NETANYA MAYOR Miriam Feirberg Ikar stands with World War II Jewish veterans at a ceremony to mark 70 years since VE Day in the coastal city on Wednesday..
(photo credit: RAN ELIYAHU)
Seventy years ago, for the first time since September 1, 1939, the guns in Europe fell silent. In the wreckage of the mutilated continent, from the Atlantic to Moscow and from the Polar Circle to Sicily and Crete, lay the ashes of tens of millions of destroyed lives, more than half of them innocent civilians. Six million of the slain civilians were Jews, starved in the ghetto, massacred in the woods, gassed and burned in the terrible factories of death.
Throughout those 70 years, first with reluctance and trepidation, then with an increasing passion and vehemence, we have remembered those six million Jews – unarmed and defenseless, victimized and persecuted, hounded and exterminated.
We have preserved the memory, the names and the stories, we have researched and immortalized for posterity the history of slaughter in every available detail, so when the last of living witnesses is gone, no one will be able to forget or to deny what happened.
We have remembered the heroism and defiance of Jewish partisans and ghetto fighters, who took up arms without any hope of victory, but only for the privilege to die fighting.
But for many years and for various reasons we have overlooked another group of Jews who fought – Jewish warriors of the Allied armies, those who won the war and ensured the survival of Jewish people. Even in Israel, the story of the British Army’s Jewish Brigade is taught more as a prelude to the War of Independence, than in the context of a great struggle in which the Yishuv volunteers took part.
About a million-and-a-half Jews have fought, and about a quarter of a million of them died, fighting in the uniforms of the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, Poland, France... While their comrades in arms were fighting for their country, they carried an additional burden – they fought for survival of their people. For many of them, this sense of mission brought forward a pattern of extreme bravery. During the war, among the Jewish fighters of the Red Army the number of Heroes of Soviet Union per 100,000 stood second only to the Russians. Some 200,000 Jews perished in the brutal fighting at the Eastern Front.
For six year now, Genesis Philanthropy Group has been the main partner of Yad Vashem in the sacred work of recovering, researching and preserving the history of Soviet Jewry in the crucible of the Second World War – the horrors of the Holocaust and the heroism of the fighters. Our mutual efforts have closed many gaps in knowledge, which persisted for many years because of the politics of the Cold War. Attesting to that are hundreds of thousands of archive documents uncovered, millions of personal stories told for a first time to the academic community and to a wide audience, dozens of educational programs established in Israel and abroad, and many Righteous Among the Nations whose names we learned and whose memory we honored. It is my deepest belief that we can and should honor the victims and the victors both, those who were massacred and those who died fighting, those who weren't given an opportunity to defend themselves and those who carried forth the wrath of their arms all the way to the lair of the Nazi evil.
The Jewish people, who lost the most in the war that ended 70 years ago to this day, didn’t have a place among the victorious nations. Today, it is time that the Jewish state and the Jewish people finally took ownership of this victory.
In embracing the heroism of the Jewish soldiers of World War II, we complete the history of our people.
Yes, this victory came too late for too many. But it is our triumph, too.
It is the glory of our own Greatest Generation.
On this day, let us remember their sacrifice, let us feel their tearful joy, let us honor those few who remain with us and let us tell the stories of those who have already become legend. Let us celebrate this victory, paid for in Jewish blood, sweat and tears. We deserve it.
Sana Britavsky is a deputy ceo and a chief content officer of the Genesis Philanthropy Group.