What the Holocaust Taught Us

I can feel it descending upon me now, the shutters are coming down on the shops and restaurants, the few places still open are preparing to close and the city streets are emptying. People are at home watching television programmes dedicated to the six million lost, spending time with their relatives and preparing for a night of memorial.

The national ceremony is already under way in Jerusalem and is being broadcast on the television, survivors and their descendants are participating in the commemoration of our dead. I am watching it and I am thinking of them.

But six million is too large a number, it’s too many people to imagine, too much tragedy to comprehend. A number so vast that it goes beyond the capacity of the mind to picture. Of people living in such tragedy before their deaths that the soul baulks before allowing the brain to truly understand the turmoil and suffering that so many lives were thrown into during this dark time in our history.

No thoughts of mine can penetrate the darkness of this time nor can any pain that I feel now change events that have long since past. On this day of remembrance my thoughts turn to a door across the hall from me. Behind this door sits Veronica, my 78 year old neighbour who spent her childhood living with a French family that was not her own, using an identity that her six year old memory was forced to master. She happened to be a Jew when being a Jew was a capital crime, the young girl made it to Israel and became a woman, but what will become of this old woman with few relatives whose mind and body are decaying?

It’s only through the stories of the individuals that I can contemplate the evil perpetrated on the many. Through individual tales of suffering can I contemplate the number 6,000,000. Only through the tales of those who managed to escape the Nazi death machine can I maintain a link with our tragic past. It strikes me now just how apt it is that I replied to Iain Banks article about Israel yesterday. In his piece he says the following (emphasis in bold is mine):

“The particular tragedy of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is that nobody seems to have learned anything. Israel itself was brought into being partly as a belated and guilty attempt by the world community to help compensate for its complicity in, or at least its inability to prevent, the catastrophic crime of the Holocaust. Of all people, the Jewish people ought to know how it feels to be persecuted en masse, to be punished collectively and to be treated as less than human. For the Israeli state and the collective of often unlikely bedfellows who support it so unquestioningly throughout the world to pursue and support the inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people – forced so brutally off their land in 1948 and still under attack today – to be so blind to the idea that injustice is injustice, regardless not just on whom it is visited, but by whom as well, is one of the defining iniquities of our age, and powerfully implies a shamingly low upper limit on the extent of our species’ moral intelligence.”

He talks about the Holocaust as if it were school, as if now, having suffered we should have learned something but that when the exam came after our ‘education’ we failed, having not learned our lesson. He speaks to us as if he is our teacher and we the student who failed to learn.

Well on this day, the day of the year when we remember those who were killed for no reason that makes any sense I say we have learned all of the lessons that we will ever need to learn. I say YES the Holocaust was an education for our people. During the Holocaust we learned very well. We learned that a fool wins an argument with the smartest man alive so long as he is a fool with a rifle. We learned that it doesn’t matter what promises are made to us or how safe we think we are, we will always be the expendable ones, we will always be the ones you will throw under the bus, we learned that if we wish to survive as a people then we will need to get down in the dirt and behave like all of the other peoples of this world, that we cannot depend on the Iain Banks’ of this world to stand up for us because when it comes down to it, for all their talk they won’t.

We learned that life is assured when you have your own country, your own army, your own embassies around the world, your own voice amongst the nations, your own dirt upon which to build your homes and rest your head.

And as I write the story of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto is being told on the television, I feel the tears well up in my eyes at the tragedy and at the bravery of my people, MY people who were the most tormented, who were the weakest, who had the least and yet were the first in Europe to rise up and wage open revolt against the war machine that had defeated the armies of both West and East time and time again. The Warsaw Ghetto fighters held out only a few days less than the whole of Poland did in 1939.

I hear the stories of those who escaped from the camps of death and evil and lived to find their redemption here, in the country that they built to make sure that the words ‘never again’ meant something.

Yeah we learned, just not the lessons the Iain Banks’ of the world think we were supposed to learn. We learned the lessons of survival, the lessons of redemption, we learned to stand strong in the face of annihilation, to be steadfast before tyranny and to give our enemies no quarter. On this day, at this moment I realise the most important lesson of all is that it really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of us for we are a living people, in a free land, we have our Israel and we will defend it now and forever with every breath of free air we take.

About the Author
Marc Goldberg is the author of Beyond the Green Line, a story his service in the IDF fighting through the al Aqsa Intifada