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In Blessed Memory of a Dream: Mordechai Shenhavi and Initial Holocaust Commemoration Ideas in Palestine, 1942–1945

Mooli Brog

  1. The French historian Pierre Nora argues that since in today’s age of scientific objectivity it is hard to distinguish between informative reporting and interpretation of meaning, there is a struggle between “history” and “memory” in describing the past. Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les lieux de me’moire,” Representation, vol. 26 (Spring 1989), pp. 7-25.
  2. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books., 1973) pp. 87-125.
  3. Barry Schwartz, “Memory as a Cultural System: Abraham Lincoln in World War II,” Sociological Review, vol. 61 (October 1996) p. 911.
  4. Yosef Haim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982), p. 21.
  5. Yael Zerubavel, Recovered Roots (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1995), p. 8.
  6. Yerushalmi, Zakhor, p. 86.
  7. See Dina Porat, The Blue and Yellow Stars of David: The Zionist Leadership and the Holocaust 1939–1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 239-262; Yehiam Weitz, “Aspects in the Attitude of the Palestinian Yishuv toward the Holocaust of European Jewry 1942–1943,” Nurith Gertz, ed., Points of View: Culture and Society in Eretz Israel (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: The Open University of Israel, 1988), pp. 74–85; Dalia Ofer, “Fifty Years After: The Yishuv, Zionism, and the Holocaust, 1933–1948,” Yisrael Gutman, Major Changes Within the Jewish People in the Wake of the Holocaust (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1996), pp. 463–495.
  8. Amnon Raz-Krakockin, “Exile amidst Sovereignty—Remarks on ‘Negation of the Diaspora’ in Israeli Culture,” Theory and Criticism (Hebrew), 4 (1993), pp. 23–56; Benzion Dinur, “How Zionism Perceives its Fundamentals,” Zionism Book (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Mossad Bialik, 1939), pp. 12–15; Eliezer Schweid, “Two Approaches toward the ‘Negation of the Diaspora’ Idea in Zionist Ideology,” Ha-Zionut (Hebrew) Collection 9 (1984), pp. 21–44.
  9. Elkana Margalit, Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir: From a Sect of Teenagers to Revolutionary Marxism 1913–1936 (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University and Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 1971), pp. 18– 158. See also memoirs of Yaakov Hourani in Yehuda Erez, ed., The Third Aliyah Book (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1964), vol. 1, p. 412.
  10. For an autobiographical account of Mordechai Shenhavi’s life, see Testimonies (Hebrew), Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir Archive, 3-95 1 (1).
  11. “Kibbutz Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir A,” Ze’ev Bloch, Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir Book (Hebrew) (Merhavia: Sifriat Poalim, 1956), p. 86.
  12. Position taken by Dr. Y. Mann, a member of the JNF Head Office, in “Yad Vashem— Proposal by Mr. M. Shenhavi to JNF Head Office (September 10, 1942), [concerning] a National Commemorative Enterprise for the Destroyed Diaspora. Negotiations and Discussions Surrounding [the Proposal],” summary memorandum drawn up by Mordechai Shenhavi in August 1946, in reference to the discussions of his proposal to the JNF Executive Board in 1942–1946, Yad Vashem Archive, Administrative Archive (YVA, AM), File IV, p. 5.
  13. Mordechai Shenhavi at plenary meeting of the Vaad ha-Leumi, May 13, 1946, YVA, AM, File II, Section 14, p. 5.
  14. “The problem preoccupied me: how to reward a person who was not privileged to have a tombstone after his death; after all, everyone’s entitled to a tombstone.” See “Mordechai Shenhavi Surveys 16 Years of the Yad Vashem Program,” interview of Shenhavi by Yaakov Rabi, Al Hamishmar correspondent, unpublished (Hebrew), Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir Archive, 2.3- 95 (6).
  15. YVA, AM, File XV.
  16. This refers to the recording of victims’ names by relatives or others, along the lines of the Sefer ha-Zahav (“Golden Book”) of the Jewish National Fund, in which those who pay for the privilege are inscribed.
  17. YVA, AM, File XIV.
  18. Mordechai Shenhavi, internal memorandum to the management at the JNF head office, Beit Alfa, January 10, 1943. Central Zionist Archives (CZA), KKL5/11965, p. 4.
  19. Shenhavi reports that a forest of more than 6,000 dunams (600 hectares) in area had been planted there and that the location had strong advantages: “It is not far from Haifa. The new roads also make it easily accessible from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It is not even very far from the Jordan Valley and the Galilee. Jews from most countries in Europe and America live in settlements in the vicinity. The investments will also be modest.” He specified the area from Kibbutz Alonim to Qiryat Amal and Sha’ar ha-‘Amaqim, to Giv’at Seid to Yoqne’am, and thence to the bloc of kibbutzim ‘Ein ha-Shofet, Ramat ha-Shofet, Dalia, Mishmar ha-‘Emeq, and Ha-zore’a. Notes on conversation with Dr. Granowski, November 9, 1942, CZA, KKL5/12925, p. 3.
  20. Ibid., p. 1.
  21. “History of Yad Vashem 1945–1948,” YVA, AM, File LII, YL10–YV/19; M. Shenhavi, internal memorandum to JNF head office board, January 10, 1943, CZA KKL5/11965, p. 4.
  22. Shenhavi, summary memorandum, 1946, YVA, AM, File IV, p. 5.
  23. Ibid., p. 6.
  24. CZA, KKL5/11965.
  25. See for example, Ha’aretz, December 4, 1942.
  26. Porat, Blue and Yellow Stars, pp. 51.
  27. Ibid. p. 53, n. 11.
  28. Ibid. p. 54, n. 13.
  29. The architect Munio Weinraub and his business associate, Alfred Mansfeld of Haifa, were involved in this enterprise until the early 1960s. They also drew up the plan for the Yad Vashem commemorative site that appears on the official project pamphlet that the Vaad haLeumi published in March 1947, YVA, AM, File L II, YL10–YV/19. Alfred Mansfeld designed the Yad Vashem administration building, the first structure built on Har Hazikaron.
  30. “Remarks and Counterproposals” (Hebrew), a position paper presented by Idov Cohen to the committee that reviewed the program at its meeting on April 1, 1943, CZA, KKL5/11965. The minutes of the meeting, recorded by Dr. Joseph Weiss, include the names of members of the “Investigative Committee for Shenhavi’s Proposal” who were to tender their report by May 1, 1943.
  31. Shenhavi, summary memorandum, August 1946, YVA, AM, File IV.
  32. George Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 10; see also Part II Chapter 5, pp 70-106.
  33. Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 95–96.
  34. Conclusions of the committee appointed by Dr. Granowski to examine Shenhavi’s proposal, presented on March 19, 1943, in Shenhavi, summary memorandum, August 1946, YVA, AM, File IV, p. 11.
  35. Yedioth Ahronoth, June 6, 1943.
  36. M. Shenhavi to Dr. A. Granowski, June 8–10, 1943, CZA, KKL5/11965; see also M. Shenhavi, summary memorandum, August 1946, YVA, AM, File IV, p. 8.
  37. Davar, May 16, 1944.
  38. “National Monument to the Fallen in the Diaspora and Memorial to the Jewish Soldier,” December 7, 1944, Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir Archive, 14.3-95 (1).
  39. “Memorandum of Mr. Shenhavi’s conversation with Mr. Ben-Gurion,” Jerusalem, August 21, 1944; ibid.
  40. The document was written in Yiddish; the English translation is based on a translation into Hebrew by Baruch Zuckerman himself, “The Yad Vashem Idea,” Gesher, 4:2 (July 1958), pp. 70–79. For the Yiddish original, see “Le-zikhroyn oylem,” New York, February 3, 1945, YVA, AM, File XIV.
  41. Their proposal for a “day of mourning” on the anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw ghetto uprising was presumably influenced by a decision of the Jewish Labor Committee on the first anniversary of the uprising, April 19, 1944, to declare that date “a yizkor [remembrance] day for the heroic Jewish casualties of the operation,” Mishmar, April 19, 1944.
  42. Zuckerman, “The Yad Vashem Idea,” p. 72.
  43. Arthur Hertzberg, The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter: A History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p. 291.
  44. See, for example, remarks by three members of the JNF Executive Board—Pinhas Leon, Yosef Chertok, and Mr. Haezrahi—at a meeting of desk chiefs, February 19, 1945. M. Shenhavi, summary memorandum, August 1946, YVA, AM, File IV, p. 5.
  45. Shenhavi to Yaakov Rabi, YVA, AM, File XIV, p. 3.
  46. “Diaspora Memorial on Mt. Scopus,” Ha’aretz, February 12, 1945. The report also appeared in Hatzofe and Haboker on that same day. The donation was announced by a group of former Polish Jews who had come together at the time. See also CZA J1/6449.
  47. Manifesto from executive organs of JNF and Keren Hayesod to American and Canadian Jewry CZA, KKL5/12925.
  48. CZA, J1/3610/1. This file contains additional proposals that were submitted to members of the Vaad ha-Leumi.
  49. Davar, May 2, 1945, p. 1.
  50. “History of Yad Vashem 1945–1948,” YVA, AM, File LII, YL10–YV/19.
  51. Mordechai Shenhavi, remarks at the first session of the Fifth Council of the Yad Vashem Directorate, January 17, 1960; YVA, AM—Proceedings of the Fifth Yad Vashem Council, p. 27 (file unmarked). Notably, since the beginning of the century, it had been a widespread custom in the new neighborhoods of Jerusalem to affix dedication plaques on the walls of buildings that were donated for charitable purposes. The inscriptions on the plaques began with a quote from Isaiah 56:5: “I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name [Heb.: yad va-shem] better than sons and daughters … which shall not be cut off.” The name Yad Vashem comes from this source.
  52. The quotations that follow are from “Yad Vashem—Memorial Enterprise for the Destroyed Diaspora,” the plan that Shenhavi presented to Davar, and not from the version that appeared in the newspaper.
  53. The “remembrance book” was to include a list of exterminated communities and individuals, a record of destroyed public and cultural property, and a list of Righteous Among the Nations. Shenhavi also recommended the inclusion of two additional memorial records: for immigrants who had perished en route; and for resistance fighters; ibid., p. 5.
  54. Introductory remarks by David Remez at “Consultation on the Question of Establishing a Diaspora Memorial,” meeting of the Vaad ha-Leumi, June 4, 1945; YVA, AM, File II, Section 14.
  55. Yosef Weitz, “Schematic Proposal for Diaspora Commemoration Enterprise by Afforestation,” June 4, 1945, CZA, KKL5 12925.
  56. “Commemoration of the Diaspora,” June 13, 1945, Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir Archive, 14.3-95 (4).
  57. Communication from the Keneses Yisroel Kehillas Yerushalayim burial society to the Vaad ha-Leumi of Keneset Yisrael, July 12, 1945: “Re: commemorative monument to the fallen Diaspora [Jews],” signed by Yisrael Bradki, secretary, and A. H. Zwebner, chairman; CZA, J1/3601/1.
  58. Letter from Mordechai Shenhavi to Franz Lederer, July 27, 1945, YVA, AM, File XV.
  59. Memorandum on Shenhavi’s meeting with Mr. Bornstein of Bezalel Academy, June 17, 1945, Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir Archive, 14.3-95 (6).
  60. Shenhavi to Lederer, July 27, 1945, YVA, AM, File XV.
  61. Summary of resolutions pertaining to Yad Vashem, meeting in London, August 15, 1945, Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir Archive, 14.3-95 (6).
  62. Shenhavi, January 10, 1943, CZA, KKL5/11965.
  63. For a discussion of the Holocaust remembrance issue at that time, see Dalia Ofer, “How and to What Extent Should the Holocaust Be Remembered? - Holocaust Remembrance in Israel’s First Decade,” Anita Shapira, ed., Independence - The First Fifty Years (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Shazar Center, 1998), pp. 171–193.
  64. Robert Bellah, Broken Covenant (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), p. 141.
  65. J. Böhm, letter to the editor, Davar, May 16, 1944.
  66. Remarks by the poet David Shimoni at conference of writers, July 12, 1942, Moznayim (Hebrew), 14 (1942), p. 373.
  67. CZA, KKL5/12925.
  68. The strongest example is probably the fact that on the graves of the casualties of the Israeli War of Independence and of the state’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, instead of the date of birth, the person’s year of aliyah (immigration to Palestine) was inscribed. For an expanded discussion, see Zeli Gurevitz and Gideon “ The Land of Israel: Myth and Phenomenon,” Studies in Contemporary Jewry X (1994), pp.195-210.
  69. Mordechai Shenhavi remarked, “Some of them wish to commemorate a specific Jewish community (Austrian, Czechoslovakian, etc.) and the Bund and others of similar ilk propose to build a monument at the site of the Warsaw ghetto…. Both intentions are perceptibly dangerous. The former will fragment the Jews’ ability to express their tragedy in a united voice. The Bund’s proposal attempts to shift the Jewish center of gravity back to the heart of the Diaspora—Warsaw.” “National Monument to the Fallen in the Diaspora and Memorial to the Jewish Soldier,” December 7, 1944, Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir Archive, 14.3-95 (1).
  70. “Eliahu Epstein—as for the proposal of including a symbolic cemetery in the project, after all, most Jews will expect it to be established on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and not in the [Jezreel] Valley”; Idov Cohen in response to Shenhavi’s proposal of April 1, 1943: “The appropriate place [for the memorial project]: it seems to me in the vicinity of Jerusalem, but one should not rule out … the Lake Kinneret area, the Mount Carmel area, or the Galilee,” CZA KKL5/11965; “Mr. [Ben-]Gurion: The most appropriate place is Jerusalem,” summary memorandum by Shenhavi of his meeting with Ben-Gurion, August 21, 1944, Ha-Shomer haZa’ir Archive, 14.3-95 (1); “Mr. Haezrahi: The center that will put together the list of all heroes from all countries, who fought against Hitler, were murdered or fell, should be in Eretz Israel, in Jerusalem, and they should be commemorated by building a village.” Meeting of desk chiefs , February 19, 1945, M. Shenhavi, summary memorandum, August 1946, YVA, AM, File IV, p. 13.
  71. For discussion of the “civil religion” concept generally, see Robert Bellah, Beyond Belief (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), pp. 168–169. Concerning Zionism as a civil religion, see Charles S. Liebman and Eliezer Don-Yehiya, Civil Religion in Israel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983).
  72. Shenhavi’s use of the expression “our destiny” refers to Jewish life in the Diaspora, as he writes explicitly in the excerpt quoted: “The blow we suffered originates in our very national fate, which was occasioned by the lack of land and a foothold.” Memorandum to the JNF Executive Board, January 10, 1943, “History of Yad Vashem 1945–1948,” YVA, AM, File LII, YL10–YV/19.