If Only…

I am staring at my Israeli passport, my treasured passport, looking at the ugly unsmiling face in the photo. Who could it be? Do I really look like that?  Did I?

I turn its many pages filled with entry and exit paper permits. What ever became of the former rubber stamp which border agents pressed onto the pages?

The blue and gold cover, above the menorah, emblem of the state, bears the words in Hebrew and in English: Medinat Yisrael. State of Israel.

I look at those words and kiss my treasured passport.

If only we had such a passport in 1939. Six million Jewish lives could have been saved. But even if they held that passport in their hands, where could they go? The doors of 99% of the countries of the world, including the United States of America, were closed to Jews. They were forced to remain in Europe, on the continent of death.

Once, when I arrived at the Budapest airport from Tel-Aviv, the Hungarian female border officer looked at the passport and asked sarcastically, “which way do I open it”?  And then she asked me “do you have another passport?”

I did but I refused to tell her and instead I told her “this is the only passport I have. I am a citizen of Israel and I travel only on an Israeli passport”.

She looked at me, stamped an entry permit into Hungary, and handed my passport back to me without a further word… only with a smirk on her face.

I have visited 45 countries of the world over many years, But there is one country, a major country, in Europe which, by choice, I have never visited… and never will.

Deutschland uber alles is for me Deutschland unter alles.  Germany above all, in the words of the former national anthem, is for me Germany below all. My Jewish feet have never touched German soil.

It’s strange, because Germany is a major tourist spot for thousands of Israelis. I’m told that one can hear Hebrew spoken on the streets of Berlin and Munich.

Probably most of those Israeli tourists are of the younger generation, born post 1945. They do not generally have the feelings of Jews who lived through and who witnessed the tragedies.

I was never in Germany but my heart was there, suffering in pain and in anguish for my Jewish brothers and sisters whose lives were destroyed by former neighbors and acquaintances, if not just by friends.

If only Jews had the blue and gold passport, the SS/St. Louis would not have been returned to Germany because America would not let Jewish refugees disembark. They were forced to return to Germany and to die.

Once I asked a group of friends, “if your house was on fire and you had to escape, what possessions would you grab to take with you?”

Answers varied, mostly the obvious… money, family photos, and jewelry”.

I replied that the only two items I would grab to keep with me would be my Hebrew bible and my Israeli passport.

If only that passport had been available after 1945 when tens of thousands of Jewish survivors sought refuge in other countries!

If only that passport would have obliged the British officials of the Mandate to open the ports in Haifa and Tel-Aviv for the many boats carrying survivors to the Jewish homeland.

And even now, if only that precious passport would be recognized and Israelis permitted to visit the beautiful cities of Beirut, Bagdad and Damascus…… ah, but only dreams for now. We must await the future coming of the messiah.

If only………………

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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