” Let us not be led like sheep to the slaughterhouse. It is right, we are weak and without defense, but the only answer to the enemy is resistance!” Abba Kovner,
“If we wish to live and to bequeath life to our offspring, if we believe that we are to pave the way to the future, then we must first of all not forget.” Prof. Ben Zion Dinur, Yad Vashem, 1956
Wednesday, 15 April 2015, and ends in the evening of Thursday, 16 April 2015. By the way, the full name of the day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is “Yom Hashoah Ve- Hagevurah” –the “Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the Heroism – as we also pay tribute to the partisans;, to those who died resisting in the ghettos, to those
who died trying to save others; to those, both Jewish and Gentile, who committed unbelievable acts of bravery and courage – some paying the ultimate price.
As WIZO chaverot we must pay tribute to our courageous chaverot who perished and to those that survived and are with us today.
On 27 January, earlier this year we marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the central theme of Yom HaShoah this year is : “The Anguish of Liberation and the Return to Life: 70 Years Since the End of World War II (WWII).”
On 8 May 1945, when the defeated Germans finally capitulated to the Allied Forces, great joy spread throughout the world. Yet one nation did not take part in the general euphoria – the Jews of Europe, –for them, victory had come too late and about one-third of world Jewry had perished.
With the liberation, piercing questions arose in the minds of the survivors: How would they be able to go back to living a normal life, to build homes and families? And having survived, what obligation did they bear towards those who had not – was it their duty to preserve and commemorate their legacy? Were the survivors to avenge them, as they demanded before their death? The overwhelming majority of survivors took no revenge on the Germans, but set out on a path of rehabilitation, rebuilding and creativity, while commemorating the world that was no more.
Many decided to go back to their pre-war homes, but they encountered utter destruction. In some places, especially in Eastern Europe, Jews met with severe outbreaks of anti- Semitism – some 1,000 Jews were murdered in the initial postwar years by the locals. The most appalling episode was the Kielce
pogrom – a violent attack in July 1946 by Polish residents against their Jewish neighbors – in which 42 Jews were murdered, some of them the sole survivors of entire families, and many others were injured.
The Kielce pogrom became a turning point in the history of “She’erit Hapleita”, the surviving remnant as Holocaust survivors began to be known, in Poland. In the eyes
of many, it was the final proof that no hope remained for rebuilding Jewish life in those lands. During the months following the pogrom, the flow of migrants from Eastern Europe increased manifold: In any way they could, Jews tried to make their way west and southward. Young surviving Jews, together with delegates and soldiers from the Land of Israel, aided and directed this exodus, the mass migration (120.000 – 150.000) that came to be known as Habricha, “The Escape” – a grand-scale attempt to transfer as many Jews as possible to territories controlled by British and US troops in Germany, as a step before leaving Europe.
Upon arrival in these regions, refugees joined the tens of thousands of Jewish survivors liberated in Central Europe. Together they amassed in the Displaced Persons camps across Germany, Austria and Italy, where their activities were a powerful expression of the survivors’ efforts to return to life after the war. As early as the first days and weeks after liberation, survivors began to recover and organize themselves, despite the grief, physical weakness and extensive hardships. About two-thirds of the survivors who chose not to remain in Europe after the war set their sights on Eretz Israel. The remaining third immigrated to the US, Latin America, South Africa, Canada and Australia.
They formed new families and an independent leadership, set up educational and foster-care facilities for children and youth, published dozens of newspapers and magazines, collected testimonies on the fate of Jews during the Holocaust, and became a significant factor in the Zionist movement’s international aspirations towards the establishment of a Jewish state.
Some of those that arrived in Eretz Israel, joined in the war of Independence effort and lost their lives shortly after, but this time fighting with guns in their hands,
Seventy years since the end of WWII, the Holocaust lesson has not been learnt, there is still anti-Semitism (that was extremely severe this past year) and still danger to the existence of the Jewish people in Israel and in the Diaspora..
Furthermore, , the Holocaust isn’t simply an event from the past, its horrors have tapped away at survivors’ subconscious for the past 70 years – leaking out when they started a family of their own, or when a terrorist attack in Paris sparks waves of crippling anxiety. Even in old age, survivors can’t escape, as bad memories start to break past failed attempts to forget.
The survivors numbers are dwindling and they ask of us only one thing – that we not forget, that we continue to tell the story of the Holocaust and by doing so – keep the memory of the 6 million who perished alive and raise awareness to genocide in general, and that of the Jewish people in particular.
There are Holocaust museums, memorials, the “Walk of Life ” trips to Poland
and thanks to modern technology – the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive that records testimonies of survivors – and yet it is not enough.
It does not matter if you are the decedent of a Holocaust survivor or not, every Jewish individual has a duty to those who perished and to those that survived – to raise awareness and educate younger generations of Jews and gentiles about the atrocities carried out by the Nazi Regime in World War II; to make sure they understand what Never Again means; to make sure we ourselves remember and not take for granted the fragility of life; to remind ourselves that there but for the grace of God, go we……
Tova Ben Dov, President, World WIZO