As we rapidly approach International Holocaust Memorial Day, our thoughts naturally dwell on the horrors of Nazi Genocide. We reflect upon the millions of lives lost. We remember entire communities destroyed. We mourn that a culture spanning a thousand years was reduced to ashes. For many, this is the Jewish narrative of the Second World War. The narrative of incomprehensible loss, tragedy and suffering.
This year, Holocaust Memorial Day is particularly significant, given that it marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army. With projects such as ‘70 days for 70 years,’ communal organisations are working hard to preserve and honour the memory of Holocaust victims. The mantra of ‘never again’ cannot be stressed enough, and we must never allow even a small part of the post-Holocaust generation to ‘forget’ the barbarism which humanity is capable of.
But there are other aspects of the Holocaust – another Jewish narrative to the Second World War – which communities need to endeavour to preserve. We must stress the crucial role of world Jewry in the Allied war effort and the wider struggle against Nazi tyranny. Many people are unaware that more than 1.5 million Jews fought in the allied forces, ghettoes and underground groups.
On all fronts – alongside the Red Army in Eastern Europe, with Montgomery’s desert rats in North Africa, with General Anders in the Middle East or on beaches of Normandy in 1944 – Jewish soldiers were at the forefront of nearly all of the Second World War’s military campaigns. Several hundred thousand received medals for their bravery and sacrifice.
Too often, these stories are omitted from the discussion of the Holocaust – and we are left with an incomplete narrative of the Jewish experience during the Second World War. We do not know of Ezer Weizmann, the young RAF pilot who later became President of the State of Israel. We are beginning to forget Hannah Szenes, the young Hungarian-born paratrooper who was executed by the Nazis in an attempt to save fellow Jews from the death camps. As part of Jewish education concerning the Second World War, it is vital to spread awareness of the Jewish war effort.
Maryana Greenberg, is the Chairperson of the Friends of the Museum of the Jewish Soldier in World War II. The museum is currently under construction in Latrun – and aims to be become a hub of international research and youth education.
Mrs Greenberg believes that learning the story of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust can provide future generations with a message of hope. As she describes, ‘‘It is our hope that by educating people and encouraging them to remember the efforts of Jewish soldiers during World War II, we can help people to remember and celebrate the extraordinary courage that the Jewish soldiers showed in the face of treacherous danger and hatred.”
Our generation has much to be inspired from this lesser-known chapter of Jewish history – and in creating a centre dedicated to charting the role of the Jewish soldier, Mrs Greenberg is undertaking an important task for the world of Jewish education.