history and politics

Yom HaShoah in Jerusalem

„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

To approach the topic of the Shoah (in English referred to as ‚Holocaust‘), and write about the day of commemoration of the Shoah in Israel, is a difficult project for me, being a German. I find that being able and allowed to be here in Israel and to take part in the commemorations is a miracle. It’s the incomprehensiveness of what happened 80 years ago in my homeland that leaves me speechless. It is like I want to not touch this topic at all, because who am I to say something about it? Maybe I am also afraid to say something wrong, insensitive, to hurt someone’s feelings.

I am deeply sorry for what has happened and what my people has done. I am also filled with shame most of the times about how Germany connects to this topic and to Israel in general today. There have been apologies[1], and there have been reparations[2], but will our relationship to Israel ever be redeemed? It is the manner in which our politicians approach this country nowadays, that makes me feel ashamed. Who are we to tell Israel what they should do, how they should do politics? But it is exactly this attitude that I see today – an attitude of arrogance, a „let me show you how to do it“ kind of mindset[3]… Very sad. Why can’t we just step back and let Israel be Israel, and be happy that there is a Jewish State?

During my voluntary service with Holocaust Survivors here in Israel I had the opportunity to get to know survivors face to face and build relationships with them. This by itself was already amazing – that they allowed me into their house and opened (even just a little bit) up to me. They approached me with so much love – it is unbelievable. I could hear some parts of their stories and needed days to process it every time they shared something with me. One of the survivors was in 6 concentration camps – six!! – can you imagine? I could not.

To experience the Yom HaShoah here in Israel was impressive. At 10am a siren could be heard throughout the land for 2 minutes – to become quiet and commemorate the victims. It is quite a long time, but it helps to leave the everyday life and allow the mind to think about what happened in Europe not even a century ago. I watched the ceremony that was held in Yad Vashem the evening before on TV, and it was very emotional. The theme was „restoring their identities“, meaning, that it is important to show names and faces and add stories to the countless victims of the Shoah. Both Reuben Rivlin, the president, and Benyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, held speeches – Rivlin about never forgetting, and Netanyahu about the incomprehensible passivity of the super powers, who detectably knew about the extermination camps already in 1942, but did nothing to destroy them. If they had destroyed the camps at that time, they could have saved 4 million Jews.
Then, a very emotional farewell letter from a father to his daughter, who was smuggled into Sweden and survived, was read, and songs followed. After this, Survivors ignited the torches – 1 for each million of victims – and their personal stories were told with pictures, which was very emotional.

By watching this ceremony I understood how real and present the Shoah still is in the collective memory of Israel, how profound its impact is on the Israeli identity today.

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[1] Chancellor Merkel’s speech in 2008 in the Knesset is seen as one of the most important public speeches on this topic: https://www.knesset.gov.il/description/eng/doc/speech_merkel_2008_eng.pdf

[2] for an overview about reparations see for example: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/german-holocaust-reparations and http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%205817.pdf

[3] Sigmar Gabriel’s (the German foreign minister) decision to prefer a visit to extreme left-wing groups that are accusing Israeli soldiers of committing war crimes (with partly false or faked sources) over a visit to the prime minister (on April 24th, 2017) is one recent example of German arrogance