My granddaughter is doing military service in Israel, a friend told me in the synagogue and added, we are all so proud. They can not take in my stories about the ghetto in Budapest. I understand them. The distance between driving a Merkava tank and sitting imprisoned in the ghetto is gigantic. How could they possibly understand?
They have to understand, I said.
– Understand what? he asked with a shrug.
Let me return to what we, the generations after you, have to understand, I said. People have forgotten that
the coin has two sides and the other side has, until now been hidden, obstructed by the first side, the victim side.
– I don’t understand, he said.
Let me tell you what I think, I said. And I continued:
You were survivors and you were very young. Your outer as well as your inner lives were shattered. Your choice was to either start over, to escape into mental illness – or to kill yourselves. Many chose the first option. Many of you tried to move on. The strongest did this. Some were successful, others not. But you did it. The shadows kept chasing you and you tried to hide from them by building new life, starting families, getting higher educations and climbing career ladders. But the shadows continued to chase you. The anxiety was ever present together with all the questions of why and where did they all go and we have to move on, but how? And you were silent. You fought yourself inside your silence. You never got any answers to your questions. No one asked you anything and you did not want to burden your children – the children who should never have been born.
When we escaped from Egypt 3 000 years ago we had to remain in the desert for 40 years. Many don’t understand why but it takes 40 years – a generation – to get over the slave mentality and acquire proper guidance on how to proceed. And after 40 years in the desert we managed to do just that and started to move on.
You were silent for 40 years, but then you were ready to talk – without guidance. Some began to speak, write and shout out your despair. To your surprise, the world started to listen. They listened and listened, and you were restored by those who listened to you. You spoke about the Holocaust and everyone saw you as you were – the actual victims.
Israel has not been different. Israel was busy with survival and the building of a new state, a country of proud Jews, not victims. Many of you went there and you fought together against the invading Arabs in 1948, but then you disappeared again and you were silent there too, for the shadows look the same and they keep chasing you, no matter where you go, no matter where you live.
Then Yad vaShem was built and Auschwitz/Birkenau became a symbol of humanity’s absolute low point.
I was in Israel during Yom haShoah last year. It really is powerful when all society stops and all bow their heads in unison, in remembrance and respect. All this is thanks to you.
– The other side then? my friend said, What do you mean?
The other side of the coin, I said, is the neglected but crucial side, and it is still hidden.
Yes, I said. The side that tells us that you are not only surviving but also survivors.
You survived the worst genocide in the history of mankind, and yet managed to pick up the fallen banner and you continued on your way. You saw to it that our story continues, you have shown us that whatever happens, we continue to build, we continue to live on. You have shown us, the generation who came after you, that you are unique in your unbending will to not ever give up. You are characterised by your history, and you have told it to us, but now it’s up to us to lift this formerly hidden side about how you continued onward to much higher levels.
We must pass on the story of how you, like when we rose after the exodus from Egypt, lifted and carried this history to become the foundation of our entire existence. What you have done is at this level. We are all a result of your will to live, all of us who live in the generations after you. You must be remembered and you will be remembered as the most
important Jews in our history.
We must erect memorials in honour of your heroism, your courage and strength to carry on. We must change our approach to you as victims – in a context over which you had no power – to the giants that you all are, to the survivors that you all are – and we all need to see this and embrace this and be guided by this. You cannot do that, but we have to do it. We need to show and promote the other side of the coin – the survivors and how you did it, how you survived – you, the lonely and abandoned by us who did not know any better. But now is the time – now it’s time to let our children and grandchildren understand the width of the unprecedented struggle you have fought and still fight every day.
We must study and we must learn from you. We must incorporate this into our religious ceremonies and we have to
raise this issue on all levels – that it is impossible to be a Jew in the shadow of the Holocaust – but that you are the proof that it actually is possible, and that the feat you have accomplished is outstanding!
This is the other side of the coin – the one that is our cursed and sacred duty to lift and carry forward.
The time has come. The time is now.