KKL JNF Commemorates Holocaust Day in Martyrs Forest: Saving Our People

Sunday, April 22, 2012 1:04 PM

KKL JNF, together with Bnai Brith, held a ceremony in Martyrs Forest on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 19, 2012, the theme of which was recognition for Jews who rescued other Jews.

KKL JNF, together with Bnai Brith, held a ceremony in Martyrs Forest on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 19, 2012, the theme of which was recognition for Jews who rescued other Jews. The event was organized with students from schools in Jerusalem and the vicinity, with Border Police soldiers and with survivors who told their personal stories to the younger generation. The ceremony took place in the plaza at the Scroll of Fire memorial, which depicts the story of the exile and the rebirth of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland.

Students from the Jabotinsky School perform. Photo: Yoav Devir
In the course of the ceremony, the Bnai Brith medal for saving Jews was awarded to the late Recha Freier, who founded the Youth Aliya movement, which made it possible for thousands of youth to immigrate to Israel and saved their lives. The medal was presented to Freier’s granddaughter Susan Kane.
Also awarded a medal of honor was the late Josef (Joshko) Itai, who saved eighty Jewish children whom he accompanied from Yugoslavia to Italy, and smuggled into Switzerland. After the war, he led them to a safe haven in Israel. The medal was presented to his son Hanan Itai.
Esther Golan, who was saved thanks to Recha Freier and lived in an orphanage in England during World War II, was also awarded a medal, as were others from the Zionist underground in Hungary.

“On this day, we remember with awe those Jews who saved their brothers and sisters, with bravery and courage in impossible conditions. They are a model and an ideal for us all,” said Elisha Mizrahi, KKL-JNF Director of the Northern Negev Region, who emceed the ceremony.

Hanan Itai (2nd left); Susan Kane (center) and Esther Golan recieve medals on behalf of Recha Freier and Josef Itai. Photo: Dudu Ashkenazi.

“Although they themselves were victims of the Nazis, many Jews risked their lives in order to save their brethren,” said Shlomi Weisel, a member of the KKL-JNF board of directors. “This ceremony has great importance for future generations in remembering the Holocaust.”
Martyrs Forest was planted jointly by KKL-JNF and Bnai Brith in the Judean Hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem, with contributions from friends of KKL JNF worldwide. Six million trees were planted in the forest, symbolizing the victims of the Holocaust. Throughout the forest are the names of the Jewish communities that were decimated as well as the names of the righteous among the nations.
Dr. Haim Katz, Chairman of the Bnai Brith World Center, said that “the people among us who saved Jews embody the value of mutual responsibility.” To the soldiers and students who took part in the ceremony, he said, “You are the future, and you are the ones who will be defending the State of Israel in the next generations.”

Lighting the memorial torch. Photo: Yoav Devir

Emad Hassan, Deputy Commander of the Border Police Training Base, said that Holocaust Remembrance Day recalls the worst period in human history. “On its flag Israel has engraved the values of ethics, tolerance and dignity for all people,” he said. “The Holocaust is part of the collective memory of Israeli society. I am proud of the privilege we have in being partners in defending Israel.”
A special part of the program featured the Jewish community in Greece, which was almost completely annihilated. Less than ten thousand remained of the Jewish population in Greece that had numbered 77,000 before the war. The Greek Ambassador in Israel, Kyriakos Loukakis, who honored the ceremony with his presence, said, “Even in the darkest places, there is a ray of light. In those moments one can see the greatness of those heroes, Jewish and non-Jewish, who risked their lives in order to save others.”
At the end of the ceremony students and soldiers read names of people who perished in the Holocaust. Daivid Ashkenazi, from the KKL JNF Education Department, recited Yizkor, and the Border Police chaplain, Superintendent Shmuel Ehrlich, chanted the El malei rahamim prayer for the souls of those who perished.

Students, survivors and honorees sing Hatikva. Photo: Yoav Devir

Avraham Fuchs, representing the survivors, said kaddish. Students from the Jabotinsky School in Bet Shemesh moved everyone with their songs and readings. The ceremony concluded with the singing of Hatikva by students, Border Police soldiers, Holocaust survivors and representatives of KKL-JNF and Bnai Brith.

Personal Testimonies

Prior to the ceremony, and afterwards, Holocaust survivors sat in different locations in the forest, telling the students and soldiers their personal stories.
Avraham Fuchs, 87, who lives in Jerusalem, was in Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust. He spoke about how he and his brother hid in the forests of the Carpathian Mountains with two other friends. Fuchs and his brother were caught and handed over to the Nazis. Two of their friends hid in the forest for many months, until the Red Army liberated the region. Fuchs and his brother were sent to Auschwitz, where they worked digging underground tunnels and building rail lines, and when the Russian front got closer, they were sent to the Ebensee concentration camp in Austria.

Avraham Fuchs tells his story to soldiers and border police. Photo: Yoav Devir

“That was the worst place,” recalled Fuchs. “Hundreds of people died every day, and others took their places. People were hanged or drowned for any mistake they made, such as being a little late for the morning roll call.” The two brothers managed to survive the horror and immigrated to Israel after the war.
Esther Devora Reis Mussel, who is now 74, was living in Amsterdam with her parents and her two brothers when the war broke out. She and her family were sent to Bergen Belsen. She told the students and soldiers how camp inmates tried to help each other survive, for example, setting up an infirmary and a legal system that kept order in the camp. Esther’s parents did not survive, and she went to live with her relatives, with whom she emigrated to Israel in1950.

Esther Devora Reis Mussel tells her story to a group of Ort students. Photo: Yoav Devir

Esther Golan said that she could not speak about the Holocaust at all, until she realized that it was important to pass on the message to the younger generation, so that they would remember what had happened there. Both of her parents perished in Auschwitz. After the war she immigrated to Israel, raised a family, and today she has 14 great-grandchildren. One of her grandsons was killed in a military operation in Jenin on Holocaust Remembrance Day, as she was taking part in a ceremony at Yad Vashem. “I am a Zionist, a Jewish Israeli and a Holocaust survivor. Those are the components of my identity,” she said.
Eliezer Lev Zion told the high school and junior high school students from the Boyer School in Jerusalem about how his father was arrested by the Nazis, and how he and his mother fled in the middle of the night. “My mother said to me, ‘Now you are the man of the family, and together we will overcome everything,’” recalled Lev Zion. “We found impossible ways to stay alive, and this teaches us about the ability of our people not to give up but to go on living.”