The article published in The Jewish Link of New Jersey on August 7, 2017 by Tammy Mark, “Mordecai Paldiel Emphasizes the Importance of Honoring One’s Own,” incorrectly claims that Yad Vashem has only recently dealt with the phenomenon of Jewish solidarity and stories of how Jews saved their fellow Jews. Accordingly, several references were mentioned regarding stories of how Jews helped save their fellow Jews that Paldiel claims were overlooked. The truth is that for a number of decades, Yad Vashem has commemorated and highlighted these stories in a variety of ways. For example, the book by Nechama Tec, “The Family of the Forest People” (in Hebrew, “Mishpachat Anshei Haya’ar”), which tells the story of the Bielski brothers, was published by Yad Vashem Publications in 1997, many years before the movie “Defiance” was released. In addition, the story of Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel is featured as a permanent exhibition in Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History Museum, which opened its doors over a decade ago.
In fact, Jewish solidarity during the Holocaust has always been, and continues to be, an integral component of Yad Vashem’s commemorative and educational activities.
The countless stories of how Jews rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust is recounted in the Holocaust History Museum, as well as in dozens of memoirs, research studies and articles published over the years by Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research. Additionally, there is a wealth of educational material and curricula produced in various languages by Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies on this subject. Moreover, this topic has been regularly highlighted among various commemorative activities and during the official Holocaust Remembrance Day opening ceremonies, as well as at other events held at Yad Vashem. A wide range of materials telling the individual stories of Jews helping other Jews are also featured on the Yad Vashem website, including in online exhibitions. In 2014, three years before Paldiel released his book, Yad Vashem published a book entitled “Jews Rescuing Jews in the Holocaust” (in Hebrew, “Ala Iti B’Gorali”), featuring numerous stories on this subject.
The essence of one of the most basic Jewish values, “All of Israel are responsible for each other,” is featured in many Holocaust testimonies and stories. However, it is not morally responsible to judge those who went through the hell of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem believes that recognizing individual Jews who saved fellow Jews is potentially dangerous. By isolating individual stories, one could erroneously indicate that they were rare occurrences and therefore merit special mention. Consequently, the process of recognizing individuals for their heroic actions on behalf of their Jewish brethren could be emotionally damaging and judgmental towards Jews who did not, or could not, act in exactly the same manner for whatever reason.
Nevertheless, Yad Vashem believes that indeed it is important to raise public awareness of this important topic, and therefore has intensified its efforts in all its spheres of activity. Books such as those written by Mordechai Paldiel and others on this subject serve to amplify these efforts, and play an important role in the public’s awareness and discourse.
Communications Director, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem