Today is Yom HaShoah, the Israeli observed Holocaust Memorial Day. This differs from the UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is marked in January. The difference? Yom HaShoah marks the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when Jews held off the Nazis for nearly a month with smuggled-in and make-shift weapons.
The UN day commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz, and though absolutely significant, it perpetuates Jews as the forever victims, ironically by an organization (the UN) which does everything in its power these days to suppress Jewish freedom and sovereignty, going as far as aiding and abetting terrorist Jew-haters.
There will be numerous posts about the Nazi atrocities — deservedly so— but I would like to focus, through my family’s lens, on the less talked about atrocities committed by the collaborators, the neighbors, the ‘everyman.’
Recently, a leading pro-Jewish publication came out with an op-ed whitewashing Poland’s role in the Shoah, and instead presenting the Poles and their government as victims, on equal grounds with Jews. Well, my family had a far different experience with the Polish people.
My maternal grandfather was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Lvov, Poland. They were in the farm equipment business, and his mother, my great-grandmother, was the only female in town with a bar in her basement, which she happily used as a meeting point for her neighbors. When the Nazis occupied Poland, the Poles of Lvov were all too eager to aid the Nazis in killing Jews, and if you read about the Lvov pogrom, and the atrocities committed by Poles, it is sickening. My grandfather’s family were all murdered by their fellow countrymen. One great-uncle survived only because he managed to escape to Jewish Palestine in 1936. He was the last Jew to board his ship before they closed the port.
My grandfather survived thanks to the Russians. When the Russians occupied Poland, they drafted young men into the Red Army and needed dentists and doctors. My grandfather was in dental school at the time. Of his entire family who remained in Europe, the two survivors were he and his eldest brother.
On my paternal side, my father’s great uncle had elderly parents in Belarus who could not evacuate, as the Nazis were approaching. My relative had a Belorussian childhood friend who treated my great-great uncle’s parents like his own. So when my great-great uncle escaped, he asked his friend, who at the time was a police officer, to look out for his parents. Years went by and my dad’s great uncle returned after the war. His mother had been murdered, and murdered by his childhood friend who became a Nazi collaborator.
My great-great uncle, who at the time was drafted into the Russian army, killed the murderer. But the Russian army was not understanding and instead punished him with a low-level position for the rest of his military career. And confiscated his gun.
So while Germany is wholly to blame for the Shoah, the greatest genocide targeted towards an ethnic group, it would not be made possible without almost the entire continent of Europe, without almost the entire world shutting refuge for Jews (look up the Bermuda Conference, among a slew of others which met to block Jews’ entry), and yes, even the United States, under FDR’s rule, was complicit.
On this day, I do not say ‘never again,’ as there will never be another Shoah, not as long as Israel remains strong and free. I say ‘am Israel chai’ – the people of Israel live.