Singer Shlomo Artzi’s father honored for rescuing thousands of Jews in Holocaust

Yitzhak Artzi, father of popular Israeli singer-songwriter Shlomo Artzi and writer Nava Semel, was posthumously honored on Thursday for saving thousands of Jews from Transnistria during the Holocaust.

Artzi was awarded a “Jewish Rescuers Citation,” along with 12 others who carried out similar rescue missions in Algeria, Romania, Hungary, France, Poland, Austria and Belgium. Additionally, two honorees were recognized for their operations in Mandatory Palestine.

During the Holocaust, Artzi served as head of the Jewish resistance in Romania.

Transnistria, a breakaway state of Moldova that borders Ukraine, was gifted to Romania by Adolf Hitler as a reward for supporting Germany against the Soviet Union.

Ion Antonescu, the prime minister of Romania and a Nazi ally, began transporting Jews there from several districts under Romanian sovereignty. Around 90,000 of some 185,000 Jews deported to Transnistria were murdered, according to Yad Vashem.

During Artzi’s missions in Transnistria, he persuaded parents to hand over their children, whom he then smuggled to Bucharest.

Artzi led several daring rescue missions as a leader of the Jewish resistance. He rescued Jewish orphans from ghettos in Transnistria, helped illegally transport Jews to Palestine in immigration ships, and served as a leader for Jewish communities detained by the British Mandate in Cypriot internment camps.

Artzi recounted many of his experiences in his autobiography, “A Zionist to the End,” which he cowrote with his daughter, Semel.

A model of the Vapniarca camp, Transnistria, Ukraine (photo credit: Ghetto Fighters House Archives)

“Yitzhak Artzi was the uncrowned leader of Romanian Jews,” Noam Semel, Artzi’s son-in-law and the director of the Habima National Theatre, told the Ynet news site.

“He devoted his entire life to public service and especially to Holocaust survivors. In his last years he was active in organizations that support survivors, and was the Israeli representative for the World Jewish Restitution Organization.”

Danny Atar, KKL/JNF World Chairman (center), and Dr. Haim V. Katz, Chairman of the B’nai B’rith World Center along the Jewish rescuers and their families at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest ‘Scroll of Fire’ Plaza on April 24, 2017. (Rafi Ben Hakoon)

The ceremony was organized by B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF). It is the only event on Holocaust Memorial Day to recognize the heroism of Jews who saved other Jews during the Holocaust.

The event took place at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza. There, in the Jerusalem mountains, 6 million trees were planted to commemorate Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

The monument, Scroll of Fire, created by renowned sculptor Nathan Rapoport. (Courtesy of B’nai B’rith and KKL-JNF)

In the center of the forest is a sculpture by Nathan Rapoport titled “Scroll of Fire.” The monument “invokes the destruction of the Jewish people in the Holocaust and their redemption in the State of Israel,” the ceremony organizers said in a press release.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 2021 outdoor ceremony had a limited number of attendees and the event was live-streamed on YouTube.

The citation has recognized over 350 heroes since its inauguration in 2011.

“With great heroism, Jews in every country in occupied Europe employed subterfuge, forgery, smuggling, concealment and other methods to ensure that Jews survived the Holocaust, or assisted them in escaping to safe havens, and in doing so foiled the Nazi goal of total genocide against the Jews,” the organizers said.

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