Angela Merkel visits Yad Vashem

October 11, 2021 by Simmy Allen
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Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited Yad Vashem for the sixth and final time as leader of Germany.

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Angela Merkel, Naftali Bennett and Dani Dayan

During her informative and emotional visit to the Mount of Remembrance, the Chancellor toured the “Flashes of Memory: Photography during the Holocaust” exhibition and the Museum of Holocaust Art; viewed some Holocaust-era artefacts and artworks from Yad Vashem’s unrivalled collections and met with Holocaust survivor Henry Foner.

Merkel was accompanied on her visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennet, Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan and Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau.

After participating in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, Chancellor Merkel requested personal time in the Holocaust History Museum to identify with the memory of the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust and some of the stories of those who survived.

At the end of the visit, Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan presented the Chancellor with a Token of Remembrance: a replica of the album and complete set of Bible Illustrations by the artist Carol Deutsch, which she was shown earlier in the Holocaust Art Museum.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennet thanked Merkel for her unwavering support of Holocaust remembrance.

Angela Merkel talks with survivor Henry Foner

He said: “The goal of the Nazis was to leave behind a wasteland – a complete erasure of our people. But when you exit Yad Vashem and see the words of the prophet Zechariah, ‘And the city will be filled with children playing in its streets,’ you realize that as enormous as the disaster was, the miracle was even greater… The Holocaust is not the reason for the existence of the State of Israel. The connection of the Jewish people to their land did not begin in Auschwitz. But Auschwitz, our brothers and sisters who were lost there, strengthens in us the determination to never again be a defenceless people, far from its homeland. For me as a believing Jew, as an Israeli, as someone whose branches of his family were cut off in the Holocaust, as the Prime Minister of Israel – all roads lead to Jerusalem.”

At the end of her visit, Angela Merkel said: “Every visit to Yad Vashem touches me at the core every time anew. The crimes against the Jewish people that are documented here are a perpetual reminder of the responsibility we Germans bear and a warning. That Jewish life has again found a home in Germany after the crimes against humanity that were the Shoah is an immense expression of trust for which we are grateful. This trust compels us to stand up in determination against antisemitism hatred and violence every day anew.  This is an obligation for every federal (German) government.”

Flashes of Memory – Photography during the Holocaust
During her guided tour of the “Flashes of Memory” exhibition, the Chancellor was shown how the use of photographic documentation played a central role in the ability of the Nazi party to polarize a nation against the Jewish people – and essentially laid the framework for the perpetration of the crimes of the Holocaust. The exhibition depicts three different viewpoints: the German perspective – propaganda of the Nazi party that portrayed Jew as malevolent and sub-human, needing to be removed from society; the Jewish experience – which highlighted the suffering and humanity of the victims of these crimes; and the photographic documentation of the atrocities by allied armies – evidence of the horrors that befell the Jewish people as discovered upon liberation of Nazi concentration and extermination camps, some of which was later used as evidence in the war crimes trials against the Nazi perpetrators and their accomplices.

Museum of Holocaust Art
The Museum of Holocaust Art houses artworks – a form of visual documentation and testimony – created by Jews before, during and immediately after the Holocaust. The works of art included in Yad Vashem’s unrivalled Art Collection depict the atrocities committed by the Germans and their collaborators during the Holocaust as experienced by the artists, as well as pieces memorializing victims and portraying longings for a return to freedom and normality. At the Museum, the Chancellor was shown a remarkable collection of works by Jewish artist and Holocaust victim Carol Deutsch. In 1941 Antwerp, in the midst of the war, despite the curfew and the terror of persecution, Deutsch toiled on a set of 99 artworks illustrating stories and figures from the Old Testament. This unique collection, which proudly declared his Jewish identity, was gifted to his two-year-old daughter, Ingrid. The colorful illustrations are replete with influences of Art Nouveau ornamentation, as well as the Bezalel School style with which the painter had become familiar during his stay in the Holy Land in 1935.

Deutsch had married Felicia (Fela) Bronsztajn in 1939, and a year later Ingrid was born. Between 1942 and 1943, the couple hid in a rural area near Brussels but were informed upon, arrested, and deported to Auschwitz in September 1943. Fela was murdered there; Carol was deported to the Sachsenhausen camp and then transferred to Buchenwald, where he died of exhaustion on 20 December 1944. Ingrid and her grandmother hid in another location and survived.

Angela Merkel Photo: Koby Gideon, GPO

Yad Vashem Artefacts Collection
During her tour of the Mount of Remembrance, Yad Vashem Director-General Dorit Novak offered Chancellor Merkel a presentation about the new Moshal Shoah Legacy Campus and its Collections Center, the construction of which is partly supported by the Federal Republic of Germany. Director of Yad Vashem Artifacts Department Michael Tal displayed to the Chancellor several Holocaust-era artefacts that will be housed in the Collections Centre upon its completion:

Hinda Cohen’s shoe
On 18 January 1942, Hinda Cohen was born to Zippora and Dov Cohen while the couple was incarcerated in the Kaunas (Kovno) ghetto. Both Zippora and Dov, along with many of the adults in the ghetto, worked in the nearby Aleksotas forced labour camp.

On the morning of 27 March 1944, Dov and Zippora went to work, leaving behind their sick, two-year-old daughter with some of the older women in the ghetto. Unbeknownst to the working adults, on that day, some 300 children, including Hinda, were rounded up, loaded onto trucks and deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered immediately upon arrival. When they returned from work, the parents were horrified to discover that their children had disappeared without a trace. Inconsolable, Dov and Zippora collapsed onto the floor. Under Hinda’s bed, Dov noticed a pair of Hinda’s shoes. He decided to engrave the date of her deportation on the sole of one of the shoes and swore that the shoe would stay with him for the rest of his life.

Both Dov and Zippora survived the war, although they never were able to come to terms with the loss of Hinda. After the war, the couple had another daughter, and in 1960 the Cohen family immigrated to Israel. After both Zippora and Dov’s deaths, their granddaughter fulfilled her grandparents’ wishes and donated the shoe as well as mittens that belonged to Hinda to Yad Vashem in order for her story to be recorded for posterity.

Candelabra from the Great Synagogue in Hamburg
On the eve of 9 November 1938, rioters broke into many Jewish places of worship, businesses and homes across Germany and Austria, wreaking havoc and setting buildings on fire. During this November Pogrom, also known as Kristallnacht, thousands of Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps in Germany.

The Jews of Hamburg, the city where Angela Merkel was born, suffered greatly during these pogroms. The Great Synagogue in Hamburg, which was built at the beginning of the twentieth century, was vandalized and set ablaze. The once auspicious centre of Jewish communal life in the city was reduced to ruins and stayed that way for about a year, until it was demolished by the City of Hamburg – using funds belonging to the Jewish community.

Menachem Schloss, who lived in Hamburg with his five children, used to pray regularly in the synagogue. During the November Pogrom he was arrested, but released sometime later thanks to the intervention of a Nazi officer he knew. Shortly after these traumatic events, the Schloss family received immigration visas to the United States, for which they had been waiting for many years, and fled Germany. Before leaving the country, the Jewish community presented Schloss with this Hanukkah candelabra, which had been rescued from the synagogue before its demolition. The family later donated this precious item to Yad Vashem, to ensure that the memory of the Jews of Hamburg will be preserved for future generations.

Prayer Book Written by Dita Kurschner
Dita Kurschner was born in Vienna in 1930. In 1939, her family fled to Hungary. Shortly after the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944, they were interned in a ghetto. In June 1944 they were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp.

Upon arrival at Auschwitz, Kurschner was selected for transfer to the Gelsenkirchen forced labour camp, and from there she was taken to another Auschwitz satellite camp in Sommerda. While imprisoned in Sommerda, Kurschner stole stickers from ammunition boxes and used them to write a siddur, a compendium of Jewish prayers that she heard recited by a fellow inmate named Klari Kahna. “She prayed all day and night,” Kurschner recalled of Kahna in her testimony. “I listened to her prayers and I thought I’d write them down so that if we died, they would know that Jewish women had been there. I sat next to her all night, writing. She prayed in archaic Hebrew and I recorded the prayers in Latin characters.”

Shortly before the end of the war, the camp inmates were taken on a death march. Kahna was killed in a shelling bombardment on the day they were liberated. Kurschner, her mother Hedy and Zsuzsana (Zsuzsi) Weber, a fifteen-year-old girl Hedy took into her care in Auschwitz, were liberated in Reinholdshain (Dita’s father, Lajos, had been murdered). Later, the family immigrated to Israel. Many years later they donated Kurschner’s siddur to Yad Vashem to be kept with the tens of thousands of artefacts in Yad Vashem’s Collections so that their stories continue to be told.

Meeting with Holocaust Survivor
The Chancellor met with Kindertransport survivor Henry Foner, renowned author of “Postcards to a Little Boy” –  an authentic, moving book that presents the illustrated postcards and letters sent by Foner’s father and other relatives and friends to the young refugee in the UK during the Holocaust. The book also includes the missives’ translations and a historical afterword on the Kindertransport rescue effort.

Born in Germany as Heinz Lichtwitz, Henry Foner lost his mother at a young age. As the situation for the Jews in Germany and Austria worsened, plans were set in motion to find refuge for as many Jewish children as possible, and thus the Kindertransport program was born. The children were accompanied on their journey by caregivers, social workers and educators, and placed with families or in other settings in the United Kingdom. Foner was one of approximately 10,000 Jewish children who left Europe between December 1938 and September 1939 as part of the rescue effort. He was sent from Berlin to Wales and lived there with Morris and Winifred Foner, a Jewish couple, who provided him with a warm, loving home. From the moment they parted, Max Lichtwitz, Henry’s father, regularly sent him colourfully illustrated postcards written in German. On Henry’s seventh birthday, Max telephoned him from Berlin, but Henry had already forgotten all his German, and from that time on all the postcards were written in English. Henry’s foster mother, “Aunty Winnie,” arranged all the postcards and letters Henry received from his father and other relatives and friends in an album. Max Lichtwitz, who had the courage and foresight to part from his only child and thereby save his life, was deported to Auschwitz on 9 December 1942, and murdered a week later. Henry and his family moved to Israel in 1968 and made their home in Jerusalem.

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