Today, on Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, the B’nai B’rith World Center and Keren Kayemet Le’Israel-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) held for the 16th consecutive year a unique joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony. This is the only event dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. The ceremony took place at the Martyrs’ Forest – Scroll of Fire Monument with some 1,000 people in attendance including IDF Border Police cadets who provided an honor guard, high school students from Jerusalem and the surrounding area, pre-army preparatory academy students, survivors and rescuers. The ceremony was dedicated to recognizing the heroism of the members of the Jewish French Resistance in saving fellow Jews during the Nazi occupation of France.
Among those taking part in the ceremony were Jewish rescuer Fanny Ben-Ami, whose autobiography was adapted into the movie “Fanny’s Journey” (2017); Head of Mission of the French Embassy in Israel Frederik Rogge; Tsilla Hershco, senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University and author of the book “Those Who Walk in Darkness will See Light: The Jewish French Resistance during the Holocaust and the Creation of Israel, 1940-1949;” KKL-JNF Director of Human Resources Division Eli Achi Mordechai; Director of the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Alan Schneider and Chairman Haim Katz. During the ceremony, a Jewish Rescuer’s Citation was conferred by the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust (JRJ) to Ben-Ami and in honor of other rescuers who risked their lives to save fellow Jews.
Ben-Ami moved the audience when she said she is sharing her citation with the group of children she led during their escape from France to Switzerland. She also told the audience to “Travel the world and take in new cultures, and learn, but build your lives and families here and only here in Israel. Because when things will go bad in the Diaspora you’ll be thrown out. Israel will always be the only safe place for you.”
Moshe Yogev, member of the KKL-JNF Board of Directors, said: “Fanny Ben-Ami, who sits here today, reluctantly became a hero while she was still a child when she bravely led her friends, through unimaginable dangers, from occupied France to the safe haven of Switzerland. Like previous years, today we honor many Jewish rescuers like her, members of the French Jewish resistance and rescuers from additional countries who, instead of looking out for only themselves and their families, chose to risk their lives to save their brethren from the inferno. These life-saving acts are a source of pride and inspiration for us all, and especially to the younger generation: this is the ideal example of human and Jewish solidarity and, following the important value of ‘All of Israel are responsible for one another’..”
Head of Mission of the French Embassy in Israel Frederik Rogge, spoke on behalf of the French ambassador: “It is an honor for me to be here today on the occasion of Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Day. We are here to recall the utmost tragedy that led to the suffering and murder of six million Jews in Europe — men, women and children. In France, as in many other countries in Europe, the Nazis were responsible for this tragedy. But they had accomplices — the French authorities — the Vichy government helped them in the deportation of around 76,000 Jews, nearly a quarter of the Jewish population of France at that time. This responsibility of our own government was recognized by former President Jacques Chirac.”
Rogge also added: “We are also here to recall the heroism of those who rose against barbarism and inhumanity. Those who saved Jews from the Holocaust — sometimes at the cost of their own life. Many of them were also Jews. In France, where the Jewish population at the start of the war accounted for less than one percent of the total population, we estimate that 10 percent to 20 percent of the members of the Resistance were Jews. We should particularly commend the actions of Jewish Resistance groups such as the Jewish Scouts (EIF), the Jewish Army (AJ), the Organization of Assistance for Children (OSE) and the Movement of the Zionist Youth (MJS). They rescued thousands of adults and children by providing them with hiding places or forged papers, and organized convoys to Switzerland and Spain. They also formed guerrilla organizations in the main cities of France and in the mountains. The Jewish Resistance groups often were the driving force behind the activities of the French Righteous Gentiles. They helped together to protect and rescue three-quarter of the French Jewish population who eventually survived the Holocaust. Let’s praise their courage and honor their memory.”
Hershco served as the principle source for identifying the recipients of the Jewish Rescuers Citation from among members of the Jewish Resistance in France. She told the audience that “The Jewish French Resistance was a unique phenomenon in the history of the Jewish struggle against the Nazi persecutors. From its inception in June 1940, members of the Jewish Resistance took organized and intensive action throughout the war years to rescue tens of thousands of Jews in cooperation with Righteous Among the Nations. Members of the Jewish Resistance took part in the battles to free France until the final defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945. Members of the Jewish Resistance endangered themselves even though they could have lived in relative safety due to false document[s] they held. They paid a dear price: 200 of their members were killed in the line of duty. Many other[s] were caught, tortured and survived. True to their Zionist convictions, many of them joined the war effort to establish the State of Israel.”
B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Chairman Haim Katz, said that, “To date, the Jewish Rescuer Citation has been awarded to about 200 rescuers who acted in France, Hungary, Greece, Germany, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Italy and Holland, Austria, Belarus, Lithuania — in order to recognize the heroism of the Jewish rescuers during the Holocaust.
This year, the ceremony was dedicated to the rescue efforts of the Jewish Resistance in France that operated from the occupation of France in June 1940 until the defeat of German forces there in September 1944. Each of the networks was established as an independent entity, but collaborated in various activities and often shared members. These networks saved the lives of thousands of adults and children, employing various methods such as issuing false documentations, smuggling Jews to Switzerland and Spain and formulating guerrilla groups in the cities and partisans groups in the south of France. These networks united under one umbrella organization — Organisation Juive de Combat-OJC.
After the war many of the members of the Jewish resistance in France contributed to the creation of the State of Israel. They joined the Haganah, helped develop a foundation for Israeli diplomatic activities in France, facilitated the illegal immigration to Israel, purchased weapons for what would become the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), engaged in clandestine radio transmission between Europe and pre-state Israel, created connections with the French government and arranged for military recruitment and training for the IDF in France. Many members made aliyah and participated in the War of Independence.
The Martyr’s Forest is the largest joint B’nai B’rith and KKL-JNF project, which memorializes the victims of the Holocaust with six 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 began with personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors to classes of soldiers and students.