Yet another Holocaust commemoration and yet another questioning on what lessons have been learnt. At the outset, it is necessary once again to positively eradicate from the record such medieval thoughts as suggesting that this awful barbaric experience was due to assimilation. Sadly the principle source for this distorted viewpoint has been espoused by certain leading rabbis. What then is the expectation for present day assimilation which is hardly insignificant?

This point is amplified and stated elegantly by Rabbi M. Mitchell Serels in his article “Sephardim in the Holocaust: A Lesson for all Jews”:

“When Jews themselves begin to blame the victim by attributing German anti-Semitism to assimilation or to Jewry’s isolation, they do a disservice to the truth. The case of the Sephardim points to the singularity of anti-Semitism, the hatred of the Jew regardless of what he does or who he is . The Jew can therefore do nothing – except to be a Jew.” [1]

Ellie Wiesel is undoubtedly the most vocal survivor of the Holocaust. His summation on the “lessons learnt”: ” I came to a conclusion that the peril threatening human kind today is  indifference, even more than hatred. There are more people who are indifferent than there are people who hate. Hate is an action. Hate takes time. Hate takes energy. And even it demands sacrifices. Indifference is nothing, but indifference to hatred is encouraging hatred and is justifying hatred. So what must we must do —-I mean your peers & mine —-is fight indifference.”

From Rabbi Bernard H. Rosenberg: A Child of Survivors Speaks: “We dare not be silent while atrocities are still being committed in the universe.”

“From the Holocaust man has learnt that he must remember and never forget.”

“Yes, I blame humanity for remaining silent while my brothers perished, screaming in terror for someone to heed their outcries. Humanity; not God. We are not puppets to be controlled by our Creator. People caused the Holocaust; people remained silent. Leaders of countries refused to intercede on behalf of the defenseless.”

Rabbi Rosenberg reminds one of the failings of the media, politicians, and officials while citing specific incidents including quotas and restrictions on Jewish immigration.  He emphasizes the fact that despite denial, the civilized world was aware of the Nazi atrocities. Reminding us that while Jewish children had been slain on the highway between Tel Aviv and Netanya, gunned down by Arabs in a room in Ma’alot, no longer are they being killed in gas chambers. Thus, he contrasts the value of the State of Israel, while fighting terrorism and warding off another Holocaust. True, we suffer at the hands of murderers who walk among civilized men and are respected while attending the UN , socializing with senators and partying with the elite of the world. Rosenberg relishes Israel’s ability to fight and to maintain our independence.[2]

On January 27, 2013, INDEPENDENT featured an Op Ed by Owen Jones, “What  my generation can learn from the Holocaust.” The writer had visited the abandoned  platform 17 of Berlin-Grunewald railway station with a friend. He recalled how Jews were crammed into  a train and shot in the forests near Riga prior to the Nazis using gas as a more efficient means of extermination.

Jones contrasts his charged emotions with two vile statements made by Lib Dem MP David Ward on Holocaust Memorial at the time who was “saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable  levels of persecution in the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians. ” and an even worse clarification, “It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated.” Undoubtedly anti-Semitism knows no limits.

In stressing the need for learning the lessons of the Holocaust Owen Jones, recognizes firstly a vigilance against the poising of anti- Semitism. By way of conclusion to his piece, he quotes Karl Jaspers who had been persecuted by the Nazis; “That which has happened is a warning. To forget it is guilt. It must be continually remembered. It was possible for this to happen, and it remains possible for it to happen again at any minute. Only in knowledge can it be prevented.”

An important contribution to the given subject appeared on the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust in Politico, authored by Cyril Svoboda, the Czech Republic’s foreign minister. Not surprisingly, given the miserable experience of his country at the hands of both the Allies and the Nazis. Entitled, “Have we learnt our lessons from the Holocaust?”, he insightfully points to the inadequacy of proclaiming “Never Again” without commensurate actions. Some points from this outstanding essay:

[a] Avoidance of responsibility – now as in then. A refusal to accept that unleashed evil will not stop unchallenged, but will grow with every success.

[b] Despite the world’s knowledge of the death camps, many conveniently ignored it or devised various practical or legalistic arguments to justify inaction.

[c] The current situation in Europe with growing anti- Semitism is proof positive of the unwillingness to accept its progression. Regarding “political correctness” as a positive ideology results in a self-inflicted blindness.

[d] This time round , it is not the fascist right behind the anti-Semitism , but the “progressive left” and surprisingly even some minorities. Too often it is the media that prepares the ground for possible evil excesses. How is one to comprehend ludicrous European poll which informs the public at large that Israel is the biggest threat to world peace? Demonizing the Jewish state represents a cunning means of demonizing the Jews themselves.

[e] Cyril Svoboda made a pledge for his country’s assistance in enforcing the available knowledge in preventing a repeat Shoah.

Professor Irwin Cotler provides an insightful analysis in his “Never Again: 6 Enduring Lessons of the Holocaust as published in his Huffington Post Blog on November, 1999. He cites in the first instance, the need for Zachor – to remember. In this, we must understand that the mass murder of six million Jews, and millions of non-Jews is not a matter of abstract statistics.

For Cotler, the second enduring lesson is that the genocide did not commence with the industry of death, technology and gas chambers, but with words of state sectioned ideology and hatred.

He sees as a third lesson, Holocaust crimes of indifference, from conspiracies of silence — with the international community as bystander. This indifference generally favors the victimizer rather than the victim. “Indifference in the face  of evil is acquiescence with evil itself; it is complicity with evil.”

Cotler’s fourth  enduring lesson is the complicity of the elites –physicians, church leaders, judges lawyers, engineers, architects, educators and other professionals. This assertion finds confirmation in the crimes of the Nuremberg elites. Of course, had his piece been updated today, the Muslim imams would be included. By way of a recommendation, it is necessary  to speak truth to power and to hold power accountable to truth. This lesson is rooted in Nuremberg Principles as part of our learning and our legacy, a Holocaust education which informs our principles on justice and injustice.

The fifth lesson concerns the vulnerability of the powerless and the powerlessness of the vulnerable. It is our responsibility to give voice to the voiceless, to empower the powerless, be they the disabled, poor, elderly, women victims of violence, or the vulnerable child — the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. It is to be remembered that Hitler’s inclusive genocide is exemplified by the slaughter of 1.5 million children.

As a sixth lesson, recognition and emphasis on “the righteous among the nations, of whom Raoul Wallenberg is metaphor and message” having “saved more Jews in four months in Hungary in 1944 than  any single government or organization.”

The words “never again” apply to indifference, to incitement, to silence in the face of evil, to tolerating racism and anti-Semitism, ignoring the plight of the vulnerable and ultimately the face of mass atrocity and impunity.

No works on the Holocaust could be concluded without the insights and thoughts of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Elie Wiesel. The former’s Kol Dodi Dofek, a masterpiece, an essay originally delivered as an address at a public assembly on Yom Ha-Azma’ut at Yeshivat Rabbenu Yitzhak Elhanan of Yeshiva University in NY City during 1956 includes his thoughts on the Holocaust [60+ pages]. It is an allegorical treatise which speaks volumes.  After a discussion on the meaning of fate and destiny, the Rav explains his position on Israel utilizing Shir Hashirim to explain the miracle of Israel. He does so in terms of “6 knocks”:

[a] Political: The issue of recognizing the State was the only time the US and the Soviet Union ever agreed on anything in the UN.

[b] War: Israel’s weak, ragtag, amateur army defeated the professional armed forces of six Arab nations.

[c] Theological: Catholics had taught the Jews forfeited their right to Israel by denying Jesus.

[d] Sociological: Israel’s existence has saved millions of Jews from assimilation.

[e] Attitudes: We stopped  turning the other cheek whenever somebody attacks Jews. Jewish blood is no longer valueless.

[f] Inclusion: The first act of the State of Israel after declaring independence was to abolish the White Paper which restricted Jewish immigration to Israel.[3]

Elie Wiesel has made the words “indifference” and “awareness” synonymous with the Holocaust. He defines the former as ” no difference ; A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil.” “It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person’s pain and despair. Yet , for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence.————-Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.” It is not possible to fully capture Wiesel’s inner thoughts in the given space. As small segment of them follows:

He has room for God and man, despite both having disappointing him. Wiesel feels that to be abandoned by  humanity was not the ultimate, but being abandoned by God was worse than being punished by him. Being indifferent to suffering is what makes the human inhuman. It is more dangerous than hatred and anger. Indifference is never creative. It is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor—-never his victim. “In the place that I come from, society was composed of three simple categories; the killers, the victims and the bystanders.”

“—we believed that Auschwitz and Treblinka were closely guarded secrets; that the leaders of the free world did not know what was going on behind those black gates and barbed wire ——And now we know that the Pentagon knew, the State Department knew—-” But there was no bombing of the rail tracks leading to Birkenau and how much less caring could there have been than the depressing incident of the St.Louis, a ship carrying approximately 1,000 Jews on the shores of the US which was turned back to Nazi Germany. “Why did some of America’s largest corporations continue to do business with Hitler’s Germany until 1942?”

In life, there are always more questions than answers and so it is with the Holocaust[4]

REFERENCES

[1] Theological and Halakhic Reflections on the Holocaust – Page 330.

[2] Theological and Halakhic Reflections on the Holocaust – Page 313, 310.

[3] Theological and Halakhic Reflections on the Holocaust – Page 69,70,71,72,73.

[4] Perils of Indifference – White House presentation, 1999.