Yad Vashem Locks Horns With Israeli Lawmakers Over Jewish Holocaust Heroes

Israeli lawmakers want the Holocaust museum and memorial to give the same recognition to Jews who saved other Jews during the Holocaust as it does to non-Jews who did so.

Jonathan Lis
Ofer Aderet
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Yad Vashem.
Yad Vashem.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis
Ofer Aderet

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will consider a bill Sunday that is the focus of a dispute between and a group of Knesset members.

The MKs want the Holocaust museum and memorial to give the same recognition to Jews who saved other Jews during the Holocaust as it does to non-Jews who did so, the so-called .

Yad Vashem opposes the draft law, calling it “superfluous and problematic” and saying it would cause injustice and hurt the feelings of many Holocaust survivors.

The amendment to the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance day was sponsored by MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) and has the support of MKs across the political spectrum.

The bill would require Yad Vashem to add a category for Jews who endangered their own lives and through their heroism and actions saved other Jews in the areas occupied by the Nazis. German said it was ridiculous that the present law is interpreted as applying only to non-Jews.

While the committee will discuss the bill Sunday, according to a prior agreement reached between the ministers they will make a decision on whether to the give the bill official government backing only after a similar bill sponsored by another group of legislators is filed. MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) is sponsoring the second bill and intends to advance it through a speeded up process and have both bills discussed within two weeks. He said every MK he asked to cosponsor the bill has agreed, from Meretz, Kulanu and the Zionist Union too.

Yad Vashem says its opposition to the proposal is because it will be impossible to set criteria that will enable them to say which actions by Jews during the Holocaust to save other Jews are worthy of such special recognition.

It was common for Jews to help other Jews during the Holocaust, and most of the Jews who managed to survive the period received help from other Jews, said Yad Vashem.

In addition, Yad Vashem feels such official recognition of Jews will diminish the prestige of “The Righteous Among the Nations,” commonly referred to as “Righteous Gentile.” The uniqueness of the title for non-Jews is that they endangered their own lives and those of their families to save Jews — and sometimes paid for it with their lives — while Jews who saved other Jews were almost always in mortal danger in any case, and did so as part of their solidarity and mutual help for their brethren. In addition, they say the question of mutual aid between Jews during the Holocaust has received major expression in commemoration, education and research activities Yad Vashem sponsors.

German and Slomiansky know of Yad Vashem’s opposition, but say: “Who says Yad Vashem is right?” They say the institution is fixated on its position and their intent is to honor Jews too. Very few such people are still alive and we must move quickly to honor them, says German.