Sixty-six years ago today, on April 19, 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began. Coincidentally, that year, April 19 was the eve of Pessach (Passover).
Three weeks separate the start of Pessach and Israel’s Independence Day. Three weeks between the festival that marks our emergence on the stage of History as a people rather than as a desert tribe, and the festival that marks our renaissance, after two millenia of exile, as a sovereign nation in our own land. Between them, eight days before Independence Day, we commemorate one of the most traumatic events in a history replete with traumatic events – Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, which falls this year on Tuesday, April 21.
The rest of the world commemorates the Holocaust on January 27, the day of the liberation of Auschwitz, but this commemoration has in many places been watered-down by turning it into a commemoration of other acts of genocide – or so-called genocide – thus downplaying the uniqueness of the Jewish experience.
The symbolic connection between the Holocaust and Israel’s rebirth might be obvious to some. Indeed, Israel has frequently been accused of exploiting European guilt feelings about the Holocaust, first, to garner support for the establishment of the Jewish State and thereafter, to stifle criticism of Israel. Less obvious, perhaps, is the connection between Pessach and the Holocaust. Yet, to my mind, the connection between these last two is clear. In the Haggadah, which we read at the eve of Pessach meal, the Seder, we are told how Pharaoh planned the extermination of the Children of Israel. Quoting from the Book of Exodus, chapter I, the Haggadah tells us how a new Pharaoh arose "who knew not Joseph", who tried first to suppress the growth of the Children of Israel by enslavement and forced labour, and the breaking of family ties and then, when that failed, by ordering the destruction of all newborn male babies among the Hebrews. Thus, the story of Pessach incorporates the first recorded case in history of attempted genocide. Then, as so many times thereafter, it was directed at the Jews.
If we look for a reason for the deep-rooted antisemitism in Europe, which was the breeding-ground for the Holocaust, we can see that the doctrine of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches and later, of Martin Luther, according to which the Jews were collectively guilty of the murder of Jesus, proved to be fertile soil for this most ancient hatred. I could (and probably shall) write a whole blog about this alone, but it does not wholly answer the question. As we have seen, hatred of the Jews (or, as they were then known, the Children of Israel or the Hebrews) predates Christianity by almost fifteen centuries. It is the oldest recorded form of racism – and the most persistent. It sheds its form and takes on new guises with each generation. Since the end of World War II, with the revulsion against Nazi atrocities, it has become "politically incorrect" to be antisemitic, so now, our detractors claim to be anti-Zionist rather than anti-Jewish. Hatred of the Jewish State has "replaced" hatred of the Jewish People, but in most cases, if you scratch the surface, dig a little deeper and engage in Socratic dialogue with the "anti-Zionists", they will soon show their true colours.
Another form of antisemitism can be seen in the attempt to deny the very existence of a Jewish People. "You are not true descendants of the Children of Israel", it is claimed. "You are Khazars, with no claim whatsoever to the land you have stolen from the Palestinians." Thus, having failed physically to eradicate us, they attempt to negate our very being as Jews, by the revision of history. If we are Khazars ( a Central Asian people who more or less disappeared as a separate national and cultural entity in the 10th century C.E.), then the Jews don’t exist any more and "the Jewish Problem" is solved. This too is a subject for an entire blog and I shall no doubt return to it in the not-too-distant future.
My friends – I don’t have an answer to the age-old question "Why us?". In my forthcoming blogs, I shall endeavour to explore further some of the points I have raised, in the hope of provoking (civilised) discussion. Your comments (as long as they are polite) will be welcome. As they say on the talkback shows – "The lines are now open". Feel free to respond.