B'nai B'rith International has received coverage for a Rescuers Citation given to Jewish resistance fighter Henriëtte Pimentel, who saved 600 children in Amsterdam from Nazi death camps. She was honored at the Verzets Resistance Museum 78 years after her death.
The B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) created the Jewish Rescuer Citation in 2011 to honor and pay respect Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust.
See how media outlets covered the presentation:
The Times of Israel (blog) included B'nai B'rith International's Rescuers Citation, which honors Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust, in its coverage of a new memorial sculpture in Safed.
An interpretive memorial sculpture, like none that has ever existed in Jewish history or anywhere in the world, has been placed in Safed. It is titled the “Hands of Choice.”
Conceived and funded by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, in cooperation with the City of Safed and Ascent of Safed, the “Hands” is the artistic creation of noted Jerusalem sculptor Sam Philipe.
The design is simple, two hands cradling a Star of David. On each faceted side of the Star are Jerusalem stone plates carved with ~ four hundred names in Hebrew and English of Jews who saved Jews.
The representative names are drawn from the 3,500 years of Jewish historical experience. There are thousands upon thousands more, most of whom sleep in the dark, dark forgotten mist of Jewish memory. They are not the names of those who risked their lives as honorably expected in the front lines of battle or in the fight for health and societal order. They are the names of those who chose to do what they did not have to.
Contrary to popular thought, Jews are not required to risk their lives to save their fellow Jews. Yet, there were Jews, frequently at risk to their own lives, their family’s lives, their reputations, their fortunes, who took the step into the terrifying moral abyss of their times to save Jewish lives.
Even during the most seemingly impotent time of recent Jewish history, the Holocaust, when Jewish life was worth less than a dog’s whimper, Jews risked all to save Jews.
Yad Vashem, lightly and without depth, does recognize Jews saved Jews during the Holocaust. They argue Jews are obligated to save Jews.
Halacha does not obligate Jews to risk their lives to save other Jews.
There is no permanent memorial or recognition program, similar to the incredible and very just, Righteous Among the Nations programs for Jews at Yad Vashem. There is no grove of trees, no walkway, no permanent mandate to recognize and honor the memory of Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust at Yad Vashem. It was never part of their original mandate. It is not part of their mandate today.
Famed Holocaust historian Nechama Tec self-reflectively said, “Why had I overlooked the rescue of Jews by Jews? Did I think that self-preservation, as a basic drive, would take precedence over everything else? Historically, Jews have been viewed as victims, and not as rescuers, not as heroes. Had I unconsciously assimilated these perceptions? Had I assumed that victim and rescuer were incompatible roles?”
More than twenty years ago, a small group of survivors, who were saved by Jews, who were themselves within the Lion’s mouth of Nazi death, organized and approached Yad Vashem. They asked Yad Vashem to include Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust in their Memorialization efforts.
Though tenaciously led by Haim Roet, himself a child survivor saved by Jews, the committees’ efforts were rebuffed.
Refusing to deny honored memory to Jews who saved Jews, they linked together with B’nai Brith. Annually, they have a commemorative ceremony at the Scroll of Fire in the Martyrs Forest outside of Jerusalem. They remember and honor newly discovered and carefully vetted Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. It is an extraordinary ceremony of dignity and long overdue Kavod.
Today, the recognition of their heroism is frequently given in lieu to the children and more frequently to the grandchildren or even distant family as the heroes have passed into the night.
The Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation has also interacted with Yad Vashem’s, at times Byzantine, process to garner recognition for a candidate for the Righteous Among the Nations Program. The candidate proffered by JASHP, recognized by the Anne Frank International Human Rights Memorial in Idaho, the GAIWO International Garden of the Righteous in Milan, and a number of smaller Holocaust sites, could not make headway with Yad Vashem.
The philosophic basis of Israel’s being is founded on the principle of Jews saving and helping their fellow Jews. Jews would no longer wait for others to save them. Jews would act to save themselves.
Where is the Memorial to Jonas Eckstein from Bratislava, who saved nearly 2,000 Jews during the Holocaust, or to Dr. Gisella Perl who saved hundreds of Jewish women from inside Auschwitz? Where is the Memorial to the Jews who died at the fiery stake for the crime of sheltering their fellow Jews from the Inquisition? Where is the Memorial to the Jews who faced the religious fanatics of Medieval pogroms to save Jews? Where is the Memorial to the Jews from Ethiopia who risked their lives helping their fellow Jews escape, or the Jews from India, or the Jews from the Sephardi/Mizrahi world? Where is the Memorial to the Jews of Alexandria nearly 2,000 years ago who voluntarily sacrificed themselves to save their fellow Jews?
There is no memorial to them.
JASHP recognized the need, the City and Community of Safed, of mystical and human memory agreed, and the first-ever Memorial was created and placed.
The Hands of Choice Memorial is not a one-off effort. It is not a memorial designed to be done and walked away from as a curious artifact. The Hands of Choice is the initial proposed effort of annual commemoration and addition… if it can be organized. There are far too many names and stories that are unknown, should be known, must be known.
Shaping the future is by remembering the past. Teaching the children about what was, will make what will be. Perhaps it is time for Jewish guilt education to reduce its focus on saving the world and increase its focus on saving Jews.
The night before he died, Hans Herzl, Theodor Herzl’s son, wrote, “In the end, a Jew is a Jew, is a Jew.”
The Hands of Choice Memorial is located on Jerusalem Street in Safed. The open hands cupping the Star of David with the hundreds of forgotten names of Jews who saved Jews faces Mt. Meron.
The Jerusalem Post previewed B'nai B'rith International and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael's (KKL-JNF) 20th annual joint ceremony to commemorate Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day – Yom HaShoah.
Approaching Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah,) the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) have announced that they will be holding a joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony.
This year will be the 20th consecutive year that the unique event is held in this format.
It is the only event surrounding Yom HaShoah dedicated annually to honoring and commemorating Jewish individuals who made efforts to save fellow Jews during the Holocaust.
The ceremony will take place on Thursday, April 8, at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest. Due to coronavirus restrictions, the ceremony will be attended by fewer people and will broadcast live on YouTube.
The B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest is the result of a comprehensive joint project by B’nai B’rith and KKL-JNF. With an astounding six million trees planted in the Jerusalem mountains, the project attempts to commemorate the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
At the center of the forest stands the “Scroll of Fire,” a state created by renowned sculptor Nathan Rapoport. The statue is meant to reflect the plight of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and their salvation in Israel.
The ceremony will include personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors and rescuers.
According to B’nai B’rith and KKL-JNF, this year's ceremony will honor Wilhelm Filderman and Itschak Artzi (Romania), José Aboulker (Algiers) and 10 other rescuers who operated in Poland, France and Belgium. Moreover, for the first time since the ceremony has been taking place, two rescuers from Mandatory Palestine – paratrooper Hannah Szenes and WZO official Moshe Shapiro – will be recognized with the Jewish Rescuers Citation.
The Jerusalem Post cited the B’nai Brith World Center-Jerusalem posthumously awarding Joseph Bau its Jewish Rescuers Citation in its coverage of the Joseph Bau House Museum in Tel Aviv struggling to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.
If there are any Hollywood moguls out there looking for a real-life character to serve as the central character in a superhero-type blockbuster, they could do a lot worse than to read up on Joseph Bau.
There is no need to engage in hyperbole or florid epithets when sketching a profile of Bau, who died in 2002 at the age of 81. In fact, he was fortunate to make it past his mid-20s, surviving several ghettos, a concentration camp and all manner of other horrific tests of his mettle along the way.
Some of that is today commemorated, nay, celebrated, at Joseph Bau House Museum, an independent boutique museum in downtown Tel Aviv that tells the extraordinary life story of an extraordinary person. The repository – which is run by Bau’s daughters Hadassah and Clilah Bau – has somehow managed to survive over the years on a shoestring budget, but is now running out of funds and may be forced to close down. The Baus have instigated a Headstart drive (headstart.co.il/project/60369) that is aiming to raise NIS 100,000 to keep the museum afloat, and to continue to enlighten the public about their father’s incredible journey on terra firma.
Bau was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1920 and died in Tel Aviv in 2002. Between those two temporal goalposts, he managed to wriggle his way out of numerous life-threatening situations, and even found love en route.
I first encountered Bau’s name, and learned of some of his amazing achievements, 20 years ago when I met his daughters at his studio on Berdichevsky Street off Rothschild Boulevard. It felt like stepping into an Aladdin’s cave. The cozily proportioned premises were stuffed to the rafters with specimens of Bau’s wide-ranging graphic work, including posters he crafted for early Israeli movies, such as the iconic 1964 dark comedy about aliyah and absorption Sallah Shabati, starring Haim Topol. There were also examples of his animation work, paintings, caricatures, graphics, copies of the nine books he has put out over the years, and evidence of his immersive research into the Hebrew language.
For Bau the latter was a labor of love, which helped him bond with the country and culture he had dreamed about almost all his life.
“Reaching Israel was the fulfillment of an ambition he had since the age of 13,” says Clilah. “He talks about that in his book Shnot Tarzach.” Typically, the title of the book is a play on words. By slightly altering the punctuation you get tirzach, which translates as “you shall murder,” while as an abbreviation, the four letters in Hebrew spell out the year 5698, which equates to 1938-39 in the Gregorian calendar and possibly references the outbreak of World War Two. The tome contains Bau’s recollections of the Holocaust and his life in Israel, and is liberally seasoned with comical word play, and dark and sometimes raucous humor. It has been translated into seven languages, including English, Arabic and Chinese.
I met Bau in his apartment after visiting the studio with his daughters. He was a slight, gentle-looking, well-groomed character, with a full head of snow-white hair, but he had lost his power of speech following the death of his wife, Rivka (née Tennenbaum), three years earlier. Rivka was the love of his life who, in fact, saved his life by giving him her place at Oskar Schindler’s factory in Krakow, which employed hundreds of Jews, and saved around 1,200. Happily, Rivka subsequently survived Auschwitz and was reunited with her husband in Krakow, where they lived until they made aliyah in 1950.
They met in Plaszów concentration camp near Krakow. It was love at first sight and, incredibly, the couple contrived to get married there, after Bau snuck into the women’s quarters, with the other female inmates standing guard. The nuptials were immortalized in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar Award-winning epic Schindler’s List, which Joseph and Rivka went to see, notwithstanding their daughters’ remonstrations.
“WE DIDN’T want our parents to see the movie, but they said it was their duty, toward all those who were murdered,” Hadassah recalls. “We were very concerned and sat on either side of them [in the cinema]. During the movie, when they showed something terrible, we asked dad, ‘Was it like that?’ and he replied, ‘It was 10 times worse!’ Dad also said that the movie was a work of genius, and that if Spielberg had shown all the horrors, no one would have gone to see it.”
One of the more remarkable aspects of Bau’s unimaginable life odyssey is the fact that he not only got by in Hebrew, he mastered it to such an extent that he was able to sculpt it, and mine its nuances and vagaries to a level achieved by few born into the language. That comes across succinctly in, for example, his 1987 book, Brit Mila, again a play of words that can reference the Jewish circumcision ceremony for male babies or translate as Covenant of a Word.
As a trained graphic artist who studied German Gothic lettering before the Holocaust – a skill that also helped him to survive by providing that service to German officers in Krakow Ghetto and later at Plaszów – he was also, naturally, drawn to its aesthetics. He also used his graphic skills to save the lives of many Jews by forging papers for them. Those heroic efforts were recently recognized by the B’nai Brith World Center in Jerusalem when it posthumously awarded Bau its Jewish Rescuers Citation.
He created a number of Hebrew fonts that found their way into the country’s earliest animation works and commercials. As he was there at the very inception of the field in the young State of Israel, he had to start from scratch. That included crafting the lighting, cameras and other requisite equipment out of old X-ray apparatus and refitting all kinds of machinery to get the job done.
Although Hadassah and Clilah say their parents were not coy about their Holocaust experiences, Bau kept one aspect of his work to himself. It was only several years after his death that the Bau daughters learned of their father’s espionage work for the Mossad.
“His work included forging papers for spies,” says Clilah. “That included documents for [Israeli spy in Syria] Eli Cohen and the whole team that went [to Argentina] to capture [Adolf] Eichmann.
”Bau might have had an easier life in the States, but opted to stay here.
“Our father’s dream was to make animated films, but there was no awareness of cartoons in Israel then, so he worked in graphics and creating fonts for movies,” Hadassah explains. “His brother wanted him to come to New York to work as an animator, but he didn’t want to leave Israel, which was everything to him.”
His expertise in that field was also put to good use by the Israeli security forces.
“We discovered he made classified animated films for the IDF and Mossad, but they are not willing to show us the movies.
”Our chat is interspersed by lots of laughing, and the daughters say there was plenty of merriment at home.
“He taught me to write songs, all with humor, and he taught Clilah to tell jokes,” Hadassah notes with yet another peal of laughter.
Now the Baus just want to keep the memory of their parents’ amazing life, and their father’s invaluable work, alive. Prior to the pandemic, tours of the studio included theatrical enactments of some of Bau’s experiences.
“Dad said we should turn the studio into a theater. Today it is a museum/theater where we perform and tell the story of the place and the wonderful life story of our parents, illustrated by his paintings and drawings of the Hebrew language.
”The idea is also to convey some much-needed positive vibes, particularly in these trying times.
“Our father always wanted to make people happy,” says Clilah. “He always said, ‘If we were happy in the darkest of times, everyone can learn the meaning of happiness and love from us.’ That’s what we do.”
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