In 2017, I visited Poland with my Jewish contemporaries and campus Rabbi. The purpose of our visit — to explore the Jewish life that enlightened Poland for a thousand years, only to be extinguished over night.
For me, it was not the concentration camps that proved the most harrowing, but rather their treatment. Tourists taking selfies. A gift shop… in Auschwitz. A setting for reflection, where one million had been murdered had transformed into Poland’s most frequented tourist attraction.
Despite Jewish suffering contributing significantly to Poland’s tourism economy, the tale of Jewish suffering has long been censored and appropriated. A Catholic Church now situates Auschwitz, seeming to missionize a site where nearly 1,000,000 innocent died for being Jewish. And in 2018, Poland passed a law, which while since revoked, sought to revise history, threatening imprisonment for anyone who testified about Polish complicity in the Holocaust. My grandfather’s cousin, who survived Auschwitz and the ditch into which he was shot, only fled Poland after the Holocaust—he was threatened with death by his fascist Polish neighbors.
The trend of Jewish history and suffering being minimized, appropriated, and profitized remains a theme all too common, and sadly, one to endure. Not just in Poland, but everywhere. Tourists frequent the Colosseum, ignorant to the fact that it was largely the product and toil of Jewish slaves who had been enslaved and uprooted from Israel. Many also visit Chefchouen, Morocco’s blue city painted by Jews, oblivious that Morocco once hosted 250,000 Jews, many of whom felt compelled to flee due to pogroms and societal antisemitism.
Tourists also visit historic synagogues throughout the Middle East, such as in historic Cairo. They’re regularly persuaded that Jewish life once thrived there, whilst remaining oblivious to the reality that over 850,000 Middle Eastern Jews were either expelled or fled due to antisemitism—a period of ethnic cleansing that goes largely unrecognized unto this day. Quick side note: We should also have a day to commemorate the ethnic cleansing suffered by our fellow Mizrahi Jews.
Truth is Jewish suffering has become a novelty. People marvel at our heritage sites and pay entrance fees to visit them.
Yet, they care not enough about addressing anti-semitism.
They remain silent when world leaders such as Malaysia’s Prime Minister boasts that he is “glad to be labeled anti-semitic,” referring to Jews as “hook-nosed,” and minimizing Jewish death tolls during the Holocaust. They remain silent when the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas blames Jews for their own Holocaust. And they remain silent when Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, blames Jews for controlling the West.
Even in America, arguably the greatest place to be a Jew in diaspora, one-third of all people refuse to believe that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Over half-of-all religious hate crimes in America targeted Jews, according to the FBI in 2018. Yet anti-semitism for some reason fails to command adequate media attention.
The world has failed to learn the primary lesson of the Holocaust—that anti-semitism is a powerful and never surrendering force that has plagued and will plague the entirety of our people’s history. Cue the pogroms and expulsions of Middle Eastern Jews in the 1940s-1960s, the pogroms of Eastern Europe, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Babylonian and Roman destruction of our Temples, and if you will, the Amalek attack.
Truth is, the world has never cared sufficiently about the Jewish plight. That is why I like to think Israel has its own Holocaust Remembrance Day to foil the rest of the world’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The world’s sympathies have never meant enough.
Israel calls its independence day “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day,” because it’s not just about commemorating the six million.
It is to remind us to be courageous, to settle our affairs independently, and to need be, defy the rest of the world to defend ourselves, because the world has failed our calls for help time again.
It is to remind us that we, the Jewish people, whose population has yet to recover from the Holocaust, must be independent at all times, especially at our worst.
We must captain our own fate, a reality that can only really exist so long as does Israel. And it is a lesson I would like to think we as a collective have since learned.
We no longer rely on another foreign country’s White Papers to enable our right migrate in the face of genocide. We have since redeemed a state, a renewed sense of sovereignty in our indigenous homeland, and most importantly, a second lifeline. One can only remember when the Jews of Yemen and Ethiopia were covertly airlifted to Israel during their greatest times of need.
We no longer rely on international rescue missions to save our hostages, such as that advanced by a German Police Force that failed our 11 Israeli-Jewish Olympians, whose massacre and memory the International Olympic Committee refused to recognize until 2016. We now rely on ourselves, manifesting through a strong Israel to protect and rescue our own, as Israel did successfully just four years after Munich, when it rescued more than 100 hostages during the Entebbe Raid.
We have come so far as a people. Yet, our accomplishments can only exist so long as do our memories. We must remember the 6 million, and thus, the importance of protecting our last lifelines. That being Israel and its democratic allies.
Never Forget. And may the memories of all of the Holocaust’s victims be a blessing.