Grapevine: Antisemitism promotes unity

Few things in Jewish life are more unifying than the annual International March of the Living. The march brings together Jews of every stripe and age group from all over the world to march together through Auschwitz Birkenau, carrying with them the symbols of Jewish tradition and survival – a Torah scroll, a shofar and an Israeli flag. Many Israeli flags are visible, mostly draped like shawls on the backs of the marchers, a symbol of pride of defiance in the face of those who for centuries have tried to destroy the Jewish people and in the process have themselves been destroyed. The marchers literally represent the phoenix rising from the ashes, the ashes of so many human beings – mostly Jews – men, women and children whose bodies were reduced to ashes in the Nazi crematoria. This year’s march with 12,000 participants from 40 countries had special significance in that it was the 30th anniversary of the March of the Living. Participants later landed at Ben-Gurion Airport just in time for the 70th anniversary celebration of the state on Israel Independence Day. Leading the march was President Reuven Rivlin together with Polish President Andrzej Duda. Also present were members of the Israel Defense Forces, child Holocaust survivor and former chief rabbi of Israel and Tel Aviv Yisrael Meir Lau, who is chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, and popular singer Shlomo Artzi whose late parents were Holocaust survivors. Last week, Shmuel Rosenman, the chairman of March of the Living, presented Rivlin with a large photo album to serve as a permanent reminder for vigilance, especially at a time when hatred, incitement and violence against Jews is resurging, not only in Europe and the United States but in almost every country in which there are Jewish communities.
■ ON SUNDAY, November 4, Maria Perlová of Slovakia will be posthumously honored at a ceremony at Yad Vashem where her name will forever be recorded as Righteous Among the Nations. Dr. Joel Zisenwine, the director of the department that investigates recommendations for honoring such people, will present a medal and certificate of honor on behalf of Yad Vashem, the State of Israel and the Jewish people to Avri Fischer, a Holocaust survivor and nephew by marriage of Perlová.
The presentation ceremony will take place in the presence of members and friends of Perlova’s family, Holocaust survivors, members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations and a representative of the Slovakian Embassy in Israel.
Dr. Dezider (David) Fischer and his wife, Lily (née Perl), lived in Bratislava with their son, Albert, known as Berti, and later as Avri. Notwithstanding the harsh anti-Jewish decrees and limitations imposed on the Jews of Slovakia, the Fischer family managed to pass the early years of the war with comparative ease. This was largely due to the fact that Dr. Dezider’s medical services were sorely needed in the city. Unlike thousands of Bratislava’s Jews, the Fischer family were not evicted from their home. In 1942, when some two thousand Slovakian Jews were deported to the death camps, the Fischers evaded the cruel edict.
In August, 1944, with the outbreak of the Slovak National Uprising, the Nazi occupation of Slovakia and a number Slovakians joining the Nazi Security Police, life for the remaining Jews in Slovakia became intolerable.
With the outbreak of the Slovak National Uprising on August 29, 1944, and the German occupation of Slovakia, members of the Nazi Security Police immediately embarked on a comprehensive manhunt in search of all remaining Jews and so-called enemies of the regime in Bratislava. The Fischer family looked for a hiding place, finally finding one in the garden of their neighbors, Count Stefan Gyulai and his wife Elizabeth. Lily and Elizabeth were already friends, and this paved the way for them finding a haven in the cabin used to store logs and crates, that was situated in the garden behind the count and countess’s villa.
Dezider and Lily Fischer moved into the cabin in late September 1944, together with Lily’s brother, Gustáv Perl, and another young couple, Edith and Alexander Steiner. They entrusted Berti to the care of Gustáv’s non-Jewish wife, Maria (known as Ica) Perlová. Maria brought Berti to a local German family, and would come to visit him from time to time.
Although the five Jews were hidden in the garden of Count and Countess Gyulai, it was Mária Perlová who took care of them and made sure they had food to eat and that other needs were supplied. Lily later wrote:
“Ica took care of us the entire time. She had to be extremely cautious, so that the Germans residing in our house wouldn’t discover her “treasonous acts against the state. Ica also visited mother [Jeti, Dr. Fischer’s mother] in the hospital, and our Berti, who was hidden with an acquaintance’s family under an assumed name and equipped with Aryan papers. Furthermore, she visited the little daughter of the young couple. She brought us spirit [ethanol], which was hard to get hold of and that we needed for heating up food, making tea, preparing hot foot baths, and the like. She also brought us kerosene, which we managed to obtain through a priest whom we knew.”
The fear and hardship inherent in this daily care became overwhelming, and eventually Gustáv, at great personal risk, left the hiding place and returned home to help his wife. He shared the tasks of bringing food and other necessities, and the responsibility for the welfare of the hidden Jews. When he wasn’t helping Maria, he hid in a cupboard in the house.
In this way, the Fischers and the Steiners survived the harsh winter months until liberation in April 1945.
On April 23, 2018, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem recognized Maria Perlová as well as Count Stefan Gyulai and his wife, Elizabeth, as Righteous Among the Nations.
Time is now running out for such recognition, as only people who were actually saved can bear witness as to what happened to them. If there are survivors who owe their lives to the humanity, morality, courage and heroism of others, now is the time to come forward and to at least give the progeny of the rescuers the pride of knowing the kind of people from whom they are descended.
■ POLAND’S HISTORY, like that of some of its neighboring countries, has been fraught with foreign occupation and rule, including during the 20th century. But before the Nazis and the Communists invaded Poland, the country knew a period of independence which was regained a hundred years ago at the end of the First World War. This period of independence is so precious to the Poles that 2018 has been designated as a centenary year of Polish independence, being marked not only in Poland, but in all countries in which there are Polish diplomatic missions and/or Polish institutes that promote Polish culture. In Israel, the Polish Institute will this week, on November 7, host a centenary concert in the new wing of the Tel Aviv Museum with Poland’s Deputy Minister for Culture Prof. Magdalena Gawin as the guest of honor. On November 11, Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski and his wife, Anna, will host a reception marking both the centenary of Poland’s regained independence and Polish Armed Forces Day.
■ NOVEMBER 11 is of course the centenary of the armistice which marked the end of the First World War, and will be commemorated in Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries and other military cemeteries in Israel and other parts of the world, where soldiers who fell in the service of the Allied Armies on the Western front lie buried. It is customary among the citizens of those countries to wear red poppies in memory of the soldiers who fought and died in the poppy fields of Flanders. The Canadians begin to wear their poppies earlier, on November 1, and continue to do so through to November 11. This may well be because the famous poem In Flanders Fields Where Poppies Grow, which is traditionally recited at Remembrance Day ceremonies, was written by a Canadian, Maj. John McCrae. The foremost Remembrance Day or Armistice Day ceremony in Israel is traditionally organized in Ramle by the British Embassy, and is attended primarily by members of the Israel branch of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women and relatives of soldiers who fell in the first and second world wars. Due to dwindling numbers of war veterans, AJEX-Israel chairman Sam Lewis has urged that all ex-service personnel make a special effort to attend and to bring with them as many family members as possible to honor those who paid the supreme sacrifice.
■ FORMER JOURNALIST and prize-winning broadcaster Rafik Halabi was elected for a second term as Mayor of Daliat al-Carmel. No matter how Israeli in manner and lifestyle members of the Druze community become, and regardless of the extent to which they integrate into Israeli society, in their hearts they remain Syrians. That doesn’t make them disloyal to Israel, it just means that there is also some kind of traditional loyalty to Syria. In the most northern of Druze villages, the situation is somewhat different. There was a reluctance to vote in municipal elections because it would indicate to the Syrians across the border that relations had “normalized.” In case part of the Golan is ever returned to Syria, these particular Druze do not want to burn their bridges. Halabi also faced a lot of opposition in Daliat al-Carmel, not so much for fear of normalization, but possibly because of modernization which might tear the fabric of tradition. He wants to upgrade all of the town’s infrastructure. But the opposition started with the name of the Water supply conglomerate. The Hebrew word for conglomerate or corporation is “ta’agid,” which as far as Halabi’s electorate is concerned is too establishment Israeli. There were other plans for modernization to which there was likewise strong opposition. Yet for all that, when it came to the ballot box, it was Halabi who once again won the day. If all goes well, Daliat al-Carmel will be on a par with every regular town in Israel.
■ AMERICANS WILL vote in their mid-term elections this coming Tuesday, November 6. In the wake of the Pittsburgh massacre and other tragedies that have claimed multiple victims, British singer Paul McCartney, who is making an international comeback, has urged US fans to vote for candidates who support sensible gun laws.