The United Nations declared 27 January to be the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. At sundown, perhaps poignant in its contrasting emotions, Tu B’Shevat ushers in as the New Year of the Trees. Before we begin the celebration of the latter and engage in a Pesach-like Seder with a variety of fruits, nuts, etc., there is this somber Day. There is a promise of Hope between these events that will be addressed at the end of this article.
My parents and I sailed into NY harbor past the Statue of Liberty 70 years ago. After 5 years of escaping Poland during the 1945 post-war pogroms and living in DP camps in Germany, we arrived to the Land of Opportunity and Freedom of Religion/Free Speech.
The pogroms that drove we survivors out of Krakow had taken the life of my father’s best friend, Mottle, who had fought side-by-side with him all the way to Berlin. Little is known and certainly buried shamefully is the continued murderous hatred that survived the Holocaust, taking the lives of Jews after the war! We knew and did not forget, as Mottle’s murder was burned on our memories. Tragically, my father, who was a Krakower before the war, wrongfully thought that the desire to kill Jews had ended with Hitler.
In the DP camps, set up by the United States and England, we suffered food deprivation, disease and treatment described in the Harriman Report as a damning hatred of Jews by the liberating armies. While some of what General Eisenhower and Harriman saw was addressed, unlike today’s “open border” policy, we had to remain in Germany (the country that had sought to exterminate all of us) until an aunt who had come to America in 1920 found us and sponsored our coming to live with her in Brooklyn.
That chapter of immigration quotas, especially barring and limiting Jews, even as many sought refuge in their ancestral homeland, Israel, is markedly different than today’s declared policy to allow free entry into our southern border, and reverse the ban on entry by possible terrorists from countries noted for their anti-American actions.
Internally, violence against business owners, police, innocent bystanders walking on the streets of big cities, and against property is not condemned, while calling violence at the Capitol, and anyone who might have conservative leaning, conspirators insurrecting anarchy. This bias pervades the entire political spectrum and the source of most of our information, the media. What is called for is even-handedness – reporting news that is politically-blind, especially in the condemnation of violence coming from any individual or group.
While the above sentences seem unrelated to Holocaust Remembrance Day, they are painfully on point. One only has to be a student of history to find the overthrow of a constitutional democracy engulfed by economic hard times by those self-proclaimed “national socialists” who brought Hitler into power, passed and enforced the Nuremberg laws, legalized the mistreatment of Jews (and others who did not fit the Nordic purity criteria), and ultimately unleashed the Second World War and the Holocaust.
40 years after Liberation, I took my parents, who lost their families in the Shoah, to the worldwide Gathering of Holocaust Survivors. They, like most who survived, have passed on. The remnants live in a world of Holocaust denial and an attempt to rewrite the history not only of that horror, but the entire course of American history. 1492 replaced by 1619. In the freest country in the world, all who do not fit the accepted “identity” criteria are branded racists, xenophobes, fascists and traitors. The polarization of peoples, the segregation of camps into friends and enemies has begun. Internationally, Anti-Semitism is cloaked in a spurious label of Anti-Israel. The UN repeatedly condemns Israel, while defending terrorist states and countries that notoriously violate human rights and moral decency.
The Holocaust survivors never forgot, but they are disappearing after 75 years. Thankfully many of them did not live to see the resurgence of Anti-Semitism, the violence, physical and verbal, and the suppression of Free Speech in the current “cancel culture” with threatened lists being collected of those who oppose, not only those who engaged in the horrific acts we saw on January 6th, but categorically lumping them with anyone who exercises their constitutional rights to vote, assemble and speak, contrary to the Other.
As one who was born in 1945 – the year of Liberation – I REMEMBER the Holocaust, not as some historical event but a WARNING. As George Santayana wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So — this Day of Remembrance must be not a casual one-day event, but a constant warning to the world that it should not set in motion policies and actions that could return us to the Darkness that marked the first half of the 1900’s.
There is a proverbial “light end of the tunnel.” At sundown, many Jewish households will conduct a Seder that celebrates the Trees which come back to life, the seedlings that will sprout incredibly out of the frozen and seemingly-dead ground of Winter, into the warmth of Spring. Tu B’Shevat, known as one of the dates that is declared as marking a “New Year”, reminds us of the cyclical nature of Life, overseen and directed by the Creator. We bless and eat fruits and nuts, including the sheva minim of Eretz Yisroel. Reminiscent of Pesach – the holiday of freedom from slavery – a Seder is conducted during which we drink four cups of wine. They are mystical symbols and mirror the four cups at the Seder table as we read the Haggadah. They offer Hope and Light.
The symmetry of which I alluded to at the beginning of the article is that, however bleak and crushing it may feel, however oppressive and anti-Semitic are our taskmasters, we believe and know that there is light after darkness, day after night, and this too will pass! While ultimately our freedom is in Divine Hands, our histadlut demands that we REMEMBER and WARN, and we must stay true to principles of morality, equal justice, and truth, unswayed by the words of the mob, or even mainstream media. There is a compass that points to decency and love, and it is rooted this year in remembering the Holocaust, for sure, but also in bringing in the promise of life symbolized by the New Year of the Trees.