I am the son of Hungarian Holocaust survivors. What I see and hear about the acute resurgence of Jew hatred around the world worries me to my core. Of course I’m far from the only one who is concerned, yet at the same time, I’m pretty confident that the episodes of pro-Hamas marches and violent pro-Palestinian gatherings and pro-Palestinian conventions permitted by world class hotels hits Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren in a more personal way.
My father, of blessed memory, was interviewed many years ago by the Steven Spielberg Foundation as part of their mission to interview as many survivors as possible and as quickly as possible, given the average age of those who escaped the Shoah alive. The woman who interviewed my Abba had many questions about his experiences, and given how often he spoke to schoolchildren and adults about his life, many of his responses were matter-of-fact. No doubt, after dredging up his teenage life dozens of times, he was hesitant to let his emotions override what he really wanted everyone to hear.
The interview covers his life as a child living in Hungary, the careers and pleasures his parents enjoyed, his family life and spending time with friends and classmates, and his testimony reveals a somewhat average life of a kid in school and what went on around him and in him. After some minutes, we hear the four chilling words that I bet can be found in most, if not all, testimonies about survival during the Holocaust. I would eat my hat to find out that some versions of stories shared did not include these words: “And then one day…”
Life was humming along. People were doing what they normally do. Kids were schooling, adults were working, stores were selling and people were buying. Movies, plays, parks, Jews and their neighbors interacting and connecting. Life was as predictable as possible, and Hungarian citizens were clueless as to what was right around the corner.
“And then one day….”
Everything changed. Jews became targets of venomous gossip, students and adults were in danger, hatred of Jews was released into the air and breathed in by the nostrils of bigots and racists, and Jewish students from my father’s school were told to leave. Nothing was ever the same.
“And then one day…”
October 6th, erev Shabbat and erev Simchat Torah here in Israel. Joy. Happiness. Delight. Flags. Candies. Torah scrolls. Singing and dancing. Elevation. This is our God and this is His precious gift. Endless circles, shuffling feet, sweated foreheads, L’Chaims, we’re in paradise and paradise is in us. On Shabbat morning, October 7, every crumb of that disappeared, and we were plunged into murder and mourning and missing and hostages and savagery and indescribable and nauseatingly depraved indifference to Jewish lives.
“And then one day…” Around the world we are witnessing unleashed hatred against the Jews. Forces of hate gather with violence and impunity. What will Halloween look like? Where are the police, the National Guard, the Swat teams as vicious propaganda brings marchers with their evil poison to aggrandize the wicked? What happened to the innate conscience that used to distinguish between right and wrong? And how much worse will it get before enough good people take a stand and overwhelm the darkness with their supportive voices and influence and passionate conscience?
When asked to give our account of the details of October 7, where we were and what happened to Israel and world Jewry in its aftermath, can we possibly avoid the use of a phrase with four chilling words?