Yad Vashem marks worldwide commemoration

"Gathering the Fragments" brings in collection of personal items at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

"Gathering the Fragments" (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun )
"Gathering the Fragments"
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun )
Behind Elana Karniel a display case is bolted to the wall, a faded and yellowed map of her journeys as a young refugee that is on exhibit behind protective glass. Karniel, who was sixyears- old when the Nazis invaded her hometown of Warsaw in September 1939, stood inside the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem yesterday and mused about why she had decided to donate this item.
People are forgetting the Holocaust, she asserted.
“Even I, myself, am forgetting. I completely forgot that Polish that was my birth language.”
Yitzchak Schein, another survivor attending the exhibit opening, agreed with this assessment, saying that he donated personal photographs to Yad Vashem to make sure that Israelis continue to have an understanding of their bloody history.
Karniel’s map was drawn by her brother after their arrival in Israel and commemorates their journey as part of the group of refugee children that accompanied the Free Polish Army from Russia to Persia before being brought to Israel by the Jewish Agency. As a member of the so-called Tehran Children, Karniel arrived on Israel’s shores an orphan.
“My brother was both mother and father to me,” she said. She donated the map that he drew, she explained, “because I thought that my children won’t watch over it.”
The map, as well as other items, is part of “Gathering the Fragments: Behind the Scenes of the Campaign to Rescue Personal Items from the Holocaust,” a new exhibit that Yad Vashem unveiled yesterday in commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Karniel, Schein and several others whose donations were chosen to be displayed were in attendance.
In 2011, Yad Vashem and the National Heritage Program at the Prime Minister’s Office, together with the Education Ministry and the Senior Citizens Ministry, initiated the “Gathering the Fragments” campaign in order to rescue personal items from the period of the holocaust.
At the launch of the project in 2011, Yad Vashem archives director Dr. Haim Gertner noted that “many Holocaust survivors and their families have personal documentation in their homes that is not known or accessible to the public at large. Many of those who have this material are unaware of its great importance and the need for its professional preservation.”
According to Yad Vashem, in the time since, “a great variety of documents, certificates, diaries, photographs, artifacts and artworks from the Holocaust era that were in the homes of private individuals in Israel have been given to Yad Vashem for safekeeping.”
“Since the Gathering the Fragments campaign began,” noted Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, “thousands of Israelis have decided to part with personal items close to their hearts, and through them share the memory of their dear ones who were murdered in the Holocaust. Thus far, some 71,000 items have been donated to Yad Vashem during the campaign, of which only a few are displayed in the exhibition. Through these examples, we have tried to bring to light items whose stories both explain the individual story and provide testimony to join the array of personal accounts that make up the narrative of the Holocaust.”
The museum described the project as “eleventh-hour rescue campaign” to preserve items that would otherwise be lost to history.
Among the items on display, and representing only a small portion of the total number of objects collected, were a one-eyed teddy bear, children’s sweaters, a pair of tefillin, and several paintings and photographs.
Benedikt Haller, the German Deputy Ambassador and a former special envoy for anti-Semitism and Holocaust affairs, helped mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem. His government, he said, entered into an agreement with Israel to support the fragments initiative for the coming decade.
“I think that the method you choose of collecting the information, [through] pictures and documents but also objects of daily life, is a very appropriate way getting in touch with history, getting emotionally in touch with history and also helping education,” Haller said.
“Making it accessible in an emotional, personal way is important for all generations.”
According to exhibit curator Michael Tal, “the majority of items donated to Yad Vashem during the campaign have come via secondor third-generation descendants of the survivors and others who possess items from their families in Europe. Therefore, most of the information we receive about the items is, at best, only partial.
The exhibition therefore showcases the research work carried out at Yad Vashem in order to reconstruct the full story behind each item. We are committed to learning as much as possible about everything that comes to us, and to sharing new insights with the greater public.”
The new method of crowdsourcing historic memorabilia, Tal told The Jerusalem Post, was decided upon “in order [for us] to meet the wider public that had not found it’s way to Yad Vashem.”
“The tactic of our collection changed,” Tal stated. “It started with advertising in the press and forging connections with community centers. We thought that people should be able to donate their own items and explain their significance.
People had items moldering in storerooms and closets and we called upon the public to bring them to us.”
The underlying concept, he noted, was to bring small items that help people connect to the holocaust.
“Everyday items and personal stories are sometimes better grasped and can generate more empathy.”
One item that gathered a crowd was a pocket taken off of a concentration camp uniform. As Tal spoke, the swatch of fabric could be seen behind him, a small pin thereon engraved with the names of the camps in which Polish Jew Yakov Berkowitz was imprisoned.
He did not survive the war.