“In every generation our enemies rise against us to destroy us.” (from the Passover Haggadah, the booklet that is used to guide participants in celebrating the Passover Seder) And so, in every generation, each of us needs to consider himself as though he had survived the Holocaust.
There always will be those who do not want to remember that the Holocaust is a fact of history. For some, like Iran and other anti-semites around the world, it is a matter of willful denial. For others, remembering that the Holocaust really happened is too painful for them, either because it brings back memories of what they, themselves, went through, or because it generates anguish and thoughts of what others went through, during a time when the morality and conscience of the world sunk to an all-time low.
But, the long and the short of it is that the Holocaust stands as a scar on the heart and a wart on the hide of humanity that cannot be removed. The best way to cope with it, and to learn from it, is to never forget it. That’s why Israel has a day a year specifically set aside for the remembrance of the Holocaust. That day began last night (1st May, 2019) and continued until sundown tonight. The media was filled with stories that would cause tears to flow out of a stone. The radio played songs that wrench the heart.
Holocaust Remembrance Day here is marked by a ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem. Memorial flames are lit by Holocaust survivors, who share incredible stories of suffering and pain, heroism and escape, survival and victory over overwhelming odds, in brief before he or she takes the torch and lights the memorial flame. Unlike the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is set worldwide on January 27th, the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, Israel’s Day of Remembrance coincides with the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (according to the Hebrew calendar), an event that symbolizes the heroism and the indefatigable spirit of the Jewish people. Although tremendously outnumbered, the uprising was able to last for 27 days. When it was over, 13,000 Jews were killed and the approximately 50,000 ghetto survivors were sent to nearby death camps.
The hatred of Jews, coupled with the weakness that accompanied our exile and the seeming indifference of the world community, all united in Nazi Germany and became fertile ground for what was labeled “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. The danger was not realized by the Jewish people, until it ws too late. The British would not allow us to enter our ancient homeland, the countries of the so-called, enlightened western world, closed their doors to us. We were trapped and when the smoke and dust cleared from the ovens of the death camps, six million Jews had been killed. European Jewry had been decimated.
History not only repeats itself, sometimes it grows progressively worse, particularly when it comes to the history of the Jewish people. The Emperor Constantine legitimized Roman Christianity, but it was about 50 years later, in 380 C.E. when the Emperor Theodosius made it the official religion of the empire. The Jews had to convert or leave. In short, they were told: “You can’t live here as a Jew.” Following the Crusades and in the same year that “Columbus sailed the ocean blue”, Spain expelled the Jews. In short, they were told: “You can’t live here.” And, during the 20th century, Nazi Germany undertook to complete the process with the Holocaust. In short, the Jews were told: “You can’t live.” Throughout our history, there have been overlapping aspects of “Jews are Not Allowed” (Juden Verboten)
But, neither Constantine, nor Theodosius, neither King Ferdinand, nor Queen Isabella, neither Haman, nor Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, had the final word. We live, we live here and we can live here as Jews. That is God’s call, not man’s.
Out of the ashes and thorns of the Holocaust, the land of our forefathers was reclaimed. The early settlers and those who survived the death camps and the forced marches, the beatings and the humiliations, worked and planted and built. Families grew. Agriculture grew. Industry grew. Technology grew. The barren desert was turned green. And the world has been blessed because of God’s plan for the Jew. He will bless those who bless His people. Not because we are bigger or better, because that is certainly not the case (Deut. 7:7-8). It is because God is sovereign in all his ways and is faithful, even when we are not. will not allow those who touch the “apple of his eye” (Zech. 2:8) to get away without punishment (Deut. 32:7-10).
I grew up with stories of relatives who perished in the Holocaust, aunts and uncles, cousins and more distant relatives. I heard the expression “Never again!” time and time again. But, that brief statement needs to go beyond the rhetoric of politicians. It cannot be reduced to amere slogan, however convenient it may be. It much become a part of our mentality and a way of life. When enough people say it and mean it, they will do something about it. Anti-semitism cannot exist in a vacuum, but only when there is fertile ground for its seeds.
It is true that Israel has a strong military. But, what do we have that we have not been given by the Holy One of Israel. We should recognize His hand in our establishment, in our development and in our successes. It is His blessing that enables us to survive and to prosper and to be a blessing to others. I cringe when people talk with misplaced pride and make vows that they, themselves, are not able to fulfill, particularly when those doing so are politicians and leaders of Israel, who speak on behalf of the nation and as their representatives. With two of my children having completed their service in the IDF and the third presently serving, I, too, am confident that those who wear the uniform will continue to perform their assigned tasks honorably, to serve and to defend this nation and its inhabitants. And, to the extent that it depends upon them, they will act to insure that “NeverAgain!” is a meaningful statement.
But, if our trust is in the strength of our flesh only, then our trust is misplaced. We did not succeed against the Arab countries because of our courage or strength. Indeed, we were tremendously outnumbered and under considerable military disadvantage. We succeeded because God pulled us out of the ashes of the Holocaust and fought for us, just as He did when He brought us out of Egypt. Woe to us if we rely on man and make flesh our strength and turn our hearts from the LORD. (Jeremiah 17:5)
We have not yet reached the point when nations “will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.” (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3) We live in a world that has failed to learn from its past failures and that is, once again, increasing in anti-semitism and in acts of hatred, vandalism and violence against Jewish people. The prophets speak of a time when Israel will once again suffer and when two thirds of the nation will perish, while one third will remain, to be refined and tested by God, so that they will call upon His Name. (Zechariah 13:9) God is consistent in His ways. He tests us to humble us, to know what is in our hearts and whether we would be obedient to His commands (Deut. 8:2).
Despite the many denials by so-called leaders and populace, the Holocaust is, and will remain, not only part of history and part of the present. Its shadows reveal the dried tears of those who never had a chance to say “goodbye” to their loved ones. Israel has 190,000 survivors of the Holocaust, whose average age is 82. The numbers are dwindling and before many more years, there will be no one who will be alive, who will be able to personally attest to the fact of the Holocaust and its atrocities.
Millions of names are still missing, of parents and children, of entire Jewish communities that were destroyed (by the way – one of those communities is Ostrolenka, Poland, where my parents were from, who were able to leave in 1939, just before Germany’s invasion of Poland; many of my relatives never made it out and are listed among the 6 million who perished). There is no substitute for the culture, for the values, and for the talents that are gone. They remain as an open wound. We will not stop searching for every scrap of information, for a name yet to be identified, for a photograph that has been blurred. A third of our people, six million, were murdered just because they were Jews.
We cannot turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the lessons of the Holocaust, nor can we compromise on our moral responsibility to warn of the dangers that are becoming increasingly evident in our own day. Anti-semitism has reared its ugly head and some individuals, cultures and nation states think that it is beautiful. Attacks upon synagogues and other religious establishments are on the rise. Attacks upon individuals are reported, but not prosecuted. Entire communities are afraid to say something that may not be “politically correct”. Anti-Semitic cartoons that are both repulsive and sickening adorn the pages of internationally-syndicated newspapers, allegedly permissible as part of the freedom of the press. The rise of the internet has given impetus to this sickening disease, with which many want to voluntarily become afflicted.
Whatever happened to our sense of morality, our sense of outrage, our sense that something is seriously and dangerously wrong? How long do we need to wait before we wake up to the realization that we are asleep in a cesspool of our own making, due to a reluctance to call the child by its name and to say “no more, no, never again”?
Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran Pastor, wrote a poem about the cowardice of the German intellectuals, following the Nazis’ rise to power and its incremental purging of people groups. The most famous portion of it is:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Again and again, our “world leaders” think that reliance upon ourselves both defines us and will protect us. We, too, have not learned from our past, which cries out to us to “trust in the LORD; He is [our] help and [our] shield.” (Psalm 115:9)
The nation came to a standstill for two minutes, as sirens wailed from “Dan to Beersheva”. Cars stopped on the highway and people got out to devote moments of silence in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. Ours is a constant blending of past and present, which helps us look to the future. If only our eyes were lifted heavenward, the future would look all the more bright.
Lessons to be learned from The Holocaust
There are many lessons to be learned from the Holocaust. But, it is impossible to do a proper treatise in this post. Nevertheless, what must be clearly understood is that defending our nation and our citizens is an essential priority. However, before the defense is factored in, we must have a greater understanding that there is a nation that hascome home after two thousand years. Just as the children of Israel eventually learned that Egypt was not their home, so we must ask the question whether we can truly be “at home” living outside of Israel. A few years ago, there was a popular song here that included the refrain, “Ayn li eretz aheret” – “I don’t have another country”. I realize that the return to Zion is a touchy issue for many Jewish people around the world. The early Zionists called for all Jews to return to their ancient homeland. But, only a few responded and came, while most remained in the Diaspora. I often wonder how things would have turned out if the Jews of Europe had responded more positively to the Zionist call. Now, with anti-Semitic incidents increasing to daily events all over Europe, as well as in North America and in other places around the world, I again wonder how many continue to think that what happened then cannot happen again now. I also wonder whether the time has come for “the wandering Jew” to stop wandering.
Another lesson to be learned from the Holocaust is that we cannot rely on the other governments of this world to step in and defend Israel when it is at risk. While this has a ring of truth to it militarily, it would appear obvious that it can also be applied to the diplomatic sphere. The world stood by as Hitler’s efforts to bring about the “final solution” of the Jews became more effective. Even now, the world looks on, while Iran laughs as it continues to progress towards the circle of nuclear countries. Where is the outcry when Hassan Nasrallah says that he has over 100,000 missiles pointed at Israel? We have no indebtedness to the world and, therefore, the world cannot tell us how we should act or what we should do to protect ourselves and our families from those who seek to do us harm. Nor should we allow the nations of the world to dictate policy for us regarding our national homeland.
We have a God Who rules the nations and He alone should place a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths.
Before closing this post, I want to explain the title of it, “Am Yisrael Chai!” – the Nation of Israel is Alive! In 1983, during the Eurovision song contest, the song entry by Israel was “Chai”, meaning: “Alive”. The contest that year took place in Germany. The song and the presentation, including the color of the clothing were filled with symbolism. The greatest achievement and message was that we sang that we are alive on the soil of the country that sought to finalize the efforts to eliminate our existence. You can watch the song presentation here. The word “am”, means not only “nation”, but also “people”. So, our song had a double meaning, that the nation and the people both live.
We ARE “Alive!” Yes, we are alive, but our existence, successes and blessings must be rooted in God, the Keeper of Israel, the One Who will neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).
“Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar ; The LORD of hosts is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs From before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says the LORD, ‘If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done,’ declares the LORD.” (Jer. 31:35-37)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.