Holocaust Remembrance: We are losing the battle with ignorance

Probably “f*ck you motherf*cker” isn’t the choice of words one would expect to hear on Yom HaShoah in the middle of Jerusalem.

As the businesses closed early yesterday in order to allow Israelis to participate in the Day of Holocaust Remembrance, the city was unusually quiet as for a regular Wednesday evening. I sat alone in the class not unusually minding my own business, when suddenly I heard a bunch of cheerful voices singing from within the seminary.

Within seconds a male voice was heard from the street outside the building, urging the women in to stop singing on Yom HaShoah. He concluded his outburst calling them “animals” and said that there is nothing to be cheerful about that night. Seeing that his outburst in Hebrew brought little to no reaction, we switched to English and repeated himself:

-Please, stop singing! It’s Yom HaShoah. It’s the day of remembrance!

Let me say, so that things are clear, that I wholeheartedly support the man. Someone may disagree, because, after all, Yom HaShoah isn’t Yom Kippur. Yet those that perished should be remembered, while those that survived the flames of the gas chambers to tell the story of Nazi atrocities should be respected and, if singing is considered to be a disrespectful act, one should simply and politely shut their mouth. To my surprise, not everyone shared similar sentiments.

-You won’t f*cking tell me what I can or can’t do! Motherf*cker! – yelled a female voice from above.

I froze, sickened. My insides turned upside down and I felt sorry for the man, who, baffled, stopped yelling and left the battlefield defeated. Because, how does one fight such ignorance and disrespect? With words? With tears? By raising their voice by an octave?

I was born and raised in Poland; a country which housed a number of concentration camps; a country, where our history teachers practiced complete denial of any involvement of the Poles in the mass extermination of the Jewish population; a country, where almost every other corner features a star of David, painted for reasons very much unrelated to sympathy; a  country, where since most recent terrorist attacks in October in Israel, the amount of vandalism of Jewish businesses soared through the roof; and a country where private individuals take it upon themselves to track down Jews and their properties in order to cause grief and bring financial loss.

A few years ago, one of my peers, who was a Pole, asked me if it was true that Jews used blood to make matza for Pesach. In Poland we know that the history is only a little over 60 old. We are only one and a half generations away from the horrors of war.

When the siren went off today not everyone in class felt the need to stand up and pay their respects by remembering what happened during the Shoah, as if the history didn’t affect them in any way.

I understand the lengthy debate about learning from the history versus falling into the mind-set of victimhood. I very much agree with that stance. We should look at our history in order to be able to identify the signs that could potentially lead to another war of that sort. We should know how to protect ourselves. We should know how to educate our children. I doubt we will ever be able to shake off the trauma of what happened, but I agree that we should instead focus on our future, forming a symbiotic unity between then and now.

Living in Israel makes the need for development and focusing on both present and future an even a more pressing matter. The shadow of “ghetto Jews” has been replaced by proud and driven young individuals who want their nation to succeed and their families to be safe.

But does that require spitting in the faces of those whose hearts break in half each time Yom HaShoah approaches? Is “f*ck you, motherf*cker” really the answer of this generation?

About the Author
Esther Fuerster is originally from Poland and lived in Britain for many years. She now lives in Israel. She's a London university graduate and plans to do her PhD in Israel. She's a MASA alumni and a recognised blogger. Her article "30 ways why living in Israel has ruined you for life" has been followed around the world and received recognition by the Israeli media. She featured in YNet and LaIsha.