My father's will

As he said farewell to me at Buchenwald, he quoted from the Prophet Jeremiah.

buchenwald (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The last Jews of Buchenwald were lined up at the gate of the camp on April 10, 1945 - I among them. We were to be marched off to our final destination. In the skies above, American bombers searched for targets. The nearby V-II rocket plants, which had produced missiles that killed so many in Britain, had already been destroyed, taking the lives of our comrades enslaved as laborers there. There remained one last target - for the SS guards still standing atop the watchtowers and along the electrified barbed-wire fences: the surviving Jews of Buchenwald. That night we were kept in the central square, from which those who came before us had been taken to their bitter end. Many collapsed and died that night. Those who could stand on their feet, as well as those who were lying on the frozen ground still breathing, no longer believed in miracles. But about an hour before noon, the unbelievable happened. A gray-green jeep smashed through the gate and stopped in the center of the square. Suddenly we saw the Messiah before our eyes. Three American soldiers - I remember one was African American - stood there in olive-green uniforms we had never seen before. We burst into applause; they stared at us, the doomed who had escaped the gallows by seconds, those of us whose luck and strength had held out. We could celebrate a "second birthday." AS I REFLECT on our liberation all these years later, I think about the terms "Holocaust" and "genocide." Yes, there is bloodshed all over the world; it has existed since Cain murdered Abel. People, nations, tribes kill each other because of the unharnessed ambitions of rulers, because of unbridled instincts, border disputes and religious fanaticism. All these crimes have their names, but the terms "Holocaust" and "genocide," in the sense of the industrial-scale and systematic destruction of an entire people, are specific, unfortunately, to us, the Jews. RECENTLY, WHILE searching in the Yad Vashem archives, I came across the testimony of a survivor from Treblinka, who later immigrated to Chicago. This is what he wrote: "On the 9th day of the month Heshvan, 5703, came the turn of our city. 'Jews, find shelter. Hide yourselves and do not go like lambs to the slaughter,' the rabbi of our city addressed his people. "He himself, the rabbi and leader of the community, went out to the square - umschlagsplatz - with a small Torah scroll in his arm. The people asked him, 'Rabbi, why don't you hide?' He answered that he would not abandon his people on their last journey and would go with them wherever they would go." The survivor's account went on: "In the early morning we arrived at Treblinka on the transport from our ghetto. On the ramp the selection process had begun. Together with a group of youngsters, I was taken from the crowd and pushed aside. We stood and watched the groups being led in the direction of the gas chambers. "Suddenly, we heard the familiar, strong voice of our rabbi. He was standing in the midst of the Jews of his community reciting the confessional viduy prayer said when Jews know they are about to be martyred. The rabbi said a verse, and his "congregation" repeated it after him, verse by verse." THIS HAPPENED on the 11th day of the Hebrew month of Mar Heshvan, 5703, corresponding to October 21, 1942. The Jews described were from the city of Piotrkow in Poland, and the rabbi referred to was my father. My father's life was taken at Treblinka after he said the viduy. He was a special man. At our last meeting, as I was taking my leave of him, he told me: "Gather strength and be strong, and God will watch over you." As we were standing on the doorstep, he recited from Jeremiah 16:6-7: "Both the great and the small shall die in this land; they shall not be buried; neither shall men lament for them, nor cut themselves, nor make themselves bald for them; neither shall men break bread for them in mourning, to comfort them for the dead; neither shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or for their mother." Then he stopped for a while, looked straight into my eyes, and continued, again from Jeremiah, 13:16: "And there is hope for thy future, saith the Lord, And thy children shall return to their own border." Next he addressed me directly: "If you manage to get out of here, go and return to the Land from which we were expelled, because only there will the Jewish people be itself and become strong enough to prevent such tragedies." THE PEOPLE of Israel returned to their land and regained independence. Yet it is not enough to be politically independent. In order to eliminate the poison of anti-Semitism which continues to pursue us, we have to be strong. We should learn a lesson from our tragic past and try to convey that message to others, who must know that the hatred of Jews knows no bounds. Today - Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day, corresponding to the the 27th of Nisan - we bow our heads in respect for the victims whose lives were taken. This day is linked with Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars - Remembrance Day for the IDF soldiers, underground fighters and members of the security services who gave their lives for the establishment of a Jewish state and for its defense. Remembrance Day precedes Independence Day - which is no coincidence. There can be no independence without sacrifice. The generation of the survivors is now old. This period of commemoration also, in a sense, expresses the transition from our generation of destruction to the new one of revival, so as to fulfill the prophecy of Jeremiah: "And there is hope for thy future, saith the Lord, and thy children shall return to their own border." The writer is a former Israeli diplomat and former consul-general in New York.