ARIEL, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli Holocaust survivors from Poland have turned their home in a Jewish settlement into a museum where schoolchildren can learn about the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews during World War Two.
Irena Wodzislawski, 77, says her late husband, Yaacov, launched the project in 2003, seeing it as a form of revenge for the killing of most of the Jewish community, including much of his family, in his native town of Czestochowa.
Wodzislawski guides groups of Israeli youths and soldiers past a private collection of 1,000 Holocaust-era memorabilia encased in glass that includes postcards written by concentration camp inmates and the striped uniforms they wore.
Israel’s main Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, regularly holds guided tours for youngsters but Wodzislawski said that as a survivor, she can offer visitors to her museum a unique personal perspective.
Wodzislawski survived the Holocaust in her native Przemysl by spending much of the war as a very young girl in hiding with a Christian family after her mother disappeared from the town’s Jewish ghetto one day never to return.
She emigrated to British Mandatory Palestine a few years before the establishment of Israel in 1948 and now lives in Ariel, a large settlement in the occupied West Bank.
A retired chemical engineer who once worked in Israel’s Defense Ministry, Wodzislawski said she and her husband bought much of the collection on trips through eastern Europe in a quest to help preserve remnants of destroyed Jewish communities.
“SWOLLEN FROM HUNGER”
Wodzislawski said seemingly ordinary items at the four-storey museum resonate best with visitors.
She pointed to a postcard, dated May 19, 1941, that a woman named Hanna Lam sent from the Warsaw Ghetto, where the city’s Jewish population and other Jewish refugees were forced by the occupying German army to live in conditions of starvation.
“Benyush and mother are lying in bed, swollen from hunger. The girls go out begging every day and often come home hungry,” it read.
Wodzislawski, who belongs to a dwindling community of some 200,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel, hopes her museum, funded by the Ariel settlement and private donations, will live on after her own death.
Ariel is among the major settlements in the occupied West Bank that Israel says it intends to retain in any future peace deal with the Palestinians. Most countries regard settlements built on land that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal.
Asked about her residency in Ariel, Wodzislawski said cheaper housing costs rather than politics motivated her move to the settlement in the 1990s. Being able to afford a larger house made opening a museum possible, she said.
“A girl came and told me a week ago ‘I never saw a survivor before’. She hugged and kissed me. What more do I need?” Wodzislawski said.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones