All four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors. I heard snippets of their stories my whole life but it was always difficult for me to truly imagine how it all began, how it continued, and how it became the greatest human tragedy of all time.
The first time I saw the movie, “The Diary of Anne Frank”, I was in a room that doubled as a bomb shelter in an apartment in Afula, Northern Israel in April 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada. It was my first Yom Hashoah away from my family and it was the first Yom Hashoah that I cried. I haven’t stopped crying on that day since.
In that small room in Afula, myself frightened as to what was going on around me in the Jewish State, I saw images of brutality against Jews and of starving Jews in concentration camps and I imagined my own grandparents.
What had they done every day to get through? What thoughts had gone through their heads? What was it that had sustained them through this horrendous experience? I felt ashamed that it took watching Hollywood’s version of those dreadful events for me to ponder on what my grandparents had gone through.
After the Holocaust, the world declared “never again”. They made a promise to the survivors – “never again”. At school, we learnt a different slogan, “lizkor ve lo lishkoach” – remember and never forget. That was our promise to our grandparents.
As I think about all that is happening in the world today, I think about my grandparents, three of them no longer with us, and I wonder, at what point did the world decide that “never again” did not matter anymore? What was the turning point that got us to here, in 2015, where anti-Semitism is as rampant as ever?
I spent my break from work in my late grandmother’s apartment in Queensland reminiscing about amazing family holidays as a child, grateful for the life we had been given by our parents and grandparents, thankful for all they had done build a new life in Australia. As I went to sleep on Friday night a little over two weeks ago, just days after the brutal attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, I read a “tweet” about a “suspected” hostage situation in Paris, possibly in a “Jewish” location.
The uneasy feeling I went to sleep with was unfortunately validated when I woke to the news that a terrorist had entered a Jewish grocery store on a Friday afternoon and held those inside hostage for a number of hours, with four Jewish men murdered. They were Yoav Hattav (21), Yohan Cohen (20), Philippe Braham (45) and Francois-Michel Saada (64), may their memories be a blessing.
The incident is not new, in that brutal murders of Jews for the sole reason that they are Jewish have occurred before, such as the kidnapping and death of Ilan Halimi in 2006 and the murder of Miriam Monsonego, Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, Arye Sandler and Gabriel Sandler outside a Jewish school in 2012. Just a month ago, a Jewish woman was robbed and raped for the sole reason that she was Jewish. And let us not forget the violent mobs outside synagogues and Jewish businesses during Operation Protective Edge whose catch cry was “death to the Jews” and “Hitler was right” as a natural response to what was happening in Israel.
The incident is not even unique or isolated to Paris, with anti-Semitic attacks in Brussels, and even on our shores in Australia in August last year. That particular incident, where drunken youths boarded a bus and shouted anti-Semitic slurs such as “kill the Jews”, “heil Hitler” and “free Palestine” at a group of young Jewish students on their way to school, prompted my Israeli husband to declare that we should move back to Israel because “Israel is the only safe place for us Jews”.
What a frightening thought, that a place which at that exact moment was being bombarded with rockets from the genocidal terrorists of Hamas was the safest place in the world for us.
And now the Jews of France and other parts of Europe are facing the same dilemma or whether or not they should find a safe haven in Israel.
Sadly, the anti-Semitism is not just the work of extremists, and we continually see anti-Semitism masked as “anti-Zionism” in mainstream media, one of the worst examples reared its ugly head on BBC following the solidarity march in Paris where the interviewer Tim Willcox bullied a terrified –Jewish-French woman by suggesting that, “many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that Palestinians suffered hugely at Jewish hands as well.” And because Willcox lamely issued a brief apology on his Twitter account, blaming poor phrasing, this appears to be enough to satisfy the BBC on the matter.
How can our promise of “never again” to a dying generation be kept, when mainstream television stations excuse and give legitimacy to the brutal murder of four men in Paris, hand-picked for the purpose because they were Jewish, based on what their perception of what might be happening in the Middle East?
Meanwhile, as world leaders gathered to march against terror, one “world leader” stood out from the group – Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Mahmoud Abbas, who is believed to have funded to 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attacks, whose 1982 doctorate doubts the existence of gas chambers and number of Jews perished, whose own party incites violence and glorifies terrorism on a daily basis, and who sits in a Unity Government with Hamas who not only praised the attacks in Paris (and then later backtracked) but comfortably sit among some of the world’s worst terrorists such as ISIS Boko Haram, al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Put simply, there should not have been a place for a man whose name is synonymous with terror marching against it for the sake of a few international political points. But then, the PA has always been very good at scoring points on the international stage.
The same form of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism also reared its head in a council meeting in New York City last week when pro-Palestinian activists interrupted a council session at the exact moment when the council was commemorating 1.1 million people murdered at Auschwitz. After they were removed, David Greenfield, a councilman and grandson of Holocaust survivors declared, “For the last few weeks we’ve heard from people who said, ‘Oh, we don’t dislike Jews. We only dislike the State of Israel’… But we know that’s not really at the core of what they were saying. And today they proved it. While we were discussing a resolution regarding the murder of 1.1 million human beings — I will point out that 90% of whom were Jewish, but the other 10% were political dissidents — they were Jehovah’s Witnesses — they were gays — those were the people who were being killed together in Auschwitz-Birkenau. While we were discussing that, they had the nerve, the chutzpah, the temerity, to unfurl a Palestinian flag, and to yell at us while we were discussing that. And so the reason I’m pleased is because we can stop pretending that this is about Israel…
“And so what you saw here today was naked, blind, anti-Semitism! That’s what you saw, and that’s what you watch, and that’s what you witnessed. People who are upset for one reason — do you want to know why they’re angry? Do you wanna know why they’re unfurling that flag today? Because Hitler did not finish the job… That’s why those people are upset! Shame on them! Shame on them for hating Jews. Shame on them for hating people.”
The United Nations has responded to the rise in anti-Semitism, with a special meeting on anti-Semitism at the General Assembly, where the first meeting took place late last week. I wonder what will come of these meetings. The United Nations, which was set up to ensure that “never again” meant “never again”. The United Nations, the place where Israel is single out more than any other country, while Human Rights abuses take place on a daily basis in Syria, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, just to name a few.
Whenever I read about anti-Semitism around the world, I think about my grand-grandparents and wonder what they thought as they tried to protect their families from the rising anti-Semitism in Poland in the 1930s. I wonder what they would think about the state of the world today, and the lessons we were supposed to learn from their plight. Would the existence of Israel have changed anything?
I stand up against anti-Semitism and I stand up for Israel. I will remember and never forget. That is my promise.
Media & Advocacy Director
Zionist Federation of Australia
03 9272 5618