B'nai B'rith World Center and Keren Kayemeth Israel Hold Holocaust Day Ceremony Marking Heroism of Jewish Rescuers
The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) held a joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony April 19, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah), to commemorate the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. This ceremony is the only one in the world dedicated to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews in Europe. The 80th anniversary of the founding of Aliyat Hanoar (Youth Aliyah) was also marked.
More than 800 people participated in the ceremony including 300 Border Patrol Cadets—who provided an honor guard—and 300 high school students. Soldiers and students recited some of the names of 60 Greek Jewish Holocaust victims—a fraction of the 67,000 who perished in the Holocaust, representing 86 percent of Greek Jewry.
In honor of the anniversary of the founding of Aliyat Hanoar (Youth Aliyah) this year’s ceremony also marked the heroism of two outstanding rescuers: Recha Freier and Josef Itai.
Susan Caine (Freier), the eldest granddaughter of Recha Freier and Hanan Itai, son of Josef Itai, spoke at the ceremony representing the Jewish rescuers. Ester Golan, who was rescued due to Freier’s activity, represented the survivors. Greek Ambassador to Israel H.E. Kyrikaos Loukakis, member of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael KKL-JNF Board of Directors Shlomo Vayzer and B’nai B’rith World Center Chairman Dr. Haim V. Katz also spoke at the ceremony.
Freier arranged for the immigration to Mandatory Palestine in 1932 of an initial group of 12 German Jewish students. In January 1933 she formally founded Youth Aliyah in Berlin, which provided the framework for saving the lives of 7,000 Jewish children during the Holocaust, principally through emigration to Mandatory Palestine. Freier summoned Itai, a young “Hashomer Hatzair” leader from Yugoslavia, to care for German and Austrian children who escaped to Zagreb, Croatia, where Freier continued her rescue activities after fleeing from Germany. Freier obtained 90 certificates that allowed most of those children to immigrate to Palestine. A group of 30 was left behind in Zagreb with no certificates and had to survive under fear of internment in Croatia or deportation to concentrations camps elsewhere. The group grew to about 100 and Itai eventually led them across the border to Switzerland in October 1943. He arrived in Palestine in June 1945 where he presented the children to Freier.
During the ceremony, the “Jewish Rescuers Citation”—a joint project of the B’nai B’rith World Center and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust—was conferred on a group of rescuers who operated in the underground Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary.
The event was held at the Martyrs' Forest, a joint KKL-JNF-B’nai B’rith project composed of 6 million trees in the picturesque Jerusalem mountains to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust. At the pinnacle of the forest stands the “Scroll of Fire” by the renowned sculptor Nathan Rappaport. The organizers of the ceremony view it as especially important to expose Jewish youth to the story of Jewish rescue during the Holocaust as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage.
This was part of B’nai B’rith’s Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations throughout the world. As the North American sponsor of the “Unto Every Person There is a Name” commemoration of Yom Hashoah, B’nai B’rith enabled community observances across the United States where names of those who perished in the Holocaust were read aloud in public spaces such as parks and malls. Throughout Latin America large community-wide observances were also held. B’nai B’rith International also cosponsored the “We Walk to Remember” program with Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Jewish fraternity, on more than 80 college campuses throughout the United States, Canada and Israel.