Revenge for 9/11, like the Holocaust, would be in thriving

By Alex Ryvchin

Republished with kind permission from “The Australian“.

A few weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, a group of survivors of the Holocaust met in Bucharest to mark Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom. Among the group was Abba Kovner, who had escaped the Vilna ghetto and led a partisan campaign that struck at the Nazis and their collaborators from the forests of Lithuania.

Kovner was consumed with desire for revenge. “He will repay them for their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness,” he told his fellow survivors at the gathering, invoking Psalm 94 and God’s promise to deliver vengeance upon the enemies of Israel.

The Jewish Avengers.  Killer of Jews in their sights, Abba Kovner (back row, center) with members of the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (The FPO – Eng: United Partisan Organization) in Vilna, 1940’s.

After the war, Kovner and his comrades, known as the “Avengers”, hatched a series of plots to exact retribution for the murders of their families and the near annihilation of the European Jews.

Most were aborted but the Avengers did succeed in getting their operatives into the kitchen of the Stalag 13 prisoner of war camp at Langwasser near Nuremberg, where Nazi SS, the units responsible for the implementation of the Final Solution, were being held. They planned to poison the bread of the prisoners, but the poison failed to take full effect and not a single SS man died.

The pursuit of revenge after the Holocaust proved futile. How does one even begin to avenge such a crime, really a sequence of millions of individual crimes, including the murders of one million children, carried out by hundreds of thousands of perpetrators across Europe?

It is a cliche to say success is the best revenge, but it is true. The real revenge the Jewish remnants took against those who pursued their obliteration was their survival and the re-establishment of a successful national centre for the Jews in their ancient lands that revived Jewish culture and enhanced Jewish scientific, cultural and scholarly contributions to the world. Kovner would become one of that state’s greatest poets.

Jewish Justice. Abba Kovner testifies at the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann.  

For those of us who watched the carnage of 9/11, the desire for revenge was a difficult emotion to suppress. “Revenge is the first law of nature,” Napoleon wrote as a young man. It was certainly just and necessary to find those who masterminded the murders of 2996 people and to incapacitate terrorist organisations that would pursue further attacks. As the Babylonian Talmud teaches, “If someone comes planning to kill you, rise and kill them first.”

But the desire for revenge goes beyond justice or prevention. It aims to redeem those whose lives were taken and to restore their dignity – a noble aspiration, but one that more often than not is unattainable and the pursuit of which can corrode the soul.

The true revenge for 9/11 ought to have come in the form of global unity, comprising people of all faiths who shared a determination to drive fanaticism from our societies. Instead, the 9/11 attacks did what their mastermind had intended. Beyond killing thousands of innocent people, the attacks shook the self-confidence of the West. They divided us into doves and hawks, established fault lines that persist today and caused a collective questioning of our ideals.

Many would conclude that the pillars of our society – enlightenment, rationalism, human freedoms – were void and corrupt, as the al-Qaeda assassins had charged from their caves.

America Attacked. The World Trade Center’s South Tower burst into flames after being hit by United Airlines Flight 175.

September 11 also triggered a dangerous defect in our thinking. Instead of understanding that the terrorists were motivated by a barbarism and blood lust of which mankind had always been capable, we began to believe we had brought this on ourselves.

We assumed rational objections to policy were governing the thoughts of those for whom slaughtering morning commuters and teenage girls at pop concerts constituted success. But rationalism is not universal or innate. It occurs only in those who are raised in its traditions and teachings. And religious extremism does not breed rationalism, it crushes it.

This doomed path of inquiry produced a narrative that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and US support for Israel were the root cause of radical Islam’s desire to overthrow the West.

US academics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer claimed US support for its democratic ally was a predominant source of anti-American terrorism and urged punitive measures against Israel.

Lobbying against Israel. In their book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, John Mearsheimer (left), a political science professor at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt (right), academic dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, assert that America’s “special relationship” with Israel works against its best interests.

High school textbooks in Britain also suggested Israel’s creation was the root cause of Islamist terrorism and the motivation for 9/11. Rather than confronting radical Islam’s fanatical hatred of the Jews and Osama bin Laden’s stated mission to “punish the oppressive Jews and their allies”, such thinking in effect validated their racism and bowed to it.

From blaming the Jew to Blaming the Jewish State. Before being withdrawn, a UK  history textbook was in use by high schools in the country asking how the September 11 terrorist attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda could be connected to the establishment of the State of Israel.

The wicked sectarianism on display in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon finally made mockery of the view that if only Israel withdrew from the West Bank, al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Jema’ah Islamiyah and the rest would promptly beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

As we all do, I still vividly recall September 11, 2001. I came into my torts law class that morning after watching the second plane destroy the South Tower. Our lecturer announced that class was cancelled. “I’m not going to lecture you about the ‘reasonable person’ test when such unreasonable people exist in the world,” he said. Unreasonable people will continue to exist and inflict misery; the disintegration of Afghanistan and the recent ISIS-inspired stabbing spree in an Auckland supermarket attest to that.

Israel’s Message to Terror. Survive and thrive as emblazoned in modern day Tel Aviv.

But our revenge and our victory lie in the survival of free societies, our reasonable, rational thought, and our unified purpose to uphold precisely that which the terrorists sought to destroy.



About the writer:

Alex Ryvchin is co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the author of “Zionism: The Concise History“.








While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

Poles Apart

Cordial, if never sweet, Polish-Israeli relations have  assuredly soured

By Dr. Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

The restitution of Jewish property in Eastern Europe has never been a topic of any great interest to the wider public, even in Israel, and has very rarely received serious media attention. Until now!

During the past several weeks, a bill passed initially in the Polish Sejm (Parliament) and Senate, and signed into law on August 14 by President Andrzej Duda, has sparked an extremely heated controversy which is seriously  threatening the future of Polish-Israeli relations, which had been quite cordial since Poland’s transition from Communism to Democracy. The law in question does not specifically mention Jews, or the Holocaust, or World War II, but in practical terms makes it almost impossible for Holocaust survivors to be able to reclaim their pre-World War II property or obtain commensurate compensation, even if they have already filed the appropriate claims in a Polish court.

President Duda justified the passage of the bill by pointing to the fact that there had been numerous cases of fictitious claims and that criminals had been able to unjustly obtain property that had never belonged to them, resulting in the ejection of “tens of thousands of people being thrown onto the pavement.” In his words, “re-privatization to restore justice became almost synonymous with injustice and human harm.” In that respect, it is important to mention that the bill was passed by a huge majority in both the Sejm and the Senate, and was fully supported not only by the government coalition, but by the opposition as well. Undoubtedly, part of that support stemmed from economic factors, given the large number of properties owned by Jews in prewar Poland, especially in urban centers.

True Colours Exposed. Polish President Andrzej Duda(left) who signed the law in early August  limiting claims to property seized by the Nazis and later by Poland’s communist government, and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid who rebuked this decision, labeling it as “unethical and antisemitic”.(Getty)

Israeli officials were already aware of the seriously negative implications of the bill for the efforts to achieve restitution (or compensation) for Jewish-owned property before the votes in the Sejm and Senate. Israeli chargé d’affairs Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon gave an impassioned speech to the joint  Senate committees before the vote was taken, in which she emphasized Israel’s obligation to “give a voice to Holocaust survivors and their descendants…who have the right, historically, morally, and legally to present their claims and to receive the compensation they deserve for their property.” Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears, and the support for the bill was overwhelming, which prompted strong criticism from the U.S. government and international Jewish organizations, but especially from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. He not only called the bill “unethical and antisemitic”, but also instructed the new Israeli ambassador to Poland to remain in Israel in the meantime, immediately recalled our Chargé d’Affairs, in Warsaw for indefinite consultations, and suggested that the Polish ambassador to Israel remain on vacation in Poland. In his words, “This time should be used to explain to the people of Poland the meaning of the Holocaust to the citizens of Israel, and the extent to which we will refuse to tolerate any contempt for the memory of the Holocaust and its victims.”

Needless to say, Lapid’s harsh attack on the Polish government did not go unanswered. In an obvious response, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pavel Jablonski told journalists this  on August 16 that the government was “reviewing” the trips to Poland of Israeli high school students, approximately 40,000 of whom travel annually to Poland for Holocaust study trips and visits to sites of ghettoes and death camps under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry of Education. Jablonski called the trips “propaganda” – an unequivocal insult to the manner in which Israeli schools teach the Shoah.

No Entry. In retaliation to Israel’s opposition to the bill, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński (above) says his country is weighing the future of Holocaust education trips for Israeli youth to Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

At this point, it is not exactly clear how this crisis in Israeli-Polish relations will be resolved, but in order to understand its roots and causes, we have to return to a somewhat similar, previous dispute between the two countries over a law passed in Poland in 2018, which also aroused considerable anger and indignation in Israel. The so-called “Holocaust bill” criminalized use of the term “Polish death camps”, as well as any attempt to attribute Holocaust crimes to the Polish state. And while the first part of the bill was in fact justified, because it was the Germans who built the death camps in Poland, and the only Poles in death camps (Auschwitz and Majdanek) were inmates not collaborating perpetrators, the second clause was a brazen attempt to whitewash the widespread participation of individual Poles in Holocaust crimes. Negotiations between Polish and Israeli officials and historians led to a very bad compromise signed by former Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, which was strongly criticized by Yad Vashem, because it appeared to accept the Polish narrative of World War II and the Shoah, which promoted the canard of equivalency between Polish participation in Holocaust crimes and assistance by Poles in rescuing Jews from the Nazis, when in fact the number of Poles guilty of the former, surpassed those who rescued Jews many times over.

Death and Destruction. Whatever became of the property of this group of Polish Jews being led away by German SS soldiers during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943? Poland passes bill cancelling all claims of ownership of property if 30 years have elapsed since the confiscation. (AP Photo)

Thus the heart of the debate between Poles and Jews over Holocaust-related issues is the false narrative of the events of 1939-1945. The Polish narrative is primarily one of their own undisputed suffering under the Nazis, with little room or empathy for that of their Jewish neighbours and fellow citizens. Poland was one of the most antisemitic countries, if not THE most antisemitic country in Eastern Europe prior to World War II, and the estimated figure by reputable Polish historians, such as Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking, of approximately 200,000 Jews murdered directly by Poles, or turned over by Poles to the Nazis to be killed during the Holocaust is a clear manifestation of that animus. The fact that Poland’s suffering under the Nazis has not received the same treatment as that of Jewish Holocaust victims further complicates the situation.

In Jeopardy. Will Poland stop the annual Holocaust education trips of Israeli high schoolers visiting Nazi death camps like the concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau (see above)?

This situation, it must be noted, is not unique to Poland. Practically every post-Communist democracy in Eastern Europe has created a fake narrative of their Holocaust history, primarily to hide the important role played by their nationals in Holocaust crimes, and to promote the canard of equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes, which they insist constitute genocide. These measures are all being taken  in order to emphasize their suffering under Communism and deflect attention from their Holocaust crimes. While the Nazis were able to enlist helpers in every country which they occupied or with whom they had an alliance, only in Eastern Europe did collaboration with the Nazis include participation in systematic mass murder of Jews. Until now, the policy of the previous Israeli governments was to ignore these lies, in order to maintain friendly relations with the countries of Eastern Europe, although the fake narrative created by these countries was an unforgivable insult to the victims, their families and the entire Jewish people. The new policy by Foreign Minister Lapid is a welcome and necessary change, but ultimately we will have to enter into serious dialogue with our Eastern European friends to convince them that telling the truth about their role in the Holocaust will ultimately be most beneficial to them and their citizens.


About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Distorting-the-Truth2.jpg

Holocaust historian Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs. His most recent book, with Lithuanian author Ruta Vanagaite, is Our People; Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020) which deals with Holocaust distortion in Lithuania.


For further information on this issue  and on Holocaust distortion in Eastern Europe, please visit www.swcjerusalem.org and www.wiesenthal.com





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Anne Frank and the Dangers of Holocaust Appropriation

By  Rolene Marks

A famous celebrity once remarked that social media is “the toilet of the internet”. Okay, so that person was Lady Gaga but whether or not you are a fan of pop culture or spend some time traversing the nonsense posted on various social media platforms, you have to admit there is great truth in her words.

Some weeks are worse than others and this past week really took the cake. For some reason #AnneFrank was trending and this piqued my curiosity. I almost wish it hadn’t because what I found was nothing short of nauseating.

Anne Frank, age twelve, at her school desk. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1941. (Anne Frank Stichting)

During this past year as the world has endured a pandemic that has caused immense pain and loss, the disturbing trend of Holocaust appropriation, which is the re-purposing of imagery, narratives experiences from the Shoah to push another agenda or explain other historical crimes and occurrences has found oxygen.

We are familiar with the images of anti-vaxxers or those fed up with lockdowns marching in cities across the world, wearing the yellow stars that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust, saying that their “human rights” are being eroded. Spoiler alert: sitting on your couch watching copious amounts of Netflix while shopping on Amazon or having the right to choose whether or not you wanted to have a potentially life-saving vaccine is not nearly the same experience as being rounded up, forced into a ghetto, beaten, tortured, starved, worked to death, marched to death, gassed and burned because you are Jewish. THAT is what the yellow star signified.

One of the enduring symbols of the Holocaust is Anne Frank. The story of the Jewish teenager has been immortalized in her diary and has been used as an educational tool and translated into many languages for millions around the world.  Anne Frank has both captivated and broken hearts the world over, and through her words and experiences, we have come to better understand what life under Nazi occupation was like for her and her family, as they went into hiding with several others, in a tiny space, hidden for years by righteous gentiles who risked their lives knowing what the penalty for those they hid, as well as themselves.

History Abused. Dreams of a young girl surviving through the Holocaust are ‘re-purposed’ for the agendas of political activists today. (Photograph from UPI / Corbis-Bettmann)

It was certain death!

The millions of us who have read her story have shared in her daily frustrations, the precocious personality of a typical teenager experiencing the changes and her heartbreaks as well as the very real fear and hurt of being targeted for death for the crime of being a Jew. Anne Frank put a name and a face to the 1 500 000 children murdered in the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people. For many people, Anne Frank put a human face to a catastrophe many viewed in the abstract.

Anne and her sister Margot were sent to Bergen Belsen after their secret annex was discovered. They died of typhus and their bodies thrown into a mass grave. Their father Otto Frank, survived them.

So why was she trending on Twitter?

I have seen many appalling things posted to Twitter but a post from Black Hammer (see below) takes the cake. To date, me and many others have reported it. I am still waiting for it to be removed from Twitter for violating community standards.

Black Hammer describe themselves on Twitter as follows “We are an anticolonial organization dedicated to getting our land back! Join us in making a city with no rent, kkkops, rona or colonizers at http://blackhammer.”

Their litany of tweets features appalling spelling and grammar that is almost as offensive as their ribald antisemitism and flagrant racism; but we cannot dismiss the fact that they opened up a discussion and debate. In the context of having important discussions about race and intolerance, this would have been important but we CANNOT fight racism by promoting antisemitism. The above stated tweet (where do I even begin with all the things that are offensive!) just trotted out every vile, racist tropes that is guaranteed to inflame the masses. And inflame them they did.  J-Twitter (that’s Jewish Twitter) responded in numbers expressing outrage and trying as much as possible to debunk the accusations and were joined by others saying it was offensive BUT is also gave a tailwind to the haters and the conversation spiraled downwards to the point where Anne herself was accused of being a “colonizer” and proceeds from the sale of her book going towards “the funding of the genocide of the Palestinian people.”  There was so much discussion that it resulted in the topic being one of the top trending hashtags for the week – for the wrong reasons.

The gross exploitation and appropriation of the image of Anne Frank to promote a political agenda.

In the oppression Olympics there are no winners. There is a very real danger in ignoring, debasing or appropriating the narrative of another to push an agenda which in this case, feeds into people’s distaste for colonization. For Black Hammer, the facts don’t seem to matter – the only thing that matters is demonizing the one so that they can promote the agenda of the other, often with dangerous and deadly consequences.

The dangers are not restricted to social media and the opinions of the haters. As time marches on, we lose more and more of the witnesses to the Holocaust and so we have to be their voice. At a time when the global conscience on racism is acutely aware of its effects, so we have to ensure that all conversations about hatred include the oldest – antisemitism. Holocaust appropriation cannot be allowed to get a free pass. It is an imperative that we fight it wherever it appears. Failure to do so means that not only is our narrative taken from us but that victims of hatred are once again silenced.

Anne Frank once said, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”. If only the hope expressed through this remarkable young woman – whose story resonates through the generations in the hope that it would educate people and remind them that we were not just numbers but had names, lives and experiences – would be realized. We have to do better by Anne.

We have to be the voice of people who are really good at heart. 





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

From Bombs to Babies

Israel at 73

By David E. Kaplan

Not sure how the field of psychology would view it but there is something strangely unique in Israel’s character and calendar  that only a split second separates joyful Independence Day  from the sad day that precedes it. Possibly perplexing to non-Israelis – the shift from grief to joy in the space of a heartbeat  – but that is what Israelis do each year. For 24 hours we remember and honour those fallen in defense of the State of Israel as well as victims of terror, and the next 24 hours we celebrate the fruits of that sacrifice – an independent Jewish State after 2000 years of exile and unrelenting persecution. Coming a week after Yom HaShoah where we remember and honour the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Jews know the PRICE of statehood because  they also understand the NEED for statehood.

If the Jewish partisan and poet Abba Kovner wrote in a pamphlet  in 1942 “Let us not go like lambs to the slaughter!” to inspire his fellow Jews in the Vilnius area to take up arms against their German invaders, then look only to the following year of 1943 and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II, the uprising by a civilian population, untrained and without sophisticated weapons – men women and children – held off the might of the Nazi invader for nearly a month. Very impressive when you compare it was nearly the same length of time as the trained Polish army took to be defeated by the German army – one month!

Lions not Lambs. Abba Kovner (center) with Rozka Korczak-Marla (left) and Vitka Kempner-Kovner after the liberation of the Vilna ghetto(Yad Vashem).

Far from “lambs to the slaughter”, they were heroes to a man, woman and child.

Twenty-four hours preceding Israel’s annual sound of  fireworks is the sound of the siren, when traffic stops and people stop talking in mid-sentence. Life in Israel is frozen for those two minutes encapsuling so many bitter and tragic memories. I for one always think first of the names of those I know who were either killed in uniform or perished in a terrorist attack – I rattle them off in my mind as I stand solemnly, their faces flash by as if flipping over the pages  of a cerebral picture album.

Defiant until Death. No military uniforms or helmets, Jewish fighters in civilian attire, take on the might of the German army during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

According to the Defense Ministry, the country’s total number of people killed in war and terrorist attacks now stands at 23,928 They are not numbers – their names and faces are known throughout the land – each and every one of them!

On the flip side, as we celebrate Israel’s 73rd Independence Day, and reflect  on the loss of 6,000,000 Jews mourned only a week ago on Yom HaShoah, today we can celebrate Israel’s population standing at 9,327,000 million – over a third more than was lost in the Shoah – and growing.

Light unto the Nations. The last public Independence celebrations before Corona, people watch fireworks during a show to mark Israel’s 71st Independence Day in Jerusalem on May 8, 2019.

If on a national note we take pleasure that 167,000 babies have been born over the past year, I take personal pleasure that one of those babies is my grandson. I take further pleasure that another is on the way.

Yes, the country can feel proud of its inventions and innovations from hi-tech to Smart Mobility but this Independence Day, I reflect on our successes in the baby manufacturing business that all Israelis are super active in.

Be Fruitful and Multiply. Israelis delight in fulfilling the divine injunction from Genesis.

What can bring more delight that looking upon these  ‘products’ in nappies under the ‘blue and white’ brand:

“Made in Israel”!




While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

The Hills are Alive

Honouring this week the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, the writer reflects on a visit to “Yad Vashem” embedded in the hills of bustling Jerusalem

By David E. Kaplan

Let’s begin at the end. What has always fascinated this writer was the reactions of visitors when exiting the main museum and stepping out into the high balcony with the majestic view of the city of Jerusalem.

From Death to Life. Exiting the death factory museum, visitors feast their eyes on the pastoral beauty  of Jerusalem and the visual message that Jewry survived and today thrives.

Looking through the trees and imagining the bustle below of people going about their daily business and contrasting it with the New Holocaust History Museum’s chronicle of death left behind, seldom fails to evoke a visceral response of raw emotion. My non-Jewish friend from London, who had never visited Israel before, simply burst into tears.

You won; they lost,” he uttered tearfully.

He did not have to say more!

The name “Yad Vashem” is taken from a verse in the Book of Isaiah:

  “And to them will I give, in My house and within My walls, a Memorial and a  Name (yad vashem) … an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:5).

Symbolic in its naming, “Yad Vashem” conveys the idea of a national depository eternally imbedded into the rock of Israel’s ancestral capital, remembering and honouring the names of Jewish victims who have no one to carry their name after death. The magnitude of human loss was for this writer, best grasped stepping inside the Hall of Names and later the Children’s Memorial.

Cruelty to Creativity. The stark grey angular features of a factory of death museum contrasts with animated beauty of the Jewish People’s eternal capital – Jerusalem.

Hall of Names

Near the end of the ‘journey’ through the museum, one steps onto a platform midway within a sphere. One’s attention is immediately drawn skyward where the ten-meter high ceiling – an upper cone – displays hauntingly 600 photographs of Holocaust victims.

Who were they? What lives did the live?” visitors will silently ask themselves. The questions are rhetorical as the names of too many remain unknown. And then, as if believing some clues to this madness might lie below, one’s eyes are drawn downward where those same victims’ portraits are reflected in water at the base of the lower cone carved out of the mountain’s bedrock. Their faces naturally blurry in the reflection, one engages the collective image of all six million Jewish victims crying out from the watery depths below:

 “Forget us not”.

Although the exhibit represents only a fraction of Europe’s six million Jewish victims, the monumental horror of the Shoah (Holocaust) is evident by two simple movements of the head – above and then below. Visitors are speechless; the most audible sounds are sighs……

Surrounding the platform is the circular repository, housing approximately 2.2 million Pages of Testimony collected to date, with empty spaces for those yet to be submitted. The task ahead of ‘unearthing’ those names still unknown is open-ended…..

If the world  failed to save their lives, future generations can at least try  save their identities…..

Time to Reflect. With the faces of the murdered appearing above and reflected in the water below, the Hall of Names is the Jewish People’s memorial to each and every Jew who perished in the Holocaust – a place where they may be commemorated for generations to come.
 

Children’s Memorial

No less gut-wrenching in conveying the sheer magnitude of human loss is the visit to the Children’s Memorial, designed by architect Moshe Safdie, who also designed the museum.

Hollowed out from an underground cavern, this unique memorial is a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered in the Shoah.

Entering, one is engulfed by darkness until one turns a corner and then suddenly one is overwhelmed by tiny flames from candles that appear to reach out to eternity. Apparently, it might be one candle that through clever reflection, appears endless. This is the point of the exhibition – that the murder of one child is unbearable to bear and so the candles help try apply the mind to the unthinkable – one and a half million children snuffed out in cold blood!

The names of murdered children, their ages and countries of origin can be heard in the background. The recording takes some three months to list all the murdered children!

One is speechless, the only common outward body expression – tears running down cheeks…

Each Flame One Child. The reflection of a single candle produces the illusion of space, which symbolizes the approximately 1.5 million children and young people who died during the Shoah.  

Like Cattle to the Slaughter

As it hanging in the air, the track and an actual German cattle truck used to transport Jews to their death greets the viewer. Looking at this mechanism for murder, one can imagine how the Jews were ordered to gather like livestock, and to bring with them only a few possessions and then ‘herded’ into these crowded cattle cars without ventilation, water or food. Sealed for days until arriving at the death camps, many perished.

On ‘track’ to  the ‘final solution’, we move to the memorial museum, designed to explore the unthinkable!

Approaching the grey façade of the Museum projects the image of a colossal factory – a factory of death, designed for processing death – a human abattoir. I thought:

 “Well, I came by car and I will leave later.”

There were no such thoughts for the millions who walked along earlier paths, with dogs barking and wondering what that smoke was coming out distant chimneys ahead.

Before one begins the walk along the central 180-meter walkway with exhibition galleries on either side of the prism, the journey begins at the Museum’s entrance, a kaleidoscope of changing visual images on a 13-meter high triangular wall portraying the Jewish world before the Holocaust. Viewers peer through open windows and doors into the lives of Jewish households, synagogues and places of work in cities, towns and shtetls across Europe. With little thought of the brewing storm, they look happy, innocent and unprepared for the cataclysmic crunch when all these windows and doors will close on their lives forever.

Each step forward, is a step into impending doom. The next gallery follows the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II.

Whose Feet did these Belong to?  This says it all as  – a huge cart full of shoes from victims of concentration camps. Their owners unknown, the shoes survive!
 

The anti-Jewish policies are now played out with harsh violence and a campaign of abuse and restrictive measures intended to undermine the foundations of Polish Jewry.  Jews are ordered to wear the yellow Star of David on their clothes. The badge was not only a symbol of absolute separation from the general population but also a means by which Jews were immediately identified for humiliation and eventual deportation.

Selections from the diary of Dawid Sierakowiak, a youth from Lodz, accompany visitors through this gallery, providing the human perspective of a young person facing personal upheaval. The gallery ends with the uprooting of Jews from the general population and herding them like cattle into Ghettos. 

The ‘Between Walls and Fences’ gallery opens with an area dedicated to the fate of Jews in Western Europe.  Personal stories of families from France and Holland are chosen to illustrate German policies in the conquered lands of Western Europe.

The largest part of this gallery is devoted to providing visitors with a true sense of the Jewish experience in the Ghettos of Eastern Europe. Four Ghettos are selected – Lodz, Warsaw, Kovno and Theresienstadt.

More than a Game. In addition to entertaining the children, this Monopoly game on exhibit at Yad Vashem provided information about ghetto life in Theresienstadt, such as the Ghetto’s prison, barracks, the fort, the warehouse, the kitchen and the deportees’ absorption site. Those who were deported would often leave belongings with friends who remained in the ghetto, and thus, this Monopoly game was passed on until its final home – Yad Vashem.

A Monopoly board, made in Theresienstadt in 1943 forms the center of this Ghetto’s exhibition. The stations in the game were named after the streets and main buildings in the Ghetto.  Using the game board as a base for exploring the Ghetto, visitors can see how the children and the elderly were treated and cared for by their fellow Jews, and how people expressed their feelings through works of art, music, and poetry.

Hunting Season. Jews were the prey for this member of the Einsatzgruppe (mobile killing units) shooting a Jewish mother and her child near Ivangorod, Ukraine.  Open air killings continued in areas of eastern Europe during 1942 and by the spring of 1943, Einstagruppen units A-D had killed over a million persons. (Credit: Jerzy Tomaszewski, Poland)

The “Final Solution”

The next gallery starts with the German offensive into the USSR, marking the start of the implementation of the plan for the mass-murder of the Jews. Visitors track the activities of one killing unit, Einsatzgruppe C that served in Eastern Galicia and the Ukraine where during its first four months of operations, 800 SS soldiers of this unit murdered 75,000 Jews from villages, towns, and cities.  What does this tell you – only 800 soldiers murdered 75,000 Jews? The participation of the local population in mass murder was enormous – not only as passive bystanders but eager voluntary participants.

Illuminating Man’s Inhumanity. Natural light from the roof beams down on the stark grey reality of mass murder of the Jews of Europe.

This gallery too emphasizes the victims’ perspective  –  the voices of the few escapees are heard and seen on screens, alongside rare photographs of the slaughter of Vilna’s Jewish community at Ponary.

In a meeting with members of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, Abba Kovner shows them a poster in which he urges Jew to resist.  It was the first time that Jews were urged to defend themselves against the Nazis with arms. 

The exhibit exposes visitors to the Wannsee Conference, which was convened to discuss the measures and inter-ministerial coordination needed to implement the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Problem”.  The purpose of the meeting was not to discuss murdering European Jewry – only to consider the means of murder. 

Jewish fate was sealed and final!

On Track to Death. Cattle cars like this original German death transport train car at Yad Vashem were used to transport Jews to concentration camps.

Resistance and Rescue

The authentic Schindler’s List is presented in this gallery, which deals with Jewish resistance, rescue attempts, and the Righteous Among the Nations.

This gallery opens with an attempt to answer the requisite question of what the world knew and when.  It describes how the world was silent in 1942 when the Struma, a decrepit ship carrying 769 refugees on route to Palestine was turned back from the coast of Turkey, towed out to sea without fuel, food or water and torpedoed within hours. All but one refugee drowned.

Throughout the Holocaust, there were expressions of Jewish defiance and this gallery depicts life in the Jewish partisan camps whose members combined fighting the Germans with the rescue of Jewish men, women, and children. 

Righteous Path. The names of the Righteous Among the Nations – non-Jews who risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews during the Holocaust – are engraved on the walls of honour.

Epilogue

“What would someone who had no knowledge of the Holocaust feel following a visit to Yad Vashem,”  was a thought that had intrigued me for many years. An opportunity  to answer this thought arose in 2010, when the Chilean miners who had been rescued after spending 69 days trapped in a collapsed Chilean mine were hosted in Israel by the Ministry of Tourism. The writer caught up with the shift manager, 54-year-oldLuis Urzúa – the last miner to be rescued – as he exited the Hall of Names.

Emotionally distraught, he said, “There is one big difference. While we may have shared with the Jews in the concentration camps that feeling of always being close to death, we at least enjoyed one luxury – hope. We knew there were people rooting for us all over the world and working non-stop to save us. The Jews in the Holocaust had no hope. No-one was coming to rescue them.”

This insight is testimony why Jews around the world need a secure State of Israel, so visually reassuring as one exists the death factory of a museum and step onto the balcony and feasts ones eyes through the foliage of forests over undulating Jerusalem hills with Israel’s eternal capital in the background.

One leaves with the message reverberating:

“Never again”





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

We Remember Them

By  Rolene Marks

Tonight we begin to commemorate Yom Hashoa, Holocaust – Martyrs and Heroes Memorial Day. Every year I feel the weight of this day on my soul. I almost welcome it because  I am appreciative of the solemn weight that this day carries; and it serves as a reminder that I, like millions of others have taken that most important vow – NEVER AGAIN.

This year, the weight seems to be heavier. I don’t know if it is because we are running out of precious time to gather as many stories from survivors as we can or because we have lost so many to the pandemic. I do know that this year it weighs heavier on my heart because I see the tides of antisemitism rising. Europe is especially worrisome.  Acts of violence against Jewish individuals that have even resulted in death; and the shift in realpolitik to the right is extremely alarming.  Antisemitism is on the rise in the USA as well and at least 63% of American Jews has reported experiencing it in some iteration over the last year. I write this in gratitude that I am safe and protected in our beloved State of Israel.

Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes day is that one day a year where we specifically remember Jewish victims of the Holocaust. This is different to the UN’s International Holocaust Memorial Day which rightfully recognizes all victims. On this poignant and sad day we take that moment to stop and stand sentinel for the siren that screams its mournful cry all over our beautiful land and pierces the soul, we dedicate 24 hours to education, to remembrance and to bear witness to the experiences that are almost too painful to bear. But bear them we must because now more than ever, it is our responsibility to tell them to the next generation and those that will follow.

Let us not wait for one day in the year to remember them. While Yom Hashoa is a sacred day, I urge everyone to take up the mantle of remembrance every day. Today’s social media platforms make it possible for us all to continue educating, disseminating the truth and educating future generations who speak a new language – the hashtag. When we pause for remembrance, let us be ever conscious why this is so important.

In the hateful gestures of Nazi salutes and imagery –  we remember them.

In the calls to boycott, divest and sanction Israel – we remember them.

In the calls to question the rights of Jewish people to return to their ancestral homeland – we remember them.

On the train where “next stop Aushwitz” traumatized travelers on their daily commute – we remember them.

In the rallies where screams of “Jews will not replace us” – we remember them.

In the defacing of graves and holy places – we remember them.

In the unmarked graves that are all over Europe – we remember them.

In the fire bombings and defacing of the synagogues – we remember them.

In the calls to register our property or risk being expelled – we remember them.

In the biased, vitriolic media broadcasts – we remember them.

In the attacks on individuals – we remember them.

In the shootings in community centres and synagogues – we remember them.

In the flagrant denial of our lost 6 million – we remember them.

In the loss of lives to terror attacks – we remember them.

In bearing witness to the genocides that have and continue to happen – we remember them.

In the harassment of our students on campuses – we remember them.

In the venom of social media – we remember them.

In the hurt and pain inflicted on any minority community or anyone “different” – we remember them.

In the medieval and modern day blood libels – we remember them.

In the words that built machines of death – we remember them.

WE REMEMBER THEM

In the lighting of memorial candles – we remember them.

In the lowering of our flag – we remember them.

In the mournful cry of the siren – we remember them.

WE REMEMBER THEM.

In the birth of new generations – we remember them.

In the celebration of our homecoming from exile – we remember them.

In the singing of Hatikvah – we remember them.

In the greening and building of our start up nation – we remember them.

In the proud winning of sporting medals, Nobel prizes, life-saving NGO’s – we remember them

In the ways we are contributing to a better world – we remember them

In reaching out a lifesaving hand to our enemies – we remember them.

In our defense of our country – we remember them.

In the helping of the vulnerable, the displaced, the oppressed – we remember them.

In protecting their health – we remember them.

In bearing witness – we remember them

In the teaching of the next generation – we remember them.

In our unabashed, joyful, defiant celebration of life – we remember them.

In our cries of Am Yisrael Chai! (The people of Israel live) – we remember them.

In our vow NEVER AGAIN – We remember them.

WE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER THEM.



While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

A Walk In The Park A Return To The Dark?

Avoid this one in Istanbul, it honours an antisemitic Nazi supporter

By David E. Kaplan

What is it about Turkey these days that from being one of the most popular tourist destinations for Israelis, where hoteliers and restaurateurs in its tourist hotspots spoke Hebrew to welcome Israeli visitors in their multitudes, has turned not only anti-Israel but antisemitic?

The latest disturbing action – mostly ignored by the international media – was in November 2020, when the Istanbul metropolitan municipality named a park after a notorious antisemite – Hüseyin Nihal Atsız (1905–1975). The park – following a request made by members of İyi Parti (the Good Party) – is located in Istanbul’s Köyiçi region of Maltepe district, where Atsız spent most of his life.

Troubling Times. The name of Turkist Hüseyin Nihal Atsız was given to a park in Istanbul Maltepe. IYI Party thanked Istanbul mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu.

What is “good” about this decision?

As much of the pre-Corona Western world made headlines of crowds storming statues and ripping them off their proverbial pedestals for their racist pasts, the Turks are fine with naming a park after someone who wrote in 1934:

 “As the mud will not be iron even if it is put into an oven, the Jew cannot be Turkish no matter how hard he tries.”

While the world media dissected the controversial pasts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and even Abraham Lincoln, they ignore the Turkish nationalist writer, novelist, poet, historian and philosopher who also wrote that:

 “Turkishness is a privilege; it is not granted to everyone, especially to those like Jews…If we get angry, we will not only exterminate Jews like the Germans did, we will go further…”

How much “further” could they “go”? To name a park in Istanbul after a man who wants to compete with the Nazis as to how to treat or deal with Jews?

Apparently we should not be surprised according to Dr. Nikos Michailidis,Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Mediterranean Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and an expert on Turkey, who earlier this month told The Jerusalem Post that:

It’s not shocking for those who know Turkey well that Ekrem Imamoglu, the supposedly ‘social democrat’ Mayor of Istanbul, supported and approved a bill to name a park in the city after a prominent ultra-nationalist writer and Nazi sympathizer. Turkish ultra-nationalist and supremacist ideology is not a marginal phenomenon, but rather the mainstream.”

Writing on the Wall.  Ekrem İmamoğlu is the mayor of İstanbul, the largest city in Turkey with 15 million inhabitants, nearly 20% of the entire country’s population. If as President Erdoğan said in an AKP meeting  2017, “Who wins Istanbul wins Turkey” and today this belief dominates Turkish politics, approving a park in Istanbul honouring those advocate exterminating Jews is a major concern.
 

He goes on to say that “With the exception of the pro-Kurdish HDP, and some liberal as well as a few social democrat politicians, all the other parties in the Turkish parliament are inspired – to different degrees – by openly racist ideologies.”

Madness – Marginal to Mainstream

If for years Atsiz’s haircut resembled Hitler’s, his rhetoric mirrored the Nazi leader’s genocidal antisemitism.

Unabashed Racist. An early militaristic photograph of Hüseyin Nihal Atsız (1905–1975) – an anti-Semite and Turkey’s most prominent Nazi sympathizer.

Some of the other tirades documented from Hüseyin Nihal Atsiz include:

  • The Jew here is like the Jew we see everywhere. Insidious, insolent, malevolent, cowardly, but opportunistic Jew; the Jewish neighborhood is the center of clamor, noise and filth here as [the Jewish neighborhoods] everywhere else… We do not want to see this treacherous and bastard nation of history as citizens among us anymore.”
  •  “The creature called the Jew in the world is not loved by anyone but the Jew and the ignoble ones… Phrases in our language such as ‘like a Jew’, ‘do not act like a Jew’, ‘Jewish bazaar’, ‘to look like a synagogue’… shows the value given by our race to this vile nation.””

So Jews are a “vile nation” to a man Turkey sees fit to name a park after!

This not only happened in the 1930s; this happened in 2020!

Appearances Aside. Despite the resemblances Atsız (left) had with Adolf Hitler (right), he denied these claims as he started to publish his ideas even before Hitler was well-known in Turkey.

According to the late Prof. Jacob M. Landau of the Hebrew University’s Department of Political Science, “Atsiz was a great admirer of the race theories of Nazi Germany, expressing some of them repeatedly in his works during the 1930s and 1940s.”

Bad enough as Atsiz was as a product of his time, far more worrying is that he has no shortage of fans today in modern-day Turkey. Evidence of this is the annual commemorative ceremonies held in his honour attracting members from a number of political parties and now – a park in Istanbul!

Dr. Efrat Aviv, a senior lecturer in the Dept. of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies reveals:

 Atsız wrote several articles accusing Jews of unrestrained greed and national disloyalty, and of being communist and cosmopolitan at the same time. Atsız labeled Jews and communists Turkey’s two main rivals, and claimed in an issue of Orhun published in November 1933 that “Germany has become the first country to solve the Jewish problem.” In 1944, he wrote that Jews are the secret enemy of all nations.”

The danger of Atsiz’s poison pen moved beyond imaginings  to the real, reminiscent of the insightful quote of Heinrich Heine that:

Wherever they burn books, in the end will also burn human beings.”

Cause for Concern. Nihâl Atsız in the 1930s again popular in the 2020s.

Motivated by the writings of Atsız and other antisemitic authors,continues Aviv, “Turks targeted the Jews of eastern Thrace in pogroms from June 21 through July 4, 1934, collectively known as the “Thrace Incidents”. The pogroms began with a boycott of Jewish businesses and descended to physical attacks on Jewish-owned buildings, which were first looted, then set on fire. Jewish men were beaten and some Jewish women reportedly raped. Terrorized by this turn of events, many Jews fled the region.”

When asked by the Post what can be done about Turkey’s glorification of Atsız and its disturbing direction, Dr. Nikos Michailidis suggested:

primarily through extensive sanctions  and with the use of other innovative diplomatic, economic, educational and cultural tools, the EU and the US can design and implement policies for the ‘de-Nazification’ of the Turkish political system and its irredentist, nationalist ideology.”

Grass no longer Greener! Young people enjoy Istanbul park before its renaming of a racist, antisemite and Nazi supporter.

However, how likely is this to happen when as Michailidis notes that while the EU and the US rightly criticize and oppose the rise of Nazi ideologies in European countries, “they fail to raise the same criticism when it comes to Turkey, a NATO member-state and once an aspiring candidate for EU membership.”

They are also not helped by a global press that is rather reticent on Turkey’s disturbing direction.

If the message that Turkey sends to Jews is to honour those today that pride on killing Jews of yesterday, then maybe the message Jews can send to Turkey is – AVOID IT!


While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Time To Tackle Antisemitism – Seriously!

UN steps up to the plate at special virtual Conference

By Yair Chelouche

At Monday’s United Nations Alliance of Organisations (UNAOC) virtual conference on “Exploring Holistic Approaches to Combating Antisemitism”, Lay of the Land’s Rolene Marks addressed the impressive gathering, which UN leading official Miguel Moratinos, called for “greater international recognition of antisemitism and more focus on the role of social media in the spread of online hate.”

Rising to the Challenge.  “Antisemitism is a global problem,” says UN High-Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations Miguel Moratinos in Virtual Conference on Fighting Anti-Jewish Hatred (Photo: Screenshot)

Other speakers included Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Katharina Von Schnurbein, Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life at the European Commission; Lord Eric Pickles, the UK’s Special Envoy for Post Holocaust Issues; Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism Nihal Saad, Chief of Cabinet and Spokesperson for the High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and UNAOC goodwill ambassador Rabbi Arthur Schneier.

Talking Heads. Participants at the UN virtual conference on anti-Semitism with Lay Of The Land’s Rolene Marks 6th from the left at the bottom of the screen.

Moratinos, who was appointed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in February 2020, to serve as the UN focal point for monitoring antisemitism and improving a system-wide response, said that although the majority of anti-Semitic attacks have taken place in Europe or the US, “our outreach efforts should extend beyond those regions to Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

He also stressed that “it is equally important that any criticism directed towards the government of Israel is not used as an incitement towards Jews or sacred Jewish sites.”

Stressing the urgency, Dr. Robert Williams, Deputy Director of International Affairs at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum said “Antisemitism is worse now than at any point since 1948. So the time to act is now before it is too late and we must do it together.”

Lay of the Land’s co-founder Rolene Marks addresses at the United Nations Alliance of Organisations (UNAOC) virtual conference on “Exploring Holistic Approaches to Combating Antisemitism

Representing the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), hereunder follows Lay Of the Land Rolene Mark’s address to the UN conference:

Your Excellency’s, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour to speak here today on behalf of WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organisation.

During our century’s worth of work in civil society, WIZO has demonstrated the ability to recognize antisemitism in our Federations around the world and adapt and respond accordingly as well as work closely with the UN on the various bodies and cities where we are represented. Throughout history, antisemitism – the oldest hatred – has always manifested itself in different ways and often adapts to fit the unique political situation of a country.  In our organisation’s 100 year history, our global family has endured fascism, communism, Apartheid, the rise of the BDS movement that aims to challenge Israel’s sovereignty, and conflict in Israel and with that, the usual scapegoating of Jewish communities – many times resulting in violence and even death. We have lost federations to the Holocaust but never the values and the will to ensure that we are in the forefront of fighting hatred.

Today, against the backdrop of the global Covid pandemic and the role of social media in creating communities of hate and propagating conspiracy theories, misinformation and sometimes sanctioning violence, civil society organisations like ours that have always responded to the needs of society, especially the most vulnerable, including minority communities, are committed to including education, resource sharing and the empowerment of our members to be able to confront the issues threatening both their communities and assaults on the legitimacy of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. We need to recognize the threats that come from the far left, who are often the leading voices on the assault on the legitimacy of Israel as much as the far right who are seen as the purveyors of a more sinister form of antisemitism.

People around the world are having important and necessary and long overdue conversations about racism and the imperative of tolerance. Antisemitism has to be a part of that conversation. WIZO has identified the need to expand the scope of our work to ensure that our federations have the tools and resources that are specific to the to the threats and challenges in their countries and  knowhow to confront them as well as increase our outreach to other minority communities with similar concerns.

We have ensured that we are very much a presence wherever the opportunity to confront antisemitism and anti-Zionism presents itself. More often than not, having the word Zionism in our name makes us a target for antisemitism. Education about Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people could also be explored when putting together educational curriculum.

One of the areas needing greater focus is social media. If users are mandated  by law to join using their full and proper names, as well personal images, it makes it that much more difficult to hide behind avatars and fake identities and easier to trace if they are hate speech super spreaders. Our young people, vulnerable to the rhetoric on social media are in the frontline of this battle – and many of them are too fearful to identify as Jewish, lest they are targeted. University campuses are hotbeds of hatred – especially during this month when the BDS led, Israel Apartheid Week that exploits the suffering of the victims of apartheid to push a hate filled agenda of delegitimisation winds its way across the world. 

The adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the inclusion of Holocaust education in schools and universities around the world is vital in helping to combat this spreading virus of hatred. It is also recommended that traditional and social media platforms adopt IHRA so that they can better understand antisemitism, which is the forbearer of other hatred, while still providing a platform for free speech – just not hate speech.

We need to engage with and mobilise civil society organisations, work with educators and policy makers and leaders, business owners and social media influencers. It is particularly alarming to learn how many young people have little or no knowledge of the Holocaust. The next generation understands the language and message of social justice – we need to ensure that the dangers of antisemitism are part of that understanding by continuing to engage with them in the language that they speak. Human rights icon, Natan Sharansky spoke of the 3 D’s of antisemitism – demonization, delegitimatision and double standards. We need to engage the next generation in another D – defeating it.

We said never again. Never again is now!

Thank you.


While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

Polish Dialogue

By Sarah Ansbacher

The first time I ever spoke to someone from Poland was in London when my husband and I were still dating. Bundled up in thick coats and hats on a crisp November night, we were walking beside the River Thames when a tourist stopped to ask us for directions, so we helped him.

I’m visiting from Poland,” he said.

“‘We hope you have a great time here.”

Neither of us expected what came next. “You’re Jewish, aren’t you?”

Without words, a look passed between us and an inherent understanding: unease, the hint of a threat, a fear passed down through generations. Neither of us answered the Polish tourist, but he took our silence as confirmation. “Hitler was right. He should have gassed the lot of you!”

Those horrifying words left a scar and reinforced a stereotype of Polish people as antisemites.

But an encounter with some tourists at the museum changed my perspective.

Do you have a synagogue here that we could visit?” said the man who stood outside the door with his wife and another couple who had two young children. “We would like to see one.”

Yes, there’s one upstairs,” I said. “You are welcome to come in for a visit.”

The rest of the group had already drifted inside, the exhibits having caught their attention. The husband joined, and before we continued to the synagogue, I gave the group a short, guided tour.

I once saw a synagogue in my hometown and I’ve been to Israel before, twelve years ago. But this is the first time in Israel for the others and none of them have ever seen a synagogue.” His manner was friendly and with a cheerful smile he said, ‘We are from Poland.’

Something froze inside me. It was a visceral reaction, a throwback to that disturbing conversation all those years earlier in London. I tried to keep my emotions in check and smiled back.

The two men donned kippot (skull caps) out of respect, and we entered the synagogue. They listened with interest as I gave them an explanation and showed them around.

We lingered for several more minutes and I turned to the one who had asked for this visit. “What brought you to Israel?”

The warm weather, cheap flights, and the culture,” he said.

How come you are interested in Jewish culture?”

Once there was a large Jewish community in Poland, perhaps the biggest in the world, until the big tragedy.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of that interesting turn of phrase.

There isn’t much of a community left now, so how do you know about it?” I asked.

We learnt about it in school. We regard what happened as a loss for ourselves, too. Back then there wasn’t the State of Israel. They weren’t just Jewish people; they were Polish too.”

His statement confounded me. “So, you regard it as a tragedy for you as well?”

Yes. They were our people too.” His words were heartfelt. He seemed eager to converse further, and it felt right to discuss this. I gathered my courage and asked:

Weren’t some Polish people also responsible for the death of Jews?”

Yes,” he said, without hesitation. “That happened too. Some Poles killed Jews. They were Catholic and antisemitic. Although the Germans started the Holocaust, some Polish people also joined in.”

Deportation of Jews from Krakow, Poland.

It reminded me of the recent media coverage about the proposed Poland Holocaust Law, and I asked his opinion.

I don’t understand why it has upset people in Israel,’ he said. ‘The law is only to prevent people from calling the camps Polish death camps rather than German death camps in Poland. It doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the Holocaust or even say that there were also some Poles involved.”

From the articles I’ve read, it implied they would forbid a reference to any Polish involvement.”

No. I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

Do you regard the law as a good thing?”

It’s good that it has raised the subject.”

Perhaps it is time we were all able to have more open and honest conversations with each other about everything?”

He agreed.

I’ve spoken to a few German tourists who have visited the museum, and it has impressed me how Germany has faced up to their actions. Do you think Poland has done the same?”

No,” he said with breathtaking honesty. “A lot more still needs to be done.”

He continued by sharing some of his personal experiences. “Even though my family were Catholics, some of them also suffered during the war.”

The woman with the young children had been following the conversation and now joined in. “The Nazis shot my grandfather and kicked out my family from their homes.”

I didn’t realise that Polish people also suffered in that way.”

Suppression of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. German soldiers lead the Neyer family away for deportation. (US National Archives.)

At that moment, I felt a sense of remorse that I had not been aware before of their hardships, but they just seemed to appreciate the chance to tell their side while I listened.

Although some Poles collaborated and murdered Jews, many other ordinary Polish people, like our families, suffered too.”

What about the pogrom that took place in Poland after the war when they murdered survivors who returned from the concentration camps?” I asked.

Kielce, 1946.” He understood the reference. “That was a terrible crime. In recent years there has been an official admission of guilt and apology for what took place.”

Funeral procession for victims of the Kielce pogrom. Kielce, Poland, July 1946.

Together, we walked back downstairs, and he continued, “Please consider that until 1989 we were under Soviet rule. They dictated the school education. But, since then, there has been a vast change in education and children in school are now learning about the Holocaust in a lot more detail.”

We touched on the school trips from Israel to Poland. “I’ve heard that before they go, the teachers warn all the school children to be careful and not speak to any Poles because it could be dangerous.” He looked anguished. “Please believe we aren’t all antisemites. We’re Roman Catholic: some people are very conservative, and things need to change, but we aren’t all like that.”

I did my best to reassure him. “I’m sure not all the schools do that. Perhaps some learn that from home if their family members went through the Holocaust.”

President Duda and the First Lady of Poland with Szewach Weiss, former Israeli Ambassador to Poland and former Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council (center), in the Hall of Names.
 

He signed the visitors’ book and said, “You should come and visit Poland sometime. They’ve now launched a lot of cheap flights.”

Maybe I will one day.”

It was the first time I had ever experienced an open exchange like that. We parted on warm terms and I think we both came away with something positive. I know it changed some of my perceptions.

Nothing can ever change what happened, and we must never forget. But perhaps with dialogue, ‘never again’ can really mean never again.


(Reprinted from “Passage From Aden”: Stories From A Little Museum In Tel Aviv by Sarah Ansbacher – with permission.)




About the writer:

Sarah Ansbacher is a writer and storyteller. She also works at the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum in Tel Aviv.


While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

Erasive Antisemitism — Naming a Subcategory of Antisemitism

By Ben M. Freeman

I would like to propose a new sub-categorisation of antisemitism:

Erasive Antisemitism“.

It is connected to other categorisations of antisemitism, such as conspiracy fantasy which is why I offer it as a sub-categorisation as opposed to a distinct categorisation of its own.

It can take two forms:

1. The erasure of Jewish identity.

2. The erasure of Jews as victims of prejudice.

The Erasure of Jewish Identity

On the 18th of September 2020, the first night of Rosh Hashanah, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.

RBG — as she is commonly and affectionately known — was the first Jewish woman to serve on the US Supreme Court. Importantly, her Jewishness is not a footnote in her story. It was one of her defining identities. It shaped her life, her work and her values. She herself stated:

    “I am a judge, born, raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice, for peace and for enlightenment runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition.”

Yet, much of the non-Jewish outpouring of love and commiseration omitted her Jewishness other than to occasionally recognise that she died on Rosh Hashanah. This omission was not an accident, it is part of the wider trend of Erasive Antisemitism that aims to strip (or redefine) the Jewishness of individuals.

If RBG herself identified as a Jew and saw her Jewishness as a major source of her determination to serve as a Judge, who is it for a non-Jew to erase that fact? It was a defining feature of her life and identity and must be recognised and addressed to accurately and authentically represent her.

This specific form of Erasive Antisemitism seeks to diminish and erase the Jewish people, strip us of our achievements and the major contributions we have made to the wider world. Surely, when commenting on someone’s life, it would be impossible to ignore someone’s Jewishness, particularly when they themselves have spoken publicly about their pride in it?

Another form of Erasive Antisemitism is the erasure of authentic Jewish identity. This is specifically, when people, either non-Jews or Jews, seek to identify Jews as a solely religious group. It is well established that Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group. We are a People. However, due to the complicated history of assimilation that I explore in my upcoming book, Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, Jews began to define themselves as a religion.

The non-Jewish world coerced us to adopt a purely religious identity (while diminishing the nation aspect of Jewishness) with the promise of acceptance that never truly materialised. To align Jews with their concept of loyal citizens, the non-Jewish world identified Jews as a solely religious group, stripping us of 4000 years+ of history and in the process, our authentic identity. This resulted in many Jews and the vast majority of non-Jews seeing Jewishness solely through the lens of religion. Despite this, the majority of antisemitism today discriminates against an “inherent Jewish character”, not Judaism as a theology. This causes a multitude of issues in terms of perceptions of both Jewish identity and antisemitism.

In 2020 the House has approved a bill, sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., to recommit the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act to include antisemitism. However, 164 Congress people voted against this bill, many of whom went on to issue gushing memorials for RBG whose life they inadvertently endangered by refusing to support this bill. Rep. Bobby Scott, Congressman for 3rd District of Virginia justified his vote by stating that it:

    “Wrongly added a form of religious discrimination to a bill intended to address racial and ethnic discrimination.”

Let me be clear, the inclusion of Jews in this Act is crucial. It would have made a statement recognising that the vast majority of antisemitism — even that which is aimed at religiously presenting Jews — is not rooted in the concept of Jews as a religious group. In the 21st Century, Jews are rarely attacked for our beliefs. We are attacked because of non-Jewish perceptions of what it means to be a Jew and what that Jewishness represents to the non-Jewish world, not what a Jew believes. Orthodox Jews are not attacked because their attackers disagree with their ideology. No they are attacked because of judgements made against their characters as a result of their Jewishness.

The inability of the non-Jewish world to properly identify Jews — or indeed allow us to define ourselves — is rooted in an arrogance that diminishes the agency of Jews to define ourselves and it is inherently antisemitic. It assigns Jews a passive role in our own destiny. It also actively misunderstands antisemitism, misidentifies Jews and as a result harms us and leaves Jews vulnerable to violence and prejudice.

The Erasure of Jews as Victims of Prejudice

The second main type of Erasive Antisemitism can take several forms such as Holocaust denial or the progressive labelling of light-skinned Jews as purely white (without the crucial nuance of “white-passing”) and therefore not victims of legitimate forms of prejudice. Though wildly different on the surface, both serve the same purpose.

Through its various forms, it seeks to diminish or erase antisemitism and frame Jews as powerful and privileged in an attempt to demonise Jewish people and explain world events.

Minute variations in Jewish ritual are now the object of national scrutiny. (Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty)

In reference to modern expressions of Holocaust denial, the 2020 Claims Conference U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, the first-ever 50-state survey on Holocaust knowledge among Millennials and Gen Z found that a sizeable minority (11%) of young people believe the Jews caused the Holocaust. Holocaust denial — as a form of antisemitism — is well known, but understanding it through the wider lens of Erasive Antisemitism is helpful. While it seeks to distort a specific Jewish experience, namely the Shoah, it is part of a wider non-Jewish trend to erase the lived experience of Jewish people. Through their distortion and framing of Jews as responsible for the Shoah, the 11% erase the true experience of millions of Ashkenazi, Beta-Yisraeli, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews targeted and murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. Therefore, to the 11%, antisemitism is not real, and what’s more, Jews are a powerful conspiring cabal.

Holocaust-denial graffiti was spray-painted on one of Seattle’s largest synagogues, Temple De Hirsch Sinai.(Rabbi Daniel Weiner)

Linda Sarsour, American activist and former co-chair of the Women’s March, exemplified another version of the concept when stating:

    “I want to make the distinction that while anti-Semitism is something that impacts Jewish Americans, it’s different than anti-black racism or Islamophobia because it’s not systemic.”

This purposefully and deliberately diminishes and erases the systemic and institutional antisemitism faced by Jewish people, often through an incorrect, inaccurate and idiotic comparison with other forms of prejudice. This is often expressed as part of Antisemitic Economic Libel and Conspiracy Fantasy which frames Jewish people as super-powerful, greedy, not to be trusted, perverse and sneaky and therefore not victims of “real” prejudice. This rewriting of history and current affairs attempts to position Jews as the source of all power and the enemy of the people and ultimately diminishes the concept of “non-Jewish guilt” for their crimes of the Jewish people.

While it is a sub-categorisation as opposed to a full categorisation of antisemitism, it is crucial to identify this specific aspect of anti-Jewish racism. Erasure is used in a nefarious and sinister way to diminish both the historical and current Jewish experience. It impacts individual Jews and gaslights them into believing and internalising antisemitism tropes about Jewish power and ‘privilege’. It seeks to purposefully reframe the Jewish experience, erasing the millennia-long horror show that Jews have been forced to endure by the non-Jewish world.

This specific form of antisemitism has been harming and targeting Jews for many years and I don’t intend to suggest it as a ‘modern phenomenon’, it is clearly not. Saying that however, it seems to have become much more commonplace and more importantly, mainstream in recent years and in light of the results of the Claims Conference poll and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, it is crucial we name this specific problem so we can understand it, guard against it and ultimately combat it.


About the writer:

Ben M. Freeman is a Jewish leader, a Jewish thinker and a Jewish educator.  Born in Scotland, Ben is a gay Jewish author and internationally renowned educator focussing on Jewish identity, combatting antisemitism and raising awareness of the Holocaust. His first book, Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, was released in 2021 to great international acclaim. Currently based in Hong Kong, Ben now heads up the Humanities Team at an American International School and lectures on antisemitism at Hong Kong universities. Through his work, he aims to educate, inspire and empower both Jewish and non-Jewish people from all over the world. Follow his work across all social media accounts through @BenMFreeman. 

Ben Freeman’s new book, Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, is available for preorder now! 

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