A man sits on the railway tracks in the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau as thousands of people, mostly youth from all over the world, gather for the annual March of the Living t.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last Friday, the entire world commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
For some people, this day represents deep awareness of the Holocaust in all its terribleness and is a day for soul-searching and learning lessons for the future. A day of remembrance intended to prevent a catastrophe like this from ever happening again, and also an effort to understand the perverted phenomenon of ideological antisemitism and to prevent its recurrence, no matter what mask it tries to wear at the moment.
And there are others over whom this day passes like any other, who are unmoved by all its ceremonies and speakers. They make no effort to learn anything and ignore the clear connection between the antisemitism of the past and similar manifestations today.
The remembrance of the Holocaust is undergoing a challenging transition period over recent years, a twilight time. The generation of Holocaust survivors is disappearing. The torch is being passed to next generation; the responsibility of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive is shifting to the shoulders of their children. The second generation experiences the Holocaust through the scars on the bodies and souls of their parents. The shadow of the Holocaust is ever-present in their consciousness and their daily lives. But the second generation cannot memorialize the Holocaust like those who were there.
On the other hand, the second generation of the perpetrators of the Holocaust feel no relevance to it, and no responsibility. They see no problem with the growing phenomenon of Holocaust denial.
During this transition period, the second generation has to deal with the “calls” which are heard from time to time for reconciliation with the Holocaust, and for forgiveness. It will have to contend with Holocaust deniers, especially with those who minimize the magnitude of the genocide and accuse the Jews of exaggerating the numbers. The second generation has to safeguard the awareness that the Holocaust didn’t “happen by itself” but was the premeditated plan of a man who would have executed it to the end if he could. A cruel man, driven by blind, senseless antisemitism which gave birth to hatred of an intensity previously unknown by mankind, and which drew in its wake millions across the European continent.
The transition period has another aspect. It is more and more apparent that antisemitism and Jew-hatred haven’t disappeared, but just reappear in different forms. The terminology has changed but not the content. Today’s antisemitism hides behind the veil of opposition to the State of Israel. It is blind to crimes against Jews in Israel and around the world but critically examines every action of the State of Israel and the IDF. It readily accepts every lie and half-truth about Israel, and conveniently exempts these from the validation required of information about any other subject on earth. It expends boundless energy scrutinizing everything that happens in Israel, while ignoring the fact that in other places in our region and around the world, hundreds and thousands are murdered daily and crimes of enormous magnitude are being committed.
We cannot afford to be confused; this is the same old witch wearing a new gown.
If anyone imagined that antisemitism existed only because the Jews didn’t live in their own country, and that once they had a country antisemitism would disappear, then by now presumably they have noticed that today’s antisemitism is aimed primarily against the Jewish state.
Even today, every attempt to understand the phenomenon and to give it a rational explanation has failed.
In the past, some of our fellow Jews developed the “self-blaming victim” syndrome, and accepted the blame for antisemitism and found justification for it in our shortcomings. Today as well, there are those among us who see in our conduct an alleged justification for the phenomenon, despite the fact that there is no basis for this.
As a member of the Holocaust’s second generation, I carry the burden of Holocaust remembrance daily.
My father, Moshe Shenvald, may he be blessed with a long and healthy life, was expelled from Budapest and became prisoner number 34378. After innumerable hardships he arrived at Auschwitz and from there to the Gross-Rosen camps, where he survived only thanks to countless miracles.
Most of his family perished there. My mother fled as a little girl from Czechoslovakia.
My parents named me Eliezer Chaim after my great-grandfather who was murdered in the forests by the Nazis, and after my father’s uncle who, as far as we know, died at the Mauthausen death camp. I grew up intimately connected with their personalities and their life work, which was cut off prematurely.
Our family has never healed.
Despite the fact that our formative events occurred in the distant past, we will have to contend with the treachery and selectivity of human memory and the tendency to forget. The second generation will have to remind itself daily that commemoration is in the very soul of the Jewish nation, for which memory is a central, essential matter, more so than for any other nation.
The Holocaust was the lowest moral depth that the human race has ever sunk to, where man by his own choice became a monster. This is unforgettable and unforgivable. Only someone who doesn’t understand or doesn’t recognize the severity and magnitude of the crimes can allow himself to forget or forgive. We don’t have the right to forgive, and we don’t have the luxury to absolve those who feel guilty.The writer, a rabbi and retired IDF colonel is the rosh yeshiva of the Meir Harel Hesder Yeshiva of Modi’in-Ofakim.