Israeli Holocaust survivors from Poland have turned their home in the Shomron city of Ariel into a museum where schoolchildren can learn about the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews during World War II.
Irena Wodzislawski, 77, says her late husband, Yaakov, 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 include postcards written by concentration camp inmates and the striped uniforms they wore.
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 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.
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 hopes her museum, funded by the Ariel municipality and private donations, will continue after her own death.
“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.