In JNS, Miriam Assor, a member of the Portuguese Jewish community in Lisbon, highlighted B'nai B'rith's involvement in the creation of the Oporto Holocaust Museum – the city's first Holocaust museum.
(April 11, 2021 / JNS) The new Oporto Holocaust Museum, the only one in the Iberian Peninsula, has already been referred to by Timeout magazine as the best museum in the city. Oporto is one of Europe’s oldest and most popular tourist destinations, and before the COVID-19 pandemic, it received hundreds of thousands of European tourists every year.
As a daughter of the rabbi who led the Jewish community of Lisbon for 50 years, born in a country where Jews were expelled five centuries ago—and living in a Europe where more and more people hate Jews, Judaism and Israel—I am infused with a sense of security from the museum. It is a reminder that the phrase “Never again”—about the savage murder of six million Jews in a genocide designed down to the last millimeter—cannot and must not be reduced to an epigraph.
I have read the works of Elie Wiesel, Samuel Pisar, Primo Levy and Anne Frank. I was privileged to be friends with someone who breached the Warsaw Ghetto wall. I have interviewed survivors. I met Imre Kertész.
I have visited the Nazi extermination camps, where the air smells of corpses and remnants of dead Jews were on display: stacks of suitcases, shoes, artificial limbs, glasses, crutches, human hair used for fabrics. I have been to Yad Vashem and Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot in Israel, and many other Holocaust museums elsewhere in the world, viewing photos of so many tattooed arms with deadly numbers. I have pored over archives and scoured libraries, examining blood-stained documents.
To be remembered, the Shoah needs to be known and deeply understood. Understanding is perhaps the only way not to allow the crime to be repeated. “Never again” translates into solidifying the truth with justice, with the strength that does not come from weapons, but from actions such as the building of the Holocaust museum, run by Oporto’s Jewish community, whose parents, grandparents and other family members were direct victims of that tragedy: enslaved, gassed, shot, buried in mass graves, forced to play the violin in Theresienstadt, subject to Mengele’s experiments, escaping Treblinka in the middle of the night.
Built by complementary teams of experts in areas as diverse as history, design, architecture, civil construction and carpentry, under the direction of the board and local rabbinate, the Oporto Holocaust Museum was erected in just two months. In cooperation with B’nai B’rith International and Holocaust museums around the world, it portrays Jewish life before the Holocaust; Nazism and Nazi expansion in Europe; the ghettos, refugees, concentration, labor and extermination camps; liberation; the Jewish population in the post-war period; the foundation of the State of Israel; and the Righteous Among the Nations.
Visitors will have the opportunity to see a reproduction of the Auschwitz dormitories, a room of names, a memorial flame, a study center and, in the image of the Washington Holocaust Museum, photographs and video footage of the period before, during and after the tragedy.
The museum also contains archives relating to refugees who passed through the city of Oporto, including official documents, testimonies, letters and hundreds of individual files. Two Torah scrolls offered to the synagogue in Oporto by refugees who had arrived in the city after the war are also on display.
The new museum is part of a strategy of the local Jewish community to combat anti-Semitism—a strategy that also includes school visits to the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue; four films about the history of Jews in Portugal (as part of an interfaith project with the Diocese of Oporto); pedagogical training programs for secondary-school teachers and other civil servants on themes related to Judaism, the history of the Jews and the Holocaust; and visits to the city’s Jewish Museum to observe the historic and cultural importance of the Jews in Portugal and of Portuguese Jews worldwide, with particular emphasis on the Jewish community in Oporto, which is older than the foundation of Portugal.
The board of directors of the Jewish community of Oporto has it right when it says, “Jews are off the political agenda in many countries, as they are seen as plutocrats of an obscurantist religion and culture with their own state in Israel. Jews don’t count, and the Holocaust itself has been instrumentalized mainly to combat discrimination in general, although nine out of 10 victims were Jewish. Nazism also persecuted other minorities, but it just feared the Jewish culture that was 3,000 years old and present on all continents. The Jews were considered as the greatest threat to the ‘Master Race.’ Hatred of Jews extended far beyond the territories occupied by Germany. The Holocaust aimed to exterminate the Jewish people!”
Israel Hayom quoted B'nai B'rith International President Charles Kaufman in its coverage of the Holocaust Museum of Oporto (Porto) opening its doors, something B'nai B'rith has been encouraging for several years.
The Holocaust Museum of Oporto (Porto) opened its doors to the public on April 5th, the first day after Portugal eased lockdown measures and allowed cultural institutions to reopen, all the while adhering to coronavirus restrictions.
Within two days, 500 visitors made it to the museum, among them young people, senior citizens, Jews, and members of other religions. This is the first time a museum dedicated to the Holocaust is inaugurated in Portugal.
The museum portrays Jewish life spanning decades, from before the Holocaust, during the Nazi era, including life in ghettos, labor and concentration camps, the Final Solution, the death marches, and the liberation, all the way to the establishment of the State of Israel.
The museum has reproductions of Auschwitz barracks, a name room, a flame memorial, a study center, and photographs and screens showing actual footage of before, during, and after the genocide.
It also exhibits archives relating to refugees who passed through Oporto, including official documents, testimonies, letters, and hundreds of individual files.
Moreover, the museum has signed a cooperation protocol with Oporto's Jewish Museum to combat antisemitism in Europe.
"These museums in Oporto should serve as a beacon of light to the rest of Europe, a land darkened today by resurgent antisemitism," President of B'nai B'rith International Charles Kaufman said.
"For the growing Jewish community of Portugal, we urge you to teach future generations the glory of our past and the Holocaust as they repel attempts to disparage us in the future," he said.
In a letter read to the lobby’s inaugural gathering, President Reuven Rivlin stated that while in “Spain precious communities were forced leave their faith, their life and the values they grew up and raised their families” five hundred years ago, “Spanish Jews are still with us, and we must not forget them.”
According to lobby founders MK Robert Ilatov and Ashley Perry, increasing numbers of the descendants of Jews around the world have become interested in exploring their heritage and reconnecting with the Jewish people.
“For many of us in this room who are the descendants of those persecuted and forcibly converted in Spain and Portugal, we know that it would have been impossible for our ancestors to have even dreamed of this moment,” said Perry, a former advisor to erstwhile Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and the founder of the Reconnectar NGO.
According to Spanish Ambassador Fernando Carderera, more than the requests of more than 4,300 Sephardic Jews for citizenship have been approved since the recent passage of a bill providing the descendants of the expellees with the opportunity to reconnect with Spain.
B’nai B’rith’s Alan Schneider told the Post that he believes that the new initiative sends a message to interested parties that Israel and the Jewish people reciprocate their desires and that “its going to be easier for them now to investigate their Jewish roots, to find out about Jewish tradition, learn about their traditions and how they relate to Judaism and eventually to decide if they want to take the greater leap of rejoining in a formal way with the Jewish people.”
“I think it also sends a message to the Jews in Israel and Jews around the world that there potentially is a much deeper margin of potential supporters, of family actually, there who feel close toward the Jewish people and the state of Israel and eventually can be called upon to be our supporters even if they choose to stay in their current status,” he said.
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