Showing newest posts with label Hitler. Show older posts
Showing newest posts with label Hitler. Show older posts

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nightmare

This past weekend the Yankees opened up their new ballpark in the Bronx. Fans have been gushing about the improved sight-lines, the beautiful new architecture, fancy, shwanky new restaurants, the food court and yes, it's true EVERY seat now has a cupholder. Fans have complained about higher ticket prices ($2,500 for a one-time experience of watching your team lose 22-4? Really?), reduced number of "cheap seats" and a bizarre tendency for pop fly outs to turn into grand slams. Some have even claimed the new Stadium is cursed by the ghosts and memories of the old Stadium...which still sits across the street. Crumbling. Full of gaping holes. Just living out its last days. Waiting for the inevitable nano-thermite demolition...



Still it is a beautiful new stadium. Able to support 50,000 fans with all the luxury a modern baseball Temple should offer.

50,000 fans.

I tell you this, not just because I have been to the Stadium twice now and have seen it full of these screaming fans...but also because I want you to have the mental image of these fans...in this full stadium of 50,000 because I want you to imagine them all being loaded into a massive gas chamber, gassed, murdered and then their remains shoveled into several crematoriums where they'd be burned...incinerated, their ashes rising up into the sky in clouds of black smoke.

Pretty terrible image isn't it? Now imagine that instead of baseball fans these are Jews in Poland, Greece, Russia, Germany, Italy, France, Romania, Hungary, Denmark, Holland and all over the rest of Europe. And those 50,000 Jews? Imagine that after they cleared out the stadium they filled it up again and repeated the process. And then they did it again. And again. And again. AND AGAIN. 120 times.

Do you understand what that means? 120 times? And that's just talking about the 6 million Jewish victims. Let's not forget either the gypsies, homosexuals, mentally handicapped and all the rest of Hitler's "undesirable" peoples.

Today commemorated the event you know as the Holocaust. But for the people who lived through it they just knew it as a nightmare. A nightmare that began in 1933 and steadily got worse until it finally ended in 1945. A nightmare they were unable to wake up from until their liberation at the end of the war. A nightmare that some have been unable to wake up from until this day - or until the day they die.

You think the imagery is terrible? Using something so wholesome...a symbol of American freedom, a nice day enjoying the great American pastime to talk about something so terrible - it's pretty awful isn't it?

Guess what - that's how it was in 1939. And if you don't like it you have the freedom to go elsewhere and continue arguing about ticket prices and cup holders.



The Jews of Europe on the other hand, did not have that luxury.

In memory of those that didn't make it out of the German nightmare.



And in defense of those who did.


Always.


Skip to the next post in this series: Nakba


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Burging Bridges

Flipping through the channels aimlessly after another insane episode of Lost, I stumble across a Charlie Rose interview with Avrum Burg. They are discussing Burg's somewhat-new book, The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise from Its Ashes. Intrigued I stop to watch the exchange...and am somewhat less-than-shocked to see that Burg was arguing that Jews (and Israelis) today are still plagued by an obsession with the Holocaust that colors our everyday lives. His original title for the book was "Hitler Won" because in his opinion we are consuming ourselves still with hatred and paranoia...that we over-inflate every threat to Jews and Israel and that every enemy of Jews is elevated to Hitler status.

I'm transcribing what was said in this interview so I may be off on the exact quote but I think he just said that "everyday the Jews kill Hitler again and everyday Hitler kills us again." This basically sums up the gist of his book apparently, as he feels it's time we "got over it" and moved on with our lives.

Just get over it...



Right.

His main complaint is that Israelis (and Jews) use the Holocaust as an excuse to commit "atrocities" in places like Gaza and the West Bank. He relates a conversation he had with a friend about the recent act of Jewish self-defense better known as Cast Lead. Burg argued with his friend that Israel was acting in similar fashion to the Germans during WWII. The Jews, claims Burg, have been targeted for annihilation so many times over the years that we must be sensitive to ALL attempts to extinguish a race. Like our old friends Vera and Peter, Burg believes that "Never Again" applies to all races...not just Jews.

To which his mythical friend...portrayed as a voice for all chicken-hawk Israelis...responds, "but Avrum, there are no gas chambers in Gaza..." Burg and Charlie Rose chuckle at this obvious silliness. To think, that a people could be so wrapped up in semantics that they cannot even see the similarities between Nazi Germany and Zionist Israel JUST because the methods of destruction are different! Oh the hilarity!

The conversation then turns to Iran and the nuclear threat it will soon pose to Israel Burg states that in order for Israel to get what it wants RE: an American attack on Iran, Obama should require Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. And why do we need to sell out the Jews of Judea and Samaria? Well you see there can be no attack on Iran without peace in Iraq. There can be no peace in Iraq without Syrian cooperation. There can be no Syrian cooperation without Israel conceding the Golan Heights which of course can't happen (for some unexplained leap of faith)



without ALSO creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank. We can go in to a discussion of the flawed logic in this leap...how wrong he is, but even if he were right, the fact that this former highly decorated Israeli paratrooper subscribes to the notion that the Jews are at the root of all of the Middle East's problems which by extension is the root of the world's problems speaks to the very root of the Jewish condition.

First of all, neither of Burg's parents were exactly in the Holocaust. His mother was already living in Hebron and his father left Germany in 1939. While his father suffered great discrimination and went through the awful experience of Kristalnacht - he was never face-to-face with the aforementioned gas chamber that Burg and Rose were chuckling over. With all due respect to Yosef Burg who I'm sure went through a significant amount of trauma - he at least had the courage, ability and foresight to leave the Nazi hell behind before it was too late. Others, like my grandmother, grandfather and millions upon millions of other Jews and "undesirables" were not so fortunate.

You have a lot of nerve Mr. Burg, to tell people who are still alive today, still have flashbacks to the screams from the gas chambers that they should just "get over it". My grandfather died over a decade ago but until the day he died he was tormented with flashbacks that he was back in the camps and that the Nazis were after him. He would jump out of bed in the middle of the night from nightmares about his brothers, parents and the wife and daughter he had before the war that disappeared into the fire of Auschwitz.

Tell that to my grandmother, also a Holocaust survivor. A woman who lost her ENTIRE family and can barely even remember her life before the camps. A woman who used to jump at the sound of barking dogs because it reminded her of the german shepherds that the Nazis would torment her with. A woman who never even leaves her apartment anymore because she is so consumed with sadness and pain. Should she just "get over it" as well Avrum?

But he's not talking to my grandparents is he? He's talking to my parents and me and other Jews and Israelis that cling to these painful memories and simply cannot move on. Well excuse me if I have a hard time just forgetting the fact that had I been in my grandfather's shoes I too would have been beaten within an inch of my life, starved, taken from my land, etc etc. If I have a hard time just forgetting that had they succeeded in killing him or my grandmother I would not be alive today. If I have a hard time viewing an attack on my grandparents as an attack on me as well.

But even so - maybe it is time I myself, personally, stopped holding on to this. Maybe the world really has moved beyond this "genetic Judaism" and we can finally put this racism behind us.

Sure Avrum...just like after the Inquisition, the Crusades, the exiles and all that. Luckily, after the enlightened, progressive communists deposed the backward Czars and their Cossack friends the pogroms in Russia stopped and there was never anymore discrimination or action against Jews in the Soviet Union. Right Avrum????

And SURELY the poor innocent Palestinians of Gaza do not deserve the war against them just like the Jews of Europe didn't deserve the war against them. Right? Because unlike the Jews of Europe, it's not like the Palestinians were blowing up school buses, committing axe attacks against children, firing rockets at civilian population centers, declaring death on anyone who sells land to the infidels or keeping each other from getting medical attention due to political disputes like the Jews of Germany were, those vile instigators. Right Avrum???!?!?!

SURELY the evil Zionist oppressors would NEVER allow innocent Palestinians (who by the way voted overwhelmingly for a faction that was founded on the premise that it would destroy Israel and the Jews, called the Nazis oops I mean Hamas) into Israel to receive equal medical treatment that Israeli citizens receive, train Palestinian doctors, or allow Israel-hating, terrorist sympathizing Palestinians to serve in the Parliament...the same way the Nazis had lots of Jews in the Reichstag right before those sneaky weasels burned it down...................

Maybe it's more than just the lack of gas chambers in Gaza that separates this situation from the genocide committed against us...maybe it's a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SITUATION where one has NOTHING to do with the other!

Which finally brings us to the root of the issue here. And it's the same problem that plagues every "progressive" Jew today. Denial of the past is the surest way to move ahead into the future. If we burn our connections, our bridges to the past we can stop remembering our oppression at the hands of others and finally take our place as a "normal" nation. We can be just like everyone else, oblivious of the dark ages the world is desperately trying to plunge itself into again if we just STOP THINKING ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TO US. Just sit around drinking wine and eating cheese and wait for it all to come crashing down around us.

Unfortunately though it's not about the Jewish state of mind. You see the greatest lesson of the Holocaust was that this attempt to "move on" does absolutely NOTHING for us when a group of animals is determined to ruin our day. It was precisely the progressive intellectuals of Germany who wanted to put the exiles and catastrophes behind them that were among the first to be turned to ash. Hitler's victims weren't just the Jews who sat around on Tisha B'Av mourning the destruction of the Temple - he went after the secular Jews just the same as those who lived in shtetls! And it's the same today and it will always be the same.

Today there are people that are right now plotting new ways to kill you and me. Right now as you are reading this, there is some insane person, most likely in the Middle East sitting with his buddies and trying to come up with the best way to put an end to your life. And it won't matter if you're progressive, liberal, conservative, moderate, secular, Israeli, American, Orthodox, Conservative, Ashkenaz, Sephard or WHATEVER. It won't matter if you send your children on March of the Living or if Israel knocks down Yad Vashem as Burg suggests. The Holocaust lives on because the attempted PERPETRATORS of the NEXT Holocaust live on!

So while it's bad enough to burn a bridge to your past, your heritage and your culture (no matter how checkered or painful it may be, it is still a part of who you are) once you've crossed the river...how much worse is it to burn the bridge while you are still on it! This is a true ostrich mentality that it seems the entire world around me has adopted as its accepted policy.



“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
--Sir Winston Churchill


It's a cliche yes, but for good reason.

What makes it even MORE brazen is that in a society like which Mr. Burg describes he would be excommunicated...lynched even for the absolutely INCENDIARY suggestions he is making. And yet as this surprising New York Times article from December of last year points out...

what is perhaps most interesting of all is that Mr. Burg continues to play a public role in Israel. He is invited to speak to young people, he writes occasional opinion columns, and he is greeted warmly, even embraced, in this city’s cafes.

And why is this? Why ISN'T Burg treated like the traitor he sounds like, in the very country he has taken to thrashing on a regular basis? Because Jews need to stick together, precisely because of events like the Holocaust and the other horrors that have befallen our people before and after it. As the article continues:

This may be because, despite it all, Avrum Burg is family. And whether he likes it or not, Israelis look out for family.

The most ironic part of it all is that the very thing that Burg is denouncing, this obsession with the past that binds us all together is PRECISELY the thing that allows him to keep preaching without fear or reprisal.

Our past is what binds us together. Our past is what has held us together through it all. And no matter what we say or how we act, our past, if ignored will also be our future.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Purimfest!

This week was one of my favorite Jewish holidays of the year -- and not just because of the rabbinic decree to dress up in costumes and drink yourself into oblivion (although that is a consideration). That's right boys and girls I'm talking about Purim, one of the few great post-King Solomon stories of Jewish triumph. Without going into too many details of Esther's Megillah, I'll give a brief summary of the story:

The Jews are exiled all across the world. A new Persian king, Achashverosh (you may know him better as Xerxes, of 300 fame) comes to power and throws a big party during which he wants to show off his gorgeous wife Vashti by having her dance naked in front of his disgusting princes and ministers. She refuses in one of the first acts of feminism in recorded history. Naturally her drunk, Iranian husband has her killed...and immediately regrets it. He ends up choosing a new wife, Esther - who's cousin Mordechai orders her not to tell her new husband that she's in fact Jewish, lest he divorce her at the thought of having the entire Persian treasury spent on nosejobs and Sak's Fifth Avenue. Mordechai then spends his days sitting at the entrance to the king's palace waiting for word from his cousin. One day he overhears a plot to kill Mr. Xerxes and in one of the first acts of Jewish assistance to their gentile rulers, warns and saves the king so he can go on to kill the Spartans and overrun Greece. Naturally, this act goes unrewarded and instead the Jews are targeted for stereotyping and oppression.

Enter the villain, Haman. The king's new hotshot prime minister is so full of himself that he has everyone bowing down to him on penalty of death. The only man who doesn't do it is Mordechai, in one of the first (and last) acts of Jewish resistance in recorded history. Naturally his arrogant, Iranian persecutor decrees that all Jews must die on the same day as a result. He decides to leave it up to the gods for when this day will occur so he spins a wheel with all the dates of the year on it and picks whichever date it lands on. After being miserable for a few days, Mordechai realizes that destiny has handed him the ultimate trump card. The king's new wife is not only Jewish but she's Mordechai's cousin! Mordechai now has a direct link to the throne - he convinces Esther that she was placed into her position as queen by fate specifically for this reason and she must fulfill her destiny of saving the Jews.

Esther invites the king and Haman to a party just for a three of them and tells Xerxes that Haman plans to kill her. Xerxes storms out of the room to compose himself and Haman begs and pleads with Esther not to have him killed. He throws himself at her feet - just as Xerxes walks back into the room and in a rare (for the Bible) and hilarious misunderstanding assumes he is trying to put the moves on his wife while he is in the house! The ultimate in disrespect!





Xerxes is not amused


Haman is executed - hanged on the same gallows he had built for Mordechai. The Jews are allowed to defend themselves from their Persian attackers and have parties of their own to celebrate. Mordechai is named prime minister instead of Haman (and in true gangster fashion moves into the deposed man's house), Haman's 10 sons are hanged from the same gallows as their father and Xerxes goes to the Greek isle of Ahnus to launch his war against Sparta. All live happily ever after. Except for Leonidus of course.

The holiday is named named "Purim" because it is the ancient Hebrew word for "lotteries" which is how Haman decided which day to exterminate the Jews.

So great story - but is there any real relevance for us today? Well aside from the fact that here we are thousands of years later being threatened by yet another Persian loudmouth there are a few passages which are brought up in this story that speak volumes about Jewish history and culture. For example when Haman is expressing to the king his desire to destroy the Jews he describes them as follows:

יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם-אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים, בְּכֹל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתֶךָ; וְדָתֵיהֶם שֹׁנוֹת מִכָּל-עָם, וְאֶת-דָּתֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֵינָם עֹשִׂים, וְלַמֶּלֶךְ אֵין-שֹׁוֶה, לְהַנִּיחָם

There is one nation, which is scattered and spread amongst all others, in all the lands you rule. And their views/religious beliefs are different from all others. They refuse to do the will of the king and there is no reason for you to tolerate their existence.

Wow.

Could there be a better description for the way the rest of the world has viewed the Jews for thousands of years? Could there be a better description for the way we Jews have viewed OURSELVES for thousands of years?! And furthermore, later in the story when the Jews come out on top, the narrator describes it in the following way:

בַּיּוֹם, אֲשֶׁר שִׂבְּרוּ אֹיְבֵי הַיְּהוּדִים לִשְׁלוֹט בָּהֶם, וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא, אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁלְטוּ הַיְּהוּדִים הֵמָּה בְּשֹׂנְאֵיהֶם.


On the day in which the enemies of the Jews had chosen to rule over them...it was the opposite as the Jews ruled over those who hated them.

Even then it was considered "opposite day" when the downtrodden, exiled Jews exacted vengeance over their would-be murderers. It is no surprise then that when 10 of the worst perpetrators of the Holocaust were hanged in Nuremberg after the war was over, the subject of Purim came up. The last man to be brought up to the gallows, Julius Streicher made quite a spectacle by screaming "PurimFest 1946!" to the room. What makes it even more interesting (aside from the coincidence of 10 Nazi executions to go with Haman's 10 children) is that the Nuremberg hangings occurred about six months before Purim and there was no reason for Streicher to declare that day as "Purimfest."

Or was there?

Many rabbinic interpreters have pointed to the similarities between the 10 literal sons of Haman and the 10 ideological sons of Hitler. All sought to destroy the Jews. And what makes it even creepier was that there were supposed to be 11 Nazis executed on that day but Hermann Goring (who often dressed as a woman) killed himself by swallowing a cyanide capsule earlier in the day. While it's not in the megillah itself, there is a rabbinic tradition that Haman had a daughter...who committed suicide. Could it be that these 11 murderers were in fact somehow connected to Haman's children? Maybe reincarnations of them? It sounds like something more suited for Halloween than Purim (both holidays also involve costumes by the way).

I have a different interpretation than the rabbis - although I have to admit that's a lot of coincidences and if nothing else, does make a pretty excellent ghost story. Streicher was a master propagandist and expert on Jewish history and culture. It is also extremely likely he was also an admirer of Haman and knew the story of Purim well. So it is only natural that a man who sought the destruction of a people who had historically almost never come out on top of their enemies would think of the Jewish story whose theme was "opposites" on the biggest opposite day of his entire life.

In reality - the only other "opposite days" the Jewish people have had since that Purim were the story of Chanuka (when the Jews defeated the Greeks) and the foundation of the state of Israel (when the Jews defeated an seven Arab nations at the same time). Although one could argue that everyday that Israel exists is another miraculous opposite day that without a doubt drives our current oppressors insane in much the same way that Mordechai's lack of respect for Haman drove him insane.

Here's hoping that we will again soon see a victorious nation of Israel and another Persian oppressor put to the gallows.



Here's to Purimfest 2009...