By John Elzufon
April 7, 2018
Each April the Jewish people honour the
victims of the Holocaust—the men, women and children who were brutally murdered
by the Nazis and their allies.
For almost 2000 years before the Holocaust
the Jewish people were subjected to discrimination, forced conversion (the
Spanish Inquisition), wholesale slaughter (the Crusades), forced exodus (many
European countries) and pogroms (Russia) but none of these calamities
approached the Holocaust in its scope.
Before the Holocaust Jews were able to
avoid recrimination by renouncing their faith and converting. However, during the Holocaust, conversion
did not save them. Any person with 1/16
“Jewish blood” was marked for extermination—regardless of faith. So intense was the Nazi preoccupation with
killing Jews that towards the end of World War II, when German rail capacity
was limited and Hitler had to choose between using trains to transport troops
to fight to save his Third Reich or using trains to transport Jews to the death
camps, Hitler chose to kill Jews.
The Holocaust’s devastation to world Jewry
was so complete that the world’s population of Jews today is less than it was
Jews choose to remember our people’s
victims, because if we do not remember the loss of our own the rest of the
world will see no reason to remember them.
However, Jews not only remember Jewish victims of the Holocaust but all
who perished in the Holocaust.
We remember that while all Jews living
under Nazi rule were victims not all victims were Jews. History tells us that the Russians who
liberated Auschwitz found enough poison gas to kill over 15 million people –but
by that time there were barely one million Jews left in all of Europe and less
than 10 million in the entire world. We
can only speculate on “who was next” illustrating the maniacal totality of Nazi
hatred of “the other”history.
While it is altogether fitting and proper
that we remember all victims, we are also mandated to remember those who, at
the time of history’s greatest evil, became examples of history’s greatest
good: the righteous gentiles—those
Christians, some known, such as Oscar Schindler, but most unknown, who risked
everything, including their lives and the lives of their families, to protect
Jews—sometimes known to them but often not.
This recognition of the heroism of the
righteous gentiles goes beyond printed articles and Holocaust Day
speeches. In Israel and all over America
there are gardens honouring the Righteous Gentiles and, as one who has adopted
Delaware as his home state, I am proud that the Garden at the Delaware’s Jewish
Community Centre Campus is this country’s first.
While Europe was the geographical core of
the Nazis efforts to exterminate the Jews, the Nazis spread their poison to
other countries—especially in the Middle East where, taking advantage of
centuries old anti-Semitism and rising Arab nationalism, Nazi propaganda
encouraged local Arabs to attack Jews.
Many did and thousands of Jews living in
Mid-East countries were attacked resulting in death, injury and property
destruction. However, from time to time righteous Muslims living in the Middle
East, like their Christian counterparts in Europe, came forward to risk their
lives to save and protect Jews—sometimes known to them and often not.
For example, as described in Martin
Gilbert’s book, In Ishmael’s House, an Egyptian Jew, Thea Woolf, recalled the
“marvelous and courageous collaboration” between Egypt’s Jewish and Muslim
communities to help Jewish refugees fleeing from Poland after the 1939 Nazi
invasion. Mr. Gilbert’s book also
describes other examples of Muslims coming to the aid of Jews who were being
attacked by other Muslims.
In addition to remembering the righteous
Christians whose efforts saved so many Jews from the horrors of the Holocaust,
we should also remember the righteous Muslims.
We honour, as we should, not only those who
died in the Holocaust and those who rescued Jews and other victims of the
Holocaust, but also all men, women and children, past and present, who have
died as a result of hatred and bigotry and all men and women, Jews, Christians,
Muslims, of all faiths and of no faith, who have then and continue now to fight
evil of whatever nature.
We remember all the righteous men and women
for many reasons but mostly because it is the right thing to do.
John A. Elzufon, Esq. is Co-Chair, Jewish Community Relations Committee
of the Jewish Federation of Delaware (USA)