Monday, April 16, 2007


Today in Israel is Holocaust Memorial Day, or Yom HaShoah. It is the first of several Israeli memorial days in the coming weeks, but by far it is the most solemn. I wasn't planning to post on this but I had an interesting morning.

(Holocaust display at Ulpan)

In Hebrew class (ulpan) this morning my teacher began to explain to us (mostly Jewish new immigrants) about what this day is all about because, surprisingly, many new immigrants are not all that familiar with every Jewish holiday and event. She began by talking about World War II and what happened to Jews prior to the outbreak of the war, and then about the Holocaust itself. A heavy subject to discuss, but this was the time and place for it.

We have several Ethiopian Jewish immigrants (Falasha Mura) in our class and they began to look confused while the teacher was explaining. She noticed their dazed expressions and quizzed them about what they didn't understand. Basically, none of them had heard about the Holocaust, Auschwitz, World War II, Hitler, or why it all happened. The rest of us were fairly stunned that they were completely unaware. Jews not heard of the Holocaust?

Our teacher, with much patience, gave a generalized explanation of what all happened. The Ethiopians were so aghast and distraught that one of them ran out of class in tears. At that point the rest of us were wondering, "How can this be?" when the teacher began to explain to us that about the Ethiopian situation, who not too many years ago dealt with their own genocide, wars, and famine. Many Falasha, in their quest to come to Israel, had to literally walk here through Sudan, with many dying along the way from the harsh conditions, Islamic death squads, rape, and robbery. Many of those who are now here came with absolutely nothing but their clothes they were wearing. In other words, these Africans were a world away and were concerned about their own survival so who can really blame them for not knowing about what went on in Europe a generation ago?

Our elderly French classmate told of how he was one of the Jewish "Hidden Children" during the war. He shared that, when was only 8 years old, his parents changed his name and sent him away in order to hopefully protect him from being rounded up and sent to the concentration camps. He was moved from place to place during the war and, as a result, he and his sister survived. He said he heard that his father was sent to a concentration camp in Germany, then later to Auschwitz where he was killed, while his mother, who went into hiding when the war started, was never heard from again.

The Russian and Ukrainian students were all born after the war but had family that fought and died fighting the Nazis, while some lost family in the Jewish purges there. They also spoke of how they commemorate the World War II victory in their countries now. It is hard to imagine, but the Soviets lost around 25,000,000 people in the war.

At 10am the air raid sirens sounded for 2 minutes all over the country and everyone, no matter what they are doing, stops and stands in memory for those poor souls who perished.

PS - It is worth noting that nearly 6,000,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust, which is close to the Jewish population of Israel (~5,600,000). Iran, who currently denies that the Holocaust occurred as known, threatens to wipe Israel off of the map, effectively aiming to make happen today that which they deny happened over 60 years ago.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding and for remembering. Powerful.

Michael said...

A very moving post. There's a large Ethiopian community in my town, but I'd never really thought about what a completely different historical experience they have had...

Andy said...

Robert - Great blog on Memorial Day. I visited Russia last year and 1,000,000 people died in the war in the city I visit. On this side of the pond, we just don't understand what people have endured for their country or race.

Caught a 17" large mouth out of the creek behind the house. Done any fishing over there? Still remember the days of sneaking into Hungry Fisherman for cats.

ratbert said...

i am not sure which part of the Iranian government is "effectively" aiming to wipe israel off the map. Even the wackiest of their leaders has never said he seeks to do so. Ahmedinejad has said he hopes the zionist entity "disappears from the pages of history," much as the south african and soviet governments did. i, too, hope the present regime in israel disappears and becomes more democratic, embracing the entire population. this is far from saying one wishes to "wipe out" a country.

you ought to pay closer attention to what iranians, leaders and non-leaders, actually say.