What was Yad Vashem thinking?

Since its opening in 2005, the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem has been pilloried by a host of Orthodox writers, including this one, for its mistreatment of Orthodox Jewish martyrs and survivors. More specifically, Yad Vashem has been taken to task for all but eliminating Torah Jews from the videotaped testimonies continuously played throughout the museum; for relegating acts of spiritual heroism to barely-footnote status; and for blatantly disparaging the few leaders of Torah Jewry featured, such as Rabbi Michoel Dov Weissmandl, may his memory be for a blessing.

Through published rejoinders, official spokespeople have attempted to defend Yad Vashem’s museum. In doing so, they have raised obfuscation to an art form. And they have, albeit unwittingly, revealed their disdain for the special chapter of Torah Jews in the history of the destruction of European Jewry in WWII. What follows is a sampling of Yad Vashem’s published responses, together with a candid commentary.

Responding to a disparaging letter in a secular American Jewish newspaper, Iris Rosenberg, spokesperson for Yad Vashem, wrote (6/16/06):

In the year since the new Holocaust History Museum opened, a number of issues have been raised that are currently being addressed… The presentation of religion in the museum is also being addressed.

‘Come back and see the changes’

Iris Rosenberg’s message — “Give us a chance and we’ll get to it” — was echoed in an interview with Shulamit Inbar, pedagogical director of Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies, published in Mishpacha (7/26/06). She was questioned about the omission of Torah Jewry at the museum.

It wasn’t organized correctly. We saw it and it wasn’t intentional. But we didn’t want to change things in a rush. We wanted to do it sensibly and in the right way, so come back and see the changes in a few months.

At the time, it was appropriate for Torah Jewry to adopt a wait and see attitude. Now, six years later, with hardly any improvements made at the museum, these words ring hollow.

‘Driving a wedge between Jews’

In response to two articles published in Hamodia, Iris Rosenberg attempted to rebut the criticism of the museum (7/22/10). And she accused both authors of being “intent on driving a wedge between Jews.” Furthermore, she indicted them for trying to “ignite the flames of controversy and sinas hinam among the Jewish people.”

Iris Rosenberg did not explain, however, to which charge she was referring. Is it calling for the inclusion of testimonies of frum survivors which constitutes “driving a wedge between Jews?” Or, perhaps it is the objection to dishonoring the memory of Rabbi Weissmandl which “ignites the flames of controversy?” Or, maybe it is the appeal for showcasing the spiritual heroism during World War II which engenders “sinas hinam?

Last year, in a critique printed in a secular American Jewish periodical, I stated that “more than half of the survivors were Chareidi.” In her rejoinder, Estee Yaari, foreign media liaison for Yad Vashem, asked (5/6/11):

Where are the facts to back up such an assertion? Yet it is immaterial to the issue.

If the facts are “immaterial to the issue,” why did Estee Yaari ask for them? And if the facts are immaterial to the issue, what exactly is “the issue?” Unfortunately, she did not say.

Estee Yaari concluded:

The Jewish people, then as today, [is] made up of many types of Jews, all of whom find representation in the Holocaust History Museum and other work of Yad Vashem.

I did not claim that Torah Jews are not represented, at all, at Yad Vashem. Rather, I had taken issue with the manner and extent to which they are portrayed.

This year, another critical review of mine appeared on Haaretz. In her response (4/15/12), Iris Rosenberg wrote that I had said, “There is only one testimony of a Haredi survivor in the Holocaust History Museum; this is not true.”

She did not, however, state exactly how many testimonies of frum survivors there are in the museum. If she was trying to refute the charge that frum survivors are under represented among the videotaped testimonies played throughout the museum, why not simply supply the correct number?

Is this not obfuscation?

Iris Rosenberg also pointed to the Orthodox content of Yad Vashem’s, “exhibitions, online material… educational approaches, publications and more” to rebut the charges leveled only at the museum. And she referred to the “ultra-Orthodox department in Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies” as additional evidence refuting claims of mistreatment of Torah Jewry at the museum. If this is not obfuscation, then what is?

Finally, another unflattering critique of Yad Vashem’s museum was recently published in Eytan Kobre’s column in Mishpacha. In her reply, Iris Rosenberg wrote (5/9/12),:

This article unfortunately reflects a deep misunderstanding of what Yad Vashem is all about. While I could spend the next ten pages illustrating various ways this is so, I would instead refer you to the thousands of chareidi educators and visitors who have attended seminars and tours at Yad Vashem in this past year alone.

According to that reasoning, therefore, there is nothing about MTA advertising which could possibly be offensive to Torah Jews, because so many of them ride the buses and subways every day!

If only one of the comments quoted above were made, it could be overlooked as an unintentional misstatement. After seeing them as an aggregate, however, one can only wonder: “What were they thinking?!” Did they believe Torah Jewry would conclude these statements are anything other than transparent attempts to whitewash Yad Vashem’s failure to present an accurate history of Hurban Europe? Torah Jewry, therefore, has a moral obligation to continue to express its full throated opposition until all of the necessary corrections are made to the museum in order to truly honor the memory of the Kedoshim, Hashem yinkom domom.

About the Author
Dr Meir Wikler is a Brooklyn-based psychotherapist, author and public speaker