Susanna Kokkonen from Christian Friends of Yad Vashem talks to Paul Calvert about Holocaust education, and their project to honour non-Jews who risked their lives and careers to help Jews during the Holocaust.

Susanna Kokkonen
Susanna Kokkonen

Paul: What is Christian Friends of Yad Vashem?

Susanna: Yad Vashem was established in 1953.

In the 80's and 90's especially, there was an interest coming from the Christian world, where people who were coming to Israel as tourists would come to Yad Vashem. They didn't just want to walk through the museum, not understanding so much about the context, but they wanted to be able to ask questions and have a time of reflection after their tour.

So in 2006 Yad Vashem established a department here called Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. The mission was to connect Christians with what Yad Vashem was doing, which of course is Holocaust education. We are teaching about the Holocaust, and also about the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust.

We are also trying to connect Christians with the legacy of the righteous amongst the nations. We are also talking about people who, during the Holocaust, decided that they wanted to help someone.

Paul: Today we are talking about the Righteous Amongst The Nations, what is this project?

Susanna: The name Yad Vashem comes from Isaiah 56:5, "To them I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name." So the word name - shem is very important.

One of the main things that Yad Vashem has been doing over the years has been to collect the names of the people who perished. We have 4.6 million names that we have collected, but the other names that you can see here on campus are the names of non-Jews who tried to rescue someone at the time of the Holocaust.

You would see trees, a name and a country and you would understand that these people are very important. But you wouldn't necessarily know that we call them the righteous amongst the nations.

We have the Avenue Of The Righteous, right by the museum and there we have all these trees. In the Talmud there is a concept about non-Jews who behaved fairly with Jews and that is the righteous amongst the nations, but the title righteous among the nations is only given to people who acted during the Holocaust.

Paul: How do you honour the righteous amongst the nations?

Susanna: The righteous amongst the nations are honoured by trees. We have about 2000 trees in the campus. We also have a garden of the righteous and in the garden there are walls that show the names. We are still adding more names to the wall.

They become honouree citizens of the State of Israel, but I just need to remind everybody that as time passes we increasingly recognise them, even if they are no longer alive. It is probably their family members who come here to the ceremony and sometimes it's the first time they've heard about what happened to their own family during World War Two.

Paul: That must be quite moving for a family or someone who is being honoured, to come to Yad Vashem and be honoured in this way?

Susanna: Yes it's so moving.