COLLECTIVE MEMORY – COMMEMORATION
By: Baruch Shub
In the Ninth Fort in Kovno, the "Valley of Slaughter" of Lithuania's Jews, I found words which had been carved in huge letters, with a spoon, a fork, or perhaps the fingernails of those condemned to die: "Remember" and "Revenge". The words are repeated in many languages, wherever Jews were concentrated before being executed.
We, the holocaust survivors, the victims, the partisans and the resistance members, did our best to uphold the oath of "Revenge" – and we succeeded. Our greatest success is reflected in the fact that we, the remnant of the Holocaust, returned to our homeland (or traveled elsewhere in the world), rehabilitated our lives and raised families; against all odds, in our lifetime, the Biblical verse "The eternity of Israel shall not be belied" was fulfilled. As to the upholding of the testament of "Remember", we have waited long enough. We have not dealt with the commemoration of the Holocaust, nor have we sufficiently nurtured the heritage of the Holocaust and the conclusions to be drawn from it.
A number of events in the chronicles of our people have had a definitive effect on its history. These events were in the nature of a Great Divide, and therefore, we count the years "before the event" or "after the event".
The destruction of Jerusalem was such an event in our history. The center of Jewish government was wiped out, and along with it, the Kingdom of Israel. The Sanhedrin – the center of legislation and jurisprudence – was shut down; the Temple – the center of spirituality and religious practice – was destroyed. From that point on, a new counting of years began: "before the destruction" and "after the destruction". The "Home" was laid waste, and the Jewish People went into exile. From one exile to another, a pursued and persecuted people, until the Holocaust itself.
The Holocaust, another such event in our history, constitutes the devastation of the Jewish People in exile, from the standpoint of the unimaginably horrifying results. Jews – men, women and children – were murdered in cold blood in order to fulfill the oath taken by the evil tyrant (may his name be blotted out) to destroy the Jewish People. The list of tragic and traumatic events of the Holocaust is as broad as the ocean and as deep as the sea, and any description is no more than a single grain of sand in the desert. The astronomical dimensions of the Holocaust events can hardly be conceived by the human mind.
Meanwhile, some "modern historians" have suggested a new historiography: notwithstanding the claims of the Jews, there was no "murder". Rather, there were sick people, suffering from contagious diseases, who had to be "separated from the population, so as not to infect them".
That is why they were put into "ghettos"; that is why, when all hope of their survival was lost, the bodies were burned in incinerators. Furthermore, the number of victims is incorrect, and the data provided by the Jews are "imaginary". This is the first step in the process of denial of the Holocaust, for the sake of the murderers' peace of mind and so that they can evade responsibility for their actions and the results thereof. As for the monetary reparations received by the remaining survivors of the concentration camps, extermination camps and ghettos, these "historians" say they are tantamount to "Jewish blackmail". The Protocols of the Elders of Zion have awakened – and people are believing them.
To counter the approach which favors denial and suppression of the Holocaust, we can only nurture the collective memory of the Holocaust and commemorate the noteworthy events, actions and personages of those dark years.
The collective memory of an event depends upon individual experience of that event: Passover, the Ninth of Av, Hanukah, Purim, Holocaust Day. The set of individual experiences of the events of the Holocaust, against the background of collective memory, will ensure and guarantee that the memory survives throughout the generations. The "Remember" must be visual and constant.
Millions were murdered. Some fell in the concentration camps and others in the pits of death, some in the ghettos and others in acts of resistance against the Nazis. Europe is full of graves, in uncountable dimensions of slaughter.
When we, the survivors, speak of commemoration, we refer to actions which honor the memory of the victims and the fighters, studying the lessons of the Holocaust and erecting a memorial to them. We refer to streets and squares named after the dead, monuments and cenotaphs which give honor to the victims and members of the resistance movement. We refer to the assistance which enables the organizations of survivors to act, to meet, to recall their friends and families and to eulogize the victims.
2. Absorption in Israel
The Jews who had settled in the Land of Israel years before, who absorbed us on our arrival, did not indulge the Holocaust by commemorating its lessons and its victims.
We came to the shores of the Land of Israel – Palestine, as it was then called – in a small fishing boat in October 1945, after a journey through rough seas and evasion of the British siege. The "illegal" immigrants, 173 all told, disembarked on the beach at Shefayim. The boats slipped in under cover of darkness, bringing us into shallow water. The Palmach fighters carried us to shore on their shoulders. I stood opposite the young Palmachnik and explained to him, in Hebrew, that I was strong enough to walk through the shallow water. The Palmachnik refused to listen; he had been ordered to "carry them home". We both fell into the water and arrived wet. The Palmachnik meant well, but he did not understand the survivor.
The Jewish population of the Land of Israel made great efforts to welcome us with open arms. But we, the remnants who had been spared by the sword of evil, the fighters, the partisans, felt that we were not being given personal attention.
We were looking for warmth, understanding, a listening ear, equality. Our expectations may have been too great.
Meanwhile, we were transformed from "ka-tzetniks" – concentration camp inmates – into fighters, and from wimps (the Sabras used a worse word, "soaps") into tough Israelis. We fought shoulder to shoulder for the new State; we built a country from the wilderness; we acquired professions, married, raised children. We found our place in the life of the State and tried to push the horrors of the Holocaust away from ourselves and our families. We seldom spoke of the camps, the ghettos, the deportations, the fighting and the death.
Forty-five years later, the will and the need arose in us to tell, to write, to testify and to commemorate, in order to nurture collective memory, so that the subject of the Holocaust would never be reduced to a few lines, or even a few pages, in the history books. In the course of the years, memorials and monuments were erected on Mt. Herzl. We, the survivors, the fighters, the vanguard, were not included. It took almost 60 years for the first memorial, immortalizing the Holocaust, the heroism and the return to the homeland, to be erected on the mountain, in memory of the 275 survivors who fell defending their new land, leaving no further trace of their families, who had been murdered in the camps.
3. Events of the Holocaust which we have "forgotten" to remember and commemorate
We have never disclosed or spoken in public of the Jewish fighters – the Jewish parachutists Schmidt, Mastok, Bernstein, Itzkovitz, Mina Marshak, Ziman, Gasya Glaser, Schuster, Guterman, Markovski and dozens of others – who parachuted deep into enemy territory, frequently under pseudonyms.
- Nor of the 35 Jewish partisans of Vilna, the pride of Jewish youth, commanded by Yosef Glasman, the Beitar commissioner in Lithuania, who fell together in 1943, on their way from the caves of Kazian to the forests of Rodniki. We never told.
- Nor of a Jewish girl named Fruskova, only 17 years old, from Minks, Belarus, who has fought and was hanged by the Nazis. Her story and picture are on display in the Fighters' Museum in Minsk; to this day, she is described as a Russian. No one has mentioned her Judaism.
- Nor of Robota the Jewess, who, with her women comrades, stole explosives from the plant where she worked in Auschwitz and transferred them to members of the underground in Birkenau-Auschwitz. With those explosives, they blew up the crematorium. Robota and her comrades were hanged in Auschwitz. We have not told her story.
- Nor of the Greek Jews Bordo, Carasso, Levi and others, who took part in the revolt in Auschwitz-Birkenau, or the uncountable numbers of Jews who rebelled, broke through fences, smashed walls and stood against the Nazi enemy with dignity and without surrender. We have not commemorated them.
And there is still no historian who has compiled all of this information and proven to the world how many of our people resisted – morally, physically and passively, with their bodies and minds and hearts and souls – the road to death.
4. Sources of funding for memory and commemoration
* The Claims Committee and ILAR constitute a central source of funds for the restitution of assets belonging to the victims and the survivors.
* Judge Korman is safeguarding about $ 1,000,000,000 – the balance of the stolen money that was kept in the Swiss banks.
* ICHEIC also controls millions of dollars belonging to our ancestors, who took out insurance policies. The money has not yet been returned.
* And, of course, the State of Israel, with all of its obligations and roots in the Holocaust, has not yet disclosed the property of the murdered Jews.
The Claims Committee does everything it can to divide the money fairly and efficiently. Considerable amounts of money are devoted to helping those in need. Unfortunately, apparently due to reasons of history or mindset, the subject of memory and commemoration is not high on their scale of priorities when they discuss the allocation of resources. The other institutions, including the State, have not yet responded to our requests for help in commemorating the Holocaust.
I am appealing to our friends who represent us in the various forums to make all possible efforts in this important area. We are also certain that the Board of Directors of the Claims Committee will find a way to correct its scale of priorities and position memory and commemoration in their proper place.
Our parents, friends and families who fell victim to the Nazi elimination were also victims of a terrible robbery. The victims' gold teeth and gold jewelry were transferred to the Swiss banks. Real estate and chattels were plundered by the Nazis, and the victims' property was found in private Nazi homes.
The monies and financial resources which are now in the hands of the institutions and the State must be directed to preserving the memory of the Holocaust. Commemoration of the victims is not only a duty; it is the testament of a people, of millions who were murdered and robbed.
Not long ago, together with Yad Vashem, we celebrated the opening of the magnificent new Museum. There can be no doubt that this is a highly powerful enterprise, worthy of great praise and capable of nurturing and strengthening the collective memory of the Holocaust. But is the distribution of funds in line with the correct criteria?
Are there institutions which receive most of the funding? Is the formula "20% for education, commemoration and documentation and 80% for needy survivors" still appropriate?
Admittedly, the commemorating institutions had special needs in connection with the construction of the museums. But now that the construction is complete, we hope a more fitting portion will be devoted to memory and commemoration – that "gray area" which is not handled by the institutions, such as: publishing biographies and memoirs of individuals, support and reinforcement of survivors' organizations, sponsoring meetings of survivors, encouraging and supporting the next generation, setting up monuments and memorials in all towns and cities of Israel.
5. Commemoration and the next generation
For years, we spoke and dreamed of the next generation, our children and grandchildren, who would continue to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, studying and teaching it, remembering and commemorating it. Now, in recent years, we are witnessing a new awakening in this direction. The next generation has arisen, has organized unprepared for the task, and wants to join forces with the Center of the Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. We must extend our hands to them and welcome them with open arms. The existence of the next generation will guarantee the upholding and fostering of collective memory and will ensure that the Jewish People remains on guard against the trend of denial and suppression of the Holocaust.
6. Memory and commemoration of the Holocaust throughout the world
With regard to the state of the efforts toward commemoration in countries formerly under Nazi rule:
A considerable number of our comrades and friends, especially those who were in the extermination camps, felt a certain relief when the authorities of the countries in which the horrors took place erected monuments on the soil of those countries. Poland, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic continue to maintain and refurbish the camp sites as necessary and to make financial contributions to the efforts toward commemoration. Germany conducts a great deal of activity aimed at commemorating the Holocaust, and is setting up monuments along the roads of the death marches, memorials in the cities, and, most movingly, a magnificent monument and the heart of Berlin. Other countries of Western Europe are also taking action toward commemoration. Holland has allocated about € 200 million; France recently approved a budget of some € 1.5 billion for commemorating and preserving the heritage of Holocaust and resistance.
In Central and Southern Europe, Government assistance toward commemoration of the Holocaust is scanty – possibly because only a very few survivors returned to those countries, as the great majority of Jews were taken to the extermination camps and murdered there.
The Jews of Northern and Eastern Europe are the ones most in need of commemoration. Those countries do not devote government funds to the memory of the Jewish Holocaust. Yet even in Eastern Europe, under the Communist regimes, the authorities preserved the memory of the struggle against the Nazis. Partisan bases in the forests were preserved and maintained on an ongoing basis. It was possible to visit the forests and to see the camps of the Jewish partisans and battalions.
When the regime changed and communism in Eastern Europe collapsed, the maintenance stopped. Today, almost nothing remains of the partisan bases in Belarus, Lithuania and the Ukraine.
We were recently told that the famous monument by the sculptor Rapoport at 18 Mila Street, where the bunker which housed the headquarters of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had been, was desecrated. The monument in memory of Mordechai Anilewicz and his comrades is still maintained in the area of the former ghetto. Today, however, it is far from the conventional tour routes, and is visited only occasionally by schoolchildren from Israel and a few tourists.
Let us not deceive ourselves. Maintenance of the death camps in Poland, Germany and Austria will be stopped one day. The sites will be used for construction, the buildings will be demolished, and nothing will remain of them. We must prepare for the gradual transfer of commemoration to our own State, the Jewish State. This is why it is vital to erected monuments and memorials in Israel, not only in Yad Vashem and Ghetto Fighters' House, but in public places and central locations, in the hearts of cities and towns throughout the country. We must recall the horrors and the various ways in which Jews fought back throughout the Holocaust years. We must bear witness, for the sake of the entire world, and especially for our own children and grandchildren and all the generations to come.
The memory of the Holocaust and commemoration of the resistance death camps and the underground during the Holocaust years are part of Israel's combat heritage and must also be reflected in the connection between Yad Vashem, which is the State authority for commemoration of the Holocaust and the heroism of the Jewish People, and Mt. Herzl, which is the State site commemorating the return of Israel to its homeland. This is a vital necessity, and now is the time. The organization of partisans and underground fighters during the Holocaust is now proposing to erect a monument in memory of the heroes who sacrificed their lives for the dignity of the People of Israel, and who serve as role models for the education of the coming generations in Israel and the Diaspora alike.
In coordination with the authorities in charge of Mt. Herzl, a place has been found for the monument, the creation of academic artist Alexander Bogen, a survivor of the ghetto, a partisan fighter and commander in the forests of Naroc and Kazan. Material on the proposed Memorial is attached.
In the last few years, approximately $ 100 million have been allocated each year by the Claims Committee, from the money and gold in the Swiss bank accounts, the victims' insurance (ICHEIC) and State funds.
$ 100 million! And how much money has been allocated to organizations for handling the subject of memory and commemoration?
The answer is: not even one-tenth of one percent. The money from our parents' and grandparents' gold teeth, from our university insurance, from our uncles' and aunts' property in Berlin.
Little has gone to remembering and commemorating them, except for the commemoration sites on the campuses, institutions and museums.
On July 13, 1944, the date on which we fought together with the Russian Army for the liberation of Vilna, I was told that my late father had been killed in the square of the HKP labor. I was released from duty for a short time, so that I could see his body and bury him. In the square, I found him, among more than 200 bodies of Vilna Jews who had been murdered two days before, in their attempt to flee the murderous SS guards. My father's open mouth exposed a pair of toothless jaws. They had pulled his teeth out, looking for gold. His clothes were torn and ragged, with not even a single button. They had apparently found the gold and diamonds he was hiding.
I didn't have the time to bury him; I had to go back to my post. I could not even shed tears.
At the last moment, I saw a folded piece of paper next him. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. That is how I said goodbye to my father, Yosef Hayyim, of blessed memory.
At the end of the battle, I took out the folded, bloodstained piece of paper. The first words were in Polish:
"The good people who find this letter are asked to give it to a Jewish partisan named Baruch (Borke) Shub."
The letter continued in Yiddish:
"Dear Boraleh, I don't believe we will meet again in this world. I hope you and Feigeleh have remained alive. Mama, Ruchaleh and Shmulikel were murdered in Ponar. Remember us. Pray for us. Revenge."
That is the inheritance which I received: remember, commemorate, revenge.
My father's teeth, my mother's jewelry, my parents' insurance, my family's property are included in those millions.
The testament of the murdered ones commands us to remember and to commemorate. It is the duty of those executing that testament to devote funds to this worthy cause. Memory and commemoration deserve their proper place in the scale of priorities of allocations. There is no justification for leaving them far down the scale.
The survivors must protest against the allocations which are not directly related to the Holocaust, or which involve increasing the funds devoted to projects of "bottomless pits". We are not talking about large amounts. Quite the contrary: compared to other projects, our amounts are small. We are not trying to compete with other entities or to take anything away from anyone. We are only seeking for memory and commemoration to remain with us in Israel for many years, so that our children and grandchildren will learn about the Holocaust in the streets and squares, so that the books will be many and read by many, so that the next generations will have the possibility of organizing and acting, and so that the survivors' organizations will not die out for lack of funds.
In order to accomplish these modest goals, we must change our approach to memory and commemoration, and the general approach which dictates the allocations.