The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) will hold, for the 17th consecutive year, a unique joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony on Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah, Thursday, May 2nd). This is the only event dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. Jerusalem-area schools and pre-army preparatory academies will attend the ceremony together with Jewish rescuers and survivors, and the Border Patrol will provide an honor guard. The ceremony will take place at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza at 10:00 a.m. Israel time.
This year’s ceremony will be dedicated to rescue efforts undertaken by the Jewish Defense Committee (CDJ). Speakers in the ceremony will be: Mr. Danny Atar, world chairman, Jewish National Fund; Dr. Haim V. Katz, chairman of the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem; Brigadier General Yehuda Yehoshua, commander of the Border Guard Combat Training Center; H.E. Olivier Belle, ambassador of Belgium to Israel; and Michel Werber, son of CDJ founding members Abusz and Shifra Werber.
The Jewish Defense Committee in Belgium was founded in September 1942 in reaction to the start of the deportation of Jews by the Gestapo in August 1942 in Brussels and Antwerp. The goal of the CDJ was to operate clandestinely to save as many Jews as possible. The CDJ united Jews from a broad ideological spectrum (including communists, revisionists, General Zionists, members of “Left Zion Workers”, “Zionist Youth”) and from different swathes of society (among them Belgian citizens and foreigners, secular and religious Jews and even some non-Jews, such as the teacher Andree Geulen) to engage in joint rescue operations. The CDJ urged Jews to disregard the orders of the local Judenrat – the AJB – and go underground instead, and also endeavored to win the support of the general public for persecuted Jews. Some of the CDJ members held positions in the AJB and secretly passed on vital information to foil the German’s nefarious plans.
The committee managed to rescue 3,000-4,000 Jewish children – half of all the Jewish children who survived the Holocaust in Belgium – and provided life-saving assistance to 10,000 adults, including hiding places and forged documents. This activity endangered the lives of the CDJ members; some of them were captured, tortured and deported to concentration camps. Some did not survive. The CDJ operated as an adjunct of the “Independence Front” – the most significant resistance organization, founded in Belgium in March 1941, that united 17 different ideological and religious groups lead by the Communist Party in response to the German invasion of the USSR. At the time of the German invasion of Belgium – May 10, 1940 – 66,000 Jews lived in the country, of whom only 10 percent were Belgian citizens; 34,801 were arrested during the Holocaust (among them 5,092 children under the age of 16); 28,902 were murdered – 44 percent of the entire Jewish population in Belgium; 24,906 were imprisoned – usually for several days – at the transfer camp Mechelen-Malines and deported from there on 28 transports to Auschwitz beginning in summer 1942. Only 1,337 survived the camps.
The number of CDJ members reached 300. It operated an impressive administrative network to handle finance, forged papers and food coupons, clandestine press and concealment of children and adults. The department for forged papers was so successful that it also provided papers for non-Jews trying to avoid forced labor. The principal feature of CDJ – cooperation between groups across the ideological and political spectrum – was the basis of an organization unique in Western Europe. The main chapter of the committee was in Brussels. Other chapters were in Charleroi and Liege. In Antwerp, the committee was founded in 1943, when three independent groups started to collaborate. 55 percent of Belgian Jews survived thanks to the swift response of individuals who went underground independently, to the heroic operation of members of the CDJ and to the support of the local Belgian society at large, including many clergy. It should be noted that Jews also operated outside the CDJ in various resistance organizations in smuggling, intelligence, sabotage and clandestine press. The unequivocal conclusion resulting from the events in Belgium during the war is that passivity of the Jews facing the horrors of the Holocaust is a myth.
During the ceremony, the “Jewish Rescuers Citation” will be conferred on 11 leading members of the CDJ and four other rescuers who were active in Poland: David Ferdman, Hertz Jospa, Hava Jospa, Abraham Manaster, Chaim Pinkus Perelman, Fela Perelman, David Trocki-Muscnicki, Paulina Avstritski, Trocki-Muscnicki, Josef Sterngold, Abusz Werber, Shifra Werber and Shraga Dgani, Miriam-Mania Zeidman, Yaacov Segalchik, and Bela Yaari-Hazan. Since the establishment of the Jewish Rescuers Citation in 2011, nearly 270 heroes have been honored for rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Italy, Holland and Belgium.
The B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest is the largest joint B’nai B’rith and KKL-JNF project, which memorializes the victims of the Holocaust with 6 million trees planted in the picturesque Jerusalem mountains near Moshav Kesalon. At the pinnacle of the forest stands the “Scroll of Fire,” created by renowned sculptor Nathan Rapoport, which invokes the destruction of the Jewish people in the Holocaust and their redemption in the State of Israel. The event will commence with personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors to classes of soldiers and students.
The phenomena of Jewish rescue and the instructive stories of thousands of Jews who labored to save their endangered brethren throughout Europe have yet to receive appropriate public recognition and resonance. Many who could have tried to flee preferred to stay and rescue others; some paid for it with their lives. With great heroism, Jews in every country in occupied Europe employed subterfuge, forgery, smuggling, concealment and other methods to ensure that Jews survived the Holocaust, or assisted them in escaping to safe havens, and in doing so foiled the Nazi goal of total genocide against the Jews. The organizers of the ceremony view it as especially important to expose Jewish youth to these narratives as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage.
09:00-09:30 a.m. Personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors to soldiers in the Forest
09:45 a.m. Coalesce in “Scroll of Fire” Plaza
10:00 a.m. Siren peal and ceremony commencement
11:00 a.m. Ceremony conclusion
11:00-11:30 a.m. Personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors to students in the Forest
For interviews and more details, please contact: B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider at 052-5536441 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Golan Yosiffun 052-4625135.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit www.bnaibrith.org