The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) held on Tuesday, April 18, for the 23rd consecutive year, a joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony on Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah). This is the only Yom HaShoah event dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. The ceremony took place at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza at 10 a.m. Israel time and was streamed in Hebrew on the World Center Facebook page and in English on the B’nai B’rith International Facebook page.
The B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest is the largest joint B’nai B’rith – KKL-JNF project, memorializing the victims of the Holocaust with six 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 of the Jewish people in the Holocaust and their redemption in the State of Israel. Prior to the event, small groups met with relatives of the rescuers to learn in greater depth about their exploits.
Speakers in the ceremony included: Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu, Minister of Heritage; Sar-Shalom Jerbi, director, Education and Community Division, KKL-JNF; Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO, B’nai B’rith International; Eric Danon, ambassador of France to Israel; Assistant Commissioner Meir Eliyahu, Border Police; and Professor Judy Tydor Baumel-Schwartz, director of the Finkler Institute of Holocaust Research at Bar-Ilan University, representing the rescuers’ families.
In remarks delivered by Margaux Bergeon-Dars, first counselor of the French Embassy, Danon said “France bears its share of responsibility in the Holocaust. By collaborating with the Nazis, the Vichy regime betrayed the trust Jews had in this country. Some of the most appalling episodes of the Holocaust took place in French transit camps. The Vichy regime also betrayed the very spirit of the Republic, he betrayed France in its soul and identity. This is why the French government is strongly determined to fight anti-Semitism and negationism. Zakhor, lo tichka’h—Remember, never forget. This oath is at the heart of Judaism, and the French Republic has made it its own.” Both Danon and Bergeon-Dar are grandchildren of French Holocaust survivors.
Mariaschin said, “Here at the B’nai B’rith Martyrs Forest, the events of 80 years ago palpably resonate, and we travel back to a visceral and immediate Shoah; perhaps it could be said that in the Martyrs Forest, we are oblivious to the present; the passage of time has stopped. From 1933 the acts of the Nazis directly impacted B’nai B’rith lodges in Germany. B’nai B’rith was put under special political observation because of our ‘efforts to spread pacifism among the German people with their brotherhood-of-man ideas.’ We worked vigorously to try to get Jews out of Germany. Information that reached us from our European members was brought to the attention of the U.S. State Department, the White House and the American public at large. Those of you who today are representing the families of those we honor possess a heroic pedigree in which you can take pride.”
Eliyahu said, “Israel withstood and withstands its enemies that wish to erase it from the face of the world, including Iran that seeks its destruction. At times of great darkness, the bright lights of those that do not surrender and do not allow the vicious to break their spirit and their heroism—these are the people who teach us about the tremendous solidarity that exists within us. Jewish solidarity is revealed during times of crisis and is stronger than our tough internal debates.”
During the ceremony, the “Jewish Rescuers Citation” was conferred on 18 rescuers who operated in France, Germany, Slovakia, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Holland. The citation—a joint program of the B’nai B’rith World Center and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers during the Holocaust—has recognized over 600 heroes since its inception in 2011 in an effort to help correct the generally held misconception that Jews failed to come to the aid of fellow Jews during the Holocaust. The citations were presented by Dr. Haim V. Katz, chairman, B’nai B’rith World Center and member, KKL-JNF Board of Directors, and Alan Schneider, World Center director and secretary of the Jewish Rescuers Citation Sub-Committee.
There were diplomats present from Slovenia, Slovakia, Guatemala, Uruguay, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Georgia, France, Kosovo, Austria and Ireland.
The phenomena of Jewish rescue and the instructive stories of many hundreds of Jews who labored to save their endangered brethren throughout Europe from deportation and murder have yet to be fully researched and receive appropriate public attention. Many who could have tried to flee or hide themselves decided to stay and expose themselves to danger to rescue others; some paid for it with their lives. With great heroism, Jews in Germany and every country across Axis and occupied Europe employed subterfuge, forgery, smuggling, concealment and other methods to ensure that Jews survived the Holocaust or assisted them in escaping to a safe haven. In doing so they foiled the Nazi goal of total annihilation of the Jews.
Recipients of the citation at the ceremony were:
1. Baruch Shibi (1901-1978) was a member of the Zionist Movement in Greece and head of Division 3A in the Front for National Liberation (EAM) resistance movement. He participated in warning the Jews of Athens of their impending deportation and participated in smuggling many to hideouts in the mountains with the assistance of EAM fighters and Greek Orthodox clergy.
2. Joseph Fischer Ariel (1897-1964) was chair of the Jewish National Fund during the German occupation of France. He was active in the Jewish Resistance in France, principally in transferring money from KKL in France needed for the rescue of children. During the occupation, Fischer’s life was at risk from the Vichy militias and the Gestapo who sought his arrest.
3. Chaskel Tydor (1903-1993), born in Poland, was a prisoner in a series of concentration camps from September 1939 until his liberation in April 1945. In Buchenwald, and particularly in Auschwitz, he worked at first in forced labor, but through an association with Communist prisoners he was appointed block leader. In this capacity he repeatedly saved the lives of Jewish and non-Jewish prisoners, endangering his own. Click here to read a note from Chaskel Tydor’s daughter, Professor Judy Tydor Baumel-Schwartz.
4. Shmuel Skornicki (1899-1974) ran a textile company in Toulouse, France. He engaged in resistance activities and distributed anti-Nazi pamphlets, helped downed British pilots reach Spain and provided false documents. He made contact with the Spanish Consul who appointed Skornicki as his replacement before being recalled to Spain. In the consulate compound he sheltered Jews and members of the French Resistance, falsified documents and hid weapons. During meetings with the Gestapo, Skornicki glimpsed lists of Jews designated for arrest, managed to read and memorize their names and later warned them to go into hiding.
5. Mordehay Rossel (1918-1986) was an active member of the Zionist movement and the Rescue Committee in Hungary representing “Bnei Akiva.” As a member of the committee he participated in the smuggling of Jews from Hungary to Transylvania in a rescue operation named “The Teyul” (trip) and provided them shelter, food and falsified documents. Around 6,000-8,000 Jews were rescued in this operation. He was also one of the organizers of the refuges boat “Mafkora” that carried 350 people, among them 50 orphans from Transnistria, to Eretz Israel. The boat was sunk by a German submarine in August 1944. Only five passengers survived.
6/7. Genia (Gitl) (1912-1972) and Dr. Pinchas Czerniak (1909-1993) married in 1940 and were imprisoned in the Antopol ghetto in Belarus. Genia worked in the ghetto pharmacy and clandestinely helped many sick people. She was a member of the anti-Nazi underground. Pinchas also worked in a clinic outside the ghetto, where appreciative Russian farmers he treated secretly gave him food that he shared with ghetto residents. He treated people in the ghetto with drugs he appropriated from the clinic and Genia smuggled from the pharmacy. In one of his travels outside the ghetto he treated Philip Kirov, the leader of a partisan group. When the couple escaped to the woods, they joined the “Kirov” group, treating sick and wounded partisans.
8/9/10/11. Alfred Wetzler (1918-1988) and Rudolf Vrba (1924-2006), two Slovak Jews, escaped together from Auschwitz in April 1944 with the intent of reporting the atrocities taking place there. They submitted a report to the “Working Group” in Zilina, Slovakia that provided the most detailed description of the gas chambers and mass murder up to that point. Arnost Rosin (1913-2000) and Ceslav Mordowicz (1919-2001) also escaped from the camp on May 27 for the same purpose. They also reached the “Working Group” and were questioned separately from Wetzler and Vrba to verify their testimonies. The two reports, known as the Auschwitz Protocols, influenced U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and under their pressure Hungarian ruler Regent Miklos Horthy ordered the transports to Auschwitz to stop. An estimated 120,000 Jews from Budapest were spared.
12. Alexander Moch (1893-1977) was the director of the first Hachshara Centers (“Kibbutz”) in Germany. On Nov. 3, 1938 the S.S. invaded the Neuendolf camp, arrested the students and expelled Moch from Germany and he immigrated to England. With the help of the German Jewish Aid Committee, Moch acquired 150 British immigration certificates and returned to Germany to release his students from the Obernienburg Concentration Camp.
13. Dr. Alexander Natan (1907-1971) was a commander in the Glass House in Budapest that served as a haven for thousands of Jews. He physically prevented armed residents from attacking Fascist soldiers who had evicted 1,500 Jews with the intention of murdering them on the banks of the Danube. The Jews were eventually released and Natan’s calculated action prevented a bloodbath.
14. Moshe Zoltan Strohli (1918-1988), born in Band, Transylvania, Romania, was detained on April 1, 1942 and conscripted into a forced labor battalion (108/24) of the Hungarian Army. 213 Jews were deployed in the battalion, felling forests and building railway lines for the Germans. Strohli, the youngest conscript in the battalion, was assigned an administrative position. When he learned that nine young Jewish boys had survived the liquidation of the Sátoraljaújhely ghetto were in hiding, he risked his life to clandestinely bring the boys into the camp and ensured their survival. Also, in his administrative capacity, he delayed the arrival of a train that was to have taken the conscripts to the German-Russian front where their death was imminent. Due to the delay, the train conveyed the battalion to the Hungarian-Czechoslovak border where their lives were not in imminent danger. Finally, when rumors arose that the Swiss and Swedish legations in Budapest were distributing letters of protection (Schutzpass), he left the camp within 24 hours in the company of a Hungarian guard and secured Swedish documents from Raul Wallenberg for all 213 conscripts and the nine boys. These documents forestalled their deportation to Auschwitz and saved their lives.
15. Adolph Kaminski (1925-2023) was a member of the Jewish Resistance in France. He forged documents in a laboratory established by La Sixieme, the clandestine arm of the Jewish Scouts, and later for the French Underground. He is credited with saving 14,000 Jews. He later assisted the Hagana, forging documents for the Mossad LeAliya Bet.
16. Rabbi Shmuel Rene Kapel (1907-1994) was a Chaplin of the French Army Corps when Germany attacked France on May 10, 1940. Until he was demobilized in October 1940, Rabbi Kapel utilized his military position to access the St. Cyprein concentration camp and provided aid to 7,500 Jews interned there. As a member of the Jewish Army underground movement from November 1940 until July 1942, Rabbi Kapel convinced the Vichy authorities to release 2,000 inmates from Gurs and smuggled another 1,000 out of the camp. During the expulsions of August 1940 from Grus and other concentration camps, Rabbi Kapel and Rabbi Rene Hirschler smuggled out children and located places of refuge for them. In early 1941 Kapel was caught in a Gestapo sting operation and tortured. He was sent to the Drancy concentration camp and from there deported to Auschwitz in the last train to leave Drancy. On Aug. 21, 1941 Kapel jumped from the train and returned to Paris where he continued to work for the Jewish community, Hachshara and immigration to Israel.
17. Eduard Laufer (1895-1979) After killing a fascist soldier who shot his wife, Laufer fled the city of Nitra and adopted the identity of a Polish-Slovak farmer. As such, he joined the fascist militia and opened a business in a small town in northern Slovakia that allowed him to save Jews and partisans. Due to an informant he was caught and tortured but managed to escape and continue his rescue activity.
18. Rachel (Didi) Harel (Hertz)-Roos (1923–1989) went into hiding in August 1942 with the family of her fiancée’s maid. In March 1943 she received false identity documents and, pretending to be non-Jewish, joined the Dutch underground. Harel served as a courier for Bill Wildeboer, commander of the Underground Resistance Group around Ede, maintaining contact between the commanders and the activists of the underground who engaged mainly in securing hiding places for Jews and non-Jews who refused to make a declaration of loyalty to the Germans. Despite the dangers, she rode her bicycle from village to village posing as a farmer’s wife. She also took part in other non-violent resistance activities with the intention of thwarting German dictates. After the battle for Arnhem on Sept. 17, 1944 Rachel served as a courier for the transfer of Allied soldiers across the Rhine. She was arrested Nov. 17, 1944 by the Germans after one of the members of the resistance group, who had been arrested and tortured, revealed information about her. During her capture, she managed to destroy the letters of the commander of the underground resistance group she was carrying. She was shot in the leg during an escape attempt and was severely tortured but did not betray her friends. In early April 1945 Rachel escaped during a forced march of the retreating Nazis from the Westerbork transit camp—where she was interned as a political prisoner—into Germany. She received honors from the U.S., British and Dutch governments.
Alan Schneider, Director, B’nai B’rith World Center +972-52-5536441
Golan Yossifon, Spokesman +972-52-5625135