Shoah The Holocaust
The Holocaust (Shoah) was an unprecedented genocide, total and systematic, perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators with the aim of annihilating the Jewish people, culture and traditions from the face of the Earth. The primary motivation for the Holocaust was the Nazis’ antisemitic racist ideology. Between 1933 and 1941, Nazi Germany pursued a policy of increasing persecution that dispossessed the Jews of their rights and property, and later branded and concentrated the Jewish populations under their rule into designated areas. By the end of 1941, the policy had developed into an overall comprehensive, systematic operation that the Nazis called “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” These policies gained broad support in Germany and across much of the European continent.
Nazi Germany designated the Jews of Europe, and eventually the rest of the world, for total extermination. Alongside the mass extermination of millions by shooting, millions of Jews from all over Europe were rounded up and deported on freight trains to extermination camps—industrial facilities in which they were gassed to death. During the entire process of registration, rounding-up and boarding the trains, the Germans deceived the victims as to the real purpose of their journey.
By the end of WWII in 1945, some six million Jews had been murdered.
Yad Vashem was established in 1953 as the World Center for Holocaust commemoration, documentation, research and education. As the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Shoah, Yad Vashem safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meanings for future generations.
For 2,000 years, Jews prayed and dreamed of their return to Zion. The affinity to Eretz Israel was expressed in prayer, philosophy, poem and song, in life-cycle events and on Jewish holidays – not in a political or active manner, but by individuals, and groups who immigrated to Eretz Israel, and settled there. Others visited and wrote about the Land, and for hundreds of years, there was a consistent, albeit limited, Jewish presence in Eretz Israel.
This exhibition focuses on the longings for Eretz Israel during the years 1933-1948—from the rise of the Nazi Party to power to the outbreak of World War II, and from the annihilation of European Jewry until the end of the war and the establishment of the State of Israel. Beginning at the end of the nineteenth century, and between the two world wars of the twentieth century—and against the background of the growth of different ideologies alongside the intensification of political antisemitism—a fierce struggle in the Jewish world centered on its future. One of the answers was practical political Zionism, which placed as its goal the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Eretz Israel. Although numerically it was a small movement, and notwithstanding the strong resistance of other streams, its influence was noticeable among wide circles of Jews worldwide, and it paved the way to translate dream into reality.
World War II and the Holocaust shook the foundations of the outlooks and worldviews that had developed and existed among the Jewish people, but even during those terrible times, in the midst of the struggle for life, Eretz Israel held a firm place in the hearts and thoughts of the Jews.
The Holocaust determined the argument among the Jewish people regarding its future. The different ideologies once running through the Jewish communities collapsed in its wake. The processes promoted by the Zionist movement even before the Shoah, and that were strengthened afterwards, brought about, after a stubborn struggle, the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
1933 – 1939
Eretz Israel: From Dream and Vision to Fulfilment
With the rise of the Nazi Party to power and the deployment of its antisemitic racial ideology in German society, the situation of Jews worsened—beginning with hampering their way in society and economy, then distancing them from life in the country they were born and lived in, to being labeled an inferior race. Jews from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia sought refuge in different countries, as well as in Eretz Israel.
At the time, Eretz Israel was increasingly perceived as a possible solution for the Jewish people, as a place for building a future home, and as the hoped-for protection from the present harsh reality. Activities of the Zionist movement grew stronger during this period, and Eretz Israel was gradually built-up: new settlements were established, agricultural branches and industrial plants were developed, and the population increased significantly despite the limits placed by the British Mandatory authority.
Varied news reaching the Diaspora from Eretz Israel described the nature of the Land and its landscape; “the New Jew”; and especially the next generation growing up there. The Zionist youth groups in Europe grew substantially in both number and influence, and became a driving force for immigration to and settlement in Eretz Israel.
1940 – 1944
Eretz Israel: Between Crisis and Continuity
The Holocaust undermined all the ideologies that presented a solution for the future of the Jewish people. The world where these outlooks were born had collapsed, and the unremitting deterioration of Jewish life in the Diaspora began. The British Mandate authorities took steps to limit immigration to Eretz Israel, and with the further phases of its “Final Solution,” Germany forbade emigration of Jews abroad; and so, in actuality, immigration to Eretz Israel became almost impossible.
During the years of German occupation, the Zionist youth movements constituted frameworks that created Jewish public activity, both open and clandestine. Later on, together with other movements, they formed the nucleus for the Jewish resistance movement. During 1940-1941, their members clandestinely held cultural meetings with a religious and national character; published underground newspapers; and formed educational frameworks as a substitute for regular schools.
In March 1942, the gates of hell opened in Auschwitz. Jewish communities dwindled, and countries were emptied of their Jewish inhabitants, and at the same time deep disappointment was felt towards the Yishuv [Jewish Community in Eretz Israel], who could not provide sufficient aid in face of this great disaster.
The struggle for survival led to a certain distancing and even disconnection from the Land, but even during these hard years of destruction and extermination, there were Jews who dreamed of Eretz Israel, and left their dreams behind in their writings. Eretz Israel was never so far away from the Jews as it was during this period of destruction, although their hearts’ desires for the Land only strengthened.
While he was imprisoned in the Terezin ghetto, Dr. Filip Hermann received news from his daughter Esther who had immigrated to Eretz Israel. She had given birth to her first child, a son, and named him Yoram. Upon hearing the news, Dr. Hermann wanted to prepare a present for his first grandson, and asked an artist in the ghetto to make an engraving that would express his dream to visit his daughter and grandson in Eretz Israel. His yearning to meet his loved ones was intensified both because of the great distance and due to his understanding that most probably he would never leave the ghetto. The wood engraving shows a man sleeping upon a bench and dreaming: a ship makes its way from Terezin to Haifa, and Eretz Israel is represented through palms, camels and Bedouin figures. Under the palm tree is a baby in a cradle, and over it is the name of his grandson, Yoram.
Dr. Hermann never saw his grandson. He was sent with the last deportation from Terezin ghetto to Auschwitz, where he was murdered.
After the deportation of the Jews to the Lodz ghetto, the youth movements continued to be active there, providing support to the younger population. With the support of the head of the Judenrat, the various youth movements created types of communal training farms, similar to those that existed before the war. In this manner, the instructors hoped to detach the youth as much as possible from the distressful conditions and inaction prevailing in the ghetto. Each youth movement received a house and land to work. By the end of summer 1940, there were some 1,000 members in Marysin—a bordering agricultural area included in the ghetto—divided into 25 Zionist groups. In August 1940, The Front of Wilderness Generation was established, which united various youth movements. In September 1943, the Front of Wilderness Generation united with the Zionist youth movement and its name was changed to the Zionist Youth Front.
Pesach Stephen (Istvan) Irsai studied architecture in the Budapest Technion, and music at the city’s Royal Academy. In addition to his work as a self-employed graphic designer, he was active in local Zionist organizations, and managed the publicity division of the Keren Kayemet Leyyisrael (JNF) and Keren Hayesod. In the mid-1920s, Pesach married and immigrated to Eretz Israel, where he continued his graphic work. In 1929, he returned with his family to Hungary. He resumed his jobs at the Zionist institutions, and was employed by the civil service, working in the Hungarian Prime Minister’s office. In July 1944, Pesach, his wife and two children were deported to the “Hungarian Camp” in Bergen-Belsen on the “Kastner Train.” In December 1944, the group was liberated from Bergen-Belsen to Switzerland, and in September 1945, the artist’s family arrived in Eretz Israel. They settled in Tel Aviv.
Attempts to Immigrate to Eretz Israel
In December 1941, an old ship, the Struma, left the port of Constanta in Romania, carrying 769 Jews to Eretz Israel. The dilapidated ship barely made it to Istanbul. The Turkish authorities, however, did not allow the refugees to disembark, fearing that the British would not give them entry permits to Eretz Israel and Turkey would become their country of refuge. When the Jewish organizations asked the British to issue permits to the refugees against the emigration quota, they refused, claiming that the Nazis might have infiltrated enemy agents among the passengers. For ten weeks, the refugees were imprisoned on the ship as their situation deteriorated. On February 23, 1942, the Turks towed the Struma out to sea, leaving it without water, food, or fuel. A few hours later, it was mistakenly hit by a Soviet torpedo and sank. Only one of the passengers survived.
The account of the Struma became a symbol of the British Mandate Authority’s hard-heartedness, and the cruelty of the Turkish authorities, who towed hundreds of people to their death.
Eretz Israel: From Destruction to Rejuvenation
With the end of the war and liberation, Displaced Persons (DP) camps were set up in Europe for some quarter of a million Jewish refugees, Holocaust survivors torn from their homes during the war. Many more moved southward along the “Bricha” escape routes. Together with them, the Yishuv’s institutions organized their immigration to Eretz Israel on ships belonging to the Aliya Bet organization, despite British efforts to block the illegal immigration project. From mid-1946, thousands of illegal immigrants were caught and deported to Cyprus or returned to Europe.
During these years, the Zionist Movement returned to its activities in earnest, viewing Eretz Israel as a practical solution and the chance for the Jewish people to be rehabilitated after the Holocaust. In the DP camps in Europe and the detention camps in Cyprus, a new post-catastrophe national identity was created. The survivors returned to life, raised families, published newspapers and literature, created community and political institutions, and alongside all this immersed themselves in Holocaust remembrance. In order to realize the national aspiration, they were prepared for a long struggle, to live a life of wanderings, to be imprisoned in detention camps, and to come to a land mired in war.
The Sh’erit Hapleitah withstood all of these challenges in an astonishing manner. Some two-thirds of them came to Eretz Israel and joined in the struggle for the establishment and building of the State.
Displaced Persons Camps
The idea of establishing a training kibbutz, prevalent among survivors, was raised by a group of Jewish prisoners, religious and secular, mainly Polish and German, in the Buchenwald concentration camp. “Kibbutz Buchenwald” was founded after the liberation of Germany, in 1945, by former prisoners of the camp, and it existed in Bavaria until the establishment of the State of Israel. The kibbutz was designed to prepare its members for a life of cooperation and agricultural work in Israel. The second stage of the kibbutz took place in Kibbutz Afikim in Israel, where they developed a cultural and religious life, at the center of which was the memory of the Holocaust and attempts to impart it to local kibbutz members. In June 1948, with the arrival of kibbutz members from Germany, they co-established Kibbutz Nerzer Sereni, named after the paratrooper Enzo Sereni, who was murdered in Dachau.
Illegal Immigration to Eretz Israel
The Exodus immigration ship became a symbol of the period of illegal immigration and the aspiration to reach Eretz Israel, even at a heavy price. Its name was given as a symbol of the Exodus of Egypt of our generation, the “Exodus from Europe.”
The ship left for Eretz Israel from the Port of Sete in France on July 11, 1947, with 4,554 Holocaust survivors on board. On July 18, when the ship reached the shores of Eretz Israel, two British destroyers raided the ship. A fierce battle ensued, resulting in three dead and dozens wounded. The ship’s commanders declared surrender, and it sailed to the port of Haifa accompanied by a British squadron. At the port of Haifa the thousands of immigrants aboard the ship broke out singing “Hatikva.” They were forcibly removed from the ship and loaded onto three deportation ships, surrounded by barbed wire. The sight of the survivors of the concentration camps behind barbed wire provoked anger in Mandatory Palestine and abroad. At the end of an exhausting journey via France, the ships arrived at the Port of Hamburg in Germany, where the passengers were forcibly removed to detention facilities. A year later, they had all arrived in Eretz Israel.
The astonishment and shock of the world led the British government to conclude that its handling of the immigrant survivors had failed, and it passed the matter on to the UN.
Detention Camps in Cyprus
In March 1948, celebrated Israeli musicians Shoshana Damari and Moshe Wilensky made several appearances at the detention camps in Cyprus. Damari’s appearance excited the camps’ inmates. At the end of one of the appearances, a little girl approached Damari and handed her a bundle of weeds.
“Please don’t be angry with me,” the girl explained, “We don’t have any flowers in the camp. When I come to Eretz Israel, I will give you flowers in the name of all the children in Cyprus.”
Shoah The Holocaust