Holocaust Survivors Must Come First

Eli Bin (photo credit: MARCH OF THE LIVING)
Eli Bin
(photo credit: MARCH OF THE LIVING)

76 years have passed since the end of World War II; since the Nazi’s annihilation machine, which viciously murdered six million Jews in the name of racial hate, was stopped.

Stories of survival and acts of bravery, the courageous fight of the few against the many—those in command, the agents of a cold death machine—still reverberate inside of us out of millions of photographs, testimonies, and endeavors of preservation and remembrance, so G-d forbid, we never, ever forget. So the entire world never forgets.

The bitter, impossible scenes, the executions, those who could no longer bear the burden of torture and hard labor, the devastating hunger, the filthy sacks that served as clothing—all these coalesced into a mechanism of destruction and humiliation, meant to rid any shred of humanity, and obliterate an entire people from the history pages.

Forever shall we remember the murdered, the fighters in the forests, and those who had survived the fire, and who are still with us. We honor those who live among us today: we look up to them, yearn to listen, and forever remember and teach future generations. It is our duty to look into their eyes and see the flicker that refused to go out, even when facing the deathly end of rifle barrels, the barks and bared teeth of starved dogs, gas chambers and crematoriums; eyes thankful for the miracle of remaining alive.

On the eve of this Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, the entire world hears us, and knows very well that “God’s promise to Israel is eternal; Am Israel Chai (The Jewish people live on)”.

This year, in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, Holocaust Remembrance Day takes on an unconventional form, as well as the March of the Living. The March, which has since become a symbol of the Jewish People’s fortitude, and the victory over the Nazis, will be held virtually.

For an entire year we have been living with a pandemic. A different kind of war. A crisis which terrorizes the entire world, changes shape and scope, threatens the lives of people of all ages worldwide—and which sees Magen David Adom standing at the forefront of this fight, doing all it can to defeat the pandemic, and reduce infection rates as much as possible.

This year has been especially challenging for our parents and grandparents, the Holocaust survivors, who are forced to deal with loneliness, family and social distancing, concern for their wellbeing, and financial anxiety created by the crisis. I can only imagine how the loneliness, the quarantine, the distancing, Passover without family, and bad news—how all of these have brought back the excruciating scenes, and deepened the anguish.

Immediately once the pandemic broke out, Magen David Adom stepped up with an unprecedented deployment across the nation of its entire manpower—workers, volunteers, vehicles, equipment—with one goal in mind: senior citizens. Magen David Adom placed senior citizens, including many Holocaust survivors, at the top of its list of priorities from the very first day of the crisis, and initiated at the beginning of the pandemic a wide testing campaign in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, set up designated coronavirus testing zones for them, and now that the vaccines have arrived in Israel—sought to vaccine the senior citizens of our country and Holocaust survivors as part of the “fathers and mothers defenders” campaign. Thus, in recent months we have executed the wide vaccination campaign.

Israel has become the first country in the world to vaccinate its entire senior citizen population in all nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This is an additional victory for Holocaust survivors and their families, who, after a long period of worry, anxiety, and extra precautions, can now breathe a bit more easily.

In light of these challenges, we are proud to stand here at this point in time and embrace the Holocaust survivors, who stand beside us, vaccinated and safe, and who have scored yet another great victory against a terrible foe.

It is our hope that on the next Holocaust Remembrance Day, we will all be lucky enough to be able to take off our masks entirely, renew our social closeness, attend the March of the Living as one strong, united force, and proudly salute the Holocaust survivors, who were victorious against the Nazis, and who came to the State of Israel to raise the future generation.

We are proud of our Holocaust survivors, we embrace them, and we promise them, on such a difficult and historic day, that Magen David Adom will continue to work tirelessly around the clock to see to the health and wellbeing of Holocaust survivors in Israel—it has been our duty so far, and we will continue to do so.

Until the pandemic is completely defeated, this year the virtual March of the Living is dedicated to the subject of “medicine in the Holocaust”, a subject very close to our hearts. On the one hand there are the Nazi doctors, who sentenced people to death with the flick of a thumb without so much as batting an eye, who performed horrendous medical experiments on people—even children—often without sedation, with infinite cruelty; and on the other hand there are the Jewish medical professionals in the Holocaust—doctors, nurses, and medics—who found themselves fighting for the lives of condemned people. Nevertheless, they were not discouraged, and they did not give up. Jewish medical professionals in the Holocaust continued to run hospitals, first aid stations, and maternity clinics in hunger-stricken ghettos. This type of fervent action, meant to thwart the Nazis’ plan to annihilate and kill the Jews, is also an act of resistance. It is nothing short of heroism, and the medical professionals during the Holocaust are heroes who had directed their gaze at unimaginable human suffering, and dealt with it head on. Often they were forced to contend with the most complex moral dilemmas, with a lack of resources and proper conditions, with only their spirit, tenacity, and professionalism at their disposal. When the hospitals were destroyed, many of these medical professionals chose to die along with their patients, in a final act of human bravery.

This is also the place to mention the medical professionals from the Righteous Among the Nations, who remembered their oath and their deep commitment, and helped Jews in the Holocaust, often while putting their own lives, and their families, in grave danger.

All of us at Magen David Adom salute, remember, and thank the medical professionals and people who had risked their lives and devoted their time in order to help Holocaust survivors, and the Jewish People. Thanks to them, many of the Holocaust survivors were able to come to Israel, and raise a family in the Holy Land.

Magen David Adom, as Israel’s national rescue organization, has made it its purpose to follow the footsteps of these medical professionals, and provide assistance, help and care for every person in this country, in order to save lives and safeguard public health. Throughout the year, and on Holocaust Remembrance Day especially, Magen David Adom relays to its workers and volunteers the values and history of the Holocaust, since thanks to the Jews who had survived and immigrated to Israel, we are here today.

The Holocaust will never be forgotten. Just as the memory of the Holocaust has been passed from the survivors to their children and grandchildren, we at Magen David Adom will continue to tell the stories, remember, enshrine for eternity the memory of those who have perished, and embrace the survivors—also in future generations, and for the sake of the Jewish People. It is our moral duty to those who lost their lives, to remember, and never, ever forget.

The Star of David was once a yellow badge sewn onto clothing: it marked a person as persecuted, was a humiliating symbol, one of fear and danger—a foreshadowing of death and annihilation. Today, at Magen David Adom, the Star of David shines red against a white background. We wear it over our hearts with great pride: it is a symbol of protection for the defenseless and the less fortunate; a symbol of revered values of impartiality, neutrality, and equality; a symbol of relief and medicine; a symbol of good.

Magen David Adom is a symbol of saving lives.

The author of this article is Magen David Adom’s Director General