In January 1944, when Evelyn Wittenberg turned ten, she received a birthday card from her friend Maurice Pelcma. Evelyn at the time was in Southern France with her mother, Maurice in Paris with his family. The two had become friends in kindergarten, both children of Jewish immigrants from Poland. A month after Evelyn’s birthday, the boy was deported to Auschwitz and murdered. Evelyn survived the war.
The colorful card written by an innocent child to his friend is one of the items virtually on display in the new Yad Vashem online exhibit “Personal Milestones during the Holocaust”, launched ahead of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day of January 27.
The day marks the 78th anniversary of the day the Russian army entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp complex, liberating more than 7,000 remaining prisoners, who were for the most part ill or dying.
“During the Holocaust, Jews tried to cope with their plight in different ways,” the website describes the exhibit. “Marking personal milestones, including weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, and even the preparation and sending of birthday cards when conditions permitted, helped to ease their emotional turmoil and offered a sense of routine and stability. It also enabled them to preserve a sense of humanity and selfhood.”
“The stories featured are based on items housed in the Yad Vashem Archives and collections: personal documentation, testimonies, photographs, artworks, and Pages of Testimony,” it adds. “The items were donated to Yad Vashem by survivors and their families in an effort to share their stories and commemorate their loved ones.”
The Yad Vashem exhibit has images of Maurice’s hand-written card as well as photos of the members of both families.
Another exhibit showed the wedding of Esther Pinkhof and Henri-Abraham Asscher who got married in Amsterdam on 6 August 1942. The Germans occupied the Netherlands in May 1941 and all Jews were required to wear a yellow star identifying them as such. Many Jewish couples married in the belief that it would protect them from deportation to forced labor camps and separation. They were deported nonetheless. Esther survived but Henri died one week before liberation.
Other exhibits include an illustrated greeting card made in 1945 by three inmates in Auschwitz for their friend, photos of a Bar Mitzvah in 1936 Nazi Germany, and a 21st birthday party celebrated in 1944 Vienna under an assumed identity. Each item was researched by Yad Vashem until its tragic story was revealed. The images are stark, portraying people struggling to live their lives under horrific conditions.
The United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 60/7 on 1 November 2005 to designate 27 January as the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, the day upon which every year the world would mark and remember the Holocaust and its victims.
The Holocaust (holy burning) was the Nazi-led program dubbed the “final solution” which was a program of ethnic cleansing targeting minorities. Jews undoubtedly suffered the most and between 1939 and 1945, six million Jews, representing roughly two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish people, were killed.