A bit after 8 pm on April 18, 2012, the eve of Holocaust Marytrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day, I had just tucked my sons into bed. Since the rest of my family was attending the opening commemoration ceremony of Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem, I decided to open the Yad Vashem website in order to catch a glimpse of the proceedings. However, as I watched the opening flash presentation on our website, my eyes became shockingly fixated on this iconic photograph.
Could this be “Savta Marianne”? The woman in the photograph strongly resembled Marianne Gerstenfeld, a Holocaust survivor, and who gave her personal testimony at Yad Vashem whenever called upon. Marianne died approximately three months ago, and her grandchildren and my children have essentially grown up together.
Although I must have stared at this image for at least seven minutes, I still was not certain, so I decided to consult Marianne’s daughter-in-law. As soon as the photograph appeared on her computer screen, I heard the gasp on the end of the telephone line. Shortly thereafter, Marianne’s son was staring at his mother performing her Holocaust Remembrance day tradition. The family had never seen this photograph before.
After our emotional phone discussion, I immediately wrote to the Director of Yad Vashem's Internet Department, Dana Porath, in order to request a copy of the photograph for the Gerstenfeld family.
At 8:47 pm, I sent the following e-mail:
I hope all is well. I can imagine that it has been and still is a very busy week for you.
I literally just went on the website and had a look at the special flash opening that you created for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
As I was watching, I suddenly saw that the third photo is of Marianne Gerstenfeld z"l placing flowers in The Hall of Remembrance. I was stunned as Marianne passed away about 3 months ago and she is very much missed by all who knew her. Marianne gave countless testimonies to many groups, in different languages, over the years. Moreover, it was noted a few times at her funeral that "when Yad Vashem calls, she will not say no." Her commitment to passing on the legacy of Holocaust memory was beyond measure, and her grandson tonight is at the ceremony at Yad Vashem.
Her family, who are close friends, would greatly appreciate a copy of this photo. As you can imagine, the Gerstenfelds are very moved by it and I would appreciate you sending it to me so that they will have a copy of this special photograph that captures their mother and grandmother's spirit.
On their behalf, thank you very much for making this even a more meaningful Holocaust Remembrance Day.
At 9:56 pm, approximately an hour later that same night, I received the following reply:
Here is the photo that was taken onHolocaust Remembrance Day in 2009.
We too obviously immediately fell in love with this picture when we took it and felt that it was an iconic picture vis-a-vis commemoration.
Thank you for such a lovely e-mail and sharing with us the background of Marianne Gerstenfeld. It really was very meaningful to us as well.
Yad Vashem not only has the largest archive of digitized photographs of the Holocaust period, but also a growing collection of contemporary photos connected to Holocaust commemoration - capturing rare glimpses of Holocaust survivors that their families may never have seen before. As fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors are among us, these photographs will also become part of Yad Vashem’s colossal databases.
As an educator, this photograph also embodies an important educational message: honoring Holocaust victims has been a responsibility carried by the survivors, but this has become a duty incumbent upon us and the future generations.
It seems as though before she passed away, “Savta Marianne,” made many “to do” lists for her family members, including laying flowers in the Hall of Remembrance every year in memory of her grandmother who was killed in Bergen Belsen. She asked that her annual tradition continue following her death.
This photo, sent to her family on the evening of Holocaust Remembrance Day this year, reminded Marianne’s family of her last wishes. Consequently, the following afternoon, her son and daughter-in-law visited Yad Vashem carrying flowers to the Hall of Remembrance. Next year they plan to bring four of Marianne’s grandchildren with them.