Grapevine December 26, 2021: Laboring to prove his clout

Movers and shakers in Israeli society

 BENNY GANTZ (photo credit: KEN CEDENO/REUTERS)
BENNY GANTZ
(photo credit: KEN CEDENO/REUTERS)

It seems Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who despite serious opposition was able to push through the appointment of former Labor Party leader, defense minister and secretary-general of the Histadrut labor federation Amir Peretz as chairman of the Board of Directors of Israel Aerospace Industries, is now all set to find jobs for former Labor MKs.

Peretz endured a lot of humiliation along the way, and contrary to his character, remained mostly silent. Gantz is currently trying to secure a directorship for Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin at the government-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which specializes in advanced defense systems. Since leaving the Knesset, where she made even more noise than Peretz, the effervescent Nahmias-Verbin was appointed a vice president of the Manufacturers Association, and in November made history by becoming the first female chair of the Israel Export Institute. She has also been active in other spheres, but appears ready to add to her load.

Her personality is such that even if she encounters opposition at Rafael, she will win over her detractors.

After being rejected on the grounds that his qualifications were inadequate, Peretz was eventually approved on December 6, and chances are high that Nahmias-Verbin will also gain approval.

Meanwhile, Peretz has returned to his roots and was seen hobnobbing with heads of IAI workers’ committees – and not on the premises of IAI.

 AMIR PERETZ (credit: GIL COHEN MAGEN/REUTERS) AMIR PERETZ (credit: GIL COHEN MAGEN/REUTERS)

■ WHO WOULD imagine that almost 77 years after the end of the Second World War, Yad Vashem would still be conferring the title of Righteous Among the Nations on people who selflessly risked their lives and those of their families in order to save Jews?

But it is happening and will continue to happen according to Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan, who in an interview on Israel Radio this week following a ceremony posthumously honoring Phillip and Anna Bogush of Belarus, said every time he reads the data on such selfless people, tears come to his eyes. There is one problem, in that rescuers cannot receive the title if they received remuneration of any kind for whatever they did. Their actions had to be completely altruistic, said Dayan.

Of course, this is frustrating to many Holocaust survivors and their families because they want to acknowledge and reward the people to whom they owe their lives, but Yad Vashem’s rules are inflexible. Sometimes survivors were saved by people who had almost nothing themselves, while some of the Jews fleeing the Nazis had sewn money and jewelry into the lining of their coats and jackets and were more than willing to make part of this treasure available to their rescuers so that they could buy provisions.

Some people in this kind of situation have been nominating their rescuers for years, with no progress.

Be that as it may, last week Yad Vashem honored the Bogushes, who risked their lives to save a Jewish soldier serving in the Red Army who was injured during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.

Their granddaughter Elena Kimbarovskaia, who lives in Israel, accepted the medal and certificate on behalf of her late grandparents. Also in attendance were Belarus Ambassador to Israel Evgeny Semenovich Vorobyev, members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, family members, Dayan and Dr. Joel Zisenwine, director of Yad Vashem’s Department of the Righteous Among the Nations. The names of Philipp and Anna Bogush were added to the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. The Bogush family lived in the village of Negnichi in the Korelichi district of the Grodno region of Belarus.

In late June 1941, shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, while heavy fighting continued on the front between German and Red Army soldiers, a group of Soviet soldiers entered the village one night, carrying a seriously wounded fellow soldier.

As the Red Army was beginning to retreat eastward, the injured soldier was unable to keep pace with his comrades-in-arms who left him at the entrance to the Bogush family’s home.

Shocked at the discovery of the soldier at the door of their house, the couple immediately brought him inside, heated water, removed his blood-soaked military uniform, bathed him and treated his injuries. The wounded soldier introduced himself as Boris Byvalyi, a Kyiv-born Jew who served as the battalion commissar until he sustained his injuries.

The presence of Byvalyi, a Jew and a Communist with an ideological role in the Soviet army, endangered not only the lives of the couple, but also those of their young children, Misha and Shura. Disregarding this great threat, they hid, fed and cared for Byvalyi for several days and nights, until he regained his strength. While the injury to his knee was only superficial and began to heal, the wound on Byvalyi’s hand became infected and there was a fear that without proper medical intervention, necrosis could set in.

A few weeks later, in mid-July, Philipp Bogush took Byvalyi, dressed in peasant clothes, to the hospital in the nearby town of Stolbtsy. They had buried Byvalyi’s documents, including an identity card and a Communist Party membership card. As they parted at the hospital, the two wished each other well with the hope that the other would survive the war.

The Bogush family home was destroyed during the German retreat in the summer of 1944. Immediately after liberation by the Soviets, Philipp Bogush was drafted into the Red Army. He did not have a chance to meet Byvalyi again. When Byvalyi returned to the village in 1945 to thank his rescuers and to retrieve the documents he had buried, he found Anna Bogush and her children, who gave him Philipp’s military mailing address. The two soldiers remained in touch through letters. Byvalyi offered Philipp to move with his family to Byvalyi’s hometown of Kyiv, where he had the opportunity to help the Bogushes financially, but Philipp chose to stay in Negnichi, where he was born and raised.

In the 1970s, correspondence with the survivor was renewed at the initiative of Michael, Philipp and Anna’s grandson. Boris Byvalyi still lived in Kyiv. He was a widower, suffering from health problems and was unable to accept the Bogush family’s invitation to visit them.

On November 26, 2020, Yad Vashem recognized Philipp and Anna Bogush as Righteous Among the Nations.

To date, Yad Vashem has recognized 28,000 Righteous Among the Nations from more than 50 nations worldwide.

■ IN OTHER Yad Vashem news, its International Institute for Holocaust Research awarded the prestigious international Book Prize for Holocaust Research in memory of Benny and Tilly Joffe to Prof. Eliyana R. Adler of Pennsylvania State University and Dr. Leon Saltiel of the University of Macedonia for their research in the field of Holocaust Remembrance.

Adler’s book Survival on the Margins: Polish Jewish Refugees in the Wartime Soviet Union was published by Harvard University Press, 2020;and Saltiel’s book The Holocaust in Thessaloniki: Reactions to the Anti-Jewish Persecution, 1942–1943 was published by Routledge in 2020.

There were other books relating to Austria and Germany, which the judges considered to be of great significance, but the two winning books were just that much more so.

For the past 11 years, the prize has been awarded to scholars and historians who have written important research on the subject of the Holocaust.

The winners were selected by an international panel of judges headed by Prof. Dan Michman.

“Prof. Adler’s book is the first to provide an in-depth study of how Polish-Jewish refugees survived the war in the Soviet Union, and tells their story from a personal perspective,” explains Michman.

Saltiel’s book makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the Holocaust in Thessaloniki in particular and in Greece on a broader level. “The book examines the attitudes and actions of authorities of the Church; the courts and the local university; of professional associations; of the Red Cross representative; and of the Jews themselves – local Thessaloniki ones and Jews in Athens. After the methodological introduction, Saltiel opens the narrative with a description of the destruction of the Jewish cemetery, which was an act of dehumanizing the dead in general, but was more symbolically an act of erasing the memory of Jewish presence in a central site in the city,” states Michman.

Saltiel, a native son of Thessaloniki, is the World Jewish Congress representative in Geneva to the United Nations and UNESCO and the coordinator on countering antisemitism.

More than 90% of Thessaloniki’s community of 50,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis.

Saltiel’s research continues to resonate both in Greece and across Europe.

At the award ceremony at Yad Vashem, Saltiel commented that Greece has recently seen “a reversal of public attitudes vis-à-vis its Jewish community, and the legacy of the Holocaust.”

Relating to antisemitism in general, he said: “Although antisemitism regrettably remains a problem in public perceptions, Jewish history slowly comes to the fore, where the government, local authorities, the media and educational institutions openly speak about the past, and even recognize some of these injustices,” Saltiel was hopeful this willingness to study and commemorate the dark past will continue for decades to come.

His archival research in 10 countries uncovered historical information that is not openly discussed, he said. Growing up as a third generation survivor in Thessaloniki , and removed from the Holocaust,” this silence was palpable,” he recalled.

[email protected]