Memory and Anger
by Harold M. Schulweis
I know the Rabbi who normally occupies this pulpit. I listen to him often.
Never missed any of his talks. I try to understand him, and it has not always
been easy. I wish him and you better luck tonight.
I sense, as I look about Jewish life, a mounting anger in our people. A
barely concealed resentment. Anger leaked in public statements of many of our
leaders – religious, political, secular, in Israel,
at home. There is an "anger," a fear and a suspicion towards
"them" – the "gentile world," the Church, the States
foreign policy, the public media. There is an anger between us.
– American Jews returning from the World Zionist
Congress report of microphones seized, the harassment of speakers, jostling and
bullying beyond political.
– Read Jewish press. Between Agudah, Shas, Degel
Hatorah, National Religious Party, Satmer, Belzer, and Lubavitch: far from
spiritual delicacy among religious prevails.
– And among us in America:
Orthodox and non-Orthodox: no dialogue, no fraternizing; a silent bridge, a
Jewish apartheid. A society where Orthodox children do not pray or play with
our own. We ironically may not succeed in preventing mixed marriage, but we
will succeed in blocking Jews from marrying Jews. There are new sects: Jews who
only associate with Jews who don't associate with Jews. In our local press
there are statements filled with imprecations, villifications, insinuations,
– Rabbi Ahron
Soloveichik, presumed successor to J. B., in a talk at the National
Convention of U.O.J.C.
– Dialogue is prohibited between Orthodox and
Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, non- Orthodox Jews in the same way as
is Christian-Jewish dialogue.
(The auguries of Itz Greenberg and Reuben Bulka; that we are on verge of
civil war – division of a people less and less fantastic.)
Rabbi Yizchak Weiss, leader of the Beth Din Zedek in Israel, and Rabbi
Eliezer Waldenberg, a leading posek of
Israel's modern Orthodoxy, both ruled
according to halachah it is forbidden
to save the life of a Reform or Conservative Jew on the Sabbath on the same
grounds that it is not allowed to desecrate the Sabbath to save a Gentile's
life. If it may be permitted, it is for pragmatic reasons. As Rabbi Weiss puts
it, "If we permit the blood of their people to be shed, their doctors will
permit our blood to be shed." "Their blood" – Conservative and Reform
and "ours." We are getting closer to becoming separate bloods. There
is anger in us.
On the issue of "who is a Jew," J. David Bleich, prominent
American Orthodox rabbi and commentator on Jewish law and ethics, proposes to
solve the problem of definition by recognizing Reform converts in Israel the
same way the law recognizes Moslem and Christian converts – i.e., as members of
a separate religion. If this is the Halachah,
it is not drawn from the sources of love, but from the seat of anger which
aggressively intends to "gentilize non-conforming Jews."
Interesting and strange, how is it that after 4 millennia, Jews can't even
define themselves? Except by the phenomenologically: a Jew is someone who goes
around asking "Who is a Jew?" What accounts for this alienation from
each other, this absence of civility, this embitterment, polarization? In my
last discussion with the late Pinchas Peli, he tried to calm me with an
profound anecdote. Jewish psyche. Two Lubavitcher – discussing tensions: Di gange velt iz zirteilt oif. "Them" and "us."
Ashkenazim and Sephardim.
Mithnagdim and Chasidim.
Satmar and Lubavitch.
Maskilim and Farbrengen.
You and Me.
More than humor in polarization. "Schismatic thinking"/
"dichotomous thinking" that divides, excludes. Characteristically,
starting point begins with "them" and "us," but in split
thinking inevitably spills with splitting "us" until you reach
solipsistic sect. It is the nature of anger. Etymology: "Angere" – Latin – to
strangle. "Rage" in Latin = rabies = madness.
The rabbis warned about anger – anger is like boiling kettle: "When the kettle boils, it spills hot
water on its sides" (Keheleth Rabbah 7). It may begin with
"them" – it spills on us.
Why? Why the anger? What else could be expected? Who can expect a battered people who has
absorbed such torture, humiliation, punishment to emerge unscathed, calm,
whole? Consider what happened within 12
years: Stark numbers:
- 1 out of 3 Jews in the world were destroyed in
- 2 out of every 3 of the Jews living
in Europe murdered
- Decimation of 90% of East European Jews
- Killing of 1.5 million Jewish children who
died not because of anything they did, but because they had been born. They
died of Jewishness.
Who could expect no anger, no fear, no outrage; no recrimination; no guilt?
Anger is in us all: I am the son and
grandson of Polish Jews. I have heard their angers. My father came here from Warsaw.
Have you read the Warsaw Diary of Chayim Kaplan – full and detailed Hebrew
document running from September 1, 1939,
to August 4, 1942? In it is recorded an incident of a Rabbi in
Lodz, forced by S.S. to spit on the Torah scroll in the Holy Ark. Fearful of
his life, he complied and when his mouth dried and he had no saliva, the S.S.
man spit into the Rabbi's open mouth. Can such memories not be expected to
effect form the Jewish psyche?
The Holocaust is the dominant psychic reality of our lives. It is
inescapable. It disturbs our conscious life.
Whatever the conference, argument, lecture, chose the topic – mixed
marriage, anti-semitism, Orthodox, non-Orthodox, intifada. Listen, it is there
like a dybbuk. The Holocaust spirit
clings to our skin, beneath our skin. The stench of the crematoria is in our
nostrils. The spirit of the Holocaust hovers over the face of the Jewish deep.
It's in the color of the air.
When I visited Dachau with a
former inmate in the l960's, he told me casually that one could tell by the
color of the crematory smoke who was being cremated. Yellow meant recently
captured Russian soldiers because they still had fat in their bodies. Green
meant emaciated, starved bodies of Jews or non-Jews imprisoned there a long time.
The soul of our people is in mourning. And in mourning there is anger.
Something in us is still crying. Axel Springer, German owner of the largest
chain of newspapers, takes his son to Bergen Belsen to place flowers at the
grave of Anne Frank. "Dig the soil with your fingers until you find some
bones of human beings. Take one and place it where you'll see it so that you
never forget what we did to their people." Can I do less?
It has not been an easy mourning. As a father and grandfather to our
children or grandchildren, I am torn by
conflicting impulses. I want my children to dig the soil for charred skeletons,
the mass graves, the sadistic medical experiments. My children and
grandchildren were not born yet, but they must know. Cicero
said, "Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever
a child." That is fatal innocence. And I want them to know me, my fears,
my anxieties, my angers, my paranoia, my sensitivity even to verbal anti-Semitism,
to anti-Semitic rappers, the rantings of skin-heads. I want them to know why my
heart doesn't leap with joy at forecasts of united Germany;
why while I watch the lid removed from Russia
and Eastern Europe, I watch for an irrational surge of
Pamyat anti-Semitism. So there are few consolations. There are not too many
Jews left in Europe! You don't need many Jews for anti-Semitism!
You don't need many reasons for anti- Semitism because an anti-Semite is
someone who hates Jews more than is absolutely necessary.
I am non-survivor. I am a product of my people's memories. Earlier this
year, a member of my congregation, a psychiatrist, told me in hushed tones in
my study of his memories of Krystal Nacht. His father, a physician in Frankfurt,
was arrested and brought into a dark room and seated before a desk on which
were placed ten decapitated Jewish heads, each wearing a skull cap. "Here
Jude, is your Minyan." His memories are now mine. That is a holocaustal
definition of Jewishness. A Jew is defined by what hurts him.
So my children must know our hurt. I am paternal transmission of Jewish
memory. Yet, there is another side tugging at me. I do not want to lay a stone
upon their heart, to crush their his faith, trust, hope with a paralyzing
cynicism, basic distrust. I do not want to frighten them into Jewishness, to
make them feel as if they are cursed, condemned to leprous circle of the
damned. I do not want to have them internalize the curse of Church Father St.
Chrysostom: "Jews, God hates you."
The question is not whether to remember the Holocaust, but how are we to
remember; not whether to mourn, but how to mourn. Mourning is a moral act. Here
I turn to Jewish therapeutic wisdom. As Rabbi, I am asked, "How do we, you
and I, mourn privately, personally, with death in the family?" I explain,
"We are counseled by Jewish dialectic of mourning. Hold on – let go. It’s a
Through Kaddish, Yahrzeit, Yizkor, hold on to recollection. Immortality.
Yet, at same time let go. Garments are cut, the fringes of the tallit are
severed, the casket is covered and lowered into the earth for the sake of
closure. Hold on – let go. Sit Shiva seven days and no more. Say
the Kaddish eleven months and no more. Why no more? For the sake of letting go!
Ours is a brilliant tradition that counsels "He who mourns more than is
necessary does not mourn for the deceased but for someone else – perhaps even
Mourning requires balanced memory. The future calls for wisdom to pass
"through the valley of the shadow and not be locked in it. Those we mourn loved us, and living wanted
for us life. Hold on – let go. Hold on to martyrdom, hold on to will to live.
But what in collective memory to let go? False lesson, false interpretations
that leave a legacy of cynicism, deadly fatalism, a despair haunt our future.
There are many who teach Holocaust as the confirmation of belief in a
primordial fissure in the human species, an eternal split between
"them" and "us.” "They," the perennial Gentile
persecutors, and "We," the eternal victims. "They,” who
carry in their genes the transmitted hatred of Ishmael, Esau, and Amalek.
"We,” Isaac bound to the altar forever.
It is split thinking, a mythic dichotomous thinking, in Tanya/Shneur
Zalman/Maharil/Yehudah Halevi, a metaphysical biologism now surfacting
recrudescence in religious circles and in secular the world. It is the rage of
impotence. Uri Zvi Greenberg asserts, "There are two kinds of human beings
in the world. Circumcised and uncircumcised."
According to the popular Israeli song of the 60s, "The whole world is
against us… well if so, to hell with the whole world."
The rage must be understood. Max Scheler, the phenomenologist, called it
"re-sentiment,” the bitter
secretion in a sealed vessel of prolonged impotence." It is born of
powerlessness impotence, frustration and false hope, deep disillusionment. Poor
uncle Nate worshipped Roosevelt and hung a portrait of
FDR on wall. Roosevelt was a savior. Di
yidden habon drie velten. That portrait was removed.
Understand anger, but be wary of it. For as rabbinic wisdom says, "Anger
deprives a sage of his wisdom and a prophet of his vision."
What results from rage is blindness, a false interpretation of both past and
future. History is transmogrified into metaphysics. Myth is superimposed upon
history in the form of a Manichean dualism, a split universe that is rooted in
an eternal hatred of Jews, as in Cynthia Ozick's declamation: "The whole
world wants us dead." Wanted, wants, will want us dead
But this is not history, and you will not learn lessons for a Jewish future
through its bias of apriori theology
that gives immortality to Jewish hatred. Those who shout defiantly "never
again" postulated on the pessimistic metaphysics of "ever again,” the
eternal return of hatred past, present and future. This is the stuff of
self-fulfilling prophesy. That bias is
psychologically and morally pernicious. It politically destroys our talent for
Recall Prime Minister Shamir's public response to Cardinal Glemp's
inflammatory, anti-Semitic remarks which he lived to regret? Surrounding the fiasco of a Carmelite Convent,
"The Poles suck anti-Semitism in with their mother's milk. There is
something deeply imbued in their tradition, their mentality." Will you
fault Shamir? Shamir's father narrowly escaped being a victim of the Nazis only
to be murdered by his fellow Poles. But Shamir's hurt, that rage can not guide
our statesmen, that wholesale condemnation of Poles is xenophobic and is
hurtful to the Jewish future, to the prospects of Israeli-Polish diplomatic,
cultural and economic rapprochement. We must master rage because unconsciously
it ends in "pedicide" – shooting oneself in the foot.
Prime Minster Menachem Begin, a former Pole, after the tragic massacre at
Sabra and Shatilla between Christians and Moslems, said (as quoted in the media,
U.P.I, A.P.), "Goyim kill goyim and then they come to hang the Jews."
That was not the voice of diplomacy. That was the voice of cumulative rage.
But understand Begin, the surviving Jew from Poland. He sent a revealing
letter to the then-president Reagan during the
shelling of Beirut: "Now may I tell you, dear Mr. President, how I feel
these days when I turn to the Creator of my soul in deep gratitude. I feel as a
Prime Minister empowered to instruct a valiant army facing Berlin,
where among innocent civilians Hitler and his henchmen hid in a bunker beneath
the surface. What happened to us from Berlin
will never happen again."
These are not the words of a foolish man, a vindictive man. These are the
words of a hurt man who is still looking for Hitler, even in a bunker in Beirut.
He is still looking to get even, still looking to settle the score. His is the
pathos fantasy of "re-sentiment,” born of remorse, regret, guilt over past
Jewish impotence. Fantasy has no regard of chronology. Not "never
again." In fantasy, time is reversible. 1980s are 1940s reversed. In
fantasy we can do Auschwitz over again, and this time
with a different ending. In fantasy Beirut
is Berlin, Arafat is Hitler,
Reagan is Roosevelt, all Arabs are Nazis. Secretary of
State James Baker III is Asst. Secretary Breckenridge Long. In fantasy of re-sentiment,
we can turn the clock back again. We can scale the convent at Auschwitz
and pretend we are climbing the walls of the crematoria.
But we are locked in a dangerous anachronism of perverse symmetry.
The pathos of the fantasy frightens me. Begin is one war too late, and it is
another war with different enemies and different persons. If we see the present
and future as simply a replication of one past, then nuns are turned into Nazis
and convents into crematoria. See one of them, see them all, "they"
are all the same. Metaphysical confirmation of vulgar and dangerous shibboleth.
"Scratch a Gentile, any Gentile, you'll find an anti-Semite."
Remember George Schultz, Bechtel and Maslow: "If all you have is a hammer,
everything looks like a nail." If the Holocaust becomes the single
interpretive lens through which we see events, then all roads lead to Auschwitz.
The rabbis fought against the depression, "Catastrophic thinking."
Otherwise would overwhelm! Passover. That's nicely put! Rhetorical.
Hold on. Fine and well. “Let go” of the metaphysics of fatalism. But how do
you handle the cognitive dissonance between Holocaustal reality and Jewish
theology? How do you speak to your children of death, of six million, and then
in the next breath turn to the Bible and Psalmist – teach
them the basic faith of Judaism that men and women are created in God's image,
that the human being is but little lower than the angels, when the massive
evidence of Holocaust contradicts that trust? In this annus mundi can you find the smallest spark of human decency to
deny that we have no friends, alone, abandoned surrounded by "them,"
who slaughter, maim or remain indifferent? Where do you look to overcome
Holocaustal despair? Where do you look for God or His image?
There is evidence – hard, empirical evidence – of a powerful phenomenon from
out of the hell of Auschwitz that is curiously
neglected, unattended, untaught, unheralded, denied memory.
With me, it began in the 60s. I have met Gentiles, Christian men and women,
flesh and blood beings from all walks of life and from every country occupied
or intimidated by the Nazis, who risked life, limb, wealth of their families to
hide and protect and save members of our people. Christian rescuers of another
faith who hid our kin in closets, attics, sewers, pigsties, garbage bins,
baking stoves, and holes in the ground. Christian people, those Begin called
"goyim," who falsified passports and baptismal certificates with full
awareness that apprehension meant incarceration or death.
Their names, their exploits are buried in anonymity, at best in footnotes.
Our ignorance is costly and not part of Jewish memory. They know that amnesia
is costly. Why along with the names of Hydrich and Himmler and Klaus Barbie
should they not know the names of Jo Kleiman, Jan and Miep Geis and Victor
Kugler, Elizabeth Voskuyl, Kralen. Those are names of Christians who kept Anne
Frank and her family and the others hidden in the attic for two and a half
Why does the entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica under the entry of Anne Frank
not record their names, or reveal the acts of altruism of these brave spirits,
but dismisses them with seven words "They were kept alive by friendly
Gentiles." Who are they? What happened to them after their crime of
compassion was discovered? What happened to them in the forced labor camps, in Amersfoort
camp? How do they live? Do they live? Where? Who cares? Are they nothing to our
Why in our schools, in our Hebrew schools, Sunday schools, day schools,
Yeshivoth, are our children ignorant of this sacred dimension of Jewish
history? of the tens of thousands of Christians in every country, a figure
ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 who acted? I am jealous for our children. I want
them to have spiritual experience! A confirmation of Jews.
I have been blessed by the privilege of meeting others: Aart and Johne Vos
(Holland), Hermann and Elizabeth Graebe (Germany), Alex and Mela Roslan
(Poland), Jeanne Damann (Belgium) and a host of Jewish survivors who affected
my theology and deepened by Jewish faith. I am jealous for our children. Why do
we deprive Jewish children of the tears of joy, the exaltation of friendship
and love and kiddush ha-shem? Why
only the killers of the dream, only the Jew-haters? Why rob them of the
knowledge of allies and friends?
I would have Jewish children meet and know as I do John Weidner, of Dutch
descent and the son of a Seventh-Day Adventist, who while living in Paris
witnessed a train deporting Jews to the east. An S.S. officer ripped a crying
baby from the arms of its Jewish mother and crushed its head while German
officers laughed. He heard the laughter.
John organized a network of three hundred co-conspirators known as the
Dutch-Paris Express, and rescued over eight hundred Jews smuggling them through
mountain trails across the border to safety in Switzerland, and across the
Pyrenees to safety in Spain.
Captured by the Gestapo and placed in a tank of icy water, his head held to
the bottom of the tank in a desperate effort to force him to reveal the
identities of his co-conspirators. He did not. But other rescuers, among them
his beloved sister Gabrielle, were arrested and taken away. Gabrielle died in
the concentration camp of pneumonia. John Weidner is my friend and my people's
friend. He is flesh and blood and I would have our children know him and others
There is Aristedes de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese Christian, a Consul
stationed in Bordeaux who knew what
was happening to Jews. He knew our people were being rounded up, stranded in France,
deported to their death. He could have shut eyes and feigned muteness, but
instead he defied his Portuguese superiors, sat up nights and days without food
or sleep, issuing thousands of passports with Portuguese visas to stranded
Jews. He was recalled by the Portuguese government. chastising him for
disobeying orders. He continued defying their recall and even stopped by the
consulate at Bayonne, reproached
the Consul, asking him, "Why don't you help these people?" When the
Consul refused to help, Aristedes took over and gathered seals and rubber
stamps, opened the Chancellery to frightened Jews.
He was summarily dismissed from the Foreign Ministry, forced to sell his
family estate in Cabanas de Viriato, and died in 1954 an impoverished,
forgotten man. He was a husband and father of twelve children who knew the
consequences of his acts: Why, Aristedes, did you open yourself to suffering? Aristedes replied, "If thousands of Jews
can suffer because one Catholic [i.e., Hitler], then surely it is permitted for
one Catholic to suffer for so many Jews." In our midst are two of the
children of Aristedes de Souse Mendes. John Paul Abranches and Carlos. Those
are my friends! Those sons of a sainted father.
Will your children come home from Hebrew school, high school, college, to
tell of Sempo Sugihara, the Japanese Consul stationed in Cracow
who issued thirty five hundred transit visas to Polish Jews; who after the war
was dismissed from his post disgraced on grounds of insubordination? Or of Paul
Gruninger, chief of police in St. Gallen, Switzerland
who lost his position and pension for enabling three thousand Jewish refugees
to find sanctuary in Switzerland?
Three ordinary men: Mendes saved almost 10,000; Sugihara saved 3,500;
Gruninger saved three thousand; between them 16,500 Jews. Is that not worthy to
be placed in Jewish memory?
Take my family land of origin. What did it mean to help a Jew? In
to offer a Jew a piece of bread, much less to offer him lodging for a night,
meant death. In Stefan Korbonski's book, The Jews and Poles of W. War II, Korbonski
himself a rescuer, recipient of Yad V'shem's Medal of Honor, reveals from
records: 2,500 Christian Poles were executed for helping Jews. 96 Polish men
were murdered in village of Biala
for the crimes of hiding and feeding Jews. In Stary Ciepielow, the S.S. pushed 23
three Poles, men, women and children into a barn which they then burned down.
because they helped Jews. A young Catholic Polish girl about age nineteen,
caught in the invasion of her country, saw the humiliation and death march of
Jews. Being stranded, abused, alone without parents and sick with anemia, she
became the house-keeper for a German major. She defiantly hid twelve Jews in a
cellar under the eyes of the Gestapo. She was apprehended and humiliated, but
she would not surrender sustaining those twelve Jews. She guided the Jews to
the forest and warned them of Nazi raids. On November 10, 1941,
the Nazis issued a warning to all Poles "offering a Jew a night's lodging,
food or taking them into vehicles of any kind" that such acts would be
punishable by death. Outside there were "Shmalkoviki"
or blackmailers, who for one quart brandy, or four pounds sugar, a carton
of cigarettes were prepared to inform. But I know this Polish Catholic woman
who risked her life. She has enriched my life. I would have our children, all
children emulate this gallant, heroic woman named Irene Opdyke.
Speaking of Poland,
the Roman Catholic Prelate Cardinal Glemp , after the fiasco of the Carmelite
Convent, claims that the Polish people have not been educated to know what
happened to Jews during the Shoah. And there will be Inter-Faith
Center outside Auschwitz.
I don't know what he intends to teach them. But I hope the Cardinal embroiled
in Auschwitz convent tells them of another convent,
Benedictine in Vilna, and of Anna Borowska, the Mother Superior of that convent.
who with six Catholic sisters risked life and convent by hiding Jewish leaders
of the Vilna Ghetto – Abba Kovner, Abraham Sutzkever, Edik Borak, Arie Wilner
whom they dressed in nun's habits. The Mother Superior smuggled ammunition,
hand grenades, and knives to the Vilna Ghetto resistance.
Let Glemp tell them of Anna Simiate, the Lithuanian librarian at the University
of Vilna, who smuggled food and
clothes into the Vilna ghetto to sustain the lives of Jewish children, and
organized a rescue group in the Aryan side of the Ghetto. "I could no
longer go on with my work. I could not remain in my study. I was ashamed that I
was not Jewish myself." At end of the war Anna, received letters from her
rescued children in Israel.
"My dear Mother, when will you finally come to us?" She arrived in
loved by her "children.”
Let Glemp invite to Poland Alex and Mila Roslan, my dear friends and the two
young Jewish boys, now men, Yaakov and David Gilat. Learn from them. Yurek, age
10, "scarlet fever," divided medicine in Warsaw
ghetto. Roslan sold his home to move and bribe.
Let Glemp tell them of the Polish sewer workers who hid seventeen Jews for
fourteen months in the rat-infested sewers of Lwow. Let him teach of "Zegota," code
name for the Council for Aid to Jews (1942-1945) created largely through Zofia Kosak Szczwaka,
credited for helping 40,000 – 50,000 hunted Jews.
Why? Why is it important for Christians after the Holocaust to know of
Christian rescuers? Why not speak only of Vatican
silence? Accusation, blame. They must know that I am not interested in forcing
a collective "mea culpa" on the Church. I am not interested in
creating brooding among young Christians today over the guilt of their
forebears, not interested in compelling the church to pay verbal tribute to our
losses, or browbeating them to feel more anguish over the memory of our dead.
It tends towards a kind of masochism, defensive amnesia, denials, alibis,
reaction formation (Bettelheim), which more often ends up in a defensive
scapegoating of the victim. As a Jew, I don't want to hear accusations from
outsiders (even friendly ones). I want to hear it from Jewish foundation. Cardinal O'Connor: "I am here for myself,
but I am here to plead to you, to you who are Jews, never, never, never for a
moment permit yourselves or your children to forget the suffering. To those of
you who are Christians, never, never for a moment let yourselves or your
children forget the guilt. We need both. If we are going to bring about that
kind of world that Rabbi Schulweis spoke about so poignantly, so longingly.
Then I as a Christian must remember that essentially it was my people, my
people who brought the Holocaust, and you as Jews must never permit yourselves
to forget your suffering. Don't you be mindful of my guilt. Let me worry about
my guilt. And you worry about your suffering, and we can maintain memory of the
suffering, and we can maintain the sense of guilt, then please God, please God,
it can't happen again."
The historian Yosef Yerushalmi said it well, addressing a Christian audience: "Not by your ancestors but by your
actions will you be judged." I am more interested in the living. I am more
interested in the Church transmitting to its believers affirmation of Christian
heroes who transcended their circle of faith, transcended the culture of
contempt and saved the innocent, the pursued. Christians need moral heroes to
emulate. It is to our interest and the interest of world morality that the
goodness is publicized and praised.
Do not fear that heroes will mitigate the tragic awfulness of the Holocaust.
There are no heroes without villains. There are no sanctuaries without
crematoria. When the Church recognizes Christian rescuers they teach of those
who pursued innocence to death. They teach their congregations how true
believers should behave.
Goethe wrote, "Speak to a person as he is and he will remain as he is;
speak to him as he might be and he will grow to that level." Let the
Church celebrate the German priest Father Bernard Lichtenberg of St. Heldwig's
Cathedral, whose sermons denunciated Nazis and called his Catholic community to
protect Jews, who asked to be deported with Jews to the Ghetto of Lodz and who
died on his way to Dachau.
My mind boggles at 1,100 Jews in Berlin.
Who were they? They are the heroes that may justify a newly-born Germany.
Let them know of Elizabeth Skobstova, Mother Maria of Paris, a Russian poetess
and nun who rescued Jews; whose son Yuri
(from a marriage before she became a nun) was taken as hostage to stop Mother Maria's
rescues of Jews. Yuri was taken to Buchenwald and
tortured to death. Mother Maria continued hiding and saving Jewish youngsters.
She ended up in Ravensbrueck concentration camp, and gave up her Aryan papers
to a Jewish woman sentenced to crematorium. Mother Maria, too weak to walk, took
her place; too weak to walk she was executed February 14, 1943.
I wish the Church did more celebration of Christian rescuers. Let the Church
celebrate Father Marie Benoit, the Capuchin monk who turned his monastery in Marseilles
and later in Nice into a rescue agency for Jews, and who was known by the
Jewish rescued as "Father of the Jews." Became head of Delegazione Assistanze Emigrati Ebrei,
underground manufacturer of false documents.
Christians and Christian children need to have heroes to emulate. We need
it. And I need it. My children need it. Will it help transmit the Holocaust by
admitting into annus mundi into the
hell hole the sliver of light, this record of altruism? As in all mourning, it
will not change the grief, the loss, the anger, the nausea, the pain. But it
will effect a different closure. Teach a different lesson.
It helps balance the lopsided pessimism and cynicism of Thrasymachus,
Machievilli, Nietzsche and Hobbes – for whom the deep nature of human beings "homo homini lupus." It helps
balance the distorted belief of Freud, for whom, beneath the cosmetized surface
of civilization, lurks a human nature intent only on "gratifying
aggressiveness, exploiting the capacity to work without recompense, sexually
exploiting his neighbor without his consent, seizing his possessions, to
humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture, and to kill him." What would
Freud do with their altruism? This metapsychology of Freud runs counter to
Jewish wisdom and Jewish conviction. Not that humans are cherubic saints, not
that we must swing to the opposite, to the Spinozistic notion of homo homini deus. No Pollyanna naïveté,
but what Erik Erikson identified as a mark of health and vitality – to
develop "a favorable ratio of basic trust over basic distrust."
This phenomenon of altruism, of real, live, people who made "themselves
into hiding places," people who lived out what Woodbridge
summed up "there are times when people should be more afraid of living
than of dying." These people refuted with their lives.
1. The Eichmann alibi that there was, and is an alternative to passive
complicity with totalitarian murder.
2. The Waldheim alibi, "I knew what was happening but I didn't do
anything” In matters of life and death,
knowledge is no cognitive sport. To know, to hear, to see, and not to lift
voice or finger is to stand by and allow blood of innocence to be shed.
This phenomenon of altruism which we have barely scratched helps me
repudiate the growing isolationism, the perverse notion that to be a people
alone is our destiny and our salvation. If we raise the mechitzah so as to remove us from the world, we will be saved. That
insularity, isolationism, that provincialism changes radically the character of
Judaism – as a tradition whose God is the King of the
Universe, and whose task is mending the tattered fabric of the universe. That parochialism not only trivializes the
nobility of the Jewish task, it falsifies and endangers our lives.
Yehudah Bauer (New York Times, last November) director of Holocaust Studies
at Hebrew Union), "the perception of some Israeli politicians that all the
gentiles were against us during the Holocaust is nonsense, just nonsense. The
Jews in a number of countries were saved by the local population."
"No minority can survive without bonds to the others." Helen Fein,
in her Accounting for the Genocide, demonstrates that in every
German-occupied state in which Jews were saved, trust was involved, "often
trust linking a network of strangers."
I will not teach my children that we were, are and will always be hated,
friendless, alone. We are never so alone
as when we act on that belief. We were not alone in Holland,
in Amsterdam where first general
strike of metal workers and shipyard workers risked their freedom to protest
(February 22, 1941) the round-up of Dutch Jews to Buchenwald
and Mauthaussen. We are not alone in village
of Niewlender where every Dutch
household sheltered Jews in Holland,
a land without woodlands or favorable topographic features. Eighty percent of
the Jewish population of Holland's 140,000
Jews were destroyed by Nazis, but tens of thousands were saved by Dutch
The heroism of people and groups: I
think of Cornelius and Triny Roelfs, a blind couple who hid Jewish children; of
Joop Westerville, who led Jewish children across low countries by train, horse
and on foot. He was captured, flogged, tortured, labeled a “Jew-lover,” and
finally shot to death. There is a forest of trees in honor of Jews.
We were not alone in Denmark,
or in Athens. We were not alone in Bulgaria,
a Nazi Axis ally pressured repeatedly by the German government to deport its
Jews. But Vice President Demeter Peshev of the Sobranie would not allow that
edict. Bishop Kiril and Metropolitan Stephan warned King Boris that his soul
would be in jeopardy and that they would lay their bodies on the railroad
tracks used to deport Jews. 50,000 Jews were saved. Is this not part of
Holocaust memory? That little Finland,
ally of the Nazis and at war against Russia,
dependent on Germany
for food and ammunition, would not, did not surrender its 2,000 Jews? I want our children to know General Roatta – Italian army and statesman in high
diplomatic position – who despite the threats of Nazis, with defiance saved
tens of thousands of Jews wherever the Italian Army had control – Croatia,
I want your children to see a documentary film that is a classic witness to
the conspiracy of goodness. In a village
of France, Le Chambon sur Lignon,
several thousand Protestants hid, protected and saved five thousand Jews. Among
them, a child named Pierre Sauvage who has dedicated “Weapons of the Spirit” to their memory. Shown in every church,
synagogue, seminary, this is a therapeutic must.
We must put on our itineraries those of our national youth. NCEY/ NFTY/ USY itinerary takes them to re-opened Europe.
Let them see Dachau, Auschwitz,
Buchenwald, but let them make a pilgrimage to Le Chambon
and Niewlender. Let them see the cemeteries and crematoria but let them see the
human sanctuaries, caves, sewers, holes, and meet with those who loved our
people and saved the remnants of our families.
For there is a mitzvah to be performed. It is called Hakarath Hatov and it is based on fairness, justice and Jewish
conscience. It is unfair that hatred be promulgated and goodness be ignored. It
is not fair that those who did what the God of creation hoped for should be
ignored. Let them know that they are not forgotten. Let them know Jews care.
Let them live out the waning years of their lives in dignity. Remember the
evil, but do not forget the good.
And for good you need to look, look hard. Jewish memory is retroactive. In
history there is no immaculate perception. Teach them the mitzvah of healing: Hakarath Hatov.
Why not more? Moses of Novato.
Graebe – Why, Herman? You lost possessions. "What
would you do?" He placed a mirror of conscience. Would I unlock the door
to a pregnant woman or a sobbing child? Would I provide this sedative, scrounge
for food, handle their refuse, bury their dead body? Stefa Krakowska, an old
woman, hid fourteen. "At night, secretly and in stages, they buried her
Memory must make us stronger and wiser. Remember the evil and do not forget
the good. We remember for the future. Blow the breath of hope into the cremated
ashes of our people that from the smoldering embers a spark may be salvaged.
"And it was chaos and darkness on the face of the deep and God said,
'Let there be light.' "
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