78 Years Since the Nazis’ Defeat and Rescue of Survivors

Thousands participate in prayer and thanksgiving services around the world to mark the day of liberation and rescue; a moving prayer ceremony in Djerba, Tunisia

Thousands participate

Dozens of countries hold prayer and thanksgiving gatherings with those in attendance including chief rabbis, representatives of the allied nations, survivors, and hundreds of Ukrainian refugees

* The European parliament in Strasbourg holds a special tribute event for the first time. French representative: “The event is specifically being hosted here as an obligation and declaration of the European Union’s institution’s resolve to never allow such atrocities to happen again.” 

* State President Herzog and Prime Minister Netanyahu among the well-wishers

* Among the countries participating: China, Tunisia, France, and Germany; Austria, Poland, Argentina, and Russia; Hungary, Sweden, USA, Belarus, Romania, Moldova, and Australia.

 Photography stills at the Western Wall (credit: ELI ITKIN) Photography stills at the Western Wall (credit: ELI ITKIN)

The Day of Liberation and Rescue of the Jews of Europe from the clutches of the Nazis was established on 26 Iyar at the initiative of Dr Gabriel German Zakharyayev, with the endorsement of the chief rabbis of Israel and Europe. The day marks 78 years since the rescue of the survivors and serves as a commemoration of the Martyrs of the Holocaust with its Hebrew date being the anniversary of the surrender of the Third Reich in France. The day was commemorated this week in Israel and worldwide with chief rabbis, representatives of the allied nations, and Holocaust survivors in attendance. This year, prominent rabbis in Israel called for a prayer service to mark the day. There was particular focus on the participation of young children and students from schools and Talmud Torah centres. 

Dozens of prayer and thanksgiving services were held in synagogues, memorial sites, and schools around the world, where thousands attended, including hundreds of children. Participating cities included Vienna (Austria), Warsaw (Poland), Paris, Strasbourg, and Marseilles (France), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Guangzhou (China), Budapest (Hungary), Moscow (Russia), Frankfurt and Leipzig (Germany), Stockholm (Sweden), Georgetown and New York (USA), Pinsk and Minsk (Belarus), and Sydney (Australia). Chief rabbis, community leaders, as well as defense ministers, government and military representatives, ambassadors of the allied nations, and survivors were present.

  (credit: ILYA DOLGOPOLSKY, Levi Nazarov ) (credit: ILYA DOLGOPOLSKY, Levi Nazarov )

An especially moving prayer ceremony was held in Djerba, Tunisia, and hundreds of Ukrainian refugees attended prayer services in Bucharest (Romania), Kishinev (Moldova), and Warsaw in Poland. For the first time, the European parliament in Strasbourg held a special commemorative event. In Israel, prayer services were held at the Western Wall, as well as at dozens of synagogues across Israeli cities, including Be’er Sheva, Ganei Tikva, Modiin, Ashdod, and Migdal HaEmek.

For the first time since World War II, representatives of the 27 European Union country members of the European parliament gathered to mark this impressive Jewish event - 78 years to the day of the liberation and rescue of surviving refugees from the hands of the Nazis.

The gathering at the European House of Parliament in Strasbourg, was hosted by the senior French representative in parliament, Ms. Fabienne Keller. The Eminent Rabbi Abraham Weill delivered an address. In addition to representation by senior officials of the EU, there were several guests from various countries, including Austria, Azerbaijan, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Latvia, and Luxemburg.

Ms. Keller, who is very close to French President Emmanuel Macron, said that “the event is specifically being hosted here as an obligation and declaration of the European Union’s institution’s resolve to never allow such atrocities to happen again. We know that lofty words are not enough; they need to be acted upon. However, the mood and atmosphere entail significance, and as you are aware, we have enacted laws that let us counter anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. The Jewish community acts as a bridge between the various communities of Europe and an event such as this one is an expression thereof.”

The special ceremony concluded with the singing of Oseh Shalom Bimromav (He Who creates peace in high places) by Rabbi Mendel Samama, rabbi of the Hemdat Shlomo congregation in Strasbourg, , and with candlelighting conducted by the president of the Strasbourg Court of Law, Mr Thierry Garé, and the Consul General of the USA, Ms. Darragh Paradiso, who is USA’s representative in the Council of Europe.

As always, the event for the Day of Liberation and Rescue commenced with a prayer and thanksgiving service at the Western Wall plaza. Present were the Eminent Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, rabbi of the Western Wall and holy places; the Eminent Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau, rabbi of Netanya; and Minister of Religious Services, Rabbi Michael Michieli, who delivered their congratulations with inspiring messages.

The gathering was attended by hundreds of students involved in the Mishna learning project in memory of Holocaust martyrs, the Yizkor project from Our Descendants and Us, which operates 40 branches in Israel under the sponsorship of Mr Gabriel German Zakharyayev, who established the Day of Liberation and Rescue. Attendants at the gathering received the yolk of Heaven through prayer and thanksgiving to G-d, “who redeemed us from the hand of tribulation.”

The Eminent Rabbi Lau opened the ceremony, saying, “These days we need to pray with more unity and strength for the remainder of the refugees. When children pray, their prayers ascend to the Throne of Glory, and we need their pure prayers more than ever now:  “From the mouths of nursing infants and children comes the power to cripple the enemy and take revenge.” The event was produced by Rabbi Mordechai Rabinovitch of Tip Productions and concluded with the Yizkor prayer delivered by Cantor David Weinbach. Participants formed a dance circle on the Western Wall Plaza and chanted in prayer and longing: Tehai hasha’ah hazot she’at rachamim ve’et ratzon milfanecha (Let this hour be the hour of mercy and the time that you favour us). After the gathering, hundreds of students made their way to the quarters of the Eminent and Chief Rabbi of the Old City, Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, to receive his blessing.

In Moscow, hundreds of attendants gathered in the Great Synagogue for prayer and thanksgiving, led by Russian Chief Rabbi Abraham Scheibitz, Head Rabbi of the Torat Chaim Yeshiva in Moscow, and the Eminent Rabbi Moshe Lebel, as well as the representative of the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi David Yeshuviyev. The guest of honour from Israel was the Magid storyteller, Rabbi Israel Meir Shushan, who inspired participants with personal stories of his father and the story of the miracle of his rescue. He addressed the gathering warmly, conveying gratitude for the initiative to mark the Day of Liberation and Rescue, and praised the idea and the work of Mr Gabriel German Zakharyayev, who delivered an emotional speech. A student of the Reishit Chochma Talmud Torah read a chapter from the Mishna, which was heartfelt and affected all present. Hundreds of participants, survivors, military combatants and veterans, public figures, and community members recited chapters from the Book of Psalms, and Cantor Uriel Granat delivered the Kel Male Rachamim prayer. Israeli ambassador, Alexander Ben Zvi, read the letters of congratulations from President Herzog and Prime Minister Netanyahu for the occasion of the Day of Liberation and Rescue.

A particularly moving prayer gathering took place in the Yeshiva hall of the Or Torah Yeshiva, located at the synagogue of Rabbi Shalom Zatzukel in Djerba, Tunisia. There were hundreds of residents and students who participated. Tunisian Chief Rabbi Haim Bitan was unable to attend, as he had been asked to present himself in Tunis, the country’s capital, by the Prince of Tunisia. Rabbi Gidon Haddad delivered the address in his place. The ceremony and Kidusha Rabba (Kaddish) was tastefully organized by Rabbi Yaniv Bitan.

The Beit Midrash study hall in Bucharest, Romania, where the Odessa Jewish community has transferred its institutions, was another venue for prayer and thanksgiving with the participation of hundreds of students from the Tikva network of institutions. The Eminent Rabbi Shlomo Baksht of Odessa stood by the podium and delivered beautiful words about the obligation to give thanks to G-d for the liberation and rescue of the Jewish nation, and the memory of the holy martyrs. There was also a prayer gathering with refugees in attendance in Kishinev, Moldova.   

In Paris, the La Raincy Synagogue was filled with hundreds of city residents who gathered for the prayer and thanksgiving service, led by the synagogue rabbi and French gendarme, Rabbi Moshe Lewin, special advisor to the Chief Rabbi of France. Likewise, in the Leipzig community centre, Ariowitsch House, a prayer gathering was led by the city’s chief rabbi and federal chaplain of the German army, Rabbi Mordechai Eliezer Balla. Among those in attendance were death camp survivors, soldiers, and army veterans who fought in the Red Army during World War II.

In the Westend Synagogue in Frankfurt, the Jewish community held a prayer and commemoration service, held by the Chairman of the German Rabbinic Organisation and chief rabbi of Frankfurt, Rabbi Avichai Apel. Well-known cantor, Cantor Yoni Rose, led the services and the Yizkor prayer.

In Warsaw, Poland, Polish Chief Rabbi Mordechai Schudrich’s congregation held a prayer service at the Nożyk Synagogue, where refugees and guests were in attendance. Students at the Beit Aharon school of the Karlin-Stolin community in Pinsk, held a service and Mishna study. The head of the Karlin-Stolin institutions, Rabbi Moshe Fima, delivered an address.

The Jewish community in Vienna held a service with Yizkor at the Great Synagogue, which was led by Vienna Chief Rabbi Jaron Engelmayer. Rabbi Engelmayer addressed the participants and led them in reciting chapters of Psalms. The ceremony concluded with an emotional rendition of Ani Ma’amin, sung to the melody composed by Rabbi Azriel David Fastag while on the death train.   

State President Yitzhak Herzog sent a special congratulatory letter to the Minister of Religious Services, Rabbi Michael Michieli, on the occasion of the Day of Liberation and Rescue. “It is hard to find, among the chronicles of our nation, another event that commemorates a rescue from death to life, as pronounced as our rescue from the abyss of the terrible Holocaust. Therefore, it seems that it cannot be more appropriate than to express our acknowledgement and gratitude for the miracle of the rescue, in the spirit of the Talmudic passage, “If for being delivered from slavery to freedom we chant a hymn of praise, should we not do so all the more for being delivered from death to life?”

President Herzog wrote that he “congratulates those who initiated the event and worked to bring it to fruition. I congratulate you with all my heart on this initiative and this lovely tradition that has been created in recent years…and I offer you a prayer: Adir bamarom shichen bigvura…Yehi ratzon shetasim aleinu…chaim ubracha lemishmeret shalom (Mighty One on high, He Who dwells in power…May it be acceptable that You grant us…life and blessing for a safeguard of peace).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a special letter conveying his wishes for the Day of Liberation and Rescue marking the World War II victory. “The lessons in resistance against the murderous regime that threatened us with extermination are ingrained in us: We have to identify the danger ahead of time and oppose the attacks of the elements of evil. We need to be able to protect ourselves…only then, with G-d’s help, can we be sure of Israel’s eternity.” The prime mister concluded his message, saying, “I would like to thank all those who collaborated to organize the Day of Liberation and Rescue, headed by the Ministry of Religious Services, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, and the Russian Jewish Congress, whose senior representative, Gabriel German Zakharyayev, facilitated the incorporation of this special day in our calendar.”

The Day of Liberation and Rescue is an initiative of Mr Gabriel German Zakharyayev, vice-president of the Russian Jewish Congress and president of the International Charity Foundation of Mountain Jews, STMEGI: “The Jewish nation has the longest and most powerful  memory, and the degree of gratitude is one of the most fundamental importance to them. Thank G-d, each year more and more communities of Israel incorporate this idea into their activities and I will do all that I can to assimilate our obligation to thank and praise G-d and to remember His messengers, through acts of charity, the purchase of Torah scrolls, and studying Mishna the way it has been passed down to us from generation to generation.”

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel