December 9, 2023
December 9, 2023

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Should We Not Single Out ‘Jews Who Saved Jews’ at Yad Vashem?

Regarding the letter “Jewish Solidarity Has Always Been an Integral Component of Yad Vashem” (August 24, 2017) by Iris Rosenberg, Yad Vashem’s communications director, in response to the article about my book, “Mordecai Paldiel Emphasizes the Importance of Honoring One’s Own” (August 3, 2017): I found very surprising, if not troubling, the statement by the Yad Vashem spokesperson that “recognizing individual Jews who saved fellow Jews is potentially dangerous,” and the explanation that it would be “emotionally damaging and judgmental” toward the majority of Jews for not being honored as rescuers. Let us be clear on this point, that in honoring Jewish rescuers we have in mind persons who went above and beyond the call of duty and rescued not merely a single Jew (as this criterion applies toward the Righteous Gentiles) but many more Jews, running into the dozens, hundreds and even thousands.

To apply Yad Vashem’s argument in other areas where honoring is bestowed for courageous acts, it would lead to the cancelling of any such honoring. Would, for instance, Yad Vashem urge the Israeli Army to annul any honoring of Jewish soldiers for great bravery on the field of battle, since this (applying Yad Vashem’s logic) would demean and castigate all other soldiers not being bestowed with such an honor? Obviously, such an approach would justifiably be rejected out of hand. Similarly, with major Jewish rescuers. Honoring, for instance, the martyred Jewish rescuer Walter Suskind for saving some 1,000 Jews by orchestrating their escape from their place of detention in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, would not cast any aspersions on other Dutch Jews who were not in a position to be able to help out their fellow brethren.

As to the argument that books and articles have been and continue to be written on Jewish rescuers, and no further symbolic representation is needed—it fails to recognize that more symbolic representation needs to be added for the stories of these courageous Jews to become part of the collective memory of the Jewish people. That is why Israeli leaders realized that it was not sufficient to write books on Herzl, Weizmann, Jabotinsky, Kook and a host of other Zionist luminaries, but streets, roadways, parks (including the naming of the Ben Gurion airport), and various institutions needed to be named after them for the public at large to take pride in these persons.

Hopefully, Yad Vashem will awaken to the realization that more needs to be done than merely collect archives and publish books on Jewish rescuers. A symbolic garden or other monumental representation inside the Yad Vashem compound needs to be created—similar to the Avenue and the Garden of the non-Jewish rescuers—for the story of major Jewish rescuers to have the proper impact, far and wide.

Mordechai Paldiel

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