Verbatim: Our responsibility to the survivors

The Holocaust was unique; however, the free world must always be ready to prevent its recurrence.

By EFI STENZLER
April 26, 2006 19:49
holocaust tattooed arm 88

holocaust tattoo 88. (photo credit: )

Six million human beings, among them some million and a half children and infants, were targeted to die in the Holocaust merely because they were Jews. They had a regular daily routine. They studied and worked, dreamt and loved, raised families, rejoiced at celebrations, worried about trifles, and were immersed in their surroundings and society. That is, until the world turned upside down. It did not happen all at once, but gradually. The Nazi regime in Germany, which ascended through democratic elections, began attempting to oust the Jewish public from the general population through orderly legislation. They carried it out in a malicious and sophisticated manner until it was difficult to absorb what was actually happening. Step by step and over the years they advanced openly toward the great goal of the destruction of the Jewish people everywhere. And because they worked openly, under the sun and in the eyes of the entire world, everything appeared to be as it should; as if all the humiliating and abusing steps were simply small internal acts, idiosyncrasies of a normal, large and stable government in which no one had the right to intervene. Numerous people who lived during that epoch - Jews and Gentiles - assumed at first that Hitler and his memory would soon be obliterated, that he represented nothing more than a laughable curiosity which couldn't last. Nobody wished to believe that absolute evil could occur. Nobody had been acquainted with organized wickedness on such a scale. And when we believed, when we understood, it was already too late. The vastest industry of murder and humiliation ever witnessed in human history started moving for those in the death camps and those on the cattle train cars on their way to the camps; for those in the gas trucks, for those being shot to death while standing on the edge of the ravines; for those suffering hunger, dying of thirst, freezing from cold, beaten to death, stoned, burnt, strangled, tortured, suffering as medical human guinea pigs, dying from exhaustion and struggling on the march of death as the war neared its end. TO US who are Israeli-born, a mere 61 years after the end of the nightmare, it all seems so distant and intangible, as if it had happened on another planet. However, it did happen - and not long ago, and close to us, and in Europe. And now we are faced with the current aberration - the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who unashamedly and publicly denies the Holocaust and without fear stands up and calls for the annihilation of the State of Israel. In the meantime, with assistance from a number of countries, he continues to develop weapons of mass destruction undisturbed. Ahmadinejad has already announced that in another six weeks he intends to visit Germany in order to encourage the Iranian football team for the World Cup which will take place in the municipal stadium of Nuremburg, a short distance from the parade ground where the Nazi Party held its first parades. Who will stop him from pursuing his publicly-proclaimed designs? America's hesitation to intervene and use force during World War II cost millions of lives. The Holocaust was unique; however, the entire free world must be ready at all times to prevent its recurrence. The fact that President George W. Bush did not hesitate in attacking Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has incurred the anger of American voters because US forces did not find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Yet Bush was justified; for the moment evil is identified, in any place and at any time, it should be rooted out, like an intrusive weed, before it grows and dominates. WE, THE first, second and third generations of the Holocaust, have already learned this from our own national experience. During the first years of Hitler's government, he still had not developed his weapons of mass murder. They evolved only toward the end of the war, by which time it was already too late. Those Holocaust survivors in our community were saved from death. But from the horrors of that time they were not rescued. They endured the seven circles of hell, and were then sentenced to live on as if nothing had transpired, carrying on their backs the constant, heavy and painful burden of their memories. We shall not forget them. We call upon the new government to take care of them more than ever in the autumn of their lives, in the hope that we shall not have to read in the newspapers that out of 280,000 Holocaust survivors living today in Israel, about a third, close to 100,000 people, live below the poverty line; that 46,000 are disabled enough to require daily assistance - but that, to our shame, for tens of thousands there is no money to purchase drugs and medical equipment. We must act to rectify this situation before it is too late. In his book Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl writes that "it is possible to take from a person everything apart from one thing: the last of the human freedoms, which is the ability to choose his or her way. "And there were always opportunities of choice. Day by day, hour by hour, man was called to make decisions. The decisions that were made determined whether man would surrender to forces threatening to take from you your own core being, your inner freedom; they determined whether you would be, or not, a game in the hands of circumstances." BACK THEN the circumstances were more terrible than anyone can imagine, and it was natural that each person would try to survive in any way possible, even at the expense of another's life. Nevertheless, in many cases man's image remained whole even in the shadow of death. Jews risked their lives to keep their youth's educational values, to hold cultural activities, to guard the values of religion and tradition and preserve their spirit by documenting their lives in the ghettos and camps. Only recently has the diary of Rutka been revealed. She was a 14-year-old girl from the city of Bandin in Poland who documented her impressions and life during the period when Jews were incarcerated in the ghetto and deported to annihilation. Her sister, Dr. Zahava Schwartz from Givatayim, had known nothing about the existence of the diary. And there were those who were concerned for the other. From their own humiliating poverty and existential misery they stretched out a hand and helped their fellow man at the expense of their own lives; they shared their last crust of bread; they went from hut to hut raising others' spirits. It has been related about my mother, Sarah, of blessed memory, that toward the end of the war, during the long death march on which she was taken together with all her family and from which some did not return, she gathered around her more and more stray children, infants and babies, taking care of them and sharing with them a little of the food she had obtained. Today, under far more relaxed circumstances, when we are a free people in our own country, each one of us has the duty and responsibility, more than ever, to choose his or her way with wisdom and compassion. We, the children and extended families of the Six Million who perished during the Holocaust, are decisively commanded to uphold the human spirit in the image of our Maker. May their memory be blessed for ever. - Excerpted from remarks made by the Mayor of Givatayim on the eve of Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day.


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