The Holocaust was one of the darkest periods of contemporary history but from the terror and bloodshed rose people of exemplary courage, who put their lives on the line to save innocent people. There were others who lost entire families to the tragedy. Beyond Duty, an initiative by the Israeli Consulate in Bengaluru, pays tribute to those diplomats who risked it all. Consul-General Dana Kursh tells Aknisree Karthik about her aim, to train future leaders to go beyond duty’s call
Walter Suskind was a German Jew, the manager of a theatre called the Hollandsche Schouwburg. This was during the course of the Second World War and the Jews of Amsterdam had to report themselves prior to deportation. Suskind, as the manager, found he could manipulate the personal data of Jewish children, a bold act that would help save some 600 lives. Suskind and his family were apprehended and sent to the Westerbork transit camp, where his wife and child would perish. Suskind himself died a mysterous death in 1945, during the Central European death marches.
Last week, the film Suskind, based on the life of the Jewish Hero, was screened at the Bangalore International Centre. Presented by Netherlands and the Israel Consulate in Bengaluru, the film was part of an exhibition, Beyond Duty. The stories it tells won’t make it to your history books, but the Holocaust, a time of terror for the Jewish community, gave rise to many heroes, men and women of exemplary courage, many of whom lost their lives fighting Nazi Germany.
Beyond Duty, which opened on May 2, marked Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. And at the heart of it is Dana Kursh, the Israeli Consul General in Bengaluru. “It’s about being inspired by the stories of the Holocaust and how the lessons we learned wil help train the next generation of leaders, persuading them to act beyond the call of duty.” For Consul-General Kursh, this is a long-cherished goal.
It was the year 1987. Dana Kursh, now the Israeli Consul General in Bengaluru, was 16 years old at the time, standing in Bergen-Belsen with her younger brother. When he opened the Bible and began to read, she wept. “I didn’t know what to do at that age apart from cry. I could only weep for the millions of lives lost in concentration camps,” says Ms Kursh.
Dana Kursh was not a far-removed observer, learning of the horrors of the Holocaust in a high school history class, only to be forgotten at the sound of the bell. She was born in Merhavia, a moshav, a type of cooperative agricultural community in Northern Israel. Here, she would grow up amid the terrible stories and the devastating losses her own ancestors had faced during the Second World War. Her grandmother would always wear the scars of the Holocaust - a bullet mark on her forehead. “The bullet was meant to kill her but missed. She had that scar all her life. I would cry, wondering how I could pass on this part of history,” she recalls.
Incidentally, her grandparents married 80 years ago, on May 2, 1939. “We launched our Leadership Beyond Duty initiative on the same day,” she says. The event told the stories of 22 diplomats from different countries, who dared to oppose the genocide unfolding before them and acted beyond the call of duty to save the Jewish community. “The Holocaust is a dark part of our history. Our future generations should be educated so such darkness never gets another chance to resurface. It’s our duty to inspire them and to tell the stories of leaders who helped saved lives,” she says. The Consul-General is constantly in touch with academic, religious and civil institutions, as well as IT companies and other consulates, to take these Holocaust stories to larger audiences.