Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Holocaust Remembrance Day Reinforces Why Israel's Survival is Important

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day; the date is different each year on the Gregorian calendar because the date corresponds to the 27th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, which is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In Hebrew, Holocaust Remembrance Day is called Yom HaShoah, which literally means "The Day of the Catastrophe." 

It is powerful and uplifting to see images of Jews young and old marching through Auschwitz waving Israeli flags. The message that they transmit, even without saying a word, is "Am Yisrael Chai!"--The People of Israel Live!

Passover recently concluded. During that holiday, our sages tell us that we should retell the story of the liberation of Hebrew slaves from Egypt as if we personally were liberated. As that is true of the liberation from Egypt, it is even more true for those of us who narrowly escaped Hitler's Final Solution.

I was born 26 years after the Holocaust ended, so I have no direct memories of that nightmarish time--but, like most if not all Jews descended from European immigrants, I lost family members in the Holocaust. The Jews who survived that dark period were often disinclined to talk about their experiences; my family members who left Europe in the early 1900s did not say much about the family members who--for various reasons--never left Europe, speaking in euphemisms like, "We never heard from them after the War." The presence of the lost family members was most felt in their absence: the aunts, uncles, and cousins who were not present at family events. I never met them, and thus I cannot imagine how they may have influenced me. I also don't know how their absence affected the family members who grew up with them in Europe, and lived the rest of their lives with the burden of either knowing how they perished, or not knowing exactly how/when/where they perished: I am not sure which is worse.

Early in my teenage years, I did some genealogical research about my family, using the resources available to me at that time before the existence of the internet and widespread DNA testing. My kindergarten teacher knew an attorney who had been involved in a court case regarding the descendants of a Jewish family from Kobrin, the village where my maternal grandmother grew up (she and all of her closest family members left Europe in the early 1900s and made it safely to America). As I recall it, the court case from the late 1940s involved determining whether or not any potential heirs existed for a Jewish person who had passed away. The attorney provided me with copies of two depositions he had taken from Jewish people with firsthand knowledge of the fate of the Jewish community of Kobrin. According to those depositions, Kobrin's pre-World War II population was approximately 12,000, and approximately 8000 Jews lived there. The depositions described the Nazi occupation, and the eventual extermination of the entire Jewish population, save for a handful of known survivors (none of whom were related to the person whose estate was at issue in the court case). I wonder how many of the murdered Kobrin Jews were friends of my family members?

The Jewish population of Kobrin was wiped out less than 25 years after my maternal grandmother and her family arrived in America. For most Jews, the Holocaust is not history--or, at least, it shouldn't be. The Holocaust happened to our loved ones. 

Nearly two thirds of the Jewish population of the world in 1939 lived in Europe; the Holocaust could have happened to our parents, in which case we would not be here today. Before many--but not all--members of my father's family left Europe, they lived for a time in Kosice, a city in what is now known as Slovakia. Kosice is about 200 miles from Auschwitz, and there was a train that went straight from Kosice to Auschwitz. I wonder how many of my family members were herded on to that train and sent to their deaths in Auschwitz? I wonder how many of the murdered Jews could have been saved if President Franklin Roosevelt's bigotry had not derailed many plans to rescue Jews. Paraphrasing a famous rap lyric, Roosevelt may be a hero to most, but he never meant anything to me, because his inaction doomed hundreds of thousands of Jews. Self-proclaimed progressive Jews who venerate FDR suffer from a peculiar form of mental/psychological disturbance for which I cannot think of a historical analogy. Black people do not idolize slaveholders, but many Jews idolize antisemites while proving unable or unwilling to distinguish between the real Nazis and people who they disagree with and then label as Nazis.

It is worth emphasizing that the Holocaust is perhaps the most well-documented crime/genocide in human history. We have original documents from the Nazis. We have photographs and films. We have eyewitness testimony from victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. Holocaust deniers are not only perverse, but they are either idiots or liars, because it is impossible for a rational, honest person to deny the veracity of the mountains of readily available evidence.

The first person accounts of survivors are part of the historical record. I just read and watched Judith Sohlberg's recollections of surviving the Holocaust as a young child. Her story is inspirational but also horrifying when one thinks of the millions of lives lost, and the suffering of not only those who were murdered but also of those who survived.

Some Jews did not leave Europe because other countries would not accept them. Other Jews stayed in Europe because the idea of uprooting themselves and learning a new language and a new culture seemed too daunting. Other Jews felt that it would be possible to continue Jewish existence in Europe, that the bad times would pass as they had throughout history. 

At that time, Jews did not have an independent national homeland. In 1920, the League of Nations granted a mandate to the British Empire to facilitate the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine--a geographical region comprising the areas today known as Israel, Judea/Samaria (the so-called "West Bank"), and Jordan--but Israel did not declare its independence (and then fight off Arab nations determined to annihilate the newborn Jewish State) until 1948. Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust--that is an antisemitic canard--but the Holocaust demonstrated the importance of Israel's existence.

Two years ago, I explained why "Never Again" must be a rallying cry, not just a slogan: "Yad Vashem exists to remind the world what the Nazis did to the Jewish people during the Holocaust so that such an atrocity will never happen again, and the Israeli Air Force exists so that the Jewish people never again experience absolute powerlessness. Understood in those terms, it is not surprising that those who deny that the Holocaust happened also deny the Jewish State's right to exist: Iran seeks to both deny and repeat the Holocaust." 

Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are two sides of the same evil, odious coin. If someone said I hate France but not French people, no one would find that believable (or socially acceptable)--but in too many quarters it has become acceptable to pretend that it is possible to hate Israel but not hate Jews. 

History proves that there will always be nations and individuals who work tirelessly to destroy the Jewish people and every Jewish person; the Jewish people and every Jewish person must stay strong and assert our rights to live not only as free people, but as free people in a Jewish state in the historical Jewish homeland; that is a right that is accepted without question for almost every other nation on Earth--including nations whose histories are much shorter than the Jewish people's.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All contents Copyright (c) 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 David Friedman. All rights reserved.