Recently, Jerusalem Post columnist Avraham Avi-hai placed a new word and a new concept before its readers as well as on the agenda of world and Jewish public discourse.
The word is “culturocide.” With the murder of the six million in the Holocaust, two vibrant and living Jewish languages and cultures were murdered as well.
True, pockets of Yiddish- and Ladino-speakers still exist. The languages and cultures are studied in universities, and Holocaust museums devote exhibits to the theme. But Yiddish culture, the living Ashkenazi culture of the Jews of Warsaw and Vilna, Riga and Bucharest, Vienna and Budapest, as well as of hundreds of cities, towns and villages, was destroyed together with the Jews of Eastern and Central Europe. The living Ladino/Sephardi culture was similarly slaughtered along with the Jews of Salonika and Athens, Monastir and Sarajevo.
We are now entering the 70th year since the end of World War II. The number of survivors of the Holocaust dwindles daily. They lived in a world of rich language, press, theater, film, music and literature both sacred and secular.
Before the memory of these fades, and so the rescued resources are not lost, a great effort should be made to bring their culture to future generations in print, film and television.
We cannot raise up these cultures from the mass graves and the crematoria. But we can give life through translation of their classics, through films and TV series that will provides a sense of the vitality and color in which our people lived, as a tribute and a rich human memorial.
Yiddish culture left its imprint on the literature, stage, screen and concert and opera houses of Europe and the greater Western world. The music and theater of Greece and the Balkans reflect the creativity of the Sephardi Jews of the former Ottoman Empire, and has influenced both the peoples in whose midst they lived and Israeli culture. That, too, is a theme to be brought to life through the modern media. It will be a long-term effort, and should be produced in all European languages, and of course, in Hebrew.
For school trips to Poland, specialists in Yiddish culture should prepare the youngsters, and on the ground, students should be guided to see the Holocaust not only in its physical horror, but to understand the immense loss of a culture a thousand years old. Similar preparation should be made for the 500-year-plus culture of Ladino-speakers. Trips should visit centers of Sephardi culture, or at least spend a few days in Thessaloniki en route to Poland.
The Jerusalem Post has initiated a campaign – not for a political issue, not for funds, but more important, for hearts and minds. We invite our colleagues in the media throughout the world and we call on our government and other governments, especially in Europe, as well as on NGOs – to bear witness to the vitality of the mass cultures of these two languages.
The Holocaust was both genocide and culturocide. Let us ensure that this concept enters fully into the understanding of the enormity of the Shoah.
The Jews who were murdered had enriched European, American and Israeli culture in every sphere by. Now we should embark on a great historic enterprise: to tell the story of the culture of the Jews of Europe to future generations.
The European Union, the governments of the European countries involved, private funds and foundations should join in this effort.
In schools and homes throughout the world, a reflection of cultures lost can flicker and glow.
Should generations of Israelis to come, of all sectors and backgrounds not have the opportunity to know the wellsprings from which a great part of our national culture sprang? This enterprise is beyond nationality. It would be a record for humanity to have and to hold.