• Flowers placed during the Day of Remembrance for the Dead at the Jewish Monument, that is located in the Groninger city of Winschoten, Oldambt | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Donald Trung

The Art of Remembering

Tal Hartuv - 9 January 2024

Considering the enormity of recent events in Israel, and the national metaphysical, existential, and psychological shock following them, it is no surprise that anyone who has a conscience, gropes for answers to regain some orientation to try and make sense of a world spinning out of control. One such attempt was when a couple of weeks after October 7th, Yad Vashem endeavoured to answer the question as to whether these events should be declared as a holocaust.

“Yad Vashem endeavoured to answer the question as to whether the October 7th events should be declared as a holocaust”

A blood-curdling question considering we are in 2023, but nevertheless, esteemed historians decided the answer was “no.” After all, they reasoned, the Jewish people now have a homeland, and also an army, something which we certainly did not have during The Holocaust.

While this recent genocide and the mind-boggling subsequent outburst of global antisemitism might not be defined as a holocaust per se, there are parallels to the Holocaust in the method of murder, the role of propaganda, the response of society, and the effect on our Jewish people. These things are worth learning from, lest anyone turn their backs on what seems to be an inevitable tempest about to thrash Western civilisation- if it’s not already too late, that is.

The world as a whole has broadly defined the Holocaust as “the murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany in the gas chambers and camps of occupied Europe.” It remains an unchallenged, flawed and dangerous axiom, because while the exact numbers as to how many Jews were gassed is still being debated in scholarly circles, Jewish people who were gassed made up less than half of the 6 million who were murdered.

Of course Jews died in concentration camps but tens of thousands died of starvation and diseases in hundreds of ghettos. In the territories of the former Soviet Union alone, over 2.5 million Jews were shot. Thousands more were tortured, dehumanised, raped, shot, and butchered by non-Germans all over Europe.

Many German civilians after the war claimed they “didn’t know.” Many more claimed that even though they joined the Nazi party, they were “never a Nazi.” Those in Western Europe who grudgingly admitted as to knowing the final destination of the trains upon which they shoved their Jewish neighbours, claimed that because they themselves did not physically turn on the gas or do the shootings, or whatever, then they didn’t do anything wrong. As Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg noted, while the most famous murderous perpetrators were the Nazi special units and the SS, it took an entire European society to be complicit in the murder of 6 million Jews. Civilians all over the continent did it through silence, inaction and performing desktop tasks critical for the success of the death machine, without questioning anything.

Most of those who after the war claimed, “I was never a Nazi” would have been against the mass murder of Jews in 1933. Germany boasted civilisation, and that would have been an uncivilised thing to do.

Yet the Nazi Germany post WWI was a society which tolerated hate speech. Hate speech was the first form of violence against Jews. Hate speech accelerated. It was an acceptable form of antisemitism which just a few years later was the oil pumping the genocidal engines of the crematorium.

In recent times, Jews have been subject to verbal violence. The BDS movement on college campuses has been used as a verbal weapon against Jewish students who are blamed for the “Zionist occupation.” In the name of academia, professors in Ivy Leagues have recently and unthinkably, sided with the genocidal Hamas. Verbal violence always morphs into physical violence. Jewish students lately have barricaded themselves in university libraries, a Jewish teacher has locked herself in a college bathroom as mobs gathered outside, and a Jewish man was beaten to death. These are just a few examples of the anti-Jewish violence spreading over entire continents.

In the West, Jewish schools, synagogues and institutions are heavily guarded. Yet the Jews are expected to just carry on. Refusing to deal with the severity of this situation, the powers-that-be feebly have turned a blind eye to punishing those who spew hate speech in marches, mosques and media. Instead the Jewish community just have to buckle up – and pay for their own security, a state of affairs that any other religious minority would simply not put up with it. Verbal antisemitism and the threat of violence against Jews is normalised. People are accepting, rationalising and excusing it.

The gagging of free speech is a totalitarian tool that is not limited to the likes of Nazi Germany, Communist Russia or North Korea. In the heart of Western civilisation, and in the name of a fabricated “Islamophobia” people are prevented from speaking out against Islamic terrorism. “Lone wolf” or “mentally ill,” are the gags. Strengthening this prevention of free speech is a mainstream media propaganda web of lies.

Hitler would be proud of the mainstream media today. They call savages who baked babies in ovens, “fighters.” Incarcerated Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands being released are “hostages.” When the word “prisoners” is used at all, it is equated with Israeli women and children held as hostages in that hell which is Gaza. This immoral journalistic gymnastics turning the victim into perpetrator – and vice versa – is unconscionable.

When a few “pro-Palestinians” drove through Jewish areas in London a few years ago demanding to rape Jewish women, the authorities did nothing. That handful of haters has grown to hundreds of thousands. European streets are now clogged with those (“who are not Nazis,”) screaming like Brown Shirts for the destruction of the Jews in chanting “From the River to the Sea.”

“Today those speaking up for the Jewish people are also the overwhelming minority”

During the Holocaust, there were some Christians (and a couple of Muslims) who tried to save Jews. After the war, these people were justly given the title “Righteous Among the Nations.” From every European country and of various religious, economic, and ethnic background, these dear souls are numerically and morally exceptional. A breakdown of how many people out of every 100,000 in every country, actually did something to help rescue Jews, shows that per 100,000 civilians, the total never strays into double figures. The butterfly effect of the Righteous Among the Nations though cannot be overestimated. We have hundreds of Jewish people alive today due to the actions of those brave individuals.

Today those speaking up for the Jewish people are also the overwhelming minority. A couple of standout cases are the Polish football team who refused to start play until a minute’s silence was observed for the Israeli victims and tiny groups of Christians who are powerfully mobilising their communities, organising protests, hanging posters of our kidnapped, engaging on social media and bravely speaking up. It is not an easy time in Israel, and sometimes we feel very alone. However hard it may be, we have learned that concerning the non-Jewish world, we have never been loved by so few: yet so much. Yes, you know who you are, CfI. And millions of Israelis are truly thankful.

“Bullies are cowards, and the coward that Hitler was, he valued public opinion”

Sometimes people do not know what to do, or feel that its not worth it, because “no one will listen anyway.” A not very well-known historical oddity is that whenever ordinary Germans spoke up against Hitler, he always retreated. Bullies are cowards, and the coward that he was, he valued public opinion. For example, when people finally protested against the euthanasia carried out against disabled German civilians, Hitler stopped it, (until later when he carried on in secret.) He retreated too due to a protest by non-Jewish women in Berlin who demanded he release their Jewish husbands from concentration camps. The fact that this occurred as late as 1943 while the Final Solution was all but over, is a sobering thought. It begs the question: what would have happened if more people had spoken out? Would there even have been a Holocaust?

Another parallel we see with the Holocaust and the atrocities of October is the denial that they even occurred. In effect, we are experiencing Holocaust denial in real-time. Not only is the barbarity disbelieved, Israelis are even blamed for murdering their fellow Jews and Palestinians alike. Claims that Gaza is a concentration camp, and that a Holocaust is being perpetrated against the Palestinians is an argument that defies reason. Those who expend great energy in denying the Holocaust, are the very same people who accuse Israel of committing one.

But in all this moral mess and violent assault on Israel and Jewish people worldwide, we would do well to cling to hope. After World War II, survivors came here with their baggage of loss, trauma and grief. Yet among this baggage they had stuffed moral tenacity, greatness of spirit and a resolve to focus on the future.

Of course survivors knew they would never be the same, but they also knew in coming to Israel, that they were part of something bigger than themselves, part of an ancient people, and part of a people who had a purpose. Their suffering therefore was not just an individual one, but it was collective one as well. Theirs was a suffering that made sense when viewed through the lens of Jewish history as a whole.

We are also awakened to our history and purpose. The same fortitude, commitment to community and unbreakable spirit which the Holocaust survivors brought with them, and which has been part of the Jewish people for thousands of years is that same contemporary greatness of spirit we see in our October survivors today. Israel may be bruised but we are not broken beyond despair. On the contrary, our Jewish soul is experiencing a renaissance. Left and Right, secular and religious, old and young, once divided us but now they are the opportunity to embrace those who are different. We are nurturing our wounded brothers and sisters, with such affection and care that it seems that every individual survivor of the atrocities has become a household name.

For myself and for many Israelis, there has never been a time when I have ever been more thankful – or prouder – to be an Israeli.

Am Israel Chai

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