Sunday, February 21, 2010

Yad Vashem sidelines N. African victims of Nazism

A Jew who suffered under the Nazi occupation in Tunisia will have his story recorded by the Ben Zvi institute in Jerusalem, while the tribulations of a Jew who suffered in France will be studied at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Why the discrepancy? asks Edith Shaked, a Tunisian-born university lecturer who has dedicated the last ten years to teaching the Holocaust in the US. The remit of Yad Vashem, she points out in Opinion Forum, was originally to memorialise the Holocaust all over the world, not just its impact on the Jews of Europe.

Israel and the Holocaust – Is there an authentic historical perspective?

Jacques and Isabelle silently left the compound of Yad Vashem (YV), Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and the world center for documentation, research, and education about the Holocaust. It was noon and they went for lunch. As per their French custom, they ordered a cappuccino. They talked about the period when defeated France was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Their stories were very similar, because they were both French Jews. They remembered how the Nazis went door-to-door to count them. They remembered the racist and discriminatory laws enacted to gradually purge the Jews from economic, professional, and educational public life. Jacques’ father couldn’t work as a doctor, and Isabelle’s mother couldn’t work as a lawyer.

Jacques listened to her attentively when she narrated her story. Her father, a member of the Jewish Council or Judenrat, told the family about the frightening meeting at the Kommandantur, with SS Colonel Walter Rauff, to be known later as the brutal and notorious killer involved in the development of death gas-vans. Rauff screamed at them: “Jew dogs! I have taken care of Jews in Poland and Russia. I’m going to show you!”[1] So, Jews were rounded up on that rainy day of December 9, 1942 for forced labor.

Gilbert, a young cripple, couldn’t walk fast enough, and he was shot in cold blood by a German soldier. That was followed by the yellow star, the fines, and the deportation to the death camps. Isabelle, with some sadness in her voice, mentioned how her brother Robert was deported to Auschwitz but did come back.

Unfortunately, though, in Israel Isabelle’s story will be recorded differently than Jacques’ story. You see, Jacques lived in France, on the continent, and Isabelle lived in Tunisia, a French North African colony (map) (German Occupation of Europe). In Israel, Jacques’s story will be researched, documented and told at Yad Vashem. Israeli school children will learn about this unspeakable crime in a history unit on the Jews of Europe in the Holocaust. However, they will study Robert and Isabelle’s stories in a new and separate chapter, “The Jews of Tunisia under Nazi Occupation”.

The reason seems connected to definitions of YV. In the past, it appears that YV stated that “the Final solution plan aspired to destroy all the Jews of the world.” YV now defines the Final Solution as “the Nazis’ plan to solve the Jewish question by murdering all the Jews in Europe.” So, Robert, who didn’t die in Auschwitz, suffered as a “Jew of Tunisia under Nazi-occupation” and not in the Holocaust. YV appears to ignore the historical fact that France’s colony of Tunisia was considered a European country, as per a German document relevant to the Final Solution to the Jewish question.

More importantly, the author of a historical essay Old Themes – New Archival Findingswrites about two German historians, Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin C├╝ppers, who uncovered new evidence in 2006. They found a document confirming that indeed the Final Solution was a master plan to kill all the Jews, wherever Hitler’s armies could catch them. After all, SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler did say that “Every Jew that we can lay our hands on is to be destroyed now during the war, without exception. …obliterate the biological basis of Jewry.’[2]

Despite that fact, Isabelle’s story will also be told, but outside Yad Vashem.

A new Israeli one-man project was created outside YV, at the Ben-Zvi Institute for the Studies of Oriental Jewish Communities in the East (deals with history of Sephardim, “Hebrew name for Hispanic Jews; and in Israel, Sephardim are Jews whose origins were in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia;” they usually have dark skin). Its name is “The Center for Information Documentation and Research on North-African Jewry during WWII.” Interestingly, Gilbert, the young cripple who died in Tunisia “perished in the Shoah” (Holocaust in Hebrew), as per the Page of Testimony by Yad Vashem’s project to collect the names of all the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.

In 2008, Israeli Jews from Tunisia won a lawsuit against the Israeli government and became “eligible for the same Israeli government stipends paid to survivors of the Holocaust of European Jewry.” (Haaretz).

And the historical evidence is very clear. At the infamous Wannsee Conference where Nazi leaders discussed “the preparation for the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe,” when they counted the Jews marked for slaughter, “the figure for ‘unoccupied France, 700,000′ … included the Sephardi Jews in France’s North African possessions, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.” (mainland France had only ‘about 300,000 Jews’). This fact is found on page 281 in The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War, a book by Sir Martin Gilbert, a pre-eminent Holocaust historian. This title also shows that Gilbert considered the Jews of French North Africa as “Jews of Europe.” (...)

The historians at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) also understand that according to an authentic historical perspective, Isabelle’s story is part of “The history of the Holocaust in France’s three North African colonies (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia), [because] it is intrinsically tied to France’s fate during this period.” And unlike Yad Vashem, the USHMM defines the Final Solution as the Nazi “plan to annihilate the Jewish people,” and not to murder the Jews in Europe.

It now looks like Israeli Holocaust scholars and some in the Israeli public are considering the number of the victims. “A total of 2,575 Tunisian Jews died.”[3]Ironically, though, Denmark with 60 is listed and Tunisia not among the countries in the Concise Encyclopedia of the Holocaust in the website of Yad Vashem.

But, as per the revealing title of the book by Sir Martin Gilbert, the Holocaust was a Jewish tragedy. It took place in World War II, an international conflict. Therefore all the documents are connected and interrelated, and must be researched for education and information in one place.

One cannot separate the stories of the victims, Jacques and Isabelle.

There was one Jewish question, one Jewish problem, and one Final Solution.

There was one Hitler’s war against the Jews. And there was one Holocaust. It is about one story of one master plan and one war against the Jews. It is one chapter in the history of the Jewish people, where all Jews were persecuted by the same perpetrators, and shared the same fate for the same racial ideological reason — because they were Jews.

Consequently, there should be one history unit called “The Holocaust.” And there should be one Israeli resource center and world center for documentation, research, and education about the Holocaust, Yad Vashem.

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Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Who changed Yad VaShem's mandate or its interpretation of its mandate?
We know that several years ago, Yad vaShem did publish a volume on the Holocaust in Tunisia and Libya.

Be that as it may, it seems that somebody wants to keep two narratives separate instead of unifying them, as would make more sense. Who would want to do that?

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

In this context, we ought to remember that Jews in Algiers suffered a pogrom during the Dreyfus case. The pogrom attackers were both French immigrants and local Arabs.

Youdith Shaked said...

Thank you Eliyahu for reading my article.

Indeed, somebody at Yad Vashem decided to STOP reseaching, documenting and educating on North African Jewry.

YV is now SUPPORTING the Center at Ben-Zvi, where everything is in Hebrew.

So, foreign students, scholars and teachers attending the International School of Holocaust, will only learn about the Jews in Europe, as of today.

We need to do something about this incorrect historical perspective.

People can contact me at:

Thank you,
Edith Haddad Shaked

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

There is no good reason for such a change. It sounds like a "politically correct" type at Yad vaShem trying to prevent non-Jews from learning that Jews in the Arab lands also suffered in the Holocaust OR that there even were Jews in Arab lands, which many people don't know, such is the level of ignorance today. If people knew otherwise they might think differently about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Edith, the new approach that you describe at Yad vaShem is not a proper approach from the standpoint of the art of history, of historiography.