Memorial Cause in Israel.6/6/97
Being in Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, makes my country indeed special and unique; the Jewish State is mourning still, on a national scale, the Shoa.
I am not a sociologist and don’t have the time and tools to analyze in details the memorial cause in Israel, and all its aspects. Leon asked to have this report a long time ago, but I had no time to write this article before. I am not a professional scientist who can report on such a subject, which has been done by thousands of scholars and Shoa historians, with much better historical knowledge of the Holocaust . I shall try however, to lighten up some subjects, from my personal knowledge and opinions, with relevance to the kind of research I do in Gombin’s memory.
Here, if I would send a letter, like the Gombin Society directors sent in the States last May, urging Gombiners to remember their family, light a memorial candle and say a prayer, it would be accepted as an insult!
We live the "Shoa" and as a survivor once spoke on the radio: "we need one day to forget and not one day to remember"...
Everyone here has a connection, one way or another to the Holocaust. The tragedy has effected every family living here.
As this is the country of the Jewish people, many news items, which are not mentioned anywhere else, get full attention here and are repeatedly broadcast and published in the newspapers. Now, there are a lot of talks about the Nazi robbed gold; the Swiss involvement and the affair of the dormant accounts of their banks; Sweden’s gold involvement, and Portugal’s; the Italian Insurance Company "Generali" and its refusal to compensate Holocaust victims’ relatives; the stands of the Vatican in the WWII, promising to open their archives to the public, may be in 50 years only...; “Missing identity” - venture of the Israeli TV, of which I have written about at the time and now has a unique WEB site; new revelations about “vendetta group” of Jewish survivors who hunted Nazis in South America in the 60’s and before and many other Holocaust related subjects.
While I shall survey briefly some of the Holocaust institutional activities here, I have to admit that in spite of all that is done, a lot has still to improve and more national efforts and resources are to be allocated to the memorial cause. I don’t understand why the Government of Israel did not start, by its own initiative, cemeteries restoration project in Poland, for example. There are beaurocratic difficulties in Yad Vashem organization, lack of finance, too little subsidy is given to “Amcha”, Shoa education, and survival pensions. The main obstacle is the special security situation we live in, which obliges the state to still invest in security and in the IDF more than any other western country, bringing more urgent issues to the public priority list. Also political interests cause constraints on the national budget , and other projects get resources. In spite of the criticism, I still believe a lot is done and hopefully be improved in the future.
Israel is the country of the Jews, raised from the ashes of the destroyed Europe and built by Shoa survivors or relatives of the 6 million victims. Survivors are still living among us and we hear their testimonies again and again, more and more, in new books published, articles written, documentaries on the TV and any other media. More than 50 years have past, but for many, the Shoa memory remains permanently, a bleeding wound, which no time will ever heal. Some have suppressed their memories, and didn’t talk with their children about themselves for many year, maybe in order to be able to live normally and protect them from the haunting experiences, as otherwise they wouldn’t maybe be able to rebuild their life and raise a family. But the past cannot be erased, the pain cannot be soothed and the sense of bereavement cannot ever be overcome. There is no danger of oblivion of the Shoa memory, when you live in Israel...
I shall write briefly about some of the main events and institutions, butbe aware of the fact that this subject requires much more attention, time, research tools, all which I don’t have!
Holocaust Remembrance Day “Yom Hashoa”
The day was announced this year on May 5th 97.
It is a yearly Holocaust National Memorial day. On that day, ALL the entertainment places (restaurants, cinema, theaters etc.) are CLOSED! ALL the TV channels and cables broadcast from morning to midnight, for 1 day and a half only films and documentaries about the Holocaust. Tens of general memorial meetings take place all over the country, and in cemeteries where shtetls erected symbolic graves to their people. Public assemblies are held with the leaders of the nation. The flags are lowered, twice a siren is heard all over Israel... And the whole country, like one man, freezes in silence and immobility. A whole nation is unified in mourning.
So this is the country of the Jews and thus we remember for ever the Shoa, nationally. You can see more details in the enclosed file of Yad Vashem, where I gathered all the pages of Yad Vashem on the WEB, as a summary about this most important Shoa institution.
The study of the Holocaust at school is obligatory, and in the 11th grade the youth are traveling on visiting tripsto death camp, organized and guided by the Ministry of Education: missions to Poland and Germany, visiting death and concentration camps. Survivors are steadily giving lectures to pupils and entering classes, all ages telling their horrifying experiences. I remember survivors telling their storied when I was a child, and the same now, at my daughter’s school. There are visits to Yad Vashem, Lochamei Hagetaot Museum and the Diaspora Museum and pupils prepare paperwork and studies about the subject.
“Yad Vashem” is the most important Holocaust Institution in Israel and in the world.
“Yad Vashem is the Holocaust memorial of the Jewish people. Located on Har Hazikaron (the Mount of Remembrance) in Jerusalem, Israel, it was established in 1953 by an act of the Israeli Knesset. Situated on 45 acres (180 dunam), Yad Vashem is a complex of museums, monuments, research, teaching and resource centers.”
The center has the largest library and archive and they have teams who constantly videotape, still nowadays, any survivor or even others who were living in the lost shtetls, for commemoration. There are seminars and study sessions there and young students’ tours organized by all the schools in Israel. The parking lots in Yad Vashem are always full and thousands of people visit the Museum and its premises every day, visiting the Museum, “the Righteous among the Nations” Boulevard, “the Valley of the Communities” Monument, the Children Hall, the library with thousands of books. Yad Vashem has also a giant archive with thousands testimonies and documents, which are daily enriched by new research ventures, mainly by volunteers in Europe who collect materials from Germany and other countries, and some are illegally smuggled to Jerusalem.
Another giant project is the “Daf Ed” project which eventually will be on line, on the internet. I sent Gayle a copy of those pages, to be filled up by any Jew around the world, who didn’t do it yet.
"Beit Lochamei Hagetaot" (Shoa and Ghetto Fighters Museum)
Another large Museum is the "Beit Lochamei Hagetaot" (Shoa and Ghetto Fighters Museum) situated in Western Galilee, in Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot, founded by Antek Zukerman, the Deputy Commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. All this Kibbutz elders members are Holocaust survivors. They have there 12 Archive and a giant library which contain about 60000 books and documents, much larger than the Holocaust Museum in Washington.
The main message of this institute is the fight and heroism of the Jews, who did not go like sheep to the slaughter! They emphasize this important aspect of the Shoa, in their exhibits and publications.
An incredible site was recently founded, called: “Yad Layeled" - memorial to the child in the holocaust, designed by the famous architect who designed also the Israel High Court building in Jerusalem, Ram Karmi. This memorial is dedicated to the one and a half million children who perished in the Holocaust.This site visualizes the Holocaust to little children, with special means, designed for their capacity to understand.
Any one can add a special memorial glass plaque in the wall of the Children, to perpetuate the names of children of his family, “a symbolic tomb, to have a place to cry over, for all those children with no tomb... It requires a donation of $1000.
“Amcha” is a non profit organization, whose aim is to give psychological assistance to holocaust survivors, and 2nd generation descendants who suffer also of the Shoa syndrome. “Amcha” is a special and most remarkable society, run by volunteers all over Israel, and their activities demonstrate the effect of Holocaust memorial in Israel, from another angle. Not only building Memorials by brass and stone and collecting documents, but actually helping the suffering survivors, not with money, but by psychological therapy, and by listening to them. Even though more than 50 years have passed, there are still many who need human aid, and “Amcha” fills this need, by volunteers. Due to its importance, I collected, as I did also
with Yad Vashem, its WEB home pages and enclose it as a separate file.
There is an institution in Kibbutz Tel Izhak called “Messuah” which runs research and study mainly for teachers who go to Poland with the youth missions.
“Lapid” is a super movement, comprised of many other organizations, aiming imbibe the lessons of the Holocaust.
“Ot Vaed” is a religious venture, seeking religious meaning to the Holocaust study. The police of Israel still keeps a whole department, searching Nazis and collaborators to be brought to trial, but unfortunately not much and not enough has been achieved...
All the universities have departments dealing with Holocaust research.
There is an active Israeli branch of Shimon Wiesenthal Tolerance Museum in Los Angeles.
Some of the Holocaust institutions and museums have INTERNET home page.
Please find hereunder a table with the WEB sites, to enable you to browse and get on line glimpse of their activities and purposes.
Yad Vashem - (presently under expansion and renewal).
Amcha - Israeli Centers for Holocaust Survivors and the Second Generation
The Lochamei Hagetaot Museum A Ghetto Fighter's House - Yad Layeled - memorial for the children - Special Program, searching for Holocaust orphans identity.
Messuah - Holocaust Study center
An interactive program for the teaching of the Shoa
I ACCUSE" - the Eichman trial by the Jewish People, 108 testimonies and the famous Gideon Hausner speech and searches engines, a private initiative of Dr. Haim Mintz in cooperation with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
“Missing Identity” - site dedicated to continue the TV program, finding lost identity of children from the Holocaust
“Beit Hatefusoth” Museum of the Jewish Diaspora at Tel Aviv University.-DOROT Jewish Genealogy Dept.
There are other sites, erected by private people and societies like “Gombin”, and one of them is done by Israel Preker :http://www.netvision.net.il/php/pisrael/.
This media, the Internet, is not yet fully developed here, and I forcast a lot of improvement in this field in the future.
In addition, I mailed to Craig, to give to Leon, before the meeting, a brochure in Hebrew, issued by “Lapid”, in 1994, summarizing the activities of 24 various research institutions and museums, with the addresses of each institute. But there are more research institutions which didn’t appear in this booklet.
There are also individual initiators, acting on a personal basis, dedicated to commemoration, erecting Memorials, publishing documentation, writing books, organizing 2nd and 3rd generation Landsmanshafts (“2nd. generation organization of Lodz” - is an example of such organization), restoring destroyed cemeteries in Poland and other ventures. Among them, I am fortunate to have met Benjamin Yaari, who is willing to help Gombin Society in the cemetery project, Ester Reiss who wrote a book about Chelmno and erected a memorial in Maale Adumim for the victims of Chelmno and Yehuda Widawski, who is helping Dr. Lucia Nowak in Chelmno, who is active now in trying to preserve the 30 m. memorial board of the Chelmno site.
They are only few out of many. There are also Knesset members like Shevach Weiss, Dov Shilanski and others who are active for the Holocaust memory in the Israel Knesset. There is Yaacov Weinberger Hashisha from Naharya who publish books and newsletters and many other devoted people to the commemoration of the Holocaust, by personal activities.
“Lesson of the Holocaust”.
I cannot pretend to know the “lesson of the Holocaust”, subject to so many researches and opinions, still to be investigated, with no definite answers for years to come. No one has an answer to the basic question how it became possible. I think that a nation that starts with burning books, ends up in burning human beings... And there is a whole German nation, guilty of direct participation, and the indifference of the silent “peaceful” population, which pretened “not to know” what was happening in its back yard. We neither take off the burden of guilt from the Polish people and others in Europe, who sold a Jew for a kg of salt, who in some places participated themselves in the killings or, as one survivor told me, sang and prayed when Jewish blood was actually flashing in the village stream... He will never forget that scene, which he witnessed from a hiding place. Another survivor, Izhak Weizman from Gombin, told me that the last scene he saw of Gombin, when they were rounded up and taken on trucks to the Konin concentration Camp, was of Poles, gathering in the early morning , clapping hands, dancing and making the signs of slaughter on their throat towards the doomed victims in the truck.... No Jew was happy when the Germans executed 10 Poles in Gabin... We must learn these facts, to grasp the extent of the Shoa and understand how it was possible.
I believe we should mainly remember, and that is the main lesson, that our people were prosecuted for being Jewish, and for that reason only; 6 millions, among them 1.5 children, were liquidated by the German Nazi, in the most horrible way, a thing which had never been before in the history of mankind.
This tragedy could be avoided, according to my opinion, if we would have a state of our own in 1939! This is the main lesson to me and my generation here. We feel we were born to a miracle, and are proud to be part of this country. “Holland” for me is indeed “holy”, because of that miracle, returning to Zion after 2000 years, after such a genocide. Israel was born from the ashes, and its existence is the real victory over Hitler and his collaborators!
Benyamin Yaari told me that he wrote a will, in 1943 when, only a young boy he was, not sure if he would live to see the liberation. He jumped out of the train heading to Treblinka... He than wrote that will in Hebrew which he learned in the pioneering Zionist youth movement he belonged to, and sent it to his cousin. Many years later he found that letter, which he got back in a way which is a story in itself. He had written from occupied Poland, while his mother and all the family were already murdered in Treblinka, with nearly no chances to survive himself. He wrote that his last wish is that the Jewish people should have a state of its own, and an army to defend him. This is the only solution, and his only hope. I think that the revival of Zion, in Eretz Israel, is the only possible way that Jews as a nation will survive... and this is the legacy of the Holocaust tragedy...
The lessons of the Holocaust are so many, and each person and movement here tends to emphasize or educate its own. Peace and left political movements stress the fight against prejudice and racism, effecting their political present attitude towards the Arab minority rights and giving up lands in the West Bank, as a compromise to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The argument that since we suffered so much from racism and hatred, we shall be most careful now, being the majority in a Jewish state, in treating the Arabs who lived and still do, on the same land.
The right wing, cries out that the Jewish people is alone in the world and hated, as was than, and we should be strong and independent, not listening to world appeals in the peace process, as economical and world politics play a major part in those anti Israeli resolutions. They claim that we should mainly concentrate on our own security needs and we should not withdraw from any land, in order to jeopredize our safety.
The Orthodox religious movement blames the secular Zionist movement in Europe for the Shoa, for not keeping the Torah... (I wondered a lot about their arguments as most of the victims were religious, the victims children were surly innocent, and what kind of God is that they believe in, who sent the Satan Hitler as his messenger...)
The Holocaust lessons are subject to controversies and political views, and I cannot in this framework, review them all in details.
As another lesson of the Holocaust, we have to educate for tolerance, and fight racism and evil anywhere on earth.
BUT while we pursue it, we should not forget who were the killers, who were the prosecutors and who were collaborating with the Nazis! The 3 million Poles killed in WWII came mainly from the Polish intelligenzia and they were 3 out of 30 millions; they were not liquidated like bugs, in a systematic total death machinery as the Nazis did to the Jews, total destruction, total Shoa. Not that any one denies the Polish people sufferings in the War, but they were not target for extermination, “final solution”, genocide!
Can we be tolerant towards the killers? Is it possible, that in the name of tolerance and open mindness, we cannot point our finger anymore at anyone to accuse of this unforgiveable crime? “They only obeyed orders”, “they didn’t know”, “they were afraid themselves”, “they were just a nail in the machine”... Germany paid reparations to the State of Israel, so now they are no more guilty? “It was the 3rd Reich blame”, and who was the 3rd Reich if not the German people, was it a kind of a monster that ruled the world in the middle ages? Aren’t there anymore Nazis alive, no leaders, no ex S.S. soldiers, no grandparents, no parents, no descendants?... In the name of being tolerant, now, 50 years later, there are no more targets to blame? So how our people, 6 million exterminated, only 7 years before I was born?
We indeed should study and learn about the “Righteous among the Nations” (“Khasidei Umot Olam”), who risked their lives for hiding or saving a Jew, “the hope of humanity in its darkest hour”, but we should also always remember that they were so few, and this is why the Holocaust could happen, and to that extent! The boulevard of trees in their memory is too sparse...
I was looking for a “Zadik” in the hell of Gombin, and one story I heard in 1989, about Szikorski seemingly saving the Blawat family, was discovered to be a lie; after 8 years, through the intervention of Mel Wruble who pointed out that lie, and which I further investigated finding out Blawat descendant who shed the truth about that affair.
Now I learned that there was a Polish family who gave their daughter’s birth certificate, where it was written that a boy was born instead of a girl, to a Jewish boy, and with this paper he wandered around Poland, target for Poles assaults suspecting him, but managed to survive somehow and has remained in Poland until now! This is one story I found only recently, since I do research this aspect of the Holocaust. Maybe there were more such stories, not yet told. What does it teach us: that out of a population of 3000 Poles, one did something for a Jew. The facts are so tragic and still all our people were murdered. The testimonies and articles indicate about a completely different attitude towards the Jews, in Gombin and in thousands of other shtetls. I Also often wonder, did any out of the “Folks Deutche” of Gabin, and the Nazi soldiers and commanders of Gombin ghetto, were brought to trial after the War? Were the murderers punished at all?
One cannot judge those who were suppressed themselves and threatened by death penalty, but can one not judge all those who collaborated and participated themselves, passively and actively, in the killings?! Before, during and after the W.W.II. We should also realize that Hitler and fascism seized the rule in democratic elections. So there is also a danger in being too tolerant, and thus endangering democracy and humanity itself, by giving unrestrained freedom of speech and assisting its own enemies in organizing themselves.
Another side of the Holocaust, studied and emphasized here a lot, is the heroism and the fight against the Nazis. I mentioned before the Lochamei Hagetaot Kibbutz I fully recommend to anyone of you, who will be in Israel, to go and visit this special place who tries to emphasize this aspect of the Shoa.
Survivors complain about a certain feeling of hostility they felt, from the local Israelis, when immigrated to Israel, as they couldn’t understand how the Jews did not fight back there in Europe, did not resist. But it is not true, and many studies are done here to give answers to this question, and to shed light on unknown facts about resistance and fighting the Nazis.
Survival itself, under the conditions which prevailed in the Holocaust, was heroism! They didn’t go like sheep to the slaughter! When it was possible, they fought back, not only in Warsaw ghetto, also in Konin, where Gombiners were taken for slavery, in the concentration camp.
Among my various activities for Gombin here, I have contacted Izhak Weizman from Gombin, only a child of 11 years old when the war broke out. He witnessed the revolt in the Konin Concentration Camp, where his father’s associate, Abraham Neudorff and son in law Feivish Kamlazh, Philip Zielonka from Gombin and others set fire to the camp and hang themselves.
The story appears in the book: “Konin, a quest”, by Theo Richmond, chapter 48, pages 322-325,503-504 and is told in Ben Guyer testimony, Izhak Weicman and others. The prisoners kept human dignity till the very end, and this was heroism, in its true significance. Their story should be told again and again, as for me, it is not less than the myth of Mazada, 2000 years ago...
Abraham Neudorff shared with Izhak Weizman his daily tiny piece of bread... helping the little boy with what he could. This was heroism! Now we found out that his daughter, Dora Makow, age 83, is living in Haifa and apparently may be not aware of her father and brother in law heroic acts. He and Philip Zielonka and other brave Jews, decided to fight back, decided to take their own lives and set fire to the damn camp. They fought the Nazis and kept human dignity and Jewish pride until the end...
There are only 3 lines about it in the famous 959 pages book “The Holocaust the Jewish Tragedy” by Martin Gilbert, chapter: “To perish, but with honor”, page 597: “In the labor camp at Konin the Jews, led by Rabbi Joshua Moshe Aaronson, burned down the huts in the camp, and tried to escape. Almost all of them were killed”, I feel sorry that this chapter is not published more widely, not documented enough and its message of Jewish heroism, existing under the inhuman conditions, to the generations to come, has not been cried loudly enough...
In conclusion, the Shoa history should be learnt and researched, its reasons and course of events. We can draw actual humanistic and historical conclusions , but first of all, the facts themselves should be known and remembered and the memory of the 6 human Jewish victims perpetuated. This is the main aim of commemoration: “Remember what Amalek did to you...”; we shall not forget and we shall not forgive!