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Middle East Kevin Dispatch

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National Memory That Will Never Die
January 12, 2000

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The Stony Corridors of the Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem Israeli students at the memorial for kids who died during the Holocaust

Yad Vashem is Israel's national memorial commem- orating the Shoah. It's made up of an historical museum and several memorials dedicated to the millions of victims. Perhaps the most touching for me was the special memorial to the children who died in the Shoah. As I passed through the rocky corridor entering the Children's Memorial I felt protected by its high walls. I descended into what felt like a large tomb where one no longer needed to fear the harshness of life. As I entered I was met by the faces of children only half my age who were hanging before me as if each wanted to tell me his or her own story. I moved on into the darkness where I was surrounded by many candles. Everywhere I looked there were candles, so many that I couldn't distinguish them or even begin to count them. But I didn't need to. There must've been one for each of the 1.5 million Jewish children that died during the Shoah. I've listed some of their names here. As I felt my way through this infinity I heard each of their names. A voice told me how old they were when they died and where they were from. I pictured these children playing. I imagined these children suffering. And I exited wearing the teary face of their childhood.

The official Yad Vashem homepage can be found at this web site.

Religion teaches many of us the difference between good and evil. Parents teach us how to tell right from wrong. History teaches us that as humans we are capable of all of the above. We Trekkers love to travel and share stories with you about children who are busy playing, learning, exploring, having fun, and preparing for the lives ahead of them. But not all children are so lucky. Read on and learn about the tragic fate of the young children listed below and the million and a half kids who died the same way.

Samuel Akermann, age 4, Austria

Of all of the injustices throughout history, the one that touches the Jews of Israel the most is the Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust. From a very young age Israeli children are taught about the Shoah, one of the greatest atrocities in history. Committed in the 20th century, it was directed, above all, against the Jewish people. Every spring on Memorial Day, all Israelis unite, even if only for a brief moment, in remembrance of the Shoah. At mid-day a siren is heard throughout the country and life comes to a complete halt for several minutes. Traffic pauses, businesses stop, and Israelis, including many non-Jews, stand in solidarity with one another, paying homage to this tragedy and what it means to them personally. Almost every Jewish Israeli family has been affected by the Shoah. Their losses are not counted in numbers but, instead, remembered by name.

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Aliza (Holocaust survivor) and me at a memorial for the concentration camp "Theresienstadt"
Gerta Abel, age 12, Czechoslovakia

Adolf Hitler's vision of Nazi Germany was that of an empire lasting 1,000 years. Unfortunately for the world, it lasted a torturously long 12 years, during which the Nazis murdered millions (Jews and non-Jews) and left behind an entire world devastated by World War II. Of those killed, six million were Jews that had been specifically targeted for mass extermination, a brutal campaign which was carried out with great efficiency during the last four years of Nazi rule. Jews became prisoners and those who were strong enough were forced into hard labor. The ones that were deemed "useless" by the Nazis were destroyed. They included men, women, the elderly, and children.

Barbara Aal, age 6, Holland
VOCABULARY
atrocity - extreme cruelty, heinousness, monstrous behavior
solidarity - a union of interests, purposes, or sympathies among members of a group; fellowship to pay homage - to acknowledge
cremated - burned
conjure - to call or bring to mind;
to evoke
callously - without emotion
impel - to urge to action through moral pressure; to drive
Zionist - refers to the organized movement of Jewish people that arose in Europe in the late 19th century whose aim was re-establishing a Jewish state in Palestine
genocide - the systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or
ethnic group

The death camps of Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Sobibor, Belzek and Majdanek killed thousands each day in their gas chambers while their cremated bodies blackened the skies over Europe. Just hearing these names sends chills up my spine in the way that words like "murder," "rape," "humiliation" and "torture" conjure up painful images to many. The memories of these and other concentration camps are permanently etched into the minds of survivors much like the prisoner numbers still tattooed into their flesh. These are the scars they've carried with them since youth.

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Two Swiss women ask for Israel's forgiveness

After my visit to Yad Vashem, I returned to downtown Jerusalem for lunch and I passed by the Israel Discount Bank. Standing in front of the bank were two women holding up a Swiss flag, an Israeli flag and a small sign that read "Please forgive us". You must be wondering what would two Swiss women be doing asking forgiveness from people in Israel. After all, everybody knows that Switzerland was neutral during WWII, right? Well one of the two women explained it to me: "My name is Regina Glass and I am from Switzerland. I am a Christian and one night I had a dream. I dreamt that the Lord came to me and told me that I must go to Israel and ask forgiveness from the Jewish people". I knew she was referring to Swiss banks that had taken the possessions of Jewish account holders who had fallen victim to the Nazis during the Holocaust. These banks have just been ordered to pay $1.2 billion to the victims' families. People passed these women looking puzzled and were surprised (I guess in a good way) that someone would come all the way to Israel to seek forgiveness. Do you think that today's generation is responsible for the wrongs of the past? To what extent would you go to make amends for what others have done before you?

To learn more about the Nazi Gold scandal check out this web site.

Adalberg Berkovits, age 15, Hungary

For the hundreds of thousands of Jews who had miraculously survived the death camps the process of rebuilding their lives would last longer than the war itself. Many of the refugees searched in vain for their family members only to discover that they would never again be reunited with their loved ones. Most of their parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends had all been killed. They had no homes or communities to go back to and felt that there was no longer a place for them among the nations of people, some of whom were Nazi collaborators who allowed for the destruction of their families.

Mania Halef, age 5, Soviet Union

Where would they go? Which of the nations of the world would take them in? Large nations, like the United States and Canada, callously blocked immigration, forcing 100,000 refugees to remain in Displaced Persons Camps for months. Britain was also impelled to restrict Jewish immigration to Palestine because of the already volatile situation between Arabs and Jews there. Only in this moment of desperation did the Zionist ideal of establishing a safe homeland for the Jews in Palestine seem to be an immediate necessity, and perhaps the only option. This singular hope was strong enough to motivate thousands of refugees out of the camps, trekking through the Alps, and onto illegal ships bound for Palestine. Not everyone was strong enough to complete this long journey successfully.

Click image for larger view
Shoes of the Dead

Anna Glinberg, age 10, Poland

Of the young Jews that survived the Shoah, many brought their experiences with them here to Israel and are still around to pass them on to those wise enough to listen. At first the stories sounded too outrageous to be believed. But the stories were like puzzle pieces that, when put together, began to form an historical picture no one had ever seen before. The first generation of survivors brought with them emotional baggage filled with nightmares. The terror that gripped them affected the way they tightly held on to their own families in Israel, some of whom were already in the shadow of former families that had perished.

For a map of all the concentration camps from the time of World War II located in Europe, Eastern Europe, and Israel, click here.

Heinz Manfred Abraham, age 8, Germany

As a child with Jewish heritage, growing up in the U.S., I, too, was educated about the Holocaust in great detail and emotion. At times I allow myself to revisit my feelings about this terrible chapter in human history because only after exploring such a great sorrow can I truly appreciate the many joys of my life. Do you ever wonder whether another holocaust could ever happen after the Shoah? Unfortunately, we can once again look to history to provide us with the answer. Even Shoah survivors I've spoken with are alarmed by the genocide that continues around the world today. And so they continue to tell their stories to their children and grandchildren, so that future children will "never again" need to suffer as before. The Shoah is an experience that will remain, burning in the hearts of the Israeli people for generations.

and the list goes on and on...

Kevin

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...kevinmaes@bigfoot.com
 



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