(Washington, D.C., May 6, 2019)-- The B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem honored the legacy of Jewish Holocaust-era rescuers in Belgium at two major events held on May 2nd - Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah). The events were dedicated to rescue efforts undertaken by members of the Jewish Defense Committee in Belgium (CDJ, for its initials in French).
The phenomenon of Jewish rescue and the instructive stories of thousands of Jews who labored to save their endangered brethren throughout Europe have yet to receive appropriate public recognition. 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 Jews survived the Holocaust, or assisted other Jews in escaping to safe havens, and in doing so foiled the Nazi goal of total genocide against the Jews. The organizers of the ceremony view it as especially important to expose Jewish youth to these narratives as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage.
The first event was a unique joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony held for the 17th consecutive year together with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael/Jewish National Fund - the only event dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. Held at B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza”, over 1,000 Jerusalem-area school pupils and pre-army preparatory academy students attended the ceremony together with Jewish rescuers, survivors and Border Patrol cadets.
Speakers at the ceremony were Mr. Danny Atar, world chairman, Jewish National Fund; Dr. Haim V. Katz, chairman of the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem; Brigadier General Yehuda Yehoshua, commander of the Border Guard Combat Training Center; H.E. Olivier Belle, ambassador of Belgium to Israel; and Michel Werber, son of CDJ founding members Abusz and Shifra Werber.
During the ceremony, a “Jewish Rescuers Citation” was conferred on 11 leading members of the CDJ - David Ferdman, Hertz Jospa, Hava Jospa, Abraham Manaster, Chaim Pinkus Perelman, Fela Perelman, David Trocki-Muscnicki, Paulina Avstritski, Josef Sterngold, Abusz Werber and Shifra Werber - and four other rescuers who were active in Poland - Shraga Dgani, Miriam-Mania Zeidman, Yaacov Segalchik and Bela Yaari-Hazan. A joint project of the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers during the Holocaust, nearly 270 heroes have been honored with the citation since its establishment in 2011 for rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Italy, Holland and Belgium.
The second event was an international conference entitled “Historical Perspectives on Jewish Rescue in Belgium During the Holocaust”. Held before an overflow crowd at the official residence of Ambassador Belle, speakers included B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider; Paul Jospa, son of CDJ leaders Hertz and Hava Jospa; B’nai B’rith Antwerp President Willy Kahan (who is married to the daughter of CDJ rescuer Josef Sterngold, Rachel); Olivia Mattis, granddaughter of CDJ founders Prof. Haim and Fela Perelman; and Alain Blitz, the son of a Belgian deportee to Auschwitz and an educator and author of the first Hebrew-language book on the Holocaust in Belgium. Lectures were presented by Dorien Styven, researcher and archivist at the Kazerne Dossin Museum of Deportation and Resistance in Mechelen, Belgium, on "Unlikely Allies - Diversity in the Ranks of the Jewish Defense Committee," and by Joel Kotek, professor at the Free University in Brussels and at Sciences Po University in Paris entitled, “Reception of the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance in Belgian Historiography”. Closing remarks were offered by David Inowlocki, honorary vice president, Belgian Association for Hidden Children. The conference was co-sponsored by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews during the Holocaust (JRJ); B’nai B’rith Joseph Wybran Lodge; OBI – Organization of Belgians in Israel (l'Asiociation des Originaries de la Belgique en Israel) and Amilies Israel Belgique Luxemburg – Tel Aviv.
Two Jewish Rescuers Citations – in memory of CDJ activists Leopold Flam and Israel Tabakman - were presented at the close of the conference.
Reports on the events were carried in the Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Swiss National Radio, Belgian National Radio, I24 news, Jwire, Israel Radio, JTA, KAN 11 Television – Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation and Maariv, among others.
The Jewish Defense Committee in Belgium was founded in September 1942 in reaction to the start of the deportation of Jews by the Gestapo in August 1942 in Brussels and Antwerp. The goal of the CDJ was to operate clandestinely to save as many Jews as possible. The CDJ united Jews from a broad ideological spectrum (including communists, revisionists, General Zionists and members of "Left Zion Workers” and "Zionist Youth") and from different swathes of society (among them Belgian citizens and foreigners, secular and religious Jews and even some non-Jews, such as the teacher Andree Geulen) to engage in joint rescue operations. The CDJ urged Jews to disregard the orders of the local Judenrat – the AJB - and go underground instead, and also endeavored to win the support of the general public for persecuted Jews. Some of the CDJ members held positions in the AJB and secretly passed on vital information to foil the German's nefarious plans.
The committee managed to rescue 3,000-4,000 Jewish children – half of all the Jewish children who survived the Holocaust in Belgium – and provided life-saving assistance to 10,000 adults, including hiding places and forged documents. This activity endangered the lives of the CDJ members; some of them were captured, tortured and deported to concentration camps. Some did not survive. The CDJ operated as an adjunct of the "Independence Front" – the most significant resistance organization, founded in Belgium in March 1941, that united 17 different ideological and religious groups lead by the Communist Party in response to the German invasion of the USSR. At the time of the German invasion of Belgium – May 10, 1940 – 66,000 Jews lived in the country, of whom only 10 percent were Belgian citizens; 34,801 were arrested during the Holocaust (among them 5,092 children under the age of 16); 28,902 were murdered – 44 percent of the entire Jewish population in Belgium; 24,906 were imprisoned - usually for several days – at the transfer camp Mechelen-Malines and deported from there on 28 transports to Auschwitz beginning in summer 1942. Only 1,337 survived the camps.
The number of CDJ members reached 300. It operated an impressive administrative network to handle finance, forged papers and food coupons, clandestine press and concealment of children and adults. The department for forged papers was so successful that it also provided papers for non-Jews trying to avoid forced labor. The principal feature of CDJ – cooperation between groups across the ideological and political spectrum - was the basis of an organization unique in Western Europe. The main chapter of the committee was in Brussels. Other chapters were in Charleroi and Liege. In Antwerp, the committee was founded in 1943, when three independent groups started to collaborate. 55 percent of Belgian Jews survived thanks to the swift response of individuals who went underground independently, to the heroic operation of members of the CDJ and to the support of the local Belgian society at large, including many clergy. It should be noted that Jews also operated outside the CDJ in various resistance organizations in smuggling, intelligence, sabotage and clandestine press. The unequivocal conclusion resulting from the events in Belgium during the war is that passivity of the Jews facing the horrors of the Holocaust is a myth.
The B'nai B'rith Martyr’s Forest is the largest joint B’nai B’rith and KKL-JNF project, which memorializes the victims of the Holocaust with 6 million trees planted in the picturesque Jerusalem mountains near Moshav Kesalon. At the pinnacle of the forest stands the “Scroll of Fire,” created by renowned sculptor Nathan Rapoport, which invokes the destruction.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit www.bnaibrith.org
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International deplores a demand by Greek officials to remove of a Star of David from a Holocaust memorial on the eve of its opening.
The stunning demand by the mayor and city council of Kavala, Greece, to remove the very symbol that was used to separate Jews from the rest of the community during the Holocaust is beyond insensitive. This is an attempt to erase history.
The monument, set to open 70 years after the end of World War II, pays tribute to the 1,484 Kavala Jews murdered by the Nazis.
Nearly 90 percent of the Jewish population of Greece was murdered during the Shoa.
B’nai B’rith will be directly in contact with representatives of the Greek government and our friends in the Hellenic-American community to urge their immediate attention to this deeply troubling situation.
B'nai B'rith Interntional and Alpha Epsilon Pi participate in "Unto Every Person There is a Name" and "We Walk to Remember" Yom Hashoah programming at Georgetown University on April 15. In the center photo, attendees pose around the statue of Polish Underground member and Georgetown history professor Jan Karski.
B’nai B’rith International has proudly been the official North American sponsor of the Yom Hashoah program “Unto Every Person There is a Name” for 26 years. In 2015, we once again carried that mantle, along with a combination of other programming to make for an inspiring Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Communities across the continent came together on or before Yom Hashoah, the 27th day of the month of Nissan on the Jewish calendar. Programs started on April 12 and will run through April 28, reading the names of the victims of the Shoah and where and when they were born and died. These observances honor more victims each year, as the Shoah Victim’s Names Recovery Project seeks and uncovers additional information.
The program is a worldwide memorial project that began in 1989 and is coordinated by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, in consultation with the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and enjoys the official auspices of the President of the State of Israel, the Hon. Reuven Rivlin. This year’s theme was “Seventy Years Since the End of WWII: The Anguish of Liberation and the Return to Life.” The program, including thematic materials is developed by an international committee and B’nai B’rith International is represented by the B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider, giving B’nai B’rith not only the honor of implementing the program, but having a hand in the planning stages as well.
The program has become an integral part of community observances across the country. These observances are generally held in public spaces such as shopping malls or downtown office plazas during the lunch hour, to be especially visible for the entire community. Often, people will stop to see what is happening and ask if they can read names too. Teachers bring students as part of their learning experience about the Holocaust.
“B’nai B’rith International is proud to have such strong Yom Hashoah programming. It’s important work to ensure we always remember, and for 26 years now, we’ve done an excellent job with ‘Unto Every Person There is a Name,’” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said.
In addition to community observances, for the seventh consecutive year, B’nai B’rith partnered with the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity for its “We Walk to Remember” campaign held on more than 130 campuses throughout the United States, Canada, Israel and the United Kingdom. AEPi members walk silently across campus wearing a “Never Forget” sticker and also participate in “Unto Every Person There is a Name” programming. At many campuses, the ceremonies extended beyond B’nai B’rith and AEPi with numerous Jewish student groups participating.
A particularly poignant iteration of “We Walk to Remember” was held on Vanderbilt University’s campus in Nashville, Tenn., where AEPi’s fraternity house was vandalized with swastikas spray-painted in the basement and elevator in March. Hundreds gathered not only to remember those lost in the Holocaust, but also to directly respond to the face of bigotry on campus.
“We came here together to prevent anything similar to this from happening again. And to educate everyone in Vanderbilt, the Nashville neighboring community, and the people that this reaches across the country and internationally that us as AEPi members, [we] as Vanderbilt students and Jews will not stand for things like this,” AEPi Chapter President Joshua Hyman said before the program commenced.
The combination of the two powerful programs has created a lasting impact on campuses across the globe. It demonstrates that young people on campus understand the importance of remembering and have taken on the responsibility to tell the story of the victims of the Holocaust.
Another example of the two programs coming together to create an atmosphere of solidarity and remembrance occurred on Georgetown University’s campus in Washington, D.C. Participants walked silently around campus, ending at the statue of Jan Karski. Karski was a Georgetown history professor and member of the Polish Underground during World War II who was among the first people to alert the Western world of Nazi atrocities against Jews.
“It was a really powerful moment with the walk ending in front of the Karski statue,” B’nai B’rith Assistant Director of the International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy Sienna Girgenti said. “To have everyone joining in reciting names, poems and prayers—it was a true embodiment of what ‘Unto Every Person There is a Name’ and ‘We Walk to Remember’ strive to create on campuses and communities around the country.”
B’nai B’rith provides programming materials and support with the generous sponsorship of Kurt and Tessye Simon, of blessed memory.
“It’s a big responsibility sponsoring such a meaningful program as ‘Unto Every Person There is a Name’ for an entire continent,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “It’s serious responsibility to remember those who were lost in the Holocaust. Between ‘Unto Every Person There is a Name’ and our yearly efforts honoring Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Shoah, B’nai B’rith diligently works to ensure those lost are not forgotten.”
On the morning of April 16, the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) held a unique joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony dedicated to the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. Taking place at the Martyrs' Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza with about one thousand people in attendance, the program memorialized Rabbi Moshe Shimon Pessach (1869-1955), an outstanding rabbinic and communal figure who served for 63 years as rabbi, including later in life as chief rabbi of Greece. Pessach initiated and orchestrated the rescue of his community during the German occupation, efforts that led to the survival of 74 percent of the Volos Jews—an extraordinary achievement in a country where 85 percent of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust—and led a partisan unit against the Germans. The program saw its highest attendance in its 13-year history and was reported on in dozens of print, broadcast and digital media outlets in Hebrew, English, Greek and Spanish.
B’nai B’rith World Center And KKL-JNF to Recognize Greek Rabbi who Saved Hundreds of Jews During Holocaust
The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) will hold for the 13th consecutive year a unique, joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony on Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) on April 16—the only event dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the years of torment in Europe. Some 200 border patrol cadets—who will provide an honor guard—and some 200 high school students will participate in the ceremony together with Jewish rescuers and survivors. The ceremony will take place at the Martyrs' Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza at 10:00 a.m. local time.
This year’s event will memorialize Rabbi Moshe Shimon Pessach (1869-1955), an outstanding rabbinic and communal figure who served for 63 years as rabbi, including later in life as chief rabbi of Greece. Pessach, the scion of a long line of towering Sephardic rabbinic figures in Greece, shepherded the Volos Jewish community of approximately 1,000 people through tumultuous times. Fiercely loyal to his country and to his community, Pessach initiated and orchestrated the rescue of his community during the German occupation, efforts that led to the survival of 74 percent of the Volos Jews—an extraordinary achievement in a country where 85 percent of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust—and led a partisan unit against the Germans.
On Sept. 30, 1943—Rosh Hashanah—Pessach was summoned to the headquarters of the German military governor who demanded that he submit within 24 hours a list of all the Jews in the city and their assets, purportedly for determining the amount of food rations needed to sustain them. The astute rabbi had no intention of playing into the hands of the Germans and instead embarked on a series of actions to rescue his community, at great risk to himself and his family. Pessach was able to extract a three-day extension for submitting the list and immediately found his friend Archbishop Joachim Alexopoulos, the metropolitan of Demetrias and the bishop of Volos, to ask for his help in discovering the Germans’ intentions. Alexopoulos contacted a man with whom he was friendly at the German consul in Volos and was told in no uncertain terms that the Jews must leave Volos before the stated deadline.
Alexopoulos informed Pessach of the warning and handed him a letter of introduction addressed to the clergymen in villages surrounding Volos, urging them to protect the Jews in every way possible. Through the rabbi’s intervention, and with the help of the mayor, municipal officials and the chief of police, the Greek underground spirited all but 130 Jews (who were later arrested, deported and murdered) into hiding in the surrounding remote mountain villages over a three day period.
Alexopoulos died in 1959 and was recognized in 1977 by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Gentiles at the initiative of the Volos Jewish community.
The rabbi's escape gave the signal for the rest of the community to go into hiding and they were all accommodated in the villages. The Germans put a bounty on Pessach’s head, and two of his sons who taught Jewish studies in nearby towns were captured by the Germans and murdered. His wife died while they were in hiding. Pessach eventually established a unit of partisans that rescued allied soldiers and fought the Germans. For these actions, he was decorated both by King Paul of Greece and by the commander of the Allied forces in the Mediterranean.
After the war, Pessach returned with 700 members of the community to Volos and engaged in efforts to rebuild the devastated city. In 1946 he was elected chief rabbinic count judge and chief rabbi of Greece, titles he held until his death.
In April 1955, Volos was hit by a devastating earthquake. The aged rabbi was forced to live in a tent, later forfeiting his house in order to build a new synagogue in the same spot, and he died on Nov. 13. In recognition of his contribution to Greek Jewry, Pessach and his wife Sara were reinterred in 1957 in Jerusalem beside Chief Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, and his extensive library was brought to Israel and is archived at the Ben-Zvi Institute.
Pessach will be represented at the ceremony by his grandson Moris Eskenazi and great-grandson Dr. Ilias Pessach. Guests of honor will be Greece Ambassador to Israel Spyridon Lampridis, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III and President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece Moses Constantinis. Also speaking: KKL-JNF Chairman Effi Stenzler and B’nai B’rith World Center Chairman Dr. Haim V. Katz.
During the ceremony a “Jewish Rescuers Citation” will be posthumously conferred by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B’nai B’rith World Center on Rafi and Tamar Benshalom, Yitzhak and Judith Herbst, Moshe Weisz, Moshe Weiszkopf, Shmuel Arie Schwartz, all of whom were members of the underground Zionist youth movement in Hungary during World War II, and Yaacov (Jacko) Razon, a Greek-Jewish boxer who helped other Jews survive at the Auschwitz, Buna and Buchenwald concentration camps.
Since the establishment of the Jewish Rescuers Citation in 2011, some 100 awards have been presented to rescuers who operated in France, Germany, Holland, Hungary and Slovakia.
The event will be held at the Martyrs' Forest—a joint KKL-JNF and 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 Rappaport, 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 fled chose 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 heaven and by doing resisted the Nazis’ death camps. The few rescuers who are still alive are sometimes reluctant to recount their stories, satisfied in the knowledge that they were able to overcome the German tormentors and their collaborators.
Considering that 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 stories of the f Jewish rescuers during the Holocaust as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage.
The program schedule is as follows. All times are Israel Standard Time:
09:00-09:30 Personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors to soldiers in the Martyrs' Forest
09:45 Coalesce in “Scroll of Fire” Plaza
10:00 Siren peal and ceremony commencement
11:00 Ceremony conclusion
11:00-11:30 Personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors to students in the Martyrs' Forest
The press is invited. For further information please contact Alan Schneider, director, B'nai B'rith World Center +972525536441; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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