Focus on what they’ve built

On Holocaust Remembrance Day perhaps the time has come to review the many personal histories that almost seem to be modeled on the story of Adam and Eve.

Holocaust survivor MORDECHAI FUCHS 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Holocaust survivor MORDECHAI FUCHS 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem-based Holocaust survivor Elsa Leibler, originally from Belgium and who lived in the US for many years before she came on aliya with her husband Nat, is a great-grandmother many times over. Each addition to her large family is, in her eyes, another mark of revenge against Hitler and his plan to eliminate the Jewish people.
Elsa Leibler is not the only Holocaust survivor with that life-affirming attitude.
Nor is she the only one to retain a lively sense of humor that – so far– has kept the horrors of the past at bay.
The tendency on Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration ceremonies is to bring the past into the present, to relive the deprivations, the torture and the horrors – but perhaps the time has come to stop doing that and to review the many personal histories that almost seem modeled on the story of Adam and Eve.
Countless men and women who survived the Holocaust were the sole survivors of their families. Many, who lost spouses and children, remarried after the war and brought new families into the world.
Today, these people are not only parents, but grandparents and great-grandparents. Those who live in Israel take enormous pride in seeing a grandchild in the IDF uniform. What revenge could be sweeter?
A NEW book has recently been published about Zvia Lubetkin, one of the heroines of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, who, after the war, together with her husband Antek Zuckerman (who was also a prominent figure among the Warsaw Ghetto fighters), helped to found Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot.
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Their granddaughter Roni Zuckerman, who grew up on the kibbutz, became Israel’s first female combat pilot, and joined an F-16 squadron, where she was also a flight instructor.
There are many stories about the strengthening of patriotic feelings of IDF officers who visit the camps and ghettoes where their grandparents suffered.
While we must never forget or overlook the suffering, we must at the same time place greater emphasis on what Holocaust survivors contributed to the defense and building of Israel.
Many came straight from the camps to fight in the War of Independence. Among them were those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust only to fall in battle fighting for Israel. Others who came either fought or were engaged in essential industries.
This year, for the first time, survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising will receive medals acknowledging their valor. Some have already received such medals from the Polish government, but not from Israel, which, compared to several other countries, has treated Holocaust survivors very shabbily.
While Yad Vashem, Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot, Massuah and other institutions that preserve the memory of the Holocaust and teach Holocaust Studies perform a valuable service, money owed to Holocaust survivors has been locked in the chains of bureaucracy for years, while too many survivors have a daily struggle to make ends meet, and are put in the position of having to decide whether to spend their meager funds on food or medications. Shame! Shame! Shame! Especially since a good many people involved in negotiations for reparations have made a lot of money – and not for all of the survivors.
Were it not for former Labor MK Colette Avital, who took up the cause while serving in the Knesset, the situation would be a lot worse. The youngest Holocaust survivors today are already well past pension age.
Surely in the twilight of their lives, such people could receive substantial grants from the government, the State Custodian, and Bank Leumi (which probably still has unclaimed funds dating back to before the establishment of the state). Perhaps organizations such as Keren Hayesod, WIZO, Bnei Brith, Hadassah and others that aid immigration and youth villages could earmark certain sums from their upcoming budgets for onetime distribution to Holocaust survivors.
Nothing can really compensate the survivors for what they endured.
Those who have been blessed with large new families take comfort in that fact, but cannot forget the families they lost. Those who have not been blessed with large families and who live alone have been punished over and over.
Surely the time has come to bring some joy into their lives.