The view from my veranda

120418 Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day


April 18th 2012

Yom ha Shoah – Holocaust Memorial Day

Dancing under the gallows.
Alice Herz-Sommer, at 108, is the oldest Holocaust Survivor in the world. Her secret is in her music, which she still plays for hours every day, and the fact that she loves people. Her neighbour in North London laughingly tells us that people “stand under her window to hear her music”. Surviving Theresienstadt she understands the meaning of evil but chooses to laugh and live and play her music for the multitude of visitors at her London flat every day. “I love people and every day in life is beautiful”

Artist Itzchak Belfer passed away at the age of 98. He was a survivor who discovered how to express the horror through his art, through infinite patience and creating beauty out of the ultimate ugliness.

In the summer of 1942, as the persecution of Belgium’s Jews began, an underground Jewish group, in cooperation with the Belgian underground, set out to rescue Jewish children by hiding them all around the country. The most active team consisted of twelve women, mostly non-Jewish, who hid some 3,000 children. This admirable clandestine campaign was unique in the complexity of its structure and the degree of its success. The only living member of that team is Andrée Geulen, and on September 4, children who she had saved celebrated her ninetieth birthday. The celebration included a screening of a song which singer Keren Hadar performed in her honour.

The song, composed just before the event, was the impulsive composition of one of the hidden children — Shaul Harel, a professor of paediatric neurology.

One warm summer day the Harel family was at the Dead Sea Resort for a performance of the opera Aïda at Massada. Shaul Harel was in the jacuzzi and in the warm water he wondered what gift he could bring to Andrée for her birthday. “After all, she already has everything. After the war, she married a Jewish attorney, they were blessed with two daughters and with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and to this day she is surrounded by the love of the children she rescued.” Suddenly, the warmth of the water brought words tumbling into his mind and he burst into the hotel room and asked his wife Dalia to transcribe his thoughts so they would not “get away” from him and soon a poem was on paper telling Andrée’s story. Shaul’s knew that the poem should be set to music and his favorite singer, Keren Hadar, should perform it. Keren, in turn, recommended Rafi Kadishzon, a prolific and well-known composer; Rafi recommended Dan Almagor, a master of the Hebrew word, to adjust the text for the music. This is the result.

This is a tribute to the heroes of the Holocaust – those who risked their own lives to save others.–1s

The theme linking all three of these stories is survival, is the ultimate revenge of thriving and laughing and making music.
Tonight is the eve of Yom ha Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in Israel. We will pray, we will honour, hold ceremonies and we will stand to attention as the entire country falls into a reverent silence as the wail of the siren envelops us all in our mourning of those who could not live to see this day. Buses stop in their tracks, cars stop where they are whether on by-way or highway as the country hangs its head and sheds a tear while standing to attention until the eerie wail of the siren fades away.

I never met anyone who died in the Shoah, nor did my children, but I will honour them and those who lived to tell their story by repeating their stories and ensuring that my grandchildren do not forget what was and what could be again if we are not very careful. We are our collective history and we must use it to make us a better people making this a better world. We should not accept derision and dehumanisation any more – we have pride in who we are and we must stand up to bullies not bow to them.

May the souls of the millions whose graves are unmarked rest in peace and may this world learn from its mistakes.

With love from Jerusalem, heart of our dreams and prayers – my home, our Israel.