Walking out of tragedy

Following the recent anti-Semitic attack at a kosher supermarket in Paris, many have expressed opinions regarding how French Jews should react.

February 11, 2015 21:23
2 minute read.

MOURNERS PAY THEIR RESPECTS at the capital’s Har Hamenuhot cemetery yesterday at the graves of the victims of the Paris Hyper Cacher terrorist attack.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Walking into a former concentration camp is easy. But after treading the hallowed ground that bore witness to tragedy of unparalleled magnitude, how can we truly walk out? A group leader posed this question to me as I toured former concentration camps in Poland. I was struck by this question of how we “walk out” of tragedy, as it is a vital one also applicable to recent events, such as the terrorist attacks in France.

After the Holocaust, some survivors renounced their belief in God because they couldn’t reconcile their faith with the suffering and destruction they had witnessed. Some went on to raise Jewish families. Some chose to talk about the Holocaust and others never spoke about it even to their families. Some became leaders of the Jewish community. There are no right or wrong responses, only personal choice.

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Those who suffered in the Holocaust were stripped of just that – choice. They could not choose whether to live or die, what career to pursue, or even when to use the bathroom. They were stripped of choice because the power of choice is what makes us human, and the Nazis wanted their victims dehumanized.

Following the recent anti-Semitic attack at a kosher supermarket in Paris, many have expressed opinions regarding how French Jews should react. Some say they should move to Israel, the only Jewish state in the world. Others say that French Jews should stay in France, or else they are letting the terrorists win.

I would argue that one size does not fit all – each individual has the freedom to decide how he or she reacts.

Touring the concentration camps, I was inspired by stories that portray the humanity Holocaust victims retained. Even during the Holocaust, there were many stories of selflessness and love. One such story involved an anonymous man risking his life for a young boy he had never met by jumping into sewage to save him, after the child was thrown into the trough by a pair of Nazis. Another, more famous story involved Janusz Korczak, a Polish children’s rights activist who had many chances to escape the Holocaust but instead decided to stay with a group of children, even following them to a death camp and finally a gas chamber. All the time, he led the children in song to comfort them.

Each of us has the ability to choose how we react to tragedy, be it a seven-year Holocaust or a single terrorist attack. As well over a million marched in France, denouncing terrorism and extolling freedom of expression, I walked out of the concentration camps arm in arm with my fellow Jews, singing “Am Yisrael Chai,” “The Jewish People Live.”

How will you walk out?

The author is a Fellow with the Salomon Center. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. She published her thesis in Perceptions and Strategic Concerns of Gender in Terrorism. Follow her @ellierudee.

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