INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY

Practically 75 years ago to the day, a glimmer of light came into this world that would have ramifications decades later. On January 27, 1945, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz – Birkenau, arguably the most infamous of all Concentration/Extermination Camps of the Third Reich. On the 60th anniversary of the liberation, a special session was held at the United Nations which culminated in designating January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Gevald! I was raised on Yom HaShoah. Each year on the 27th of Nissan, Yom HaShoah commemorations were held in Jewish communities throughout the world. When I learned of International Holocaust Memorial Day, I was indignant, to say the least. How dare the United Nations and then the 42nd president of the United States proclaims another date to memorialize Man’s Inhumanity Towards Man! By what right and under whose authority could they do such a thing? Yom HaShoah is a collective yahrzeit for the Jewish people. I don’t recall any Jewish leader suggesting that another date be chosen so that the yahrzeit of the six million be shared.

When a cooler head prevailed, I realized that while intending to pay homage to the same dark chapter in the history of mankind, International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom HaShoah couldn’t have been more different.

International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates a twentieth-century version of the Exodus from Egypt. It was the Soviet Union ironically, that led the pack of allied armies, playing the role of the biblical Moses, while those miraculously still alive in a hellhole in southern Poland, the very descendants of the Israelite slaves freed from the diabolical Pharaoh were the first of their people to be redeemed from unspeakable enslavement and unfathomable treatment. Military prowess aside, International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the first step of allied armies being able to reassure the victims, “Don’t worry. We’re here to save you. We’re here to free you. We’re here for you to reaffirm your faith (whatever faith you may have left) that the forces of good have ultimately triumphed over the forces of evil.”

Not so, Yom HaShoah. Although chosen to coincide with the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, where a handful of Jews armed chiefly with chutzpah, managed to stave off the Third Reich for weeks, Yom HaShoah commemorates a twentieth-century version of the biblical Lot and a handful of others managing to survive the destruction of his society. Even though the Sodomites were in no way blameless or faultless like the Jews of Eastern Europe, there are still parallels to be made. The pillars of fire and the stench of death of Sodom and Gomorrah served as prototypes for the pillars of fire and the stench of death of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Both Lot, as well as the survivors of Nazism, set about building a new future for themselves. Both were cautioned of the dangers of looking back. Looking back was only helpful in that it ensured that those who succumbed not be forgotten, as well as it served as a reminder that we do not forget.

International Holocaust Memorial Day is a day for the outside world to justifiably remind itself of its success is thwarting evil and rescuing the few that remained; Yom HaShoah is a day for the Jewish world to remind itself, that the remnant that survived will serve as living proof that it refuses to wallow in self-pity and victimhood and that Jews must never inflict upon others what others inflicted upon them.

We commemorate an event that took place seventy-five years ago that gave the free world reason to be optimistic and those still alive at Auschwitz – Birkenau reason to dare to hope, that humanity did not go up in the chimneys of the Nazi crematoria after all. For me personally, International Holocaust Memorial Day is beyond my expectations. As for Yom HaShoah, I would have expected nothing less.
  
 


FRAU CHANCELLOR

Note to Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany:

Frau Chancellor, I wish I had known in advance that you would be visiting Auschwitz last Friday. I would have asked if some members of Congress could accompany you. You see Frau Chancellor, these members of Congress have no concept of what a Concentration Camp, as well as an Extermination Camp (Birkenau, which is adjacent to Auschwitz), was all about. Otherwise, it is simply beyond me (as well as any other normal thinking individual) why these government officials make odious comparisons, essentially equating Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of Jews. Perhaps if they saw Auschwitz up close, they would be forced to admit, that the only camps found under Arab control are Refugee Camps, which are in fact cities with the infrastructure of cities.  And should these members of Congress ignorantly point to the poverty and unemployment that prevail in these Refugee Camps, it could be patiently pointed out that Auschwitz was well beyond poverty and unemployment. What was very much apparent in Auschwitz, was the fetid smell of death as Jews were systematically starved and systematically exterminated.

Frau Chancellor. Hans Joachim Gustav Meyer was a Landsmann (sic) of yours. Bielefeld was his birthplace. Why, Hanjo as he was known, was even incarcerated in Auschwitz for a period of ten months, for having committed the crime of being a Jew. Yet, Hanjo managed to survive that Hell Hole. I would have wanted Hanjo to join you on last Friday’s trip so that he could revisit Auschwitz. Alas, Hanjo died five years ago. Surely, there must be other Jews who share the view of Hanjo Meyer. Surely there must be other Jews who are convinced that the way the Israeli military mistreats the Palestinians is similar to the way the Nazis mistreated the Jews. Standing with you as you toured Auschwitz, Hanjo’ Meyer’s protégées could have also viewed preserved artifacts, like piles of shoes (including prosthetic limbs) taken from Jews and human hair shaved off heads of Jews. Perhaps seeing these artifacts, so would have spurred those who see the Israeli military as Nazis to seek out piles of Palestinian shoes confiscated the Israeli military and human hair that Israelis shaved off Palestinian heads before they were “interred” in Khan Yunis or Rafah or any of the other six Refugee Camps within the Gaza Strip.

Frau Chancellor. No doubt you noticed “Arbeit Macht Frei” over the iron gates of Auschwitz, during your visit last Friday. Granted, you are a politician and not a linguist, but permit me to ask you, if it is correct German to say “Erziehung Macht Frei” that education makes (one) free? If so, perhaps, I could send such signs to the countless professors throughout the free world who are prisoners to propaganda and as a result, continue to infect impressionable minds of College and University students with poisonous misinformation, as they compare Zionism to Nazism. Instead of remaining true to the curriculum and imparting knowledge in disciplines such as Philosophy, Sociology, and Psychology, these professors unscrupulously besmirch the reputation of the only democracy in the Middle East. Perhaps if these professors were better educated as far as Nazism and Zionism, perhaps if it were pointed out to them that they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to Nazism, because they have yet to visit what Nazism produced, namely Auschwitz, they would soon realize that when all is said and done, that Nazism is the moral opposite to Zionism. Granted, they would have to make a visit as well to see how Israelis treat Palestinians.  Perhaps if they were open-minded to such an education, they would conclude Nazism produced a stain on humanity, while Zionism is a source of pride to humanity.

Frau Chancellor, you are in my prayers for your recent visit to Auschwitz. As for certain members of Congress, as for Jews who make odious comparisons between Zionism and Nazism, as for College Professors who don’t know what they are talking about, I cannot help but feel that such individuals simply don’t have a prayer.

VITAMIN A

Back in the day, Jews living outside Israel – especially Jews in these United States – discovered a new vitamin. It was assigned the name Vitamin I. Although Vitamin I was not available in any Drug Store, or through any pharmaceutical firm, it was believed that Vitamin I (“I” stands for Israel) was just “what the doctor ordered” for any difficult Jewish teenager. A month or two in Israel – preferably working on a kibbutz – would surely straighten out your “rebel without a cause.” Unless one was under the influence of another substance, one should have realized that Vitamin I was little different than taking a few swigs of “Dr. Good.”

There is another Vitamin that was also being marketed, although not exclusively by Jews. It was assigned the name Vitamin A (not to be confused with the pre-existing Vitamin A, which is believed to have beneficial effects for the retina.) Much like Vitamin I, it was believed that Vitamin A (“A” stands for Auschwitz) was just what the doctor ordered. Not only was Vitamin A seen as being beneficial to Jewish High School students, in that it added a unique dimension to their Holocaust studies, Vitamin A was also seen as being beneficial to counteract antisemitism. Take a group of avowed anti-Semites on a tour of Auschwitz and “here comes contrition.” Unless one was under the influence of another substance, one should have realized that when dealing with anti-Semites, Vitamin A was little different than taking a few swigs of “Dr. Good.”

There is a teaching handed down to us by our rabbinic sages: “Tsarot rabbim chatzi nechamah” or “learning that there are others out there suffering with the same issue is half the battle.” We call it self-help groups. As a rookie rabbi, I recall speaking to a local chapter of Compassionate Friends, a group of parents attempting to deal with the loss of a child. At the very worst, such parents see themselves as victims of divine cruelty. Anti-Semites on the other hand, see themselves as being victimized by Jews. All the problems that plague anti-Semites are caused by Jews. Victims of that variety are not in the least bit interested in self groups; victims of that variety find it reprehensible for someone to tell them that Jews were also victims. Don’t even try to educate anti-Semites about the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a hoax! Auschwitz was part of that hoax. Bringing anti-Semites to Auschwitz, introducing them to vitamin A, is an exercise in futility.

Anti–Semites, true and tried anti-Semites, revel in self-pity and hatred of Jews. Anti-Semites, true and tried anti-Semites, are happiest when they are miserable. Their existence is predicated upon getting themselves worked up over the world-wide Jewish conspiracy of planning to take over the world. Even if bringing anti-Semites to Auschwitz isn’t an exercise in futility and actually does have a modicum of efficacy, anyone planning such an outing would be subjecting anti-Semites to cruel and unusual punishment. Introducing anti-Semites to vitamin A would be depriving them of their happiness.

Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator (Ms. Chebli is of Palestinian heritage), recently proposed that any perpetrator of antisemitism (being caught painting swastikas on synagogues and other Jewish owned buildings) be required to visit Auschwitz or other Nazi concentration camp memorial. Apparently Ms Chebli is also a firm advocate of vitamin A. I applaud her for her sincerity, but I am amazed at her naiveté. If someone is truly dedicated to fighting antisemitism, if someone really believes that an anti-Semite has an open mind and is willing to listen and learn, then why on earth would you want to take an anti-Semite to see where Jews died? For heaven’s sake, take an anti-Semite to see where Jews live! Take anti-Semites to see Israeli doctors treating Palestinian children. Take anti-Semites to visit descendants of survivors of Hitler to learn what they have on their minds. Take anti-Semites to a synagogue to hear the subject matter of a rabbi’s sermon. Chances are excellent that they will never hear any hatred being spewed at anti-Semites, much less non-Jews. Let Auschwitz serve as a memorial for those who wish to learn and remember. Let those who truly believe in combating antisemitism, expose the anti-Semite not to the way Jews died, but to the way Jews live.