Revered Polish Jew, Holocaust Survivor Joins Protests Over Top Appointment at Yad Vashem

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Auschwitz Survivor Marian Turski at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 2020
Auschwitz Survivor Marian Turski at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 2020Credit: Wikimedia commons

One of Poland’s most prominent Jewish citizens and Holocaust survivors has added his voice to the growing controversy over the appointment of Effi Eitam, former politician and military commander, to the top position at Yad Vashem.

In a letter sent several days ago to President Reuven Rivlin, historian and journalist Marian Turski warned that Eitam’s appointment as chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate would “greatly undermine Yad Vashem’s authority around the world.”

“Faced with the global rise of nationalism and populism, a renewed wave of antisemitism and the return of Holocaust denial propaganda, the chairman of Yad Vashem needs to have impeccable moral authority,” he wrote in the letter, which was also addressed to Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem council, which oversees the Jerusalem-based museum and commemoration center. “When the moment comes to stand up against xenophobia, racism and antisemitism in the international arena, who the chairman of Yad Vashem is will be extremely important if we don’t want Yad Vashem to be limited only to the state of Israel but to remain a leading worldwide moral authority.”

Turski, 95, is a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald. In addition to heading the council of POLIN, the relatively new museum of the history of Polish Jewry based in Warsaw, he has served as chairman of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland and is a member of the International Auschwitz Memorial Council. Turin (who was born Moshe Turbowicz) has lived in Warsaw since the end of World War II.

He emphasizes in his letter the strong ties that have hitherto existed between Yad Vashem and Polish institutions active in commemorating and researching the Shoah. 

Benjamin Netanyahu plants a sapling in the Golan Heights with Effi Eitam, 2009Credit: REUTERS

In his letter to Rivlin and Lau, Turin beseeches them to use their influence “to prevent decisions that can only hurt the Jewish cause in international public opinion,” noting that Eitam is "known as a person of extreme views."

As reported in Haaretz, the Anti-Defamation League, in a rare move last week joined the campaign against Eitam’s appointment citing his “problematic moral record.” The ADL was particularly concerned about Eitam’s calls for the mass deportation of Palestinians from the West Bank and his description of Arab Israelis as a “fifth column.” It is almost unprecedented for the ADL , which monitors antisemitism worldwide, to intervene in appointments at other Jewish organizations and institutions.

In a letter to Lau, Carole Nuriel, the head of the ADL office in Israel, also expressed concerns about an incident in the 1980s in which soldiers under Eitam’s command beat to death a Palestinian prisoner. They later testified that they had received their orders from Eitam.

After retiring from the military, Eitam served as head of the National Religious Party and was known for his close ties to the settler movement.

Before his appointment comes up for a final vote in the cabinet, Eitam must be vetted by a special committee tasked with screening candidates for top jobs in the public sector.

The appointment has also sparked outrage among prominent Holocaust survivors in Israel, the organizations that represent them and members of the so-called “second generation.”

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