23 August 2021
On the first day as Chairman of Yad Vashem, Dani Dayan requested to sit down with two Holocaust survivors who work at the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Berthe Badehi and Jacob Weksler both survived the horrors of the Holocaust in hiding, and for years have been telling their stories for the whole world to hear. During today's meeting, they told Dayan about their experiences during the Shoah, how they survived, and their new lives here in Israel.
Dayan was moved by the stories they shared. "For me you are heroes, and the most important people at Yad Vashem," he told them. "I promise you as Chairman of Yad Vashem I will do everything I can to carry the torch of remembrance and ensure that it is passed on to future generations."
Berthe Badehi was born in Lyon, France in 1932. At the age of nine she was sent to live with a Christian family under the guise of a false identity. In this way Berthe survived the war, and returned to her family after liberation in September 1944. Berthe made Aliyah in 1956 and began to build her life in the new Jewish state. For years, Berthe has been working at Yad Vashem, where she receives visitors to the Mount of Remembrance in the Yad Vashem Visitors Center. Recently, Berthe was one of 75 Holocaust survivors featured in "Faces of Life after the Holocaust" – a unique commemorative project with world-renowned photographer Martin Schoeller.
Jacob Weksler was born in 1943 in Vilnius, Lithuania. Fearing for their lives and that of their beloved son, his parents gave their one-month old baby boy to a Christian family. Jacob grew up not knowing of his Jewish origins and even decided to enter the church and became a priest. Until 2008, Jacob worked as a Professor of Philosophy in Lublin. Nevertheless, for many years, Weksler searched for his true identity. His searches brought him to Israel and to Yad Vashem. In 2019, Weksler was awarded Israeli citizenship and finally celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. At the time, he stated:
“For 14 years I searched for my real identity. To be able to stand today and be called up to the Torah with my real Jewish names wrapped in my tallit and tefillin, I feel like I am born again."
Both Berthe and Jacob survived the Holocaust thanks to the help of non-Jews. Each of their rescuers were later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
Badehi remarked at today's meeting:
"For me, Yad Vashem is the continuation of all that I had and lost. "I do not see this place as just a place of work, but also as a home and a family."
Weksler, who has worked at Yad Vashem since 2011 helping to translate and research wartime documentation, agreed with the sentiments and thanked Dayan for his dedication to the memory of the Shoah.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Dayan said:
"While we undertake the responsibility to remember and educate people about the Holocaust, we will never fully understand what you endured. I thank you; meeting you strengthens me and reinforces my commitment to the mission that I have been honored to receive."