Saturday, July 23, 2011

You Can't Compare, But We Must Be Aware

In two and a half weeks, I'll be making my first trip to Poland, to see the major places where the Shoah took place. I've been studying the long-term psycho-social effects of the Holocaust on its victims, children and grandchildren, and to a lesser extent on the children and grandchildren of Germans, for over 20 years. I have interviewed, and read interviews of hundreds of survivors. I have been to Germany many times, and visited many Holocaust-related sites. But this is the first time that I will be making the trip to Poland, to the home of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Majdanek.

I am more than a little nervous; I am afraid that standing in the places where the killing machine was at its 'height' will overwhelm me; that I will become paralyzed with a deep fear (such as happened to me during some of my visits to Germany). But I know that I need to go to these places where so much of the world's bloody history took place, see them for myself, and stand where so many of my (Jewish) people were persecuted and murdered, solely because they were Jewish.

This trip will also be special because one of the two guides is my daughter, Noa, who for a number of years has been leading such tours for groups of teenagers from the Noar HaOved V'haLomed Youth Group . Noal - as it is usually called - is a movement based on the principles of a Zionism that is democratic, socialistic, socially just for all members of society. I have wanted to make such a trip for years, but wanted to do it with my daughter. And this year, the opportunity finally arose. 

The Noal trips to Poland, run under the auspices of HaMeorer - an educational arm of the youth movement (information at their site is only available in Hebrew) - are not the typical trips, organized by the Israeli Ministry of Education. They are not based on the premise: "Because the Shoah happened, we need to be wary of all non-Jews-and Israel needs to be military strong" but rather on the belief that "Because the Shoah happened, we must learn how to ensure that all peoples, whomever and wherever they may be, will have their rights and freedoms protected."

One of the main purposes of their trips, outside of providing in-depth learning experiences about the history of the Shoah and Poland, is to encourage the participants to undertake social-justice activities upon their return home in order to help create a kinder, more just world. One major undertaking of Noal, that grew out of their trips to Poland, has been work with refugees and asylum seekers from Africa. They opened up a school and led courses for refugees, from children to adults. They have helped them learn their rights, learn Hebrew, teach them practicalities of living in Israel. They have run summer camps and activities for the children. They have become the voice for these people, who often remain voicless and invisible to most of Israeli society.

After 15 years of running trips to Poland, the organizers decided to reach out to adults, parents of children in the youth movement who wanted to take such a journey to Poland. Their aim is to teach us a lot of the complex history, but also to spread the message that racism, persecution, demonization, discrimination are destructive wherever they take place. I have the good fortune to be in the first group for adults. In October they are opening up a second one, so for all those interested, you can sign up on their site.

Now, I am going to say something that might upset some of the readers. So, if you do not wish to be upset, then it is best that you stop reading here, and move on to another internet site... 

I am going to put some words together in the same sentence that most Jewish (Israelis) cannot bear - the Shoah, the Israeli Occupation, the siege on Gaza, and our present-day journey on the road of fascism.

(For those of you who really don't like these issues coming together in the same sentence, this is your last chance to move on to Facebook, Amazon, Ynet or whatever internet sites you prefer. Okay, I begin)

I know - you can't compare.
I know that the killing machine of the Third Reich and its collaborators was nothing like what came before, and nothing like what has come since.

But I also know that stereotyping, racist thoughts and expression, perceptions of the enemy, discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or nationality, oppression, investigation of human rights group, silencing non-violent dissent, fear and hatred can too easily lead to mass killing, to mass atrocities, to genocide.

I know that there have been terrible genocides in our world, outside of the Holocaust - genocides of the Native Americans, of the Armenians, of the Tutus, to mention just a very few...

I know that our various (Israeli) governments have not put a plan in place to systematically murder all of the Palestinians. I know that what we are doing in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and what we are doing to the people of Gaza, is NOT an attempt to wipe them off the face of the map. I know this.

BUT, I also know that what we are doing, and have done for years, is VERY VERY dangerous, for with each step we take, we come one step closer to engaging in horrendous actions against humankind. Each step on its own may seem harmless, unimportant, but when taken together, they create a frightening picture.

Every time I learn something else about the Holocaust, learn another fact, hear another testimony, read another book, I am horrified at what happened, and how the world let it happen. Every time I learn something else about the Holocaust, learn another fact, hear another testimony, read another book, I am horrified that people stood by and let it happen, often in their own neighborhoods.

And that is why WE MUST be aware, and actively call out when we see such injustices happening, or about to happen. We CANNOT sit quietly and let hatemongers and fascists rule our country, rule our world.

While the Shoah has, so far, been a one-of-a-kind historical event, due to the systematic and machinery persecution and killing that was designed by the Nazi regime, and adopted by so many collaborators in the world, it is our duty to do the exact opposite. 

We have no choice but to say:
NO. Not here. No way. I refuse.

I know that you can't compare, but we must be aware
I know that you can't compare, but we must not fear
I know that you can't compare, but we must dare to say

NO. Not here. No way. I REFUSE.

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