old friendships. All seemed extremely pleased to see that their dreams of pioneering the Land of Israel had gone so well.
Attendee Max Kopfstein was born in Berlin and now lives in Kibbutz Lavi, in the Galilee. Kopfstein, whose life was saved by the Kindertransport, told the Post that he "had a soft landing in England, and was hosted by a rabbi originally from Berlin.
"Not long after, in 1940, I went on hachshara [settlement training] in the Bahad farm in Thaxted, Essex. Us youngsters had to be prepared for religious kibbutz life and get used to dealing with agriculture."
Esther Reisz, 85, is another of the thousands of children whose lives were saved by the Kindertransport. Reisz, who also lives in Kibbutz Lavi, told the Post: "I was only 14 years old and if I'd have known that I would never see my parents again, I would never have agreed to leave them.
"But I consider myself very blessed. I've built up a nice big family here in Israel now... my revenge to Hitler, yemach shmo [may his name be wiped out]!"
Kopfstein describes the kibbutz that they live on as "our production," and talks of "living on the fruits of our labor."
Klein explained that Bahad-Bnei Akiva, one of the first Zionist youth groups in Britain, hugely benefitted from the influx of Jewish children saved by the Kindertransport, to the point that soon after their arrival, every Jewish community in Britain had its own branch of the movement.
After settling in Britain, these children maintained their Zionist and Jewish identity. The youth dreamed of living in Israel and went about setting up pioneering training programs and studying agriculture to prepare them for the rigors of kibbutz life.
Many of these children, most of whom lost their parents to the Holocaust, immigrated to Israel, raised families, and played a central role in the building of the state and the religious Zionist movement.
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