Grapevine April 2, 2021: To whom does history belong?

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

ALBERT STANKOWSKI, director of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, and Monika Krawczyk, director of the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. (photo credit: GREGORZ KWOLEK – JHI)
ALBERT STANKOWSKI, director of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, and Monika Krawczyk, director of the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
(photo credit: GREGORZ KWOLEK – JHI)
 ■ SOME PEOPLE who are not necessarily historians think that they own the right to history because their relatives or ancestors were involved in a specific part of it. That’s what’s been happening with the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, due to open in 2023. The museum’s curators and governing body have been attacked by the offspring of Warsaw Ghetto survivors who are claiming the right to define the museum’s vision and content, and who have accused the people working for the museum of following plans drawn up by Polish experts. The museum’s director Albert Stankowski notes the accusers overlooked the fact that the Warsaw Ghetto Museum (WGM) is already overseen by an international board comprised of survivors, as well as sons and grandsons of survivors and victims. Such people are also included in the curation team at the museum.
Moreover, the WGM is a state institution of culture established in March 2018 by the Minister of Culture, National Heritage and Sports. It is an institution in process of organization, whose aim is to disseminate knowledge about the history of the Warsaw Ghetto and other ghettos established by the Germans during World War II throughout occupied Poland. The permanent exhibition of the WGM will be located in the historic building of the former Bersohn and Bauman Hospital for Children. The museum is currently running a “We Collect, Build, Remember” campaign, the aim of which is to acquire objects for its permanent exhibition. The WGM cooperates, inter alia, with the Treblinka Museum, the Warsaw Rising [Uprising] Museum, the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland, the State Museum at Majdanek, the Institute of National Remembrance and The Nissenbaum Family Foundation.
Just before mid-March, Stankowski signed an additional cooperation agreement with Monika Krawczyk – director of the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, which is one of the world’s most important research and development institutions dealing with the history of Jews. The JHI’s most valued treasures are the precious underground archives directed during the Second World War by Emanuel Ringelblum.
The Ringelblum Archives is part of the UNESCO Memory of the World and has been listed as a World Heritage Monument.
Both Krawczyk and Stankowski have long histories of working for and with Jewish organizations in Poland and abroad on matters related to Polish-Jewish relations and the preservation of Jewish history in Poland, particularly during the period of the Holocaust. Commenting on the civil lawsuit recently filed against Prof. Barbara Engelking and Prof. Jan Grabowski, Stankowski stated that the Warsaw Ghetto Museum regrets that the debate which should take place in academic publications and as part of broadly understood academic activity, ended in the courtroom.
■ WILL SOUTH Korea step in to cover Israel’s lacuna? The question may seem facetious, but if you asked Young Sam Ma, a former Korean ambassador to Israel, he would certainly lobby for a monument to Sharett to be placed in a very public place where the maximum number of people could see it.
Despite the milestone anniversaries that will be commemorated this year, it would be safe to say that Israelis generally lack a sufficient appreciation of history.
Yaakov Sharett, the son of Israel’s first foreign minister and second prime minister, Moshe Sharett (1894-1965) – a signatory to the Declaration of Independence – laments the absence of a heritage house in memory of his father. Some years ago, Sharett even had trouble publishing a book about his father because no Israeli publisher was interested, despite that Moshe Sharett was a prominent member of the government during a turbulent political period.
In June 2010, Ma – then the Korean ambassador to Israel – marked the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War by presenting medals to veterans of the US forces who fought in it and who had come to live in Israel.
Ma thanked soldiers of 16 countries – especially those from the US – who had shed blood in the Korean War and also thanked those countries that, though not actively participating in the war, had sent humanitarian aid. Israel was included among the latter.
But according to Ma, the most “spectacular contribution” of all to the UN resolution on ending the war was by Israeli representatives Moshe Sharett and Gideon Rafael, who conceived constructive ideas toward the formulation of a statement of principles that was adopted by the UN in 1951.
It was natural for Ma to include Yaakov Sharett to the reception marking the start of the Korean War and acknowledging publicly his father’s contribution to the cessation of fighting and bloodshed.
If Israel does not enjoy popularity in the UN today, it was even worse in the nascent period of the state. It was known that anything proposed by Israel would be rejected, so the ideas were passed on to another delegation that was sympathetic to Israel, and that delegation received the credit, although the Koreans were well aware of the Israeli source for the diplomatic breakthrough.
One suspects that in a quiz on general history of modern Israel, few people today would know anything about Gideon Rafael who – along with Sharett and Abba Eban – was among the pioneers of Israel’s diplomatic corps. The Berlin-born Rafael smuggled illegal immigrants into British Mandate-ruled Palestine in 1939, and in 1940 conducted failed clandestine negotiations with Adolph Eichmann to save 40,000 German Jews. He was a member of the Hagana and later the British Army.
He also worked with British intelligence collecting material against Nazi war criminals. A lawyer by training, he helped prepare the Jewish case for the Nuremberg Trials.
As part of the Jewish Agency team that lobbied at the UN for the resolution that paved the way to Israel’s statehood, he helped Sharett in setting up the Foreign Ministry. Rafael later served in several ambassadorial positions and conducted secret negotiations with officials from Arab countries at various times. He died in Jerusalem in 1999.
Writing in 2010 in the Israel Journal on Foreign Affairs, Ma recalled the role played by Moshe Sharett in bring the war to an end.
“Diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Republic of Korea were established in 1962,” he wrote. “Most people consider this the starting point pf South Korea-Israeli relations, but history tells a different story. Although it is not widely known, substantive ties between the two countries began a dozen years earlier. The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, brought about a great change in Israeli foreign policy. The non-identification policy was abandoned and replaced with a new approach that located Israel on the side of the US as well as the UN in the midst of the Cold War confrontation.
“In the same context, Israel was busy considering what action it could take to support South Korea. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion even suggested that IDF soldiers be dispatched. Instead, the Israeli government ultimately decided to send medical supplies and food items worth some $100,000. This was very valuable and meaningful help to the South Korean people. It was an enormous burden to the Israeli people as well, because it was only two years after the birth of the state, following an exhausting war for independence, and the country was in a period of austerity.
“In the international community and in the UN in particular, the Israeli delegation was playing an increasingly important role in dealing with Korean War issues. Israeli diplomats brought in new ideas on how to end the conflict. Encouraged by the UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie, the Israeli delegation played a leading role in formulating and passing a statement of principles and a resolution based on these ideas. They were adopted in the first committee of the UN General Assembly in January 1951, though Israel had to renounce its authorship and another delegation received the credit for it.
“In fact, this constituted the first substantial resolution the Israeli delegation initiated at the UN.”
Moshe Sharett emerged from the dust of history this week in a KAN 11 series on forgotten prime ministers. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to maintain public broadcasting.
Commercial television channels which focus more on reality shows would be unlikely to produce such a program because it would not have sufficient popular appeal, and therefore would not attract advertisers.
Also appearing in the series was Yitzhak Shamir (1915-2012) whose son and daughter presented his archives to the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, because Shamir – like Sharett – has not been honored with a heritage center. Let’s be honest, even the Begin Center would not exist without the initiative and perseverance of the late Harry Horowitz.
Although there have been a few institutions named for Sharett and Shamir, retired diplomat Avi Pazner who was a senior adviser to Shamir, is angry that no street in Jerusalem or in Tel Aviv has been named for the former prime minister.
Apropos Ma, during the FIFA World Cup in 2010, he rooted for North Korea.
“These are our brothers,” he explained. “We may not like their leaders, but we have nothing against the people of North Korea.”