Dr. Yitzhak Arad

November 11th. 1926 – May 6th. 2021

“..The Holocaust ..Shoah in Hebrew is ..most tragic era in ..history of ..Jewish People 1933 – 1945 when ..Germans and their collaborators perpetrated genocide against them.” Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

The Survivors are a diminishing presence from amongst us but the legacy of the Jewish Survivor, and Yitzhak Arad is undoubtedly a Survivor and whose testimony must be adopted. What is then added to what we will soon become, the Witnesses to that which we are informed of, will take memory of The Holocaust forward. Immediately we learn, and from those first lines he has left us, Hitler’s rise provoked a solution to the Jewish situation that was both cataclysmic and destructive.

“..Most Survivor’s did not come back to Vilna ..they could not and did not want to rebuild their lives on ruins of Jewish Vilna.” Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

On top of that essential feeling of the ruins of Jewish existence, for many Jews, any return was treated with hostility, non-Jewish locals already inhabiting the shoes of a former Jewish presence. So we commence with Arad at where he considers The Holocaust begins, and for those who would consider any other commencement date for the catastrophe that is The Holocaust, Hitler remains the focus of all intention. For Arad, as one of the foremost authorities on what happened to His People, he clearly informs us of the position that is to meet Austrian and German Jewry from the very beginning.

“..When ..clear ..war was liable to end with ..defeat ..Germans decided to obliterate ..evidence of ..mass murder.” Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

Before his Birth, Isaac (Yitzhak) Rudnicki was born in Swieciany, Poland on November 11th. 1926, Jews had never been treated fairly in all their persistence amongst us. From both his Parents though, Haya Rudnicki and Israel Moshe Rudnicki, they gave the young Isaac an informed outlook on the World that stood him in good stead for all that was to confront him as a Jew amongst those destroying his People. Isaac was an early member of the Zionist youth movement HaNoar haTsiyyoni and his Education took him into the local Hebrew schools. His grounding in the need for a Jewish State was being nurtured.

“..Jews were compelled to establish relations with an alien ..hostile government that regarded them as subhuman ..fit only for exploitation and extermination. ..human values in which they believed and on which they had built their lives tottered and collapsed. In this cruel reality ..Vilna Jewry struggled to survive and seek rescue. ..daily struggle was for life itself ..survive in ..face of hunger ..disease. Jewish Vilna embodied ..majority of hardships.”  Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

For a time Isaac moved away from Swieciany and lived with his family for a spell in Warsaw but he decided which tormented him. With a return to Swieciany, and with his Sister Rachel with him his reluctance to leave his Parents became a devastating event he could not envisage. By the beginning of 1940, none too many Jews were awake to what Hitler was intending for all of Poland’s Jews, let alone for the entire Continent of European Jewry. Tragically, for Arad, and for the many 1,000,000’s of Jews with Parents to assist, comfort, console and protect, both of his Parents were swallowed up, along with over 30 members of his immediate family, Murdered during The Holocaust.

“..I knew ..Jewish World in Eastern Europe that was alive and well and destroyed in The Holocaust. I saw with my own eyes 1,000’s of Jews being led to ..firing pits. I survived ..and fate allowed me to join ..partisans ..fighters against ..murderers of our people ..and in their ranks to blow up German trains.” Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

I do not begin to presuppose his eternal grief with other than a compassion for such devastation, but that very weight of loss was and has been compounded. By the sheer and immeasurable lack of knowledge as to when, where or how His Parents were destroyed, how does one move on. The reality was clearly a destruction for them which was conducted either within the confines of the Warsaw Ghetto or laid to waste amidst the ash strewn space of Treblinka. All of history has consumed their presence and it is an ever-open wound for all too many of the Jewish People that such is their lack of such knowledge as to when and where, even while they must deal with the aspect of how.

“..What happened in ..past could potentially happen again ..to any people ..at any time. Be truly clear about this ..Do not count yourselves among ..murderers ..and may you never find yourselves among ..victims.” Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

Isaac was an incredibly young Partisan, an underground fighter who was given the name Tolka, and from age of 15 he was set up for many future actions during World War II. With Hitler’s move against Russia, known as Operation Barbarossa, opening on June 22nd. 1941, the already practiced shootings and executions conducted in Poland against the Polish Jews, and others, took on a more defined and all-encompassing role. The formative Einsatz squads that had roamed Poland freely were now a contracted killing machine for the delivery of such a catastrophic blow to the Jewish People, and wherever der Einsatzgruppe they found them, is measured in more than 1,300,000 Shot and Murdered Jews.

“..mass extermination of ..Jews ..began with ..invasion of ..Soviet Union June 22nd. 1941.” Yitzhak Arad.

When, on September 26th. 1941 there were 8,000 Jews of Swieciany who were murdered in the nearby Ponari Woods, Tolka was already fighting against this Nazi enterprise. Then, with the final liquidation of the Swieciany Ghetto commencing on April 4th. 1943 Tolka met with Abba Kovner in the Vilna Ghetto. While the Jewish People of Vilna were wholly seduced by the notion that they were to be resettled in either of the Ghettos of Kovno or Vilna itself, the truth of Ponari began to sink in when it was already too late for them.

“..I fought ..Nazi Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators. ..murderers of my family ..murderers of my people.” Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

However, on April 5th. 1942, with a further 4,000 of these Swieciany Jews taken out of Vilna and murdered in the local Ponari Woods, Jewish existence in Vilna and Lithuania was coming to an end. Tolka continually moved to the attack, and the Germans and their collaborators in the Narocz Forest, Belarus felt the strength of his sting. Tolka grew in stature instantly and he was heavily involved in the fighting to both regain Lithuania from Nazi occupation and then avenge the Jewish losses there. Tolka’s exploits are too numerous for such a short piece, and though he has illuminated that passage of his partisanship for us in his own words, the shaded area of Jewish existence still hides 1,000,000’s of Jews from us. 

“..When ..occupied territories were liberated ..no single Jewish Community ..survived. Only small numbers of Jews emerged. ..Over 1,000,000 Jews had been killed in ..occupied ..Soviet Union.” Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

In December 1945, Tolka immigrated to Israel from was aboard the Hannah Szenes, this blockade breaking ship, and once in the mandated state, Tolka established himself as a freedom fighter. At the ripe old age of 18 Arad joined the Palmach and while settling into his future homeland, and fighting against the British mandated control, his partisan efforts came to bear heavily upon a British occupation force. On May 14th. 1948, and with the establishment of the State of Israel for the Jewish People, 2,000 years of an element of the Jewish Diaspora came to an end. Though the infant State was not to be an exclusively Jewish State, it was for all of those wishing to build a Nation, it was none the less a Jewish Nation of State for the Jewish People.

“..period of The Holocaust was ..one of struggle without prospect ..forces of extermination ..simply too overwhelming.” Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

Meanwhile, as the World was suddenly awoken to a newer resentment for the Jewish People, the weight of the Arab league was thrown at the youthful Israel. Now though, the Jewish People, who no longer required the grace and favour of other national states for any expression of their own sovereignty, fought back with all the tenacity of a nation missing 6,000,000 of its fighter’s. In this War of Independence, Arad amongst 6,000,000 accuser’s and was with the Harel Brigade to ensure the Jews could not be the accused. Arad was led in the coming battles by Yitzhak Rabin and once more proved his worth to his People.

“..I built a physical site for visitors ..which tells and presents ..history of The Holocaust. I expanded ..education and research of ..subject and laid ..foundations for making ..place a world centre for commemorating ..memory of The Holocaust and its heritage. ..Despite years of lack of diplomatic relations with ..countries of ..Communist bloc in Eastern Europe ..I have been able to establish working relations with archives in these countries and obtain 100’s of 1,000’s of documents relating to The Holocaust there.” Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

Altruistically, with the need for the integrity of the factual truth which destroyed their People, Israel sought to teach us the need to learn. So much from what YadVashem gifts us, that Arad, and those just like him have imparted, becomes the better good of knowing what hatred must never accomplish nor profit anyone in any society. We know that when Arad testified in war crimes trials in Israel and was a consultant for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Justice would never be served nor the quest for it satiated.

“..torment ..European Jewry ..underwent during The Holocaust ..its responses sum up most of ..options ..available to ..Jews during this tragic epoch. Vilna Jewry was a microcosm of ..fate of all Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.”  Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

Up until 1972 Arad served as an officer in the Israeli Defence Force and retiring as a Brigadier General he moved seamlessly into an academic career. This route took him to lecturing at the Tel Aviv University on Jewish History, while completing his doctoral studies and thesis there. Arad was also a guest Professor at the Yeshiva University, New York and is the writer of many astonishingly in-depth examinations of the very machinations of the Nazi destruction of the Jewish People in The Holocaust.

01) The Partisan: From the Valley of Death to Mount Zion (1979).

02) Documents on the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union (1981)

03) Ghetto in Flames: The Struggle and Destruction of the Jews of Vilna (1982)

04) Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (1987)

When the Germans began the construction of the first of these Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, Chelmno was already in operation as an extermination centre. Literally 1,000,000’s of European Jews were transported into Poland for resettlement, a hidden meaning which did not disguise the Jewish annihilation. Within the framework of the Final Solution of The Jewish Question, die Endlosung der Judenfrage, the stage-managed Slaughter began with the Ghetto as the initial reserve, the antechamber of which were the 6 Death Camps in Poland.

05) The Einsatzgruppen Reports: Selections from the Dispatches of the Nazi Death Squads’ Campaign against the Jews (1989).

Covering the period immediately after Barbarossa commenced, and from July 1941 till January 1943 these Reports supplied to the Allied intelligence services the very evidence of the mass extermination of the Jewish People. What was telegraphed from the killing sites in Eastern Europe, The Baltic States and the Ukraine and Russia and to the secretariat at Hitler’s desk, were also intercepted and became the accusation of History. These 4 der Einsatzgruppe mobile units of the SS and SD were bolstered by Wehrmacht, Waffen SS, battalions of uniformed German Order Police and local Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian volunteers for conduct of the killings. The victims, at least 1,300,000 Jews, and others, were Shot, Killed and Murdered into shallow graves, huge pits, ravines and wherever they fell.

06) The Pictorial History of the Holocaust (1990)

As Chairman of the Directorate at YadVashem, he served there diligently for 21 years between 1972 and1993 and remained associated with it until his last days, serving as Deputy Chairman of the YadVashem Council. He researched widely both World War II and The Holocaust and is published more extensively than I have listed.

On June 7th. 1993 in Torun, Poland Arad was awarded a Doctorate (Honoris Causa) by Poland’s Nicolaus Copernicus University.

07) The History of the Holocaust: Soviet Union and the Annexed Territories (2004).

08) Ponary Diary, July 1941–November 1943: A Bystander’s Account of a Mass Murder (2005).

This Diary was edited by Dr. Arad and we are gifted with what Kazimiercz Sakerwicz delivers to us of the fate of the Jews driven into Ponari Woods for execution.

In 2006 there was a scurrilous accusation in a Lithuanian newspaper, respublika, that Arad was a war criminal and called for his extradition from Israel. The distortion of views, which sought to diminsih the Lithuanian role in Murdering its own Jews, and facilitating the Murders of European Jews, saw the Lithuanian state prosecutor drop the biased effort in 2008.

09) The Holocaust in the Soviet Union and Annexed Territories (2009).

10) In the Shadow of the Red Banner: Soviet Jews in the War Against Nazi Germany (2009).

11) Anthology on Armed Jewish Resistance.

12) Arad was a contributor to The Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust.

13) Engraved in Memory

In 2020, Arad participated in a joint commemorative photography project between Yad Vashem and world-renowned photographer Martin Schoeller, entitled Survivors: Faces of Life after the Holocaust. These faces barely glimpse the totality of loss though we benefit from knowing these faces were once a vibrant community of Jews torn from all existence.

“..perpetrators should be brought to trial ..in spite of age ..not as a vengeance ..but as a lesson and warning for ..future.”  Dr. Yitzhak Arad.

Always to Remember, Never to Forget.

“..We are deeply saddened by ..loss of Dr. Yitzhak Arad ..a man whose legacy will forever stay with us. At this difficult time of loss we extend our deepest condolences to ..Family of this brave Fighter. May his memory be a blessing.” Lina Antanaviciene (Lithuanian Ambassador in Israel)

“..It was good hearing from you, again. Dr. Arad was a truly great man. He left his mark on Jewish history as both a scholar and warrior. His example most certainly gives the lie to the old image of the Jew who was comfortable with books but could not rise to defend himself and his people in battle. Thus, it can be truly said that Yitchak Arad personified the State of Israel. Best regards.” Aaron Breitbart (Simon Wiesenthal Centre).

“..The Holocaust is an immeasurable grief for so much more than Humanity can bear and it is an insurmountable loss for far too many of those who hold Yitzhak Arad’s expertise close by. Arad’s integrity could not be swayed by other than truth and this fact bears down heavily upon a World which allowed for far too much of what happened to more than 6,000,000 Jewish People. Amongst these are Arad’s Parent’s and the more than 30 others of his immediate Family who perished without trace for many of them.” Patrick Dempsey (Author Historian on The Holocaust).

“..A noble and honest man has left us ..a Jewish Partisan ..from ..Warsaw Ghetto who headed Yad Vashem for 21 years. In this context ..he worked diligently to commemorate The Holocaust and established ..Valley of ..Communities. ..at Yad Vashem for Holocaust Remembrance Day ..he delivered a lecture. ..great pleasure of seeing a 95-year-old Jew speak fluently ..with a clear mind. It is sad that such figures are leaving ..World.” Rabbi Israel Meir Lau.

“..We know that it is ..nature of ..world that a day comes and a person leaves us ..but this fact does not ease ..sadness when a hero like Yitzhak Arad ‘Tolka’ departs. Arad belongs to a vanishing generation ..a generation of Survivors ..Partisans.  ..Every farewell to a Holocaust Survivor is a reminder to us that now ..work of remembrance rests on our shoulders even more.” Ronen Plot.

“..Hi Patrick ..I worked closely with Tolka (his name as partisan and which was the name his friends called him) during his last few years at Yad Vashem in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then afterwards we had a warm working and personal relationship while he continued to research and write about the Holocaust.  I worked with him on the development of the Valley of Jewish Communities and an overhaul we began on the old historical museum, which eventually became a different project to build a new museum after he retired and Avner Shalev took over.  Tolka was deeply dedicated to Yad Vashem and researching and writing about the history of the Holocaust. He was a man who was full of energy, knowledgeable and thoughtful about our subject. I last spoke to him about a month ago just to check in with him in this time of Covid, and he was busy as could be. Just this last Memorial Day (eve of Israel Independence Day) he gave a talk to the IDF chiefs of staff, and until the very last moment he was sending out to Yad Vashem an appraisal of an article for Yad Vashem Studies. Tolka was the son of a well-known cantor, and he also loved to sing, and sang very nicely.  His last book, about ethical dilemmas Jews faced during the Holocaust, is in the process of being published by Yad Vashem. He will be sorely missed, and he leaves an important legacy of research and commemoration about The Holocaust. May his memory be blessed.” Rob Rozett (Author at YadVashem).

“..Tolka reflected many historical aspects ..Jewish People endured ..a life that began in Poland ..fighting with ..Partisans during The Holocaust .. immigrating to ..Israel. Through his work at Yad Vashem and his words ..Tolka personified ..force of life and power of memory ..which was also reflected in his private life and ..fate of his People. ..way he behaved ..and ..Person he was ..an example of ..generation that believed ..and continues to believe ..in ..development of ..State of Israel and its influence. Today ..I lost a close friend ..a person who taught me so much and with whom I wove many dreams.” Avner Shalev.

“..As a published author on the 3 Aktion Reinhardt camps in individual works, the debt owed to Yitzhak Arad for his seminal publication, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka cannot be emphasized enough. His 1987 publication is simply a masterpiece of painstaking research and brilliant writing. May he rest in peace, and I thank him for his inspiration and priceless gift to the understanding of the Holocaust, in general and about Aktion Reinhardt in particular.” Chris Webb (Author and Historian).

History is what we have gifted to us to inform us as to who we are. Yitzhak Arad is one of those whose immediate knowledge of the immense atrocity facing his People informs us with such integrity. What we learn of a History that deprived him of Family, Friends, Communities of every description and 6,000,000 of His People, all because they were Jews, is an unenviable fact. Arad has passed from us but not before he had laid the foundations of a work that informs us to learn much more than we knew before. Arad’s narrative outlay, on what we should learn is not just a posthumous testimony to truth, it is an integrity borne out of the factual detail of a catastrophe for the Jewish People.

“..Treblinka served solely for ..destruction of Jews. In ..course of its existence a few hundred Gypsies  ..a few groups of Gypsies were brought and were exterminated too.  No other nations ..no peoples from other nations or ethnic groups were brought here. And this applies also to Belzec and Sobibor.  They were established expressly for ..destruction of Jews.” Dr. Yitzhak Arad. 

What Dr. Yitzhak (Isaac, Tolka) Arad had lived through and had somehow Survived is a history that also teaches us that we learn best from those who know the truth of what it is we seek to learn of. I have learned to hear from those who wish to inform us on this The Holocaust, from those consumed within it and by it. I learn from those whose very words are from the lost, whose words are now written into memory. Then there are the sentences emerging so that we remember what must not be forgotten, delivered with eloquence by a Dr. Yitzhak Arad who has all too often visited that past to allow us to know more of what those like Arad endured, all too many of whom did not Survive.

“..Treblinka and other camps ..once they had fulfilled their task of extermination they were liquidated ..disbanded ..obliterated ..turned into agricultural land and ..greenery ..planted.  All we do have is survivors’ evidence and testimony ..especially Yaakov Vernick ..who a few months after he escaped from ..Treblinka ..at ..time of ..revolt ..had prepared a drawing ..sketch ..diagram of ..Treblinka Camp. ..this is ..main source for our information about ..camp.” Dr. Yitzhak Arad.