"Throughout this coming year, the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of Yad Vashem will be commemorated with public lectures, ceremonies and celebrations. Amid all of the loud hoopla and accolades, however, a quiet crescendo of criticism of Yad Vashem has been appearing in the Jewish media for their portrayal of Orthodox martyrs and survivors of the Shoah, which one high ranking member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany recently described to this writer as, 'tantamount to Holocaust denial.'"
Rabbi Meir Wikler
A haredi rabbi, Meir Wikler, has made a career lying about the Holocaust and Yad Vashem (Israel's national Holocaust museum).
Here is his latest attempt to smear Yad Vashem, complete with Wikler's reliance on a Wikipedia artcle for his 'research' and lots of other disengenuous and even decietful things.
After Wikler's article are links to two previous articles I wrote debunking him and Yad Vashem's response to Wikler's lies two years ago. Note that despite being proved wrong, Wikler continues to repeat the same lies. Also note that the haredi media continues to allow him to do so:
Yad Vashem Forgets Orthodox Jews
Rabbi Meir Wikler
Throughout this coming year, the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of Yad Vashem will be commemorated with public lectures, ceremonies and celebrations. Amid all of the loud hoopla and accolades, however, a quiet crescendo of criticism of Yad Vashem has been appearing in the Jewish media for their portrayal of Orthodox martyrs and survivors of the Shoah, which one high ranking member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany recently described to this writer as, “tantamount to Holocaust denial.
Yad Vashem has always been considered the gold standard by which all other Shoah museums have been measured. And the New Wing, which opened its doors in 2005, is a state-of-the-art, multi-media museum which has been visited by literally millions of foreign tourists and Israeli citizens. What could possibly be inaccurate in their presentation of Shoah history?
According to articles that have appeared in both American and Israeli magazines and newspapers, the distortions at the New Wing center on three major areas. Firstly, venerated Orthodox leaders are disparaged. One such heroic figure is Rabbi Michoel Dov Weissmandl, Z”L, in whose honor a New York City Councilman has recently proposed renaming a street in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn.
How does Yad Vashem denigrate Rabbi Weissmandl? The following text, for example, appears alongside his photo in the museum:
In the course of negotiations over the summer of 1942, [Rabbi Weissmandl’s Working] Group paid ransom money to Dieter Wisliceny, Eichman’s delegate in Slovakia. For various considerations, the deportations were halted in the autumn of 1942 but the Working Group believed this was a result of their bribes.
This wording implies that Rabbi Weissmandl was duped by the Nazis. One needs to look no further than Wikipedia, however, to find this.
Thanks to the efforts of [Rabbi Weissmandl’s] ‘Working Group,’ which bribed German and Slovakian officials, the mass deportation of Slovakian Jews was delayed for two years from 1942 – 1944.
A second bone of contention is the inadequate representation of Orthodox survivors amongst the 50 – 60 videotaped testimonies which are played throughout the New Wing. As Jonathan Rosenblum wrote in The Jerusalem Post (8/1/06):
According to Dr. Michael Berenbaum, former director of the research institute attached to the U.S. Shoah Museum, 50%-70% of those murdered by the Nazis, ‘were traditionally religious Jews.’
Nevertheless, of the 50 or 60 eyewitness accounts of the Shoah in the New Wing when it first opened, not a single testimony from a Haredi survivor was included. And today, nine years later, only one has been added. The exact percentage of Orthodox survivors is certainly open to debate. Even Yad Vashem would concede, however, that Orthodox Jews represented far more than two percent of the survivors. Why, then, did Yad Vashem choose to so drastically limit the number of Orthodox survivor testimonies in the New Wing?
Finally, the entire issue of spiritual heroism during the Shoah is relegated to mere footnote status. The countless examples of Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps who risked their lives to study Torah and observe mitzvos are almost completely ignored. No, not all martyrs were Orthodox. But many were. And to include only token references to the myriad acts of mesiras nefesh (self sacrifice) and adherence to Yiddishkeit is to omit large chapters of the Shoah narrative. Why would Yad Vashem choose to leave out such an integral part of the historical record of the Shoah which is so meaningful and important to a large swath of the Jewish people?
In order to seek answers to these and other questions, this writer met with a high level member of the administrative staff of Yad Vashem in August, ’13. At that hour-long meeting, which was conducted off-the-record at the request of Yad Vashem, all the issues outlined above were presented. The Yad Vashem administrator said that action could not be expected before the High Holidays in September. “After the chagim,” however, a substantive response was promised. Now, months later, the silence from Yad Vashem invites speculation.
Does Yad Vashem feel the criticism will die down and go away if it is simply ignored? Do they believe by opening their archives to Orthodox scholars and training Orthodox tour guides they are entitled to immunity from any Orthodox criticism of the New Wing? Or, do they feel that correcting these historical distortions will compromise some larger agenda to support the secular side of the current clash between the religious and secular factions of Israeli society?
The martyrs and most of the survivors of the Shoah, many of whom were Orthodox, are no longer with us. But their descendents and the community they left behind are very much alive and flourishing. While we cannot save a single life that was lost in the Shoah, we can and must prod Yad Vashem to correct the distortions that dishonor the memory of religious victims and survivors because they can no longer speak for themselves.
Here is my debunking of Wikler from 2011:
1. "At least half, if not more, of all survivors were haredi." This is complete hogwash. At the dawn of WW2, 2/3 of Warsaw's Jews were secular. The number of secular Jews was even higher in Paris, Amsterdam and Denmark. And most of Budapest's Jews were secular, as well. Even smaller cities like Munkatch had large secular populations. And all these areas had large populations of what we would call Modern Orthodox or Zionist Orthodox Jews, as well. The vast majority of Europe's Jews in 1939 were secular or non-haredi Orthodox. There are to my knowledge no studies, no academic research, and no evidence to back up Wikler's claim. But there is much evidence against Wikler. Satmar, Bobov, Klausenberg, Chabad and other American hasidic groups were broken by the Holocaust. Most of the people who today call themselves hasidim are descended from people who were secular or non-haredi-Orthodox after the Holocaust, but who were recruited by hasidic leaders, many of whom had difficulty getting a quorum for prayer in 1946.
2. "The description of Harav [Rabbi] Michoel Dov Weissmandel, of blessed memory, [who led an effort to save Jews from the Holocaust] depicts him as having been naïve and duped by the Nazis. The truth is just the opposite. He was a brilliant rabbinic leader who outwitted the Nazis at every turn." All available evidence shows Rabbi Weissmandl – the Slovakian rabbi who was courageous and tireless as he tried to save Jews from the Nazis – was, in fact, duped by the Nazis and achieved little. The only way to interpret the evidence differently (besides lying, of course) is to say that the Allies would have allowed American and Palestinian Jews to give the Germans tens of thousands of trucks and other war supplies in exchange for Jews in the middle of war they were fighting against those Germans
3. "There are videotaped testimonies of only two haredi survivors in the New Wing of the museum. Compared with the 50 or 60 testimonies of non-haredi survivors, it gives the mistaken impression that hardly any haredi Jews survived, and by extension, that haredi Judaism did not survive the Holocaust." I've known dozens of Holocaust survivors on three continents. They include parents of friends, Jewish communal leaders, Holocaust educators, simple Jews, and even a Nazi hunter. Only one or two could be honestly described as being haredi after the war. Before the war that number would be four or five, at best. What Wikler does is define haredi in terms so broad the word no longer has meaning. Therefore anyone with a onetime connection to the haredi community, no matter how tenuous it may be – even if that 'connection' comes from grandparent's affiliation only, or even if that 'affiliation' comes from Wikler defining non-haredi Orthodoxy as haredi for the purpose of his argument – is defined by Wikler as haredi. That pumps up his numbers and allows him to lambaste Yad Vashem for, in effect, following the normative definition of the word and then acting on it. On top of Wikler's behavior, there is the overall behavior of the haredi community that did survive the war. Their leaders generally refused to cooperate with Yad Vashem, which means haredim are underrepresented there – but not to the degree Wikler claims. The fault is not Yad Vashem's – it is Yoel Teitelbaum's and the other haredi leaders who refused to cooperate with it.
4. It isn't just that haredim do not commemorate Yom HaShoah. For years, they did things that flew in the face of it, just as for years haredim refused to stand still and be silent for the one minute of silence observed for Israel's fallen soldiers.
Past all this, Wikler ignores key facts that surely influenced and continue to influence Yad Vashem:
A. Haredim propagated and continue to propagate the most base and bizarre conspiracy theories to 'prove' Zionists collaborated with the Nazis and to delegitimize Israel. The 'facts' these conspiracy theories are based on are largely false, and the little that is true is taken out of context. They do this because the existence and success of the State of Israel is an existential threat to the validity of their theology.
B. Any fair representation of haredi behavior during the Holocaust must include the behavior of hasidic rebbes who ordered their flocks to stay in Europe and then fled, leaving their followers to die horrible deaths. The Satmar Rebbe did this. So did the Belzer Rebbe and his brother. So did the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And then there was Rabbi Elchanon Wasserman, a non-hasidic haredi leader who forbade his followers from fleeing Europe, even telling students not to accept offers to study at Yeshiva University in New York. Wasserman hated YU because it was Zionist and because it was Modern Orthodox. On a visit to New York, Wasserman himself turned down a teaching position there and went back to Lithuania. He and many of his students were killed by the Nazis shortly after.
C. There were rabbis – some haredi, some hasidic, some Modern or Zionist Orthodox – who refused to leave their followers and accompanied them to the killing fields and death camps. Most of them who survived came out of that hell as Zionist or Zionist leaning.
D. Scholars who study the haredi reaction to the Holocaust – including at least one haredi academic, Esther Farbstein – note that haredi rabbis' strong opposition to Zionism before the war, coupled with Israel's subsequent success and the poor behavior of the rabbis noted in section B above, largely account for the haredi community's rejection of Holocaust studies and Holocaust memorials and its ambivalent and sometimes hostile relationship with Yad Vashem. And, as I noted in section A above, it is this cognitive dissonance that is the foundation for the bizarre anti-Israel and anti-Zionist conspiracy theories common in haredi communities.
Yad Vashem responded to Wikler two years ago:
Meir Wikler’s latest article on what he perceives as bias against Haredim at Yad Vashem is replete with misinformation.
For example, Wikler says there is only one testimony of a Haredi survivor in the Holocaust History Museum; this is not true. He claims that blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, donning tefillin, lighting candles on Hannukah “are not mentioned at all”. Again, this is false. Rabbi Weissmandl and the Working Group’s efforts, under impossible circumstances, to rescue Jews are respected by Yad Vashem and all the guides trained here. It’s unfortunate that Wikler chooses to see insults and slights where none exist.
To state that “spiritual heroism of the Holocaust is almost completely overlooked” is wrong and misleading, demonstrating a perception unrelated to reality. Yad Vashem seeks to meaningfully impart the story of the Shoah in all its complexity and variety with a special emphasis on spiritual heroism. The activities of Yad Vashem - its museums, exhibitions, online material (viewed by over 12 million people last year), educational approaches, publications, and more - prove the contrary.
Wikler says that Haredim have authored their own Holocaust history books, developed curricula and teach their children. Indeed, for nearly a decade, an ultra-Orthodox department in Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies has been working closely with Haredi educators and leaders to prepare educational material such as the multi-volume textbooks Years Wherein We Have Seen Evil in Hebrew and English and seminars - at Yad Vashem and elsewhere - serving Haredi educators and students throughout Israel. Sincere dialogue between Yad Vashem and the leadership of Haredi Jewry and their representatives over the years has resulted in productive educational activity with the Bais Yaacov and other Haredi educational systems, and many Haredim participate in seminars at Yad Vashem, in genuine partnerships with Agudath Israel of America and the Belz community in Israel, to name just a few.
To claim, as his headline does, that “Yad Vashem honors only Holocaust’s secular victims” is outrageous and can only be a result of an unfounded bias.
I invite Haaretz readers to join the hundreds of thousands of people, including Haredim and other Jews and non-Jews of all backgrounds, who visit the Holocaust History Museum, and other sites at Yad Vashem, and experience it for themselves.