01 April 2008
Rabbi Asaria Helfgott was born in September 1913 in Beodra, Yugoslavia. He studied in the rabbinical seminaries in Vienna and Budapest and at Vienna University. During the war, he was recruited to the Yugoslav army, was captured by the Germans and detained in POW camps. After liberation, he took himself to the Bergen-Belsen DP camp, where he aided survivors in religious and cultural matters, as well as those with emotional and other issues. He was appointed chief rabbi of the British occupied zone and acted as representative of the survivors vis-à-vis British and German institutions.
In 1948, Rabbi Helfgott immigrated to Israel and joined the army, greatly contributing to the IDF and other national institutions. He established the “She’erit Haplita” (last remnants) movement, was appointed to chair the Yugoslav Fighters Association in Israel and was a member of the Yad Vashem Council and auditory committee.
In 1953, Rabbi Helfgott was appointed chief rabbi of Koeln, Germany, and afterwards to the chief rabbinate of Lower Saxony, where he helped improve Israel-German relations and initiated youth exchanges between the two countries. From 1971, after his return to Israel, he worked in a volunteer capacity as rabbi of Savyon, remaining active in educational, religious, cultural and research fields in Israel and abroad, until he passed away in 2002.
Rabbi Helfgott’s personal archives-comprising some 25 containers-were submitted to Yad Vashem by his wife, Malka Asaria Helfgott, born Bodner. Among the documents are the original diary he wrote during his four years as a prisoner of war; correspondences about the postwar plight of “agunot” (women unable to get a divorce because their husbands whereabouts were unknown); documents relating to the burial of Jewish victims at Bergen-Belsen; photographic albums; and more.