In January 2006 two important events took place in Israel honoring the Jewish and non-Jewish rescuers of the Jews in the Holocaust. On January 17 2006, the 60th anniversary of the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg into the Gulag, the second International Rescuer Day was held on the Hebrew University campus in Jerusalem before a packed hall in Bet Belgia. Among those addressing the distinguished gathering were former Minister of Defense Moshe Arens, the Ambassador of Sweden in Israel (in flawless Hebrew), Louise de Dardel, the niece of Raoul Wallenberg, and Becky Kook, the daughter of Hillel Kook (alias Peter Bergson). New songs about Wallenberg, George Mantello and Hillel Kook were performed by singer-songwriter Ben Reuven, with a moving closing song by Roger Mehl.
A week later another annual event took place in the Law Faculty Building in Tel Aviv University. The event, compered by Minister Michael Melchior before a distinguished audience, had a dual purpose, commemorating International Holocaust Day and the presentation of the 20th annual Raoul Wallenberg Prizes to outstanding students.
A memorable feature of both the events was the exhibiting of two big remarkable paintings by the gifted Jerusalem artist Hanalisa Omer. In each painting the artist depicts Holocaust Rescuers with the background of the Jews rescued from the Holocaust jaws of death.
In the first painting, entitled “Help from the New World”, we see Hillel Kook (alias Peter Bergson) in the foreground with the Capitol in Washington where he and his colleagues in the important rescue group, “The Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish people of Europe,” worked tirelessly to make Americans aware of the Holocaust through high impact campaigns and marches (400 Rabbis marched to the White House on October 6 1943 calling for immediate rescue action). The Bergson group’s tireless lobbying, which won many dedicated supporters in Congress and the Senate, forced America to confront the tragedy of European Jewry and finally impelled President Roosevelt to create the War Refugee Board in January 1944 which resulted in Raoul Wallenberg’s mission to Budapest and the rescue of well over 200,000 Jews. Against the background of Budapest in the winter 1944 we see Raoul Wallenberg, (the Swedish Consul, right), Carl Lutz (Swiss Consul, left) and in the middle Ms. Recha Sternbuch, the Swiss representative of the New York-based Orthodox Rabbis Committee, who distributed protective papers, smuggled Jews across the Austrian-Swiss border, and was involved in late 1944 ransom negotiations with Himmler to save the lives of concentration camp inmates as Germany retreated.
In the second painting, entitled “Switzerland Awakens,” in the foreground we see George Mantello (Mandl Gyorgy), First Secretary of the Salvadoran consulate in Switzerland and Orthodox Jew who, with the help of Swiss pastor Paul Vogt initiated a remarkable Swiss press and church campaign to alert the world to the horrors of Auschwitz which emerged from the Auschwitz Report sent by Rabbi Weissmandl The resulting 440 articles in 120 newspapers about the Nazi atrocities aroused the Swiss people who staged unheard of demonstrations in Swiss cities and alerted the whole free world. Mantello’s action and the subsequent protests also led to Admiral Horthy’s halting the daily transports of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. So that, despite Eichmann’s efforts to deport the Jews, Wallenberg, Lutz and other neutral diplomats were able to rescue an estimated 140,000 Jews in Budapest. In the background we see Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl of the Slovak Jewish Underground Working Group and Mrs. Gizi Fleischmann, who sent the copies of the Auschwitz Report, based on the testimony of two escapees from Auschwitz, to Switzerland, together with Rabbi Weissmandl’s plea to the Allies to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz and the crematoria..
The paintings were initially commissioned by the Jerusalem Working Group which organized the International Rescuer Day event, and Hanalisa completed both works in record time. They are unique works in that they constitute a moving modern tribute to many of those courageous and resourceful Jewish and non-Jewish individuals who saved thousands of our people and about whom, in many cases, little is remembered or mentioned in our Holocaust studies and museums, although it must be said that the Holocaust historian and lecturer David Kranzler pays due tribute to them in his books.
The artist of these remarkable works, Hanalisa Omer, was born in Czechoslovakia in 1947 in a Holocaust survivors’ family and immigrated to Israel in 1967. She studied at the School of Industrial design in Bratislava, Slovakia, then at the Bezalel Academy of Art, and took a Yoga teacher’s course at the Wingate Institute. From1972 on she worked as a graphic designer and illustrator. In 1983 she became a member of Ein Hod Artists village. Between 1972 and 1995 her artwork included oil paintings of the series ” Inner Landscapes”, sculptures and portraits. Between 1985 and 1999 she exhibited periodically in the Ein Hod Art Gallery. From 1999 she has been living in Jerusalem and working on a community ecological project. In 2005 she had an exhibition called “Heavenly & Earthly Jerusalem” and since 2005 has been engaged in painting the series “Roots”. In recent years she has had successful exhibitions, among many, of her unique art works in Jerusalem (Fuchsberg Center), Mikulov, Czech Republic (Gallery Efram), and the Terezin Ghetto Museum.
In 2011 she published in Hebrew a uniquely inspiring children’s book called Grandma Ruth’s Picture Album featuring her illustrations and a dialogue between Granny Ruth and her grandson about life and death..and love. Her website address is http://hanalisa.cjb.net and her email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of her wonderful art works are also available for sale.
I wish to acknowledge the valuable assistance of Larry Pfeffer of the Jerusalem Working Group in the preparation of this blog. Larry can be contacted at email@example.com