20th April, 2020
Tonight, Holocaust Remembrance Day begins in Israel and the Jewish Communities, the date chosen to commemorate the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Incredibly today I learned that the Warsaw Ghetto had a full medical school and produced fine doctors, yet another example which refutes the theory that the Jews just went like sheep to the slaughter.
From Dusk to dusk we will be reminded of a fate worse than death for so many. Israeli television will run non-stop testimonies and all programmes and movies are related to that ghastly period of history, including the stories of the defiant ones who fought back.
Survivors. A word with connotations so vast, so enormous that we, mere mortals, find it hard to define. The dictionary says it is someone who survived, but what? What did they survive and how?
Why do some people survive horrors beyond even the wildest imagination, while others fail and die? How can one see the unimaginable and yet emerge as caring, whole human beings? It surely has nothing to do with physical strength because during the Holocaust even some of those who suffered physical torture and starvation survived. How?
I believe it can be summed up in one word – HOPE. The belief that tomorrow will bring relief; the belief that one will find an extra tiny morsel, a forgotten potato skin, a tiny crumb of bread that will ensure survival for another day.
What we commemorate tonight and tomorrow overshadows the whining at being forced to stay home and only see our children on WhatsApp or Zoom. What we commemorate today puts a pandemic virus into perspective and forces us to thank Heaven for what we have. As my son Gideon said “If they could make a Passover Seder in Auschwitz why are we complaining?”
There are two links this week. One from the Imperial War Museum which conceivably gives the clearest and fullest picture of the horror found at the liberation of Bergen Belsen
The late, eminent, Richard Dimbleby was a young correspondent for the BBC when he was sent to cover the liberation of Bergen Belsen. Sights of indescribable horror met his eyes, his words can never be forgotten.
Many have personal stories which have been recorded and handed down generations. Here is Zvi’s.
Zvi’s father Kalman was a policeman for the British Mandate, Policeman number 81, Policeman of the Kotel (Western Wall). Toward the end of 1938, after catching a murderer from a known family in the Old City, Captain Silver, Chief of the Mandate Police in Jerusalem and a religious British Jew, realised that young Kalman’s life was in danger and managed to sneak him out of the country, opened the French Embassy on Shabbat, got him a laisse passe, and sent him to see his family in Poland. Upon seeing the situation through fresh eyes Kalman tried to persuade his Mother and siblings to pack up immediately and follow him to the nascent State of Israel. They refused, claiming the “protektzia” of high social standing and the need to sell their properties. Kalman returned to Jerusalem, expressing his concern at what was happening in Poland and his distress for his family.
One of Kalman’s brothers, the handsome doctor Josef Rybak, who was also a footballer in the Polish National Team, was one who did not believe that the rampant anti-Semitism would amount to anything. My searches through the archives showed that he became the Doctor of the clinic in Treblinka – the clinic for the Jewish “workers”. There were up to 600 “workers” whose turnover was beyond belief, very few survived more than weeks. After further research we discovered that only two survivors of that diabolical camp lived in Israel and we went to meet one of them, Samuel Willenberg and his wife Ada. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Willenberg
He told us the story of the Doctor of Treblinka who had healed his wounds after a failed escape from the death camp. “Doctor Rybak succeeded in acquiring all the medical equipment he needed to tend his Jewish patients because he was such a fine doctor that the Germans used his skills too. He was a kind man and after they were healed if a patient said thank you he would respond “Never thank me for sending you back to hell”. He saved my life” He then told us that Dr Rybak, his wife and daughter were killed just three days before liberation.
We had no idea that Josef Rybak had married prior to the war, had a daughter or that both wife and daughter were killed. In Treblinka a young woman doctor with two children arrived on one of the transports and came to help him in the clinic. They married with the permission of the Germans and thus were saved. Sadly Josef Rybak was slaughtered just three days before liberation. It took a great deal of further investigation to discover Josef’s daughter’s name, since it is almost unrecognizable in Polish. When we finally worked out the name we were stunned – her name was Zviah, the female of Zvi.
Zvi has no close relatives, has never known Grandparents, Uncles, Aunts or cousins and he treasures the distant cousins he has. His Mother Ala Hendler also lost everyone. Zvi is not rare, many families did not listen to the rumblings of hatred which grew to murderous proportions. Rumblings which repeat themselves today every time a Jew is beaten anywhere in the world or Jews are blamed for being too powerful or too rich.
There will be no public ceremony at Yad Vashem this year although if you go to the website https://www.yadvashem.org/ you can join the pre-recorded ceremony and join the virtual name reading.
Please, I beg of you, don’t make “NEVER AGAIN” a meaningless expression, make it a war cry, stand up and stand out. We are too close to 1938 and must heed Kalman’s warning.
I was trying to think what music would be appropriate and chose three renditions of Hatikva – The Hope
The first was recorded on the first Shabbat after the liberation of the Bergen Belsen Camp https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWOkML4A8sU
The second by the IDF, our incredible young people who defend our country
Finally a rendition which shows you Israel, today, a thriving, incredible country, sweet revenge.
With love from Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, the homeland that proved Hitler wrong.