Home      MEDITATION 2014

REMEMBERING CONSTRUCTIVELY

Rabbi Norman R. Patz

Memorial Service

Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews

March 9, 2014 / 7 Adar II, 5774

 

In the secular calendar, yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the murder of the 2792 Czech Jews held captive by the Nazis in Family Camp BIIb at Birkenau. In the Jewish calendar, it was erev Purim. But no one saved the inmates in the death camp.

Together with the execution four months later of the family camp inmates who had been brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau in December 1943 and May 1944, this was the largest mass murder of Czech Jews in all of World War II. 

In 1946, just two years after the erev Purim slaughter, the Joseph Popper Lodge of B’nai B’rith here in New York organized a memorial to those who had been murdered. This is the 68th annual service of commemoration. In later years, the Holocaust Survivors of Slovakia joined in sponsoring the service, and from its founding in 1961, the Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews has been an organizing participant as well.

Seventy years have passed, yet the survivors, family members and the members of the once-great Czech and Slovak Jewish communities cannot forget – and will not forget! People once believed that the world was governed by intelligent, rational people who behaved intelligently and rationally. Our experiences – our memories – tell us differently: There has never really been any excuse for being surprised by evil. Over the centuries, and especially during the Holocaust, we have seen the rule of madness. We have seen our people cut down without mercy. And so we are still afflicted with “the suffering of truth,” the pain that our bitter memories require. (See Sue Grafton, “A Letter from My Father” in Kinsey and Me, 2013)

We cannot forget or allow ourselves to forget. Yet even sympathetic friends sometimes say: Enough already! You should let go! You should heal! You should move on. And we have, and we do. But…. Even having moved on, even having made new lives for themselves, created new families, new careers, new accomplishments, survivors still remain traumatized. Society is now beginning to acknowledge that soldiers suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome from their battlefield experiences. Holocaust survivors have been living with the stress of their trauma for more than seven decades. Rather than being made to feel guilty by our ongoing mourning, we should be upset at the rapidity with which so many have dismissed the implications of our individual and communal trauma; we should be horrified by the disdain others express about our concern for Jewish survival as anti-Semitism, often marked as anti-Israelism, becomes fashionable again – so soon, so soon! We are flabbergasted and infuriated by the speed with which others forget – despite all of the Holocaust monuments and memorials and the powerful memoirs and films. “The past is not dead; it is merely forgotten.” (Leon Wieseltier, TNR 3/24/14) The Holocaust was a blow to civilization for which everyone should grieve. In that sense, there shouldn’t be less grieving; there hasn’t yet been enough! (Grafton)

Many years before the current movie, Monuments Men, which does not understand what we know, Elie Wiesel wrote this meditation:

 

Silence.

Where in this holocaust is the word of God?

Not in the storm, nor in the shaking earth,

nor in the fire, but only within us.

The world was silent; the world was still.

And now, survivors stammer; their words are haunted.

Behind their words: silence.

Behind the silence,

a witness to the sin of silence.

What pains were taken to save cathedrals,

museums, monuments from destruction.

Treasures of art must be preserved –

they are the song of the human soul!

And in the camps and streets of Europe

Mother and father and child lay dying,

and many looked away.

To look away from evil:

Is this not the sin of all ‘good’ people?

(Gates of Repentance, CCAR 1984, pp. 437-38)

We are a people small in number. We need many ‘good’ people to grieve with us. We need them. Civilization needs them or we will all go down. So we will continue to grieve – but grieve constructively – and hope that many good people will join us and work together to fashion a world in which innocent human beings can thrive with the freedom to speak and to worship as they choose, to be free from want and, above all, free from fear. (President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms)

Purim 1944 was a dark day in our history. We look forward to a time when all affliction will be transformed to joy: no more Amaleks, no more Hamans nor any of their more recent followers.

Optimists that we still are, we must continue to insist that a time will come, as it says on the wall of the Jewish funeral chapel in Terezín, when our God “will swallow up death forever, wipe away the tears from every face and put an end to the reproach of God’s people over all the earth.” (Isaiah 25:8)

Ken y’hee ratzon – so may it be God’s will and the will of good people everywhere.

Amen