Since the opening of its state-of-the-art New Wing in 2005, Yad Vashem has been deluged by well-deserved accolades from the millions of foreign tourists and Israeli citizens who visit each year.
And it is considered by many to be the gold standard against which all other Holocaust memorials are measured. Why, then, has a crescendo of criticism of the New Wing been coming from some Orthodox Jews?
The disapproval of Orthodox Jews centers on three major aspects:
• Venerated Orthodox leaders are demeaned. One such heroic figure was Rabbi Michoel Dov Weissmandl, z”l. The following text appears alongside his photo. “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.
• There seems to be inadequate representation of Orthodox survivors among the 50 to 60 videotaped testimonies that are played continuously throughout the New Wing. While the exact percentage of survivors who were Orthodox is open to debate, no one can deny that Orthodox Jewish survivors are vastly underrepresented among these videotaped testimonies.
• There is a disregard for the issue of spiritual heroism during the Holocaust. 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.
Why would Yad Vashem set up the New Wing in a way that is so disturbing to a large swath of the Jewish people? With all these concerns, Orthodox Jews have been asked, why don’t they meet with representatives of Yad Vashem? This past August, I did just that.
The hour-long meeting with a high-level member of the administrative staff was conducted “off the record” at the administrator’s request. And all of the issues outlined above were presented. The administrator said that action could not be expected before the High Holidays. “After the chagim,” however, a substantive response was promised. Now, eight months later, I am still waiting. And the silence from Yad Vashem invites speculation.
Does Yad Vashem believe criticism from the Orthodox community will go away if it is simply ignored? Do administrators feel that by opening their archives to Orthodox scholars and training Orthodox tour guides they are entitled to immunity from Orthodox criticism?
The martyrs and most of the survivors of the Holocaust, many of whom were Orthodox, are no longer with us. While we cannot bring back a single life that was lost, we can, and must, prod Yad Vashem to properly honor the memory of Orthodox martyrs and survivors because they can no longer speak for themselves.
Meir Wikler is a psychotherapist and family counselor in full-time private practice with offices in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Lakewood, N.J. He is a published author, most recently with 180 Rechov Yaffo: Bridge to a Bygone Era; 50 Stories of Emunah and Bitachon.