I recently went to Poland for the first time, on an organised trip for Olim. Parts of the trip were enjoyable, meeting young Polish Jews, visiting the JCC, and going to the Jewish music festival in Krakow. But the main reason I went was to learn, of course, about the Holocaust, to try and truly understand what actually happened, and what we can take from it moving forward.
The first few days were a blur of monuments, cemeteries, and of course, the camps. There was a lot to process, too much; so much that my mind was overwhelmed, but I wasn’t even sure what I was feeling. It was only afterwards, and as the trip went on, thinking everything over on the bus journeys, what I saw, where I was, that what it all meant began to sink in. Somehow, the more we saw and the more I learned; the less I understood, the more questions I had. The more I could picture and feel what happened, the less I could understand how it could have happened, how human beings could treat other human beings like the Nazis treated the Jews, and how the world could have allowed them to do what they did.
We saw a lot of shocking things, but the words on the memorial at Auschwitz chilled me, because it says exactly what needs to be said:
“Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945”. There is no consolation for what happened, and none is offered. But there are lessons to be learned – and yet sickeningly, hopelessly, despairingly – they still haven’t been learned.
The difference is, we now have the State of Israel, which along with the IDF is a miracle and completely necessary for our survival. We have to be able to protect and defend ourselves. Even as I write this in Israel, having had my first experiences with the sirens warning of Hamas’ rocket attacks, I still feel safer here than I would anywhere else. I fear for Jews around the world who are facing the most violent, openly antisemitic and genocidal riots that have been seen in decades.
In Warsaw’s Jewish cemetery, there is a poem at the children’s memorial about children who would sneak out of the ghetto to bring back food for their families. It was written in the ghetto by Henryka Lazowert, who was later killed at Treblinka. And it made my breath catch:
And if fate will turn against me…
Do not weep for me mother; do not cry…
Only one worry besets me;
Lying in agony; so nearly dead.
Who’ll care for you tomorrow
Who’ll bring you, dear Mom, a slice of bread
This was just before the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers, Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were found, but when I read the poem I instantly thought of them, that no doubt along with their fear would have also been concern for what their families would go through.
And now, with the current situation in Israel, we see that no one here cares only about themselves. Anyone here, when asked how they are, will answer that they are fine. Fine, but worried about anyone and everyone else. Worried about their children or spouse or parents or siblings or other family members. Worried about the people in the South. Worried about the people we know in the army. Worried about the people we don’t know in the army. Worried about whoever has family and friends serving. The soldiers are worried about us and everyone under rocket fire. They are worried about each other. The commanders look out for their troops. Injured soldiers are worried about those still fighting and want to go back to help – and are.
We feel weighed down and weak from the pain of the losses of our brave soldiers, who died to protect us; but our pride carries us through, pride of the IDF and our country and our citizens, and Jews around the world who help; that and the knowledge that we are in the right and acting morally.
Families are opening their homes to residents of the South, people are visiting injured soldiers and those on the front lines to boost their morale, donating and collecting and cooking and delivering supplies to soldiers and citizens who need, supermarkets and other businesses are helping, volunteers are supporting wives and families of the soldiers, tens of thousands of people attended the funerals of lone soldiers. And when other airlines are scared to fly to Israel because of rockets – the rockets they tell us are harmless – we have El Al, with four planes due to fly to Turkey to bring home the Israelis stranded there.
We are going through this alone, together. Politicians may so generously say we have a right to defend ourselves, but will question whether we’re doing enough to minimize civilian casualties. (Doing enough, when by now everyone should know Hamas tactics include women and children suicide bombers, attaching explosives to animals, telling civilians to stay in areas where there is fighting or air strikes, travelling in ambulances, storing and launching rockets from schools, hospitals and residential areas, shooting from houses, operating from tunnels under houses and other buildings, etc). Other officials, together with the media and so-called human rights organizations, will either defend Hamas, or claim that the IDF is committing war crimes and deliberately targeting innocent civilians in Gaza.
No one ever seems to consider the fact that we don’t actually want to send our soldiers into battle. Our aim is to live, that’s all we want. But Hamas won’t let us have that.
“The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again”, the quote says at Auschwitz. We are daring to defend ourselves in our homeland, this time destroying Hamas’ tunnels that could be used for terror attacks even worse than rockets, but around the world people are rioting and attacking Jews because of it. And if we didn’t have Israel or the IDF, who would we rely on for our protection?
We are alone, together. We are defending ourselves, by ourselves. But maybe that’s not such a terrible thing.