In the Jewish part of the East Cemetery in Göteborg (Gothenburg) in Sweden, there are a few rows of a number of small, inconspicuous headstones. They have a similar look and size. They differ from the other headstones. The small, unassuming gravestones are uniform and speak their own language. It’s like a war cemetery, albeit a small one. Looking closer at the stones, you see that all buried beneath them died in 1945 and a few years later. Their names are mostly Polish and Hungarian and are all women. Everyone died at a young age; they were between 19- and 33-years-old. The dead are all Jewesses who survived the Holocaust and arrived in Sweden during 1945 and 1946. They were all physically and mentally and most of them died as a result of this, of disease, mental exhaustion and fatigue, and some of them died by their their own hand.
The distance between the planet called “Auschwitz/Birkenau” and the neutral country of Sweden was so enormous after the terrible experiences they had been subjected to, they simply couldn’t find the strength to go on and build a new life on the ruins of the old. The lives they had once lived were gone. They had nothing left to go back to. They were all by themselves in a strange environment, and they were all broken, body and soul. Gone were their families, their homes, their culture, their traditions and all the foundations that used to be their lives. The six million European Jews murdered who were burned and disappeared in the smoke of the crematories were all nameless and they were murdered only because they were Jews. Six million anonymous Jews of whom were one and a half million children. Without graves and without family to read kaddish for them and mourn them.
However, they were free at last and their names remain, lingering like a memory never to be forgotten and for relatives to visit, where they exist, if at all.
There are 56 graves like these but the 56th grave stands out from the rest of them. Grave 56 differs from the rest as it is located on the side and is dated 2015. The first name is Polish and the surname is Swedish. The woman in grave number 56 was not only a survivor, she was also a surviving survivor. The woman in grave 56 had somehow found the strength and the will to live on. The woman in grave number 56 married a Swedish man and lived for another 70 years. She had children and she worked. She appeared to be like any one of us.
However, the woman in grave number 56 wanted be buried next to “the girls.” She wanted to be next to the women who arrived together with her all those years ago. She had decided this when they died. She had carried them with her, next to her heart, all her life and “the girls” were those she identified most strongly with. It was only “the girls” who understood her, who knew what it meant to have lived on the planet Auschwitz/Birkenau, and next to her girls she wanted her final resting place. She was clear about this and a plot was kept for her. She was one of them.
Only now did she finally find peace — she who arrived in 1945 as a physical and mental wreck, but found the will to carry on with her life. She, who had the strength to survive and become a survivor. She was open about her life, hid nothing and wrote a book about her experiences. Just through living, she restored the 55 girls waiting for her. But how did the woman in grave number 56 do this, how did she find the will and the motivation to keep going, and how did the other survivors make it, the rest of those who survived, after what they had gone through?
They managed by protesting. They kept protesting and they still protest in the way we Jews have done for 4,000 years; they protest by honoring life. They protest by testifying. They protest in order to be examples for us. They lived on. They gave life. And through them the Jewish people continue to live.
As we now can see how anti-Semitism rear its ugly head yet again all over the world and here, in Europe as well as here in Sweden, these 56 graves remind us of the consequences of not wanting to see the signs, not reacting, to stay silent, not to take seriously those who hate us, telling themselves that the haters will soon be silent. Yes, they chant that they want to kill the Jews, but they really don’t mean it. Just don’t antagonise them, they will disappear by themselves. But it doesn’t work like that.
The 56 graves remind us of the ultimate consequences of not taking the hate seriously.
And this is serious.
Please visit our Jewish cemetery. You Jewish men, put on a kipah, a hat will do too. Read Kaddish for these women. Non-Jews, pray for the dead in your own way and promise these 56 women that we will never ever allow hate to conquer life. Promise them and make a promise to yourself not to stand passively by, merely observing the polarization that is now taking place in Sweden. A polarization that speaks in terms of ”either you are with us or you are against us”. Do not let those haters screaming about shooting Jews — or those who defend this kind of behavior — do it without the legal system showing — by force if necessary — that they have broken all the rules and boundaries that we and our ancestors have been put to administer.
They call themselves survivors, they say they were “lucky” to survive”. It may be true, but to me they are not just Survivors — they are also Surviving Survivors. They are the living proof of man’s ability to change pure evil into determination and an ability to love and to carry on with life. We – each and every one of us — have an absolute duty not to remain passive – this is the message they convey us all.
The only way to end this is with the words of the author, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and himself a survivor from Auschwitz/Birkenau, Elie Wiesel’s summary of how the Holocaust could happen — and may happen again:
“The opposite of love is not hatred — The opposite of love is indifference.”
This conclusion speaks to us all, then as well as today.