B’nai B’rith World Center and Keren Kayemeth Leisrael to Hold 12th Holocaust Day Ceremony Recognizing Heroism of Jewish Rescuers
Ceremony will commemorate the efforts of rescuer Jonas Eckstein who operated in Slovakia
For the 12th consecutive year, the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) will hold their unique, joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony on Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day/Yom Hashoah (April 28). The ceremony is dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. Some 200 Border Patrol Cadets—who will provide an honor guard—and 200 high school students will participate in the ceremony together with Jewish rescuers and survivors. The ceremony will be held at the Martyrs' Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza at 10:00 a.m.
This year’s event will memorialize the rescue activities of Jonas Eckstein (1902-1971), an active member of the Jewish community and a successful wrestler in the “Hakoach” Jewish sport club in Bratislava, Slovakia. The notoriety he garnered wrestling allowed Eckstein to befriend city officials and police, which later facilitated his rescue activities. Eckstein participated in a range of rescue activities during a two and a half year period where he distributed food to Jewish prisoners—with government authorization—and also clandestinely delivered food to hidden Jews along with information vital for their survival. Eckstein also hosted Jews fleeing concentration camps and orphans, attempting to shepherd them to the then-relative safety of Hungary.
Eckstein was eventually imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo, and pressured by the Jewish leaders to hand over hidden Jews. Eckstein did collaborate with other Jews on his rescue activities but mostly worked alone—risking his life and the lives of his wife and infant daughter.
Eckstein will be represented at the ceremony by his daughter Tova Teitelbaum and his grandson, Israeli reporter Benny Teitelbaum. The guests of honor will be Member of Knesset Amram Mitzna and Slovak Ambassador Radovan Javorcik. Also speaking: KKL-JNF Chairman Efi Stenzler and B’nai B’rith World Center Chairman Haim V. Katz.
During the ceremony, a “Jewish Rescuers Citation” will be conferred by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B’nai B’rith World Center on seven rescuers or their next of kin. Since the establishment of the Jewish Rescuers Citation in 2011, 70 awards have been presented to rescuers who operated in France, Germany, Holland and Hungary.
Martyrs' Forest is a joint KKL-JNF-B’nai B’rith project which memorializes the victims of the Holocaust in six million trees planted in the picturesque Jerusalem Mountains near Moshav Kesalon. At the pinnacle of the forest stands the “Scroll of Fire” by the renowned sculptor Nathan Rapoport, which invokes the destruction of the Jewish people in the Holocaust and their redemption in the State of Israel in a moving base relief. The event will commence with personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors to classes of soldiers.
The phenomena of Jewish rescue and the instructive stories of thousands of Jews who labored to save their endangered brethren throughout Europe are yet to receive appropriate public recognition and resonance. Many who could have tried to flee preferred to stay and rescue others; some paid for it with their lives. With great heroism, Jews in every country in occupied Europe employed subterfuge, forgery, smuggling, concealment and other methods to ensure that some Jews survived the Holocaust in Europe or assisted them in escaping to a safe haven and, by doing, resisted the Nazi murder machine. The few rescuers who are still alive remain reluctant to recount their stories, satisfied in the knowledge that they were able to overcome the German tormentors and their collaborators.
Because many of the rescuers were young at the time of their activity, the organizers of the ceremony view it as especially important to expose Jewish youth to the phenomena of Jewish rescue during the Holocaust as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage.