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B’nai B’rith World Center director Alan Schneider opened a seminar on the rescue of Jews by Jews during the Holocaust held on March 15 by Yad Vashem – Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority. The seminar signaled the launch of a new Yad Vashem book entitled “Jews Rescuing Jews in the Holocaust”. 

The 467-page Hebrew-language anthology, that includes 36 accounts of rescue of Jews by fellow Jews as illustrations of thousands of known stories of Jewish self-rescue, was edited by Yad Vashem historian Dr. Avraham Milgram. Milgram classified the stories into ten descriptive chapters including “Rescue under false Arian identify”, “Extrication of Jews from Ghettos”, “Rescue in the Camps”, “Rescue of Children” etc. and prefaced each chapter with an introductory essay. 

The publication of the book – the first dedicated entirely to various means and circumstances under which Jews tried, and in many cases succeeded, in rescuing fellow Jews from murder at the hands of the Germans and their collaborators – had been urged by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers in the Holocaust that Schneider helped found in 2001 and that has since engaged in numerous activities to promote public awareness of the phenomenon of Jewish rescue. 

In his opening statement, Schneider termed the publication of the book “nothing less than a watershed in Holocaust research and raises for the first time Jewish self-rescue to a level of an independent academic field of research.” 

With Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, in attendance, Schneider asked the Authority to reconsider some of the proposals the Committee had made over time to bring the phenomenon of Jewish self-rescue to a wider audience and to make up for lost decades during which other Holocaust-related topics received greater attention. 

“The time has arrived for these stories – that represent the most lofty realization of the age-old Jewish principles ‘Every Jew is responsible for the other’ and ‘You shall not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor’ – to reach the general public in Israel and the world” Schneider said. Dr. Bella Gutterman, former director of Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research who oversaw work on the book in its initial stages, seconded Schneider’s appeal that the book be translated into English for the benefit of a much wider audience. 

Avner Shalev said that the book proved that Jewish solidarity did not cease during the Holocaust as some researchers argue and that its publication would encourage more research on the topic of Jewish self-rescue efforts. 

Other speakers at the seminar included Irena Steinfeldt, Director, Department of the Righteous, Prof. Dan Michman, Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem and Jewish rescuer David Gur.