Haredi at Yad Vashem_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Yad Vashem just doesn’t get it. After my fourth visit to the New Wing at
the Holocaust memorial since it opened in ’05, I am convinced that the
administration simply does not understand why we Haredim are so upset with the
museum. Despite all the negative coverage Yad Vashem has received in
Haredi publications in Israel and the Diaspora, they still don’t get
Basically, there are three things that bother us about the New Wing.
Firstly, we are severely underrepresented among the videotaped testimonies of
survivors displayed throughout the exhibit. Some 50 to 60 monitors continuously
play eyewitness accounts of the Shoah. But only one portrays a Haredi survivor.
The percentage of Orthodox survivors is certainly open to debate, but even Yad
Vashem would concede that Haredim represented far more than two percent of the
total number of survivors.
Secondly, the presentation of the few Haredi
personalities that are included in the New Wing is grossly distorted. Rabbi
Michoel Dov Weissmandl and his heroic Working Group are a prime illustration.
The following text appears alongside Rabbi Weissmandl’s photo in the museum: “In
the course of negotiations over the summer of 1942, the Group paid ransom money
to Dieter Wisliceny, Eichman’s delegate in Slovakia. For various
considerations, the deportations were halted in the autumn of 1942 but the
Working Group believed this was a result of their bribes, and encouraged them
This wording makes it appear as if the Working Group’s bribes
had no bearing on the cessation of deportations in ’42 and the Working Group was
duped by the Nazis. This is historically inaccurate and insulting to Haredim who
revere and respect the rescue efforts of Rabbi Weissmandl and other Orthodox
Finally, the entire issue of spiritual heroism during
the Shoah is relegated to mere footnote status. The vast numbers of examples of
Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps who risked their lives to study
Torah and observe the mitzvot are almost completely ignored. No, not all martyrs
were Orthodox, but many were. They should certainly be memorialized in
the way they would want to be remembered. To do otherwise is nothing less than a
slap in the face to their descendants and their community.
TO ANSWER some
of the commmon questions I’ve been asked, perhaps it is appropriate to interview
myself.What is your ulterior motive in writing this article?
is to articulate the feelings of Haredim in order to prod Yad Vashem to set the
record straight in the New Wing of their museum.If you are so interested
in having the Orthodox point of view presented, why don’t you set up your own
museum under Orthodox auspices?
Haredi Jewry’s frustration with Yad Vashem has
already spawned several initiatives to do just that, both in Israel and the
Diaspora. The millions of tourists who come to Yad Vashem each year, however,
are unlikely to visit those Orthodox museums. Distortions at Yad Vashem,
therefore, must be corrected for them.If you really want Yad Vashem to
understand your complaints, why don’t you meet with them in person?
I did. At
their request, the meeting was “off the record,” and subsequent requests for
follow-up meetings with Yad Vashem representatives have been denied (in
writing). The public arena, therefore, is the only forum available to me
now.What was the response of the Yad Vashem officials with whom you met? And have any changes been made to the museum since it opened?
Initially, I was
told that everything was still too new. They said they would re-evaluate all
aspects of the museum and make changes. During the past six years, perhaps in
response to articles such as this one, minor changes have been
made. Instead of zero videotaped testimonies by Haredi survivors, for
example, now there is one. But much more needs to be done and at a much quicker
pace before Haredi authors will change from adversaries to advocates of Yad
Vashem.Have Yad Vashem representatives responded to the negative
critiques that have appeared in the Haredi press?
In some cases, the periodical
editors were castigated for publishing articles which were critical of Yad
Vashem. At other times, the Yad Vashem spokespersons attempted to obfuscate the
issues. They cited, for example, the online services available to the Haredi
community. They pointed to the special Orthodox division of their tour guide
training school. And they emphasized how many Orthodox students make use of Yad
Vashem archives for research purposes. Occasionally, they resorted to casting
personal aspersions on the writers of the unflattering reviews.
substantive objections to the museum cited above, however, were simply not
addressed in their responses.What do you hope to accomplish by writing
in The Jerusalem Post?
I hope to impress upon Yad Vashem that the negative
sentiments among Haredim toward Yad Vashem are not fleeting, fickle or
fringe. Moreover, they are provoked by omissions and misrepresentations
which can and must be corrected now to truly honor the memory of the victims and
survivors of the Shoah. We owe it to them, to ourselves and to all future
generations.The writer is a New York based psychotherapist, author and