Testimony House (Beit Haedut) and Holocaust education at Nir Galim
Testimony House (Beit Haedut) was established in 2009 at Neir Galim. Its aims are to educate Israelis, particular Israeli youth, about the rescue of the Jews of Budapest in Hungary during the Holocaust and about the Holocaust in general in an experiential way.
The museum was developed by Holocaust survivors from the religious moshav Nir Galim (literally: waves meadow) which is close to Ashdod and overlooks the sea. The moshav was formed in 1949 by religious Bnei Akiva holocaust survivors from Hungary and other places in Central Europe. Their first houses did indeed overlook the waves of the Mediterranean and they initially called their moshav Nir VeGal (meadow and wave). Later houses, however, lost their sea view. The name of the moshav was also changed.
As was the case for most survivors, they did not talk about the Holocaust. Then two things happened. First the Ashdod power station was constructed, and its towers resembled the ovens at concentration camps used for burning corpses poisoned by gas. Second, there was the Eichmann trial in Israel when survivors began relating their horrific experiences. This led to the recounting of these experiences becoming more acceptable, and more and more holocaust survivors opened up.
The museum has several displays. One is a detailed movie with English subtitles about the experience of Jews in Hungary during World War II and in particular about the role of Moshe Kraus in rescuing Jews in Budapest. About half of the Jews in Hungary lived in the capital.
Some background. Hungary allied with Germany at the onset of World War II, as it considered Germany to be the stronger party and it hoped that Germany would help it recover territory. Decrees were issued against the Jews during the war that resulted in hardship, but the Jews were relatively safe. However, in 1944, as the war was coming to an end, Hungary decided to change sides. To prevent this, Germany invaded Hungary and the situation now became very perilous for Jews in the country.
At this time, Moshe Kraus, one of the heads of the Zionist movement in Hungary and the director of the Palestine office, had received a report about the German death camps and he realized that deportation had to be prevented at all costs. He persuaded a Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz to issue extraterritorial Swiss passports. Lutz had previously been a diplomat in Jaffa in Palestine. These were generally recognized by the Germans. When Kraus ran out of the original 40,000 passports, he forged tens of thousands more and the Swiss turned a blind eye. Youth dressed as Nazis gave out these passports to as many Jews as they could in Budapest. Those issued with these passports were then gathered in safe houses. This included a Jewish-owned glass factory called the Glass House. A Swiss flag was hung at the entrance and within the building were cooped about 3,000 Jews. Another 60,000 to 70,000 Jews were in other safe houses in the city. These houses were recognized as being Swiss territory and people were provided with food by the Red Cross. Those who did not have passports, namely about 440,000 Jews mainly from outside Budapest, were deported to Buchenwald concentration camp within an eight-week period. None had any idea that they were being transported to their deaths. Those in the safe houses were freed when Budapest was liberated by the Russians.
Moshe Kraus’ rescue operation was the largest rescue operation achieved during the Holocaust. By comparison, Oskar Schindler managed to rescue 1,200 Jews. The Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg turned 28 houses in Budapest into Swedish territory and was able to rescue 4,500 Jews.
The story about Moshe Kraus was not well known. He also never received any official commendation before he passed away. This was good reason for this moshav of Hungarian survivors to rectify this omission.
During each of part of the tour there is a detailed discussion by the tour guide. Another part of the tour brings you to a cattle truck in which Jews were packed and transported to the concentration camp. In another section you are provided with virtual reality glasses to watch as you are taken to Birkenau concentration camp. There is then a discussion in a recreation of Birkenau to learn about the day to day lives of the prisoners.
Directions: Enter “Beit Haedut” into Waze and click on “Beit Haedut, Nir Galim.”
For public transport enter “Museum of Philistine Culture” into Moovit.
Admission: The museum is open 8.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Sunday to Thursday. Admission is 30 NIS per person. Visitors are escorted in tours. If you are not already part of a group, you will be added to a pre-existing group, which can be English-speaking. Their phone number is 08 856 8476. This is their website.
An original cattle truck as used by the Germans during the Holocaust.
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