‘Second Generation’ leader tells of need to keep Shoah memory
One of the most prominent leaders of the children of Holocaust survivors has attacked people who attempt to “pervert the memory of the Holocaust”.
Menachem Rosensaft described as “obscene” those who “wish to twist and distort” the Shoah for political purposes.
Mr Rosensaft, a lawyer, who was the guest of the Holocaust Educational Trust at its fund-raising dinner on Wednesday, was born in the Displaced Persons (DP) Camp at Bergen-Belsen in 1948, and his birth there was against all odds.
Both of his parents, who came from Chasidic families, had been married and widowed previously – in his mother’s case losing her husband and her daughter in Auschwitz. Menachem’s father, Josef Rosensaft, became the head of the central committee of liberated Jews, first in Bergen-Belsen and then in the DP camps in the whole of the British zone in post-war Germany.
Menachem’s mother, Hadassah Bimko, who studied medicine in France before the war, was appointed by the British to work with the skeleton medical team working in the DP camps after liberation.
Before Belsen was liberated by the British army in April 1945, Hadassah was in charge of the children’s barracks at the camp and took in, against the regulations, the then-14-year-old Mala Helfgott and her little cousin from whom she refused to be parted.
Mala Tribich, as she is today, was reunited with Menachem Rosensaft at Wednesday evening’s event.
“My parents decided that they would not leave the DP camp until all the survivors had been taken care of,” he said.
“Many Jews were repatriated very quickly but the British were only allowing a trickle of people into Palestine and the US had quite draconian immigration laws.”
In the event, the DP camp stayed open until 1950, and Menachem was one of 2,000 babies born in that period to survivors of the camps.
In July 1948, Josef was a delegate to the second plenary of the World Jewish Congress, which took place in the quiet Swiss town of Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva. Josef fell in love with the peaceful atmosphere and moved his family to Switzerland, where they stayed until Menachem was 10, subsequently moving to the United States.
Mr Rosensaft became an eminent lawyer and law lecturer, as well as general counsel to the World Jewish Congress. Today, aged 68, he is one of the leading figures of the so-called Second Generation, although he dislikes the term.
“We, as children or grandchildren of survivors, have to remember that we are not survivors.
“We never suffered; we did not see people killed. We don’t have any of the privileges of survivors.
What we do have is obligation. We are able to absorb their memories and are responsible for passing them on for a purpose – the legacy that it brings to the entire Jewish people.”
He is particularly keen on highlighting the bond between survivors and their grandchildren, saying that often survivors would tell their grandchildren things they could not share with their children.
He took his own daughter, Jodi, to Auschwitz-Birkenau six months after his mother died in 1997, and was amazed when she told him that she recognised parts of Birkenau “just as my mother had described it to her.”
This “transfer of memory”, he says, is the most important way to keep alive the legacy of the Holocaust, even when every survivor has died. “We have to ensure that the lessons of the Shoah become a wake-up call for the world.”
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s dinner, Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the HET, said she was delighted and proud that the organisation had been able to bring Ms Tribich and Mr Rosensaft together, describing them as “two inspirational individuals”.
She said: “Because of Menachem’s mother’s kindness, Mala lived to see the liberation of Bergen-Belsen by British troops in April 1945”.
Writing in the appeal dinner’s programme, Prime Minister Theresa May praised the HET for “ensuring that the memory of the Holocaust lives on.”