My Word: Remember to remember

By
April 11, 2010 00:32

Turning Anne Frank into the posthumous recipient of Twitter messages can’t hurt, one hopes. But nothing will alter the way – or why – she died.




Display at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. ‘Eastern Europ

yad vashem 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

On the way to Jerusalem’s biblical zoo at the end of the long Pessah vacation, a taxi driver told me and my son that he had noticed the first vendors of Independence Day flags.

Our flags were still neatly folded in a drawer. My custom is to hang them outside my windows as soon as Holocaust Remembrance Day has ended, and take them down five weeks later, after Jerusalem Day, celebrating the reunification of the capital.

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Although I always struggle with the knots in the dark, I have found the timing that works for me. The dates give the simple act of displaying the flags added significance, and mean I no longer find myself incongruously stringing out the row of Stars of David when most flags are flying half mast in the middle of Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers, which, in that peculiarly Israeli way, immediately precedes Independence Day.

I used to be among those who thought that Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah as we call it, could be better commemorated on a different date, perhaps on the 10th of Tevet, the date marking the start of the ancient siege of Jerusalem, and the day chosen by the rabbinate as Yom Kaddish Haklali, the memorial for those whose date of death is unknown. Or to move it to coincide with Tisha Be’av, the Ninth of Av, the day the First and Second Temples were destroyed.

Now, however, I have grown to appreciate the value of having Yom Hashoah where it is, part of a continuum from Purim to Pessah and onwards. A day that symbolizes the prophesy that in every generation there is an Amalek.

Years ago, I read a poignant account of a Spanish Jew expelled by the Inquisition on Tisha Be’av in 1492 – the terror of losing home, friends and family compounded by hunger, and then the sickness of forced travel by boat on a fast day.

The horrors of the Inquisition were a foretaste of the Holocaust, but without Hitler’s advantage of technology.

As I pondered what to write for this column, I mused that future generations will find it increasingly hard to relate to the Holocaust, not just because the firsthand witnesses are dying out, but because they are being brought up in a different world. Today’s Anne Frank would have recorded her thoughts on Facebook, and Irene Nemirovsky’s incredible Suite Francaise might be condensed to tweets.

Then I received an e-mail informing me that the United Nations had launched a Twitter campaign in memory of Anne Frank, “the Jewish teenager who died in the Holocaust 65 years ago, but whose wartime diary has endured to become one of the world’s most widely read books and teaching tools.”

In a joint effort with the Anne Frank Center USA, students are being asked to travel back in time and write to Anne through “tweets” – 140 characters or less – as though she could communicate with the world  from her family’s hiding spot in Amsterdam.

“This exercise is meant to help young people make a meaningful connection to the Holocaust through the words of a courageous young girl,” said Kimberly Mann, manager of the Holocaust and the UN Outreach Program in the Department of Public Information’s Outreach Division in the statement.

Students are asked, “What messages of support would you have sent Anne?” and “What would you have told Anne that you have learned from her life and experience?”

The campaign will run through April 11,  the start of Yom Hashoah, and the tweets (twitter.com/UNandHolocaust) will be posted on-line and exhibited at the Anne Frank Center in New York.

My initial sarcasm turned to sadness as I realized that such a campaign might really be needed to help the on-line generation identify with even one victim of the Holocaust. But can such a campaign play a role in preventing the next genocide?

Turning Anne Frank into the posthumous recipient of Twitter messages can’t hurt, one hopes. But nothing will alter the way she died. Or the reasons why.

Anne Frank died because she was a Jew.

She died because the world was silent.

And she died because there wasn’t a State of Israel.

Along with commemorating the victims, we should perhaps be remembering the perpetrators. For in every generation there is an Amalek.

The Holocaust was so devastating because it was organized and mechanized.

In short, it was modern.

As the world meets this week to discuss the Iranian missile threat, it is something to keep in mind. Not only does every generation have its Amalek, every generation has its means.

As missiles and shells continue to fall on the Negev, the country does not need another reason to remember it still has enemies. Or how perverted they can be.

Possibly the best antidote to the apartheid state myth, by the way, is to visit the Biblical Zoo and observe, not the animals, but the staff and visitors – Jews and Arabs of all types.

It has become increasingly fashionable for the outside world to mark the lessons of the Holocaust via international events on January 27, the date Auschwitz was liberated. At the same time, it has become ever more common to accuse the Jewish state of being the “new Nazis.”

The “siege of Gaza” has become in the (tiny) minds of some the new Auschwitz, the modern ghetto. This is the Gaza from where the attacks on Israel are being launched even as humanitarian aid is being trucked in and which, I might uncomfortably remind the mob, has in addition to a border with the Jewish state, a border with Egypt. That’s the same Egypt that did not grant the “Palestinians” there independence during the years in which it was in control, and is clearly not jumping at the chance of absorbing the “refugees” now.

The Jews=Nazis line is a double sin: trivialization and perversion of the truth. This toxic combination was also seen in the farce when Pope Benedict XVI’s personal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa delivered a Good Friday message comparing criticism of the Church over the sexual abuse scandal to the historic persecution and “collective violence” against Jews.

It was seen again in the growing protests against the pope’s planned trip to Britain, where he could reportedly face arrest under the British legal system’s interpretation of “universal jurisdiction,” which would put his alleged inaction in the – undoubtedly horrific – abuse scandal on the same level as genocide.

The fact that the pope was a member of the Hitler Youth  at the time when teens like Anne Frank were writing diaries and not tweets seems to have been forgotten.

The war against the Jews is not, unfortunately, confined to cyberspace. It is taking place in the real world, with every Kassam that falls, with every attack on Jews and their supporters around the world, and with every statement of delegitimization. Sadly, tweeting Anne Frank will not stop it, any more than it can bring her – or any other of the six million – back to life.

My little message of support is to hang my string of blue-and-white flags outside my apartment. From the end of Holocaust Remembrance Day to the end of Jerusalem Day.

Remember.


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