Yad Vashem and the Haredim

Even Yad Vashem would admit that Haredim represented more than two percent of the total number of Holocaust survivors. Why won’t the museum’s exhibits reflect that fact?

Haredi at Yad Vashem_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
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 it.
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 further.”
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 rabbinic leaders.
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?
My purpose 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.
The 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 public speaker.