My mother was a young teenager who survived the Holocaust on her own. When her parents sent her to visit her aunt in Lodz over the summer of 1939, she never imagined that she wouldn’t ever see her parents or siblings again. The war broke out while she was there and though she tried desperately, she could not get back to the the little town of Turka, Poland where she lived.
She was one of many Jewish children torn from their families. She was one of many Jewish children deprived of a childhood. She was one of the many children who went hungry, who lived in fear, and whose every moment was calculated on planning to live and planning how to survive. She hid in plain view for a while, often passing for Ukrainian or Polish, until eventually she ended up in Siberia right before the Gestapo invaded Poland. She was one of the lucky ones and though she endured the cold, harsh Siberian winters, she survived.
In Poland, as in all of Europe, antisemitism was a way of life. She confessed that as a child she often wondered what the Jewish people did wrong to cause others to hate us so. She wondered if we were bad people. Like victims of abuse, the Jews were made to feel responsible for their plight. It must be the fault of the Jewish people for making others hate them, they reasoned.
Today, decades later, we are still plagued by antisemitism. No amount of education or inventions in technology, medicine, or science has advanced a cure for this disease. Antisemitism is not an affliction of the uneducated. On the contrary. It affects the highly educated, the uneducated, the rich, and the poor. It seems to know no boundaries. Not only has antisemitism resurfaced throughout Europe – where it never really left, but it is being refashioned and revived in the United States – with increasingly greater frequency and intensity.
It is not Islamophobia but an honest examination of history which must lead us to admit that much of the antisemitism we see today in Europe and in the US has been imported from the Arab world which had wiped its countries free of Jews after the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of Jews lived in Arab countries for thousands of years before the Holocaust. Though they were designated as having the status of “Dhimmi” a derogatory term by which Arab leaders referred to Jews to lower their status as human beings of second class citizenship in their respective countries, Jews nevertheless managed to build successful lives – as Jews were wont to do wherever we lived.
Jewish life in Arab lands came to an end when Arab leaders such as the Mufti of Jerusalem, incited riotous Jew hatred when he aligned with Hitler to try to eliminate the Jews both before and during the onset of the Holocaust.
While pogroms and massacres forced Jews to flee for their lives from the Arab lands, Jew hatred did not disappear from those lands when the Jews left. Hatred of Jews remained and proliferated in every Arab household, where thousands of Muslim children grew up learning about the evil Jews – and still do to this day.
We are a resourceful people. We have learned to adapt to our circumstances by necessity. As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Certainly it applied to the the Jewish people. We have learned to adapt and we have grown even smarter and more resilient as a result. And therein lies the rub. We are stubborn. We are persistent. We refuse to go away. We are determined not only to survive, but to thrive. And for that too, we are hated.
Antisemitism abounds at universities where Jewish students are being harassed and often feel compelled to hide their Jewish identity. Not only does this occur at universities, but even young Jewish children at a playground have once again heard the hatred of others who shouted antisemitic slurs at them. “Hitler should have killed you. Go back to the ovens.” Children walking on the streets of Brooklyn, New York were recently spat upon and told that they should have been killed and don’t belong here.
Congressional leaders have echoed antisemitism as well. Instead of being removed from their Congressional committees they have actually gained new supporters who join them in falsely accusing Israel of manufactured crimes such as “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.” The world looks the other way, pretending that libelous accusations against the one Jewish State has nothing to do with antisemitism. Hostages were taken in a synagogue. An FBI agent posited that though this crime occurred on the Sabbath, in a synagogue, the crime had nothing to do with Jews.
The United Nations issues countless resolutions against Israel while world leaders agree in silence. They have forgotten the Wansee Conference where in a matter of little more than an hour Hitler’s Final Solution to exterminate the Jews in Nazi death camps was quietly implemented with absolutely no opposition.
Six million Jews were murdered in Europe while the world remained silent and very few had the courage or the inclination to lift a finger to help. They did not know or did not care to know. Despite the unspeakable crimes and murders perpetrated during the Holocaust there are those today who try to deny that a Holocaust of such scope and magnitude ever occurred. Thankfully, the UN has just approved a resolution to fight against Holocaust denial and to condemn the Nazi genocide that occurred. But the fact that such a resolution was necessary and that it took this long to be instituted speaks volumes.
We have managed not only to emerge from the embers of despair, but to rebuild and repair, despite the best efforts of many to make us disappear. Perhaps some find our existence against all odds hard to comprehend. Our enduring ancient identity and our disproportionate success given our tiny population, represent the uniqueness of our people. Many find this uniqueness not only hard to comprehend, but what’s more, hard to forgive. We defy reason and even the laws of nature. By all logic, we should not be here. Yet by the grace of G-d we are here, and planning to stay.