Shmuel Garnestein
Shmuel Garnestein among the records that will be housed in the future Bnei Brak Holocaust center. Photo by Alon Ron
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A few months ago, bulldozers demolished a private home in the middle of Bnei Brak. The now-vacant lot, situated between two homes and closed off by a fence, bears a colorful sign: "A holy archive is to be built here, with God's help." The six-floor building to be constructed at the site, which is only at the planning stage today, is slated to become a first-of-its-kind facility, and what some say will be the symbol of a transformation in the ultra-Orthodox community's attitude toward the Holocaust.

In fact, the Kiddush Hashem Archive is a long-standing Haredi enterprise dedicated to commemorating the Holocaust. It was established by the late Rabbi Moshe Prager and is run today by Rabbi David Skulsky. However, it is actually located in a series of places scattered around Bnei Brak. The planned facility is thus a breakthrough, to be located in one place in the center of the Haredi city.

With an investment of NIS 7 million to NIS 8 million, the building is slated to serve as a museum for the public at large and a facility for the study of the Holocaust, replete with a new archive, a library and a memorial wing. Since 1964, the Kiddush Hashem has mainly collected thousands of documents and objects related to the Holocaust, particularly from Orthodox communities. These items will be stored in the new facility.

Esther Farbstein, a Holocaust educator who serves as the academic adviser to the planned center, explains: "This represents the next stage in the transformation of the Haredi community's attitude toward the Shoah - and it is a necessary step." She adds that even though the project can be conceptualized as an alternative to established Holocaust memorial and educational endeavors, including Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, "I know that Yad Vashem will not oppose this place; it will support it."

Dr. Mali Eizenberg of the Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, who formulates curricula for female Haredi educators and has been involved in the new project, says the facility's establishment will underscore what she calls "the Haredi narrative": the spiritual life of Orthodox communities at the time of the Holocaust.

Eizenberg explains that the concept of the Kiddush Hashem facility originated during the Eichmann trial. Some of the people involved in the trial, including Moshe Prager, who was an adviser to the prosecutors, felt "they [Haredim] had no place in Israeli discourse, that the Haredi narrative was not included in Holocaust memorials," according to Eizenberg, who devoted her dissertation at Bar-Ilan University to Prager. She recalls that he had reservations about the emphasis at Yad Vashem and other institutions on ghetto rebellions led by Zionist-affiliated organizations. He felt such a tendency distorted the role and activities of religious communities, and their connection to the Holocaust.

Farbstein believes that for the ultra-Orthodox community "a visit to the new facility will reduce ignorance. It will present historical information and offer resources. The museum there will inspire confidence and encourage visitors to deal with the subject of the Holocaust. They will ask questions and get answers."