"A…point of contention is the gross underrepresentation of Orthodox survivors among the videotaped testimonies that appear throughout the museum. There are approximately 50-60 video monitors of varying sizes in the Holocaust History Museum, which continually play prerecorded personal testimonies of survivors. When the Holocaust History Museum first opened in 2005, only one of the dozens of men, and none of the dozens of women, speaking on these videos were identifiably religious. Chassidic and Chareidi survivors were not represented at all. This denied visitors the opportunity to hear from survivors who view the Holocaust from a Torah perspective. After all, the purpose of a museum is to present an honest and complete picture of its subject. If any museum omits a significant segment of its theme, it is simply not doing its job."
Above: Meir Wikler
Meir Wikler has written yet another dishonest article about haredim, the Holocaust and Yad Vashem.
Wikler has for years tried to a make a name for himself in the haredi world by attacking Yad Vashem for its supposed bias against haredim and other Orthodox Jews.
In his latest dishonest piece – published in arguably the most dishonest haredi publication in history, the US-based version of Yated Ne'eman (fondly nicknamed Pravda Ne'eman by some haredim as a result), Wikler repeats his tired claim that it is immodest and bigoted for Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust museum and research center, to display photos of groups of naked Jewish women about to gassed to death by the Nazis. What if one of these women were your grandmother? Would you want the photo displayed? Wikler claims he told Yad Vashem.
That the vast majority of survivors see those photos as important artifacts that show in graphic terms what the Nazis were is a point Wikler – a psychologist – can't grasp. The idea that there is a higher good, something more important than the haredi extremist grasp of modesty halakha, completely evades him. That the vast majority of people who see the photos don't view then as erotic also escapes Wikler, whose very large hat conceals something much smaller beneath it.
Wikler harassed Yad Vashem for years until the museum that is supposed to document all of the Holocaust removed those photos to placate the haredi minority.
Here's another claim by Wikler, one that might seem plausible on first blush – until you stop a minute and think about it:
A…point of contention is the gross underrepresentation of Orthodox survivors among the videotaped testimonies that appear throughout the museum. There are approximately 50-60 video monitors of varying sizes in the Holocaust History Museum, which continually play prerecorded personal testimonies of survivors. When the Holocaust History Museum first opened in 2005, only one of the dozens of men, and none of the dozens of women, speaking on these videos were identifiably religious. Chassidic and Chareidi survivors were not represented at all. This denied visitors the opportunity to hear from survivors who view the Holocaust from a Torah perspective. After all, the purpose of a museum is to present an honest and complete picture of its subject. If any museum omits a significant segment of its theme, it is simply not doing its job.
According to Dr. Michael Berenbaum, former director of the research institute attached to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, “50%-70% of those murdered by the Nazis, were traditionally religious Jews.” To adequately represent all survivors, therefore, a majority of those videos should have included testimonies from religious survivors.
Wikler fails to tell his readers that until very recently, most haredi communities did not speak about the Holocaust openly and survivors within those communities did not cooperate with Yad Vashem.
Secondly, while 50%-70% of those murdered by the Nazis may have been traditionally religious Jews (but not necessarily haredim), 50%-70% of survivors are not. The vast majority of survivors were either completely secular or much less religious after the war than they were before it.
For example, today's Satmar hasidic movement has a large number of Holocaust survivors. But almost all of those survivors were not Satmar hasidim before or during the Holocaust and many were not strictly Orthodox after the war. They were brought into Satmar by its rebbe, Joel "Yoelish" Teitelbaum, who played on their survivor's guilt while at the same time providing them with a convenient scapegoat for their suffering – the Zionists who supposedly cooperated with the Holocaust so they could use the murders of millions of Jews to get their state. Other haredi groups did similar – or usually much less onerous – things with survivors, as well.
So while those survivors – which seem to make up the bulk of haredi Holocaust survivors – are haredi today, during and immediately after the war they were almost all what we would call today OTD or casually Orthodox, and s surprising large number of them were already not haredi before the war.
That's a story Yad Vashem hasn't yet told. But if it were to do what Wikler wants it would also have to tell this story. Would Wikler support that? That's unlikely. Instead, he'd likely launch another misleading campaign to force Yad Vashem to censor that information due the "embarrassment" the information causes to those haredi survivors and their families.
Wilker goes on to cite recent research by Esther Farbstein and the writings of Hamodia's Ruth Lichtenstein. But he doesn't tell his readers that Farbstein – who is herself haredi and who is the daughter of a very prominent haredi rabbi – had great difficulty doing that research because the norms of the haredi community made it difficult for some of the survivors to speak. She places much of the blame for the haredi part of the greater Holocaust story not reaching prominence on the haredi community itself. As for Lichtenstein, her history is checkered, and it's very hard to take what she writes without a large grain of salt.
The haredi community's Holocaust narrative is that their rabbis were holy martyrs unless they were miraculously saved from death by God. All their rescue efforts were successful to some degree and undertaken wholeheartedly. As for non-Orthodox Jews and less Orthodox Jews, their assimilation is what weakened the Jewish people and angered the Nazis. Some, like Chabad-Lubavitch's sixth rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, openly blamed the Holocaust on these non-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Jews, while some other rebbes stopped just short of direct blame and instead blamed the forces of assimilation.
Yes, some rebbes did blame only the Nazis and some haredi rabbis did try to save non-Orthodox Jews. But for the most part, the Vaad Hatzalah saved only rabbis and yeshiva students and their families, not secular Jews or Reform Jews. Several prominent rebbes abandoned their followers and fled to safety, sometimes while promising those very same followers that the Nazis would not harm them. And some rescue efforts – like those of the 6th Chabad-Lubavitch rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, failed almost completely. In Schneersohn's case, unable to rescue anyone, he took the thousands of dollars he'd raised to save Jews from Hitler and used it to open his Brooklyn yeshiva.
Wikler complains that haredi rescue efforts are given short shrift:
When the Holocaust History Museum opened, for example, only a small, unidentified photo of Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandl zt”l was displayed. There was no reference made to his extraordinary rescue efforts together with the Sternbuchs, the Rothschilds and others, despite the fact that this dramatic chapter in the annals of the Holocaust has been exhaustively documented by historians. Rav Weissmandl’s own heart-wrenching book, Min Hameitzar, clearly chronicles those rescue efforts, which were unfortunately thwarted, at times, by misguided fellow Jews.
Later, I saw that that small picture was replaced with a slightly larger one, accompanied by the following text: “In the course of negotiations over the summer of 1942 [Rav Weissmandl’s] Working Group paid ransom money to Dieter Wisliceny, Eichmann’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 Rav Weissmandl was duped by the Nazis, a charge that has been challenged by many Holocaust scholars. Even if there is a dispute about this, by what right does Yad Vashem have to choose sides and come down on the side of disparaging an Orthodox hero?
The fact is that many Holocaust historians based on facts and evidence (much of which was uncovered in Eastern Bloc state archives after the fall of the Soviet Union) have come to the conclusion that Weissmandl honestly tried to rescue Jews but those rescue efforts and halting of deportations were not what Weissmandl thought they were and were not as effective as haredim claim.
The job of Yad Vashem is to tell the truth. If the truth "disparages and Orthodox hero" – or, more accurately, debunks haredi myths about that hero – so be it. Yad vashem can't be in the business of worrying about whose feelings will be hurt. It needs to be in the business of telling the truth.
Unfortunately, when it comes to telling the truth in news reporting and and history, as Professors Marc B. Shapiro, Yoel Finkleman and David Assaf have all shown, haredim simply don't do that if the truth is inconvenient or embarrassing.
What follows is Yad Vashem's response to Wikler's article. Yated Ne'eman, which published it, says it was not edited:
As the World Center for Holocaust Remembrance, Yad Vashem strives to present the story of the Shoah to a global audience in a broad fashion while focusing on the Jewish personal perspective.
For over six decades, Yad Vashem has dedicated itself to giving a name and a face to all of the six million victims of the Holocaust. While the plight of one specific population group is not highlighted over others, the testimonies, artifacts and images on display in the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem conveys the story of human spirit and the extreme sacrifice European and North African Jewry paid during the tragedy of the Holocaust, without prejudice or regard to religious background or association. Many of the video segments in the museum tell the personal stories of the valiant efforts Jews went through in order to preserve their religious identity and keep their tradition alive under unbearable circumstances. In addition to the Museum Complex in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem has an unparalleled and comprehensive website featuring a range of online exhibitions highlighting individuals and communities destroyed during the Shoah, including specific ultra-Orthodox communities from Europe.
With the support of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Holocaust survivor and chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, as well as other rabbinical figures, Yad Vashem has developed a mutually respectful and productive relationship with the leading admorim and rabbonim from the ultra-Orthodox community. Each year, Yad Vashem hosts hundreds of leaders from the community, as well as yeshiva and seminary teachers and students, who participate in many cooperative programs, including educational seminars. In addition, the Shoah Victims Names Recovery Project works in full cooperation with Agudas Yisrael of America and Ginzach Kiddush Hashem of Bnei Brak, as well as many other organizations in the Chassidic and Litvish communities in Israel and abroad. Yad Vashem is also a popular site for ultra-Orthodox tourism in Israel, and thousands come to visit the campus each year.
For many years, Dr. Meir Wikler has been determined to censure Yad Vashem, despite its clear engagement with the ultra-Orthodox community, as well as its rich legacy that was so tragically decimated during the Holocaust. Dr. Wikler, who does not seem to represent the mainstream Haredi community, is unfortunately conducting a single-minded campaign to sully all of the efforts carried out by Yad Vashem’s dedicated staff and supporters worldwide to commemorate all of the six million Jews – men, women and children – who were brutally murdered by the German Nazis and their collaborators.