Yom Hashoah began at sundown with the annual ceremony at Yad Vashem.
Netanyahu pointed out the parallels of those dark times with the existential threat from Iran today:
Netanyahu attempted to connect the memorial day to current events, and slammed Iran’s nuclear program: “Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Today, as in the past, there are those who rationalize Iranian actions. Today, as in the past, those who think this are deluding themselves. This time too, the truth will lead the way.
“Iran wants a deal in which the sanctions are lifted, but the nuclear capabilities remain. A deal that allows Iran to remain on the threshold of nuclear power will leave the entire world on the precipice.
“I call on world powers to stand firm on the demand Iran dismantle its nuclear program.Today we do not fear making our case to presidents and prime ministers. Unlike during the Holocaust, when we were defenseless, today we have the power to defend ourselves.”
6 survivors to represent 6 million
Six Holocaust survivors, representing the six million victims, will light torches in memory of people who did not survive at the hands of the Nazis, at the main ceremony at the Warsaw Ghetto Square in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.
The holocaust survivors to light the torches are Asher Aud, Zvi Michaeli, Dita Kraus, Chayim Herzl, Hinda Tasman and Itzchak Biran.
As I do every year, I would remind you that you can read about my own family history during the Holocaust on my Family History page. I updated it last year with a report about the 70th anniversary memorial service that the family held for my mother’s three brothers who were murdered in Sobibor.
However this year I would like to bring you a slightly different angle on the Holocaust. The following two articles are about non-Jewish heroes of the Shoah who risked their very lives to help the Jews. I found both stories fascinating, and they are also stories that I had never heard of before.
The first article, (from the Jews Down Under blog) is titled The Leica Freedom Train and is the story of the “photography industry’s Schindler”. Here are some excerpts but do go and read it all:
The Leica is the pioneer 35mm camera. It is a German product — precise, minimalist, and utterly efficient. Behind its worldwide acceptance as a creative tool was a family-owned, socially oriented firm that during the Nazi era acted with uncommon grace, generosity and modesty. E. Leitz, Inc., designer and manufacturer of Germany’s most famous photographic product, saved the company’s Jews.
And Ernst Leitz II, the steely-eyed Protestant patriarch who headed the closely held firm as the Holocaust loomed across Europe, acted in such a way as to earn the title, “The Photography Industry’s Schindler.”
To help his Jewish workers and colleagues, Leitz quietly established what has become known among historians of the Holocaust as “The Leica Freedom Train,” a covert means of allowing Jews to leave Germany in the guise of Leitz employees being assigned overseas.
Employees, retailers, family members, and friends of family members were “assigned” to Leitz sales offices in France, Britain, Hong Kong and the United States.
Leitz’s activities intensified after the Kristallnacht of November 1938, during which synagogues and Jewish shops were burned throughout Germany. Before long, German “employees” were disembarking from the ocean liner Bremen at a New York pier and making their way to the Manhattan office of Leitz, Inc., where executives quickly found them jobs in the photographic industry. Each new arrival had around his or her neck the symbol of freedom — a new Leica.
The refugees were paid a stipend until they could find work. Out of this migration came designers, repair technicians, salespeople, marketers, and writers for the photographic press.
Even so, members of the Leitz family and firm suffered for their good works. A top executive, Alfred Turk, was jailed for working to help Jews, and was freed only after the payment of a large bribe.
Leitz’s daughter, Elsie Kuhn-Leitz, was imprisoned by the Gestapo after she was caught at the border, helping Jewish women cross into Switzerland. She was eventually freed, but had endured rough treatment in the course of being questioned. She also fell under suspicion when she attempted to improve the living conditions of more than 700 Ukrainian slave laborers, all of them women, who had been assigned to work in the plant during the 1940s. After the war, Kuhn-Leitz received numerous honors for her humanitarian efforts, among them the Officier d’honneur des Palms Academic from France in 1965 and the Aristide Briand Medal from the European Academy in the 1970s.
Why has no one told this story until now?
According to the late Norman Lipton, a freelance writer and editor, the Leitz family wanted no publicity for its heroic efforts. Only after the last member of the Leitz family was dead did “The Leica Freedom Train” come to light. It became the subject of a book, “The Greatest Invention of the Leitz Family: The Leica Freedom Train,” by Frank Dabba Smith. It is also the subject of a film in production, One Camera, One Life.
Here is a short trailer of the film:
You can also watch a longer trailer at Aish.com who had the original story.
This story is so incredibly moving and so heartening against the very dark abckground of those terrible times. Words cannot describe my admiration for the courage and the humility of the Leitz family. What a pity that their story was unknown until now. They never received the full recognition of their courage during their lifetime, and who knows – perhaps others in a similar position would have been inspired to help their Jewish friends too.
The second article also deals with a courageous gentile, Jan Karski, who risked his life while trying his utmost to alert the world to the mass murder of Jews that was happening in Europe. On what would be his 100th birthday, Jan Karski, Holocaust whistleblower, is being honoured by Georgetown University:
Jan Karski, a World War II Polish resistance fighter who risked his life to bring firsthand reports of the Holocaust to the Allies, is being remembered and celebrated at Georgetown University in Washington, DC this year, the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Watch the video of his above-mentioned interview. It is very emotional and moving.
Once again we find a hugely courageous person who is also incredibly modest about his deeds, and on the contrary thinks he should have done more. If only we had known about him while he was still alive.
He, and Ernst Leitz, together with Oskar Schindler, Nicholas Winton and so many other unsung heroes, are an inspiration to us all.