The Times of Israel: How Artist Beat ‘Foolproof’ Nazi System to Forge Dutch ID Papers, Save 350 Lives
The Times of Israel cited the awarding of the "Jewish Rescuers' Citation" by B'nai B'rith International to Alice Cohn, a Jewish artist whose fake ID cards saved hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust.
During the years in which 102,000 Dutch Jews were murdered by the Nazis, a German-born Jewish artist helped rescue hundreds of children from the clutches of genocide.
As an expert forger of identity papers, Alice Cohn worked with a Utrecht-based resistance group while in hiding. Their production of so-called “wild papers,” including ID and ration cards, saved up to 350 Jewish children from the Nazis. During the war’s final year, Cohn’s handiwork helped prevent young Dutch men from being sent to Germany as forced laborers.
Cohn’s story and the saga of Dutch identity cards during World War II are currently on display at the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam. The temporary exhibit opened in October, and is based on items from the personal archive of Cohn, who died in 2000.
According to the museum, one motivation for highlighting Cohn’s efforts was to help correct the “prevailing, but incorrect, image that Dutch Jews had a passive role during the war.” During the Holocaust, 102,000 Dutch Jews — the majority of the community — were murdered at Nazi-built death camps and elsewhere in the Reich.
Born in Breslau in 1914, Cohn studied cabinet-making until the Nazis came to power in 1933. When Jewish students were banned from taking exams or submitting final projects, she moved to Berlin for a year of school in graphic arts. The situation for German Jews continued to deteriorate, so Cohn fled to the Netherlands in search of a secure future.
Settling in Amsterdam on a student visa, Cohn learned Dutch and received commissions to design cinema posters. On the eve of the war, she was creating children’s toys. Unbeknownst to the new Dutch citizen, the Nazis were about to catch up with her.
Of all the countries occupied by Germany during World War II, the Netherlands had the most robust pre-war population registry. The system’s success was attributed to Jacob Lentz, a Dutch official who created the so-called “fool-proof” personal identity card. During the Nazi occupation, Lentz refined his system to help authorities issue new cards throughout the country.
In addition to a high-tech design and use of the bearer’s fingerprints, Dutch identity cards were backed up in a central registry. This made it possible to confirm whether or not a suspicious-looking ID had been forged. At the exhibit on Alice Cohn’s life, she is contrasted with the population-counting expert Lentz. While Cohn used her artistic skills to help save lives, Lentz — conjuring “the banality of evil” — deployed his organizational skills to implement the Nazis’ agenda.
Beginning in 1941, all Dutch men and women were ordered to carry ID cards with them. For Jews, a large black “J,” for Jew, was stamped on both sides of the card. By the summer of 1942, authorities began using the registry to arrest and deport Jews from the Netherlands. Suddenly, the demand for altered or completely falsified identification exploded, including the need to crack Lentz’s “hermetic” system.
Before she went into hiding, Cohn found a position with Amsterdam’s Jewish Council as a doctor’s assistant. With the job providing her a nominal degree of freedom, she was able to smuggle a Jewish child — 3-year-old Lonnie Lesser — out of a building where Jews were incarcerated prior to deportation. After seeing the child safely into hiding, Cohn made her own way to a “safe” address in Utrecht, south of Amsterdam.
'The Utrecht Children's Committee'
During two years of hiding in an attic near Utrecht’s Wilhelmina Park, Cohn accomplished what had been deemed impossible: She forged identity cards able to withstand scrutiny.
The tools she used — test cards, knives, a notebook to practice signatures in — are on display at the National Holocaust Museum, along with head-shots and other artifacts used by the Dutch population registry.
According to the museum, Cohn and her group of co-resisters, called “The Utrecht Children’s Committee,” managed to save 350 children from deportation and murder. The group also forged ration coupons needed by “underground” people in hiding to obtain food. During the last year of the war, many new “wild papers” were needed to help young Dutch men evade forced labor in Germany.
After liberation, Cohn learned that all of her relatives from Breslau had been murdered, including her parents. Like other Jews among the Netherlands’ surviving remnant, she had to build a new life from scratch.
As fate had it, Cohn began obtaining fabrics from a Lichtenstein-based merchant named Rudolf Bermann. The materials he provided helped her create, for instance, puppets with grimacing faces and vibrant costumes, some of which are on display in the exhibit. What began as an exchange of fabrics blossomed into love, and, in 1947, Cohn left the Netherlands to join Bermann as his wife in Lichtenstein.
Two months ago, some 17 years after Cohn died at age 85 in Lichtenstein, she was posthumously awarded the “Jewish Rescuers’ Citation” for Jews who helped save fellow Jews during the Shoah. Cohn’s daughter and son, Evelyne Bermann and Michael Bermann, were presented with the honor during the Amsterdam opening of the exhibit on their mother’s life. So far, 171 women and men from eight countries have been honored by Jewish organization B’nai B’rith in this capacity.
“There are many people who were able to escape deportation through fake identity cards,” said exhibit curator Annemiek Gringold. “The people who had the skills and the courage to carry out this vital work remain largely unknown until today.”
Click here to learn more about our Jewish Rescuers' Citation.
The Times of Israel quoted Alan Schneider, Director of B'nai B'rith World Center-Jerusalem, in an article about Jewish rescuers of other Jews during Nazi-era Germany.
Schneider noted, "The stories of the Jewish rescuers during the Holocaust--people who endangered their lives and performed acts of extraordinary courage in attempts, many of them successful, to save the lives of endangered Jews--are a shining example of Jewish and human solidarity under the most dangerous conditions."
B'nai B'rith International has awarded 196 individuals with Jewish Rescuers' Citations in acknowledgment of their service saving Jews' lives during the Holocaust.
Following the bloody month-long Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943, a cable was sent from British Mandate Palestine to occupied Poland’s Jewish Fighting Organization members. It contained the Jewish settlement leaders’ instructions to the Jews of Poland, telling them to “exploit all ways to emigrate,” according to a 2014 article by Prof. Avihu Ronen of Tel Hai College.
This order, writes Ronen, was “construed at the time as an instruction to desist from uprisings.
By many in Nazi-occupied Poland, that order was a bitter to pill to swallow. There is notable historical evidence from an underground leader in the town of Będzin, where ahead of World War II Jews were the majority population, that the underground was dissatisfied with the Palestine-based leadership’s orders. After Germany occupied it in 1939, the Jews there were murdered, persecuted, and by 1942, forced into a ghetto.
After receiving the cable, the town’s Hashomer Hatzair leader, Chajka Klinger, wrote in her diary that the underground there “rejected trying to save themselves in abandonment of the community and of their ideals”; its members stayed but ceased to fight. By war’s end, as it was one of the last towns liquidated in occupied Poland in 1943, a relatively large number of the Będzin Jewish community survived.
The Będzin Jewish underground’s choice of solidarity over the rescue of individual members was just one expression of the dilemmas facing Jewish resistance during WWII. At a symposium at the Jerusalem-based Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center this week, international scholars discussed similarly complicated situations facing Jews in their quest for personal and communal survival.
“It’s clear that in this issue there are many stories of courage and bravery. At the same time, there are complex stories in which not all is black and white. There are a lot of gray areas, which is understandable during this era,” said Dr. David Silberklang, senior historian at Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research at the December 11 symposium.
During his brief lecture slot, Silberklang pointed to the all-too-human challenges facing Jews during World War II and the nuanced approach needed to examine them.
Speaking from a personal perspective, Silberklang said that unlike most other American-born Jews, he was exposed to the complexities behind the idea of Jews saving Jews early: His mother was one of the 1,236 Jews saved by the Jewish partisans led by Tuvia Bielski and his brothers. “I didn’t understand the significance behind it for years,” he said.
But there are lingering rumors about the mistreatment of several of the women in the group, said Silberklang. Additionally, there is evidence that the Bielskis killed Jews who didn’t agree with their leadership and attempted to incite against them.
In an essay about the brothers’ cousin Yehuda Bielski (Bell), his daughter Leslie writes, “The rules of the camp were made and strictly enforced by the three Bielski brothers. For those who broke them, there was a jail. Challenges to the leadership of the brothers were sometimes resolved through the end of the barrel of a gun.”
Nevertheless, the Bielskis are clearly Jewish heroes, said Silberklang.
How Does One Act on a Sinking Ship?
According to Dr. Iael Nidam Orvieto, director of the International Institute for Holocaust Research in Yad Vashem, the extreme situations encountered by most Jews during the Holocaust would seem to be sufficient cause for every Jew to dedicate himself to taking care of his own survival, and perhaps that of his immediate family.
“Because they needed to take care of themselves, the social norms of Jews — mutual assistance — would have been wiped out. But we see the opposite: In spite of what once would normally assume, we see many cases of mutual help and solidarity,” said Orvieto. And on top of that solidarity, “there is also a group of Jews who endangered their lives to help other Jews.”
Yad Vashem has been researching the phenomenon of Jews saving Jews since the 1960s, but more research is still needed in the field, said Orvieto.
The stories of these Jewish heroes are slowly becoming more prominent, in no small part due to the 2008 Hollywood film on the Bielskis, “Defiance.” The initially controversial idea of commemorating Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust has gained steam in the past two decades.
In 2000, B’nai B’rith founded the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust in an effort to research the stories of Jewish rescuers and bring them to audiences in Israel and abroad, according to Alan Schneider, director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem.
Schneider’s center holds an annual ceremony on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day for soldiers, students, rescuers and survivors, “dedicated to the heroism of Jewish rescuers.” It is jointly organized with the Jewish National Fund and has been held at the B’nai B’rith Martyrs Forest since 2002.
Along with the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust, since 2011, B’nai B’rith has awarded a Jewish Rescuers’ Citation to some 196 heroes who operated in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Holland, Italy, Ukraine, Latvia and Austria.
The preservation of these stories is essential, said B’nai B’rith’s Schneider.
“The stories of the Jewish rescuers during the Holocaust – people who endangered their lives and performed acts of extraordinary courage in attempts, many of them successful, to save the lives of endangered Jews – are a shining examples of Jewish and human solidarity under the most dangerous conditions,” said Schneider.
“These are true heroes whose legacy must be preserved for us and future generations, particularly at a time when the Jewish people and the people of Israel will be called upon to act with unity to counter today’s threats,” he said.
But current efforts are not enough, according to Holocaust survivor Haim Roet, a leading voice in encouraging the commemoration of Jewish rescuers who spoke on the issue last year at the United Nations and this week at Yad Vashem. Diaspora Jewry is barely aware of the Jewish rescuers’ bravery, said Roet.
20-20 Vision into a Pitch Black World
A few of the dilemmas facing the Jews at the beginning of the Nazi persecution are difficult to grasp with hindsight.
“To save a Jew, you need to know what they’re being saved from,” Silberklang said. “Several knew they were saving Jews from certain death, but many Jews didn’t know what the Nazis’ plan was. Some believed the propaganda” that said they were being taken for work or relocation alone.
Once it was established that the Nazis were pursuing the Final Solution, the total genocide of the Jewish people, Jews who were still in a position to act were faced with the dilemma of whom exactly to save — and whom to abandon.
When it comes to those Jews who participated in active resistance — armed or not — their activities could have caused collective punishment or murder, said Silberklang. “Even the attempt to save Jews could have caused collective murder; to try or not?” he asked.
In all of these impossible situations, said Orvieto, “For every one individual that was saved, there may have been another — or more — who were not.”
“With the saving, there was also desertion and betrayal,” said Orvieto.
In examining the Jews’ deeds — or misdeeds — it is important, said Silberklang, to remember the war-torn context alongside human frailty.
“We often call people heroes, but they’re not always angels,” said Silberklang.
Tablet discussed the history of B’nai B’rith International as well as its archives in a piece about German Jews who bore witness to the horror of Hitler’s ascension to power in letters to loved ones.
The article describes the formation of B’nai B’rith in Germany in 1882 as a response to the spike in national antipathy toward German Jews. It also includes detailed excerpts these letters from German Jews to loved ones. These documents are part of the B’nai B’rith Archives, now housed at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany on Jan. 30, 1933, he gained the authority to implement his racist ideology toward Germany’s Jews, who then numbered 535,000 out of a general population of 67 million. After the Reichstag (parliament) elections on March 5, the new German government removed the constraints on violence against Jews, and assaults and vicious beatings of Jews in the streets of major German cities by Nazi thugs became commonplace. Within months, the Nazi government issued numerous decrees and regulations that effectively removed Jews from German economic life and the professions, the goal being to force the Jews to leave Germany.
German Jews reacted to these developments with shock and disbelief. Diaries and memoirs record their distress and utter bewilderment. Another primary source is the private letters that German Jews sent to relatives living abroad. These letters express the reactions and emotions of men and women to the horrifying events unfolding around them daily. One rarely used such resource is the letters written by German B’nai B’rith (Sons of the Covenant) members to relatives in the United States. Many of these letters were forwarded to B’nai B’rith’s international headquarters in Cincinnati, where they remain part of the organization’s archives.
Jewish men established the German B’nai B’rith in Berlin 1882 to combat a rising tide of anti-Semitism among the populace and in fraternal organizations. From 1882 onward, most German B’nai B’rith members belonged to business, industry, and the legal and medical professions. In general, B’nai B’rith members represented the most influential element within European Jewish society, and many of the leading personalities in Jewish life were members. At the time of the Berlin lodge’s founding, the largest and wealthiest German Jewish elite lived in Berlin and occupied an important position in the city’s cultural and intellectual life. By 1925, Germany contained 107 B’nai B’rith lodges with over 15,000 members.
While all German Jews reacted to these events with alarm and incredulity, the elite of the community experienced an especially deep dismay, having assumed that their economic and social position and contributions to German life and culture would shield them from danger. B’nai B’rith members came from this class, and many of them wrote personal and emotional letters describing the nightmare they found themselves in to family members living in the United States. The letters movingly express the consternation and terror the writers felt as the world they knew collapsed.
A letter written in April 1933 by an elderly physician to his daughter living in the United States expresses the author’s anguish, disillusionment, and anger at what has befallen him and those in his profession.
Your dear mother owing to bad health is in danger of her life and this is the main reason why I left Berlin as fast as possible. Nothing had happened to me personally up till then … I myself face a complete breakdown of my nerves. I surely could not have managed to keep quiet in case of a controversy. What that would have meant, other doctors have found out with their lives. Now after a few days in Paris where people do not look at you with eyes of hatred, where they are friendly and human, I can breathe again, which I could not do lately at home.
And for that I had to lose my father in the war; for that I had to leave wife and children to risk my life as a volunteer during the war. I had to lose everything and build up after the war an existence so that my family would not suffer hunger. For that I was proud when I was 60 years old to have only few enemies and many friends and to enjoy reputation and esteem – to now end my life as a second-grade citizen. These methods are so much more cruel than anything in anti-Semitism up to now, because they did not kill in one day 13,000, after which the beast would calm down, but now in cold reasoning hundreds of thousands of Jews are being destroyed spiritually, physically, morally and now finally economically. And even if this present storm should subside, it will break out time and again as soon as economic difficulties make Hitler’s success impossible. You cannot allow a big party of untamed youth to shout continuously “perish Jews.” Then Jews simply have to perish. That is what these brutal elements now demand. I bespeak you to destroy this letter because I do not wish to contribute one iota lest Germany’s reputation should be damaged by me. Indeed thanks to my friends and my position, I have not received anything but good from Germany so that I now do not wish to seem ungrateful. But now unfortunately everything is dark. And in this spirit I just wanted to open my sick heart to you to relieve myself. But I ask you to please be careful so that not through you anything may become known. For every attack in foreign countries, reacts in Germany on its Jewish citizens. They alone have to suffer for what others sin. … Finally, be very careful when you write to us because after the inquiry at the American consulate every one of your letters has been opened.
The letter illustrates the extreme caution Jewish letter writers had to exercise when voicing criticism of the government because doing so could cost them their lives. The writer also reminds his daughter to exercise caution in what she writes to him because the Jews were under constant surveillance. He explains that her letters are being opened after he made inquiries at the American embassy. He also mentions the unpleasant truth that German Jews would pay a heavy price for every negative action against Germany instigated by Jews living abroad. This comment reflects the harsh reality that the German government blamed Germany’s Jews for the anti-German rallies and demonstrations undertaken by Jews in other countries. He purposely did not date or sign the letter, and he mailed it from Paris where he was on a trip with his wife because letters mailed outside Germany were not opened, scrutinized, or censored.
On April 2, 1933, the wife of another Berlin physician and B’nai B’rith member wrote to a relative in the United States movingly describing what she witnessed during the April 1 national boycott against Jews in Germany and her reaction and emotions regarding what she saw.
I will try to give you an idea of my experiences of yesterday—Saturday, April 1st….I have had many experiences in my life, but nothing I have ever gone thru can compare with this Nazi boycott in retaliation of “the atrocity propaganda” against Germans. No blood was shed, that is true, but the humiliation to the Jews—the absolute helplessness of their position—the cowardliness of these brutes in carrying out to the last vestage [sic], the most intimate details on orders from above (Goebbels and Goerring [sic])beggars description.
I wanted to see for myself just what was happening and so went down the Kurfurstendam [sic]–a street much like 5th Ave. in N.Y.—very long, block after block of both large and small exclusive shops interspersed by large coffee houses and movies. Here on a Sat. afternoon it is a sort of promenade and window-shopping, but the site that met one’s eyes yesterday! On the large windows of all shops bearing even the semblance of a Jewish name these brown shirts had pasted plain colored posters about 3 feet long bearing the words, “Deutsche Whart Euch—Kauft nicht bei Juden” (Germans beware do not buy from Jews). On office buildings where Jewish lawyers, notaries, or doctors have their small signs … they smeared over the signs of the Jews and pasted smaller placards. “Jews—geht nicht hier” (Jews—do not enter)….
These young devils like a lot of hungry wolves let loose … with buckets filled with red paint and with large paint brushes, rushed from one shop window to another and not satisfied with having put huge posters against the Jews thereon, printed in huge letters at the side of the posters JUDE [underlined in the original]. These were followed by other troops with white paint buckets who hastily painted a large Shield of David [underlined in the original] on the same windows. It was a concerted action, completely organized so that one atrocity followed upon the other. Up and down these devils flew, across the wide streets over to the opposite side while the crowds of people (there was scarcely a Jew to be seen on the streets, they were mostly at home, being afraid to venture out), looked on, some with serious faces—many (and mostly the bourgeois type, the kind of women one could imagine in France during the revolution) grinning and smiling approvingly as though it was a huge joke! Can you imagine my feeling? Large shops and small ones, shops that no one ever knew that they were owned by Jews… lace houses that have been in the same shops for 50 years—coffee houses and fine restaurants. Hundreds and hundreds of stores, delicatessen shops, the finest Berlin has, were all, without exception smeared up in this way. And what a sight! And what deep misery in the wake of this dastardly, cowardly outbreak. On some stores which from the name one would never think owned by Jews they had smeared “Geborener Jude” [born a Jew]. And on many, oh so many, in large white letters they printed “Ich bein Jude” [I am a Jew]… The ready-to-wear shops—and there are many—on the main street, Leipzigerstrasse, were all full of these signs. Well, my dears, my heart ached and bled and it was all I could do to keep the tears back. … Throughout the entire breath and length of this long, long, Kurfurstendam [sic] we never saw one single policeman [underlined in the original], not one officer of the law to protect any outrage that might have occurred. … Can you imagine a civilized land condoning such atrocities? Can you imagine in the twentieth century that troops of young snips should have the right to perpetuate such horrible deeds as the smearing of respectable shops with all these dirty epithets? Juda-Juda everywhere. Kauft nicht bei Juden-kauft nur bei Deutsche. (Don’t buy from Jews buy only from Germans).
Jews who fought and died for their Fatherland should not be looked upon as Germans? And then, when one thought they had finished with their dirty work—to see them wild with glee and victory heaped upon helpless Jews, (and oh how helpless) this handful of people is against the infamous mob backed by the government of tyrants and Jew haters—to add the finishing touch—the Shield of David painted in white on all the windows. Well, that Shield has led Jews throughout centuries and protected them from greater atrocities than those that are being heaped on them today by this barbarous country…. God has never left us yet and my faith in Him has never been shaken.
The blood-thirsty army which Hitler and his cohorts have been building up have had their first outlet. … The protests of the Jews in the foreign countries played right into their hands and they used their already prepared and fully organized “boycott” as THEIR protest to the lies[underlined in the original] about Germany which, as they claimed, the Jews [underlined in the original]over here broadcast. These demons say, “this is your own work—now take your medicine.” … I am now worried until Pesach is over, for I can’t help thinking, in the face of the placards announcing that the Jews need Christian blood for the Passover feast, that some horrible thing is brewing. Let us hope not. I also am afraid now as many others are, of confiscation of the property belonging to the Jews… I doubt if anything I have written you in such minute detail will come into the press, and that is why I have written my personal account of it.
The letter makes evident that the writer is a member of the middle or upper-middle class. She wrote the letter in English and translated the German phrases she uses into English. The shock she evinces relates to the fact that she never encountered this kind of action and violence against Jews of her standing and class. She cannot grasp that such an action took place in an upscale district of Berlin and not in some lower-class and poor area of the city. She fears that this is not the end, but that the government has plans for additional and more horrible actions against the Jews. Her letter also makes evident that Jews owned most of the stores, restaurants, and cafes on Berlin’s most exclusive shopping street.
The following letter, dated March 23, 1933, was written by the wife of a physician and B’nai B’rith member in Vienna to her cousin in the United States. Although she lives in Vienna, she describes the conditions in Germany that affect Jews of the “intellectual” class. She asks her cousin Severna to “please consider this letter as one from my husband, whose secretary and spokesman I have become in this emergency.”
Aside from the daily violence and the daily threats and menaces of more persecutions to come, which the highest officials have openly said, we can report that the most dangerous threat of all which over-hangs German Jews is as follows: (my report is very condensed and stresses the situation of the intellectual workers, since my husband is a physician).
All Jews exercising so-called free vocations as lawyers, physicians, artists, etc. are placed under what is called “exception rules.” In plain words, that means that Jewish lawyers are not allowed to plead cases before German law courts, that Jewish doctors have been removed from the staffs of hospitals and cooperative health institutions more or less violently, and the actors and orchestra leaders are no longer permitted to act or to lead.
A highly organized boycott system is being carried out against Jewish tradesmen of all kinds so that our coreligionists in Germany find it absolutely impossible to earn a living.
In our country the same movement is spreading rapidly and we can foresee a coalition with the same German system in the near future.
I beg of you, dear cousin Severna, to hand this S.O.S. communication to the authority you think should see it. For the sake of caution I am not mentioning my address in this letter. Should you be unable to find it, I am sure your father will have it. I will not write you any personal news for we feel so depressed and downhearted that I could only repeat the theme of this letter.
Ever yours affectionately
P.S. When replying, please be very careful not to be too explicit and keep in mind the fact that the letter will possibly be opened and read by officials.
As in the first letter, the writer of this letter is also afraid to write her address. She is worried that German officials may trace the letter to her and she and her family will be in danger for what she wrote. She also fears that what is happening in Germany will happen in Austria as well.
As all the letters indicate, by the end of April 1933 few Jewish members of the middle and upper middle classes had any illusions that conditions under the Nazis would improve. With hindsight, we know that the Jewish situation only worsened. But none of the letter writers could have imagined that in 10 years they or their families would be reduced to ashes by a state-run industrial killing machine and that the long continuum of Jewish life in Germany would be broken.
World Jewish Congress wrote up a recap of our Jewish Rescuers Citation ceremony in New York City, in which we honored Jewish rescuers and their families for their valiant efforts saving other Jews from murder at the hands of the Nazis.
Scroll down to read the story or click to read it on WorldJewishCongress.org.
NEW YORK - B’nai B’rith International and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust (JRJ) on Monday presented citations to a number of Jewish individuals to honor their valiant efforts to save the lives of others.
“Thousands of Jews were saved by other Jews across Europe during the Holocaust. Many of these rescuers, rather than flee to ensure their own safety, chose to help other Jews escape,” noted B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin.
“It is critical that the effort of Jewish rescuers is remembered and we commit ourselves to sharing these stories that remind us all of the unique role these Jewish rescuers played in our history. There are so many individual stories. It falls on us to make sure these stories are told to personalize what happened.”
Among those honored was Dr. Hadassah Bimko-Rosensaft, whose posthumous Jewish Rescuer's Citation was presented to her son, World Jewish Congress General Counsel and Holocaust survivor advocate Menachem Rosensaft.
“Bnai Brith should be commended for this particular initiative, among so many others,” Rosensaft said in accepting the citation on behalf of his mother. “How overdue the recognition of Jewish rescuers is. The fact that they have been ignored is a stain on the work of remembrance that has been performed by the various Holocaust institutions…. The Jews in the ghettos and the camps and the forests who risked their lives to help others deserve no less recognition [than righteous gentiles].”
After Dr. Bimko-Rosensaft’s first husband and 5.5-year-old son were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau, she went on to save the lives of women inmates at that camp and later, as a doctor at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, kept 149 children alive, scouring the camp for young people in need of the food and medicine she managed to scavenge. Following the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, Dr. Bimko-Rosensaft was appointed head of the camp’s medical service by the American military and worked to save as many of the ill and malnourished prisoners as possible.
At gatherings of survivors over the course of next half century, said Menachem Rosensaft, his mother was told over and over: “You don’t remember me but you saved my life.”
Another honored rescuer was Ben Zion Kalb, who saved about 1,000 fellow Polish Jews, mainly infants, youngsters and teenagers, via a land route and a smuggling operation into Slovakia and whose son Mark told attendees at yesterday’s ceremony that the Jewish “rescuers themselves deserved something better than to be forgotten, having shown extraordinary courage.”
The Jewish Rescuer’s Citation was established in 2011 to pay honor and respect to Jewish rescue of other Jews during the Shoah. To date, more than 170 Jewish heroes have been honored for their daring rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Holland.
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The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) held, for the 15th consecutive year, a unique joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony on Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah).
This is the only event dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. About 300 border patrol cadets—who provided an honor guard—and 300 students participated in the ceremony together with Jewish rescuers and survivors. The ceremony took place at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza at 10:00 a.m. Israel time.
This year, the ceremony was dedicated to the rescue efforts of Walter Suskind and the Jewish caregivers who saved some 600 children at the crèche (day care center) in Amsterdam.
Scroll down to find a complete round-up of links, a magazine spread and photos from the event.
For further details, please contact: B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider at 052-5536441 or email@example.com.
There are some Jewish organizations which do honor Jewish rescuers. Since 2011, the B’nai B’rith World Center and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust (JRJ) has conferred a joint “Jewish Rescuer’s Citation.” Paldiel and several other survivors sit on the JRJ committee, alongside rescuers and children of survivors and rescuers.
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Ceremonies were held in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay that featured appearances and remarks from presidents, high-ranking ministers, legislators and members of the religious community.
Click here to read the story on PJVoice.org
In Argentina Human Rights Office Director Claudio Avruj, who is also a former B’nai B’rith executive vice president of District 23, held a memorial service in the Square of the Shoah in Buenos Aires. A memorial statue for the Righteous Among Nations was inaugurated in the square. Keynote speakers included Avruj and Minister of Culture Pablo Avelluto. Other government officials and leaders of the Jewish community attended the event as well. Argentine President Mauricio Macri hosted a delegation of Holocaust survivors in the presidential house, Casa Rosada, in Buenos Aires the day before.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Santiago held an event that was attended by more than 300 people. Acting president of Chile, Jorge Burgos and Leon Cohen, president of B’nai B’rith Latin America and the Jewish community in Chile, spoke at the commemoration ceremony. Writer Maria Angelica Puga gave a touching tribute to her great grandmother, Maria Edwards. Edwards, who rescued Jewish children throughout the Holocaust from the Rothschild Hospital in Paris, is the only Chilean recognized by the Righteous Among Nations. Puga accepted the Light and Memory Award in Edwards’ honor.
Uruguay’s congress held a special session commemorating the day, and acting Foreign Minister Jose Luis Cancela, Israeli Ambassador Nina Ben Ami and hundreds of others attended the event. President Tabare Vazquez gave a speech that was broadcast across the country on the radio and several television channels. In his speech Vazquez stated, "Our remembrance of Holocaust victims is also a commitment to fight for a real never more, and a commitment to fight for a better future, which was also dreamed by those who perished in this tragedy."
Brazil held several events across the country in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. The commemoration ceremony in Brasilia took place in Colegio de Abogados (Lawyer’s Hall), and was attended by congressmen, ambassadors, B’nai B’rith Brazil President Abraham Goldstein and other Jewish community leaders. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was abroad at the time, had a message read aloud to attendees at the ceremony by Chief of Staff Jaques Wagner. In her message Rousseff stated, "This day brings to our memory the most horrifying moment in history. We want to join our hearts with those who lost their families in the Shoah. We will always keep fighting in order to avoid that the horror of the Shoah never happens again."
In Ecuador, the University of the Americas hosted an event by the U.N. office, the Israeli Embassy, Albert Einstein College and the local Jewish community. Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia held special congressional sessions observing the day, and several members and leaders of the Jewish community attended these commemoration ceremonies. A minute of silence was observed across Panama, and all radio stations fell silent, and throughout the day, national television channels showed documentaries about the Holocaust.
Paraguay also held a special session in congress and Israeli Ambassador Peleg Lewi and several other ambassadors came to the event. President of the Permanent Commission of the Congress, Senator Adolfo Wiens, gave a speech on the Holocaust and human dignity. “This remembrance is a warning against hate, discrimination and racism,” Wiens said.
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