Minister of Israel
Oswiecim or by its German name, Auschwitz has entered the international lexicon as a symbol of unprecedented atrocities defying human description.
This was the killing field for millions, deliberately chosen as the locus of the extermination of European Jewry. Three and one half million  people were exterminated there in the process of mass murder unprecedented in the history of mankind.
This city and the district, to which it belonged, between the Vistula and Sola Rivers in West Poland, also constituted a Jewish center that had flourished there for many generations.
The city was known in Jewish history for some 600 years. Jews represented about one third of its inhabitants and were a part of the great Jewish center of West Galicia, the confluence of the cultures of east and west, Poland and Germany, Slavs and Germans. Owing to its location, Oswiecim was a crossroads and industrial center, and its Jews experienced all the transformations of Silesian and Galician history, contributed to the treasures of Jewish culture, furnished generations of rabbis and scholars, were occupied in business and crafts, and were a part of the great human blend of Polish Jewry.
Between the two World Wars, Zionist youth movements arrived there and infused a new spirit in the new generation.
We are enjoined not to forget the past of Oswiecim, which came before Auschwitz. Communing with its way of life, with the thousands of its Jews in their generations, and with its personalities and figures, before it became a star of ashes, in the words of K. Tzetnik, is a Jewish and human obligation, for in that way we will not only light a memorial candle for the Jewish kehilla that was destroyed but also stress more powerfully what we once had in Poland and is now lost.
The Nazis removed the Jews of Oswiecim first, for they wanted to leave only a death factory for the coming generations.
Their plot was averted. The Jewish People survives and it adds to its historical memory, a kehilla that deserves to be remembered in its own right, and not only because of the Nazi crimes that were perpetrated there.
This is the meaning behind the collection of memoirs that the natives of Oswiecim have published in memory of their kehilla , and they want to tell their children and the coming generations, for which they deserve our acclaim.
Abba Eban, Member of Knesset
When I was appointed the minister of foreign affairs in February 1966, I gave my consideration to the areas of obscurity and estrangement on the map of our international relations. In contrast to the firm position of Israel throughout the American continent, in Western Europe, and in most of the African territories, we faced an iceberg in Eastern Europe. While there were diplomatic and trade relations with the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia, all of these countries voted with and supported the Arab positions in the international arenas. The exchanges in trade, culture, and sport had shrunk to a minimum. In the campaign of vilification and calumny directed against us in international public opinion forums, the voices of the Communist countries were in the center of the chorus. This should be noted: the Occupied Territories had not yet come about. Such unbridled hatred was focused on Israel that lay within the cease-fire lines.
I made up my mind to make a more frontal and personal contact with the Communist world. With that in mind I was struck by the idea of a visit to one of the capitals of Eastern Europe. At the same juncture, I considered the first signs of independent thought beginning to grow in Romania and decided to make a special effort to achieve deeper and wider relations with Bucharest. In this spirit, I instructed the Israeli attaché, Eliezer Doron, on his way to the Romanian capital.
The question of a visit of the Israeli foreign minister in a Communist capital was more complex. After all, it isn't possible to appear there without an invitation, and an invitation was unthinkable in the prevailing atmosphere at the time. The political secretary of my ministry, Moshe Raviv, made a suggestion that I accepted immediately: it was customary to assemble the heads of our consulates in Eastern Europe in Vienna or Zurich; this time we would propose to convene them in an East European capital.
I charged our Ambassador in Warsaw, David Tesher, with feeling out the government circles. Some days later, the consent to my request to convene our ambassadors in Warsaw was given by the foreign minister, Adam Rapacki. At that occasion our ambassadors were told that the Polish authorities had treated me with the utmost respect and consideration due a foreign minister of a state that has diplomatic relations with Poland.
The news of my upcoming visit to Warsaw was much emphasized in the headlines of our newspapers and throughout the world. There was no illusion about the likelihood of making new headway immediately on the whole gamut of relations with the Communist world. The very initiative, though, which I had taken in this direction, was greeted with sympathy and satisfaction especially by the Third World, which did not want to view Israel as totally belonging to the First World.
I flew to Warsaw via Zurich on May 19. I was greeted by representatives of the foreign ministry and housed in the governmental guesthouse. Everything was splendor: the furniture, the carpeting, and all of the accommodations. All the heads of our delegations had preceded my arrival in Warsaw. Among them was Katriel Katz, the ambassador to Moscow.
The same day, I was received for a conversation by the foreign minister, Adam Rapacki. This was an extraordinary phenomenon in the gallery of communist leaders. His Marxist orthodoxy was beyond question or doubt, but his urbanity, his manners, and his very bearing would call to the minds of his guests his aristocratic antecedents from a family of counts, and his cultured, West European upbringing. We spoke in French, and he was entirely fluent in its finer points.
My first request was to visit Auschwitz. It was granted at once. The truth is, this suggestion had been raised earlier through diplomatic channels. Rapacki exaggerated in his mentioning of the Shoah as a common experience of the Israeli and Polish people. Those Poles, like himself, regarded Fascism as the scourge of the generation and the curse of history. They would not alienate Israel, the refuge of victims of slaughter and oppression.
Next day, we awoke to a sunny spring day the Israeli ambassadors, my entourage, and I and flew to Krakow. I was impressed with the ancient European atmosphere: buildings saturated with history, and many priests walking between the churches, whose bells rang constantly. This can only be traditional Poland, nationalistic and Catholic still breathing beneath its outer mask of change. The ideology or social structure has indeed changed, but the historic memories and the national identity have remained the same. Warsaw gave the impression of a city rushing towards development. One could but admire the pulse of construction and the eagerness for progress through which the capital had risen from its ruins and had turned into a wonder of marvelous socialist rehabilitation. Krakow on the other hand seemed asleep, looking backward with a kind of muted nostalgia, uncompromising with the demands of change.
From Krakow we traveled by bus towards Auschwitz. The longer we traveled the more we became silent. I saw before me green fields, quiet and sturdy village life, calming landscapes in their serenity. Now the most powerful mental shock: The bus has arrived at the railroad crossing and I saw the steel rails flashing in the sunshine...
How many rail cars have passed over these tracks! How many brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and innocent babies had crowded into those trains rushing during those fear-filled years towards torture and death! The terrible cruelty of it all had been reflected in that passing flash of the steel rails which blinded me for a short second. I will not forget all my days on earth the meeting with that iron.
Behold that gate with its ironic threatening title: labor and freedom [ Arbeit macht frei ]. Polish clerks receive me punctiliously, according to protocol that is hard to bear. A long line of high school students proceeds ahead of us and hears explanations from a guide with a loud voice. My colleagues and I are invited to tour...
Gallows and torture racks. Gloomy cells where the beasts in human guise attack their victims. All types of whips and killing mechanisms. Piles of hair that was shorn from the slaughter victims before they entered the gas chamber. The gas chambers themselves frightening in their clinical cleanliness and the most dreadful and ultimate of horrors: the piles of children's shoes by the hundreds behind the glass of the showcase...
We exited in silence, stunned, to the fields outside. We stood on a low hill and I looked at those open fields. We went on foot with my official limousine creeping behind, to be ready for any requirement as directed by the security people. The flag of the State of Israel furls from the vehicle.
I saw the flag waving in the fields whose clumps of earth cover the bones of my brothers and sisters, martyrs of Israel. Those Jews had so yearned for that flag! The establishment of Israel had been their first and last deepest wish. Had it been established earlier, then their dreadful and hair-raising end would not have transpired at all. Had they remained alive they would have applauded that flag in waves of joy and pride. Behold, the flag exists and they do not. The flag whispers to them the good tidings of redemption, and no one is listening...
I stand on the hill facing the flag and opposite the fields, a mass grave, and utter the words of the Kaddish: May there be abundant peace from heaven [and life] for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen. We turn to the modest wooden table on which rests the guest register in its gold binding. I pull out a pen and write.
Even today I don't know or remember what I wrote through my tears or feelings of suffocation.
We mounted the bus and journeyed back to Krakow, to Warsaw, to our tasks, to carry out our diplomatic responsibilities, to the resumption of our life as before.
But it will never be the same...
Menachem Begin, Member of Knesset
I well remember the kehilla of Auschwitz. I visited it as an emissary of Betar. The Jews of the town were attached to our tradition. They loved Eretz Yisrael, and most of them, if not all, were potential citizens of the State of Israel.
In Auschwitz, too, there was a marvelous Jewish youth. From a geographical standpoint Eretz Yisrael was distant from the Diaspora in which they lived, but the land was in their hearts. In Auschwitz, too, our youth studied Palestinography, and no one then could have imagined that the day would ever come that Palestine would be antithetical to Eretz Yisrael, the land and birthplace of the Jewish people. We simply learned the features of the land and called it, as previously noted: Palestinography. There is no doubt that had destruction not come for this precious Hebrew youth, it would not only have studied about Eretz Yisrael, but would now be building it.
Auschwitz one of the cities in the Diaspora where there was Jewish family love, the dream of Zion, material poverty, spiritual grandeur, mighty faith. Where are you, Jews of Auschwitz and the brothers of all those cities who shared their fate? Possibly very few in the world would have heard of the city and its railroad station had not the enemies of mankind, crueler than all beasts of prey, transformed it to become a symbol of insane and devouring Jew hatred, an eternal abomination.
There are also Auschwitz survivors. They told us. There are also those who carry the [tattoed] numbers, and we see them. There are no words in human language that are able to express all that goes on within our hearts when you listen to one of them or see the number, which cannot be erased. Master of the universe so we ask ourselves what has happened to our brothers in their millions, to the young Jewish daughters, the innocent, our darling children, our Sara'lach and Moishe'lach? The world knew, looked, and kept silent.
This horrible name will be remembered in Jewish history to the last generation. What anti-Semites are prepared to do with a Jew if he is defenseless that is the primary, unforgettable lesson. From Auschwitz our people have learned that, indeed, there are things more precious than life and more terrible than death. For all time, this city of murder will stand before our eyes, saying:
Jews, safeguard your country, your might, your honor, so that you will always be able to defend your wives and children from the villains who still exist in our cruel world. Only in that manner will we assure the eternal call: Am Yisrael Chai Vekayam [The People of Israel lives].
Shmuel Tamir, Member of Knesset
(Excerpts from a statement in a famous trial)
A cruel and unavoidable duty comes before us in this trial. Wherever we trod, our feet were trampling on blood, and therefore mountains of responsibility, human, national, moral, and historic are pressed down on us. An entire people looks to the bench of this high court and demands a true judgment.
Since the great massacre and until about one year ago, an idyllic forgetfulness reigned, a denial. The bones of the millions slaughtered at Auschwitz were strewn like flour to fertilize the blasphemous earth of Germany and Europe; most of the murderers returned to freedom and have become the masters of a great power; collaborators of all kinds infiltrated and returned to the bosom of society; in exchange for holy blood, monetary restitution; the memory of a great people that lived and flourished has been exchanged for a potter's field. That blood, however, does not rest; and not by coincidence, Mr. President, and not in some miraculous fashion has it seeped with a spurt of that blood from the crematoria all the way to the Jerusalem courthouse, forcing all to open the book of the Shoah, to repeat its chronicles and to learn its lessons.
In this very courtroom, just a few days ago, I heard the question: who are we, and what are we, to dare judge the leaders who were active in that hell? I heard this question, and I ask: who are we, and what are we, to dare to evade and escape this bitter question which looks down upon us every day, night after night, from the millions of eyes; the questions come and repeatedly demand: wherefore did the Shoah befall us? Of all the disgraces, humiliations, and calumnies that rained down on us in the days of the flood of blood, we have come today, Your Honors, to cast off the disgrace of hiding the truth, which is tantamount to standing idly by the blood [see Lev. 19:16].
I ask Your Honor to affirm in your judgment that there is no explanation or justification there is none at all for going like sheep to the slaughter of the crematoria and gas chambers. It is but the degradation of the image of man and of Jewish dignity if we were to say that they should have gone to their deaths as they did or that there was no other possible way, that a man should have gone with his family, children, and parents like sheep to the slaughter into the gas chambers and the crematoria. If things happened as they did, that is due to the German crimes and the crimes of the nations or governments that cooperated in the murder, such as the Hungarian government on the one hand and the British government on the other, due to the apathy of other nations: great as they were, their leadership was lowly and failing, since they donned the mantle of leadership and left courage and decision making behind.
All of this, all of the apologetics, this hymn of submissively going to the slaughter, this refrain of the very acceptance of the murder industry of Auschwitz, we need to hear from a man of the law and Jewish jurisprudence, the legal counsel of the government [attorney general]. No, Mr. President, that is not Jewish ethics. Jewish ethics does not abandon the many in order to save the few. I am not a talmid chacham like my learned friend, and I am not expert in Torah like him. I do, however, know the Mishnah in Tractate Trumot, Chapter 8, which speaks of one of the most sensitive areas in Jewish ethics: Equally, women who are told by the heathens, 'Give up one of you for defilement, otherwise we shall defile you all,' let them all be defiled and not hand over any one soul of Israel. That is Jewish ethics, and that is the true meaning of one may not reject one soul in favor of another.
My learned colleague, in order to justify the accused, said a dreadful thing: what could he have possibly done? It would not have helped had he warned them they were broken and shattered! Sir, this is not the ethic of Judaism. If you stand at the head of a community and you have the possibility of saving 20,000 souls, every last one of them, you may perhaps keep secrets, you may negotiate and for the purpose of negotiations you can also hide information from the community, but when you know they are going to a certain death and you have a solution for only 380 out of 20,000, who are you to permit yourself, to dare, to have the audacity, to hide the facts from the multitudes by saying that they were hopelessly lost in any case? How does he know that one of them would not arise to instill a spirit of defiance and lead them in a different direction? How does he know that there is not a father there who can send his children to nearby villages? How does he know that there is no woman there who has a Christian relative? How does he know that some one of them doesn't have a way to get out of the country? But, no. He assumed that responsibility If he could not save them, and he knew that he couldn't, then it was a crime to conceal from the victims the only weapon that they had: the weapon of knowing the facts and the weapon of despair, because the knowledge of the facts would have brought them to despair, and that despair could have mobilized them to act.
Moshe Prager, Holocaust Researcher
Is there a necessity to define – even in any gruesome detail – all that is encompassed in the dreadful, nightmarish resonance of “Auschwitz”? Does the language of man contain such a satanic term, which can embody all that was organized, initiated, and carried out in this monstrous facility? We will specifically emphasize: this uniquely original German-Nazi institution – let it be branded for eternity in human history under the term “Auschwitz”!
In the documentary report of eyewitnesses, Auschwitz inmates who miraculously
survived, two Jews from Czechoslovakia published in the Czech language their
book entitled A Death Factory – Auschwitz, in which they themselves
felt the personal need to apologize for the “factual dryness” in the report:
“…in the pages of this book you will not find artistic descriptions, nor scientific-political researches concerning… the greatest crime in all of human history – this is but a factual documentary of the horrifying experiences during a two-year period, behind the barbed wire of the concentration camps at Auschwitz.”When the Israeli governmental Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, published this powerful documentary book in authentic Hebrew translation, it was prefaced with the following few words describing “The Portrait of Auschwitz”:
“The mechanized inferno whose name is Auschwitz, the largest and most massive of all the extermination camps established by Nazi Germany, already has much wide-ranging literature of all sorts: memoirs, documents, essays, court records and verdicts, research and statistics, poetry and prose…”In greater detail, albeit in quite restrained and matter-of-fact formulation, the article on Auschwitz in the Hebrew Encyclopedia (vol. 2) reads as follows:
“Auschwitz became world-famous because of its having been the largest concentration camp built by the Germans during the Second World War for the purpose of cold-blooded, premeditated murder…of millions of foreign prisoners and civilians. Of the six mass-murder facilities by poison gases established by the Nazis in the territories of conquered Poland between 1939 and 1945 (Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec, Sobibor, and Chelmno), the Auschwitz camp was unique in three ways:On January 27, 1945, the Red Army in its rapid, victorious sweep over Poland captured the Auschwitz camp and found several thousand barely living inmates, of whom 2,819 were examined and interrogated at length by a special investigating commission comprised of well-known experts and scientists, appointed by order of the Soviet government. Their report, officially published in Moscow early in May 1945, detailed the Auschwitz horror with all its atrocities.
- the length of its operation, which began June 5, 1940 and continued almost to the time that the Red Army captured it in January, 1945;
- its perfect technical organization and original scientific equipment, which was invented and perfected without interruption by the foremost German scientists for the specific requirements of the extermination plan and for the foundation of the new and unique science of extermination;
- the exploitation of a labor force of millions eventually destined for extermination and the full 'economic' exploitation of the murders themselves, i.e., the processing of the victims' bodies, their marrow and bones, their hair, and even the fatty ash residue of the crematoria, over and above the pillage of their clothes and personal objects.”
In this manner, living and devastating testimony was preserved out of this
nightmarish hell, since the German commanders who had built and operated this
hell on earth had not managed to destroy it completely on the brink of the
absolute defeat of Nazi Germany, a point stressed in the official report of the
Soviet investigating commission into the crimes at Auschwitz:
“ …after the liberation of Polish Silesia the units of the Red Army discovered this camp…on the basis of testimony taken and the medical examinations of 2,819 prisoners in the Auschwitz camp (Oswiecim), who were rescued by the Red Army, on the basis of German documents discovered there, the remains of the ovens (crematoria) and gas chambers that were blown up during their retreat, and the presence of the bodies, items, and identification documents of the people who had been exterminated in this camp, on the basis of all these…”What then did the Soviet High Commission, in which high-level medical and legal experts participated, establish? It determined, in short, that “In Auschwitz, the Germans exterminated through shooting, starvation, poisoning, and gruesome torture, more than four million citizens of Russia, Poland, France, Belgium, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary, and other countries… In Auschwitz there were gas chambers, crematoria, surgical departments, and laboratories – all of them designed for extermination of people in an appalling manner. The Germans had designated the gas chambers “Special Bathhouses.” Over the entrance to the gas chambers was written: “This Way for Disinfection”; over the door: “Entrance to the Baths.” This was done to allay any possible suspicion on the part of those people brought to the “baths” for extermination, a place where they would asphyxiate them with the poison gas, Zyklon.
However, what was the most illustrative element in this historic, official Soviet document? It was the first original document delineating the character and scope of the acts of murder at Auschwitz. What is truly amazing? It was the fact that never once did the commission's report mention the term Jews!
The Soviet report hides, slyly and diplomatically, behind a masked terminology such as “citizens of European lands,” but who were these – out of the hundreds of millions of “European citizens” – who were specifically and purposely selected by the Germans for this end, for deportation to the pyres of the crematoria at Auschwitz? The Soviet Investigating Commission seemingly knows nothing at all about that! Only as if in a perverse manner, for the names of the inmates, which the Red Army was able to liberate from the remains of Auschwitz and on whose evidence the horrible and gruesome indictment rests, have a certain resonance and are easily recognizable…
Take, for example, the transcript of the evidence in the official report given by several doctors, who had themselves been Auschwitz prisoners. Who were they?
“The former inmates, rescued by the Red Army, the physicians: Dr. Steinberg,
from Paris; Dr. Gordon, from Vilna; Professor Grossman, from Yugoslavia; Dr.
Wallenstein, from Berlin; Dr. De Wind, from Holland; Dr. Anna Kapich [?],
Is a full line of names like these not sufficient to decipher the correct national identities of the Auschwitz prisoners, in their vast majority? If that be the case, then the report adds a number of impressive testimonies given by the survivors.
“The former prisoners: Yehudit Klein, Minna Garbman, Yakov Szkornik [?], David Sores [?], Shlomo Dragow (Warsaw district), and Henryk Tauber (from Chrzanow); Shmuel Abramovici (from Bucharest), David Sores (from Salonika), Professor Epstein (from Prague), George Kitman (from Romania), Maurice Stazman (from Belgium), Yakov Koenig (from Hungary), Mrs. Sofia Flaks (from Krakow), and more, and more…”
Is there any necessity to proclaim and say that intertwined in these very names rests the full, cruel truth of Auschwitz? The official Soviet report, however, chose for some reason to completely ignore all of this.
A drastic proof, yet more illustrative, is inherent in the foreword to the Soviet report, in these words:
“Even before the Red Army liberated Poland, the Special Government Commission (for investigation of war crimes) received many reports about the existence of a large camp near Auschwitz that had been built for the German government for the purpose of exterminating Soviet prisoners of war…”
Just like that? Was this the extermination goal of Auschwitz?
Perhaps it would be proper to quote what Rudolf Hoess, the chief Nazi commander at Auschwitz, stated after he was apprehended and put on trial before the Polish People's Court (i. e., Communist) which convened in Krakow.
In his confessional diary, written in the Krakow prison, the chief hangman at
Auschwitz points out in a clear and unambiguous fashion:
“…the Führer ordered the carrying out of the final solution of the Jewish question … the existing extermination facilities would not suffice for this purpose. Auschwitz was chosen for that. The Jews are the eternal enemies of the German people and must be exterminated. All the Jews we could manage to apprehend would be exterminated in this war. If, Heaven forbid, we are unsuccessful this time in uprooting the biological strains of the Jewish people, the day will come when they will destroy the German people…In addition to the personal, certified deposition of the Auschwitz Kommandant , an additional segment should be added from the proceedings of the Auschwitz Trial, held in 1964 before the German court at Düsseldorf, where 22 of the key personnel at the horror camp were on trial. Here are some excerpts from the testimony of Auschwitz survivors (as reported by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, J.T.A.[?]):
“In the spring of 1942, the first Jews were brought from Silesia, and they were all marked for extermination…
“The Jews who were marked for death were driven to the gas chambers. Men and women were separated. In the anteroom where they were to undress, the Jews were assured that they were being taken for 'disinfection' and that they were to hang their clothes in specific places so that they could find them after coming back out…
When all were inside, the doors were locked and through holes in the ceiling the Zyklon gas began to flow. The gas began to function. Through the peephole one could see how those standing near the gas pipes dropped dead at once. Others, somewhat further away, began to scream and choke for lack of air. The screams quickly turned into weak grunts and after a few minutes they were all lying on the floor. After 20 minutes no one moved any more…”
“…a non-Jewish Austrian doctor, Dr. Ella Lingens [?], a former Auschwitz prisoner who was imprisoned for two years for having been active in the Social Democratic Party, testified that during 1944 thousands of Hungarian Jews were brought to the camp. The SS men sent so many to the gas chambers that the crematorium was overwhelmed and unable to burn all the bodies (of those killed in the gas chambers). The SS men then burned the bodies in bonfires under the open skies…”
Here is a complementary fragment of another testimony, that of a Jewish
“Hans Frank[en]thal, a former resident of Germany, in a dramatic description told that, of 35 family members who had been sent to Auschwitz in 1943, only two remained alive at the end of the war – he and his brother… When sent to Auschwitz he was 16, and immediately on descending to the train platform in Auschwitz he was chosen in the 'selection' together with his younger brother to work in the Buna factory in the camp… All the other Jews who had arrived in the transport were transferred directly to the gas chambers.”That is the truth about Auschwitz – but it is profaned and maliciously distorted to this very day!
The participants in the conspiracy of distortion are many. The Soviet Commission of Inquiry established the direction in its official report, and the communist Polish authorities toil at fully realizing this policy of distortion.
In April 1967 a memorial statue was erected in Auschwitz, dedicated to the memory of the millions of victims who were murdered in the camp. What a determined and desperate struggle the representatives of Israel were obliged to wage in order to achieve at least a symbolic gesture of some kind, so that Hebrew lettering also was included among the 19 languages inscribed on the pillar of the monument at Auschwitz!
A succinct summary from a documented report in the Israeli press as received in
reference to the grave struggle against the falsification of the historical
truth of Auschwitz (quoted from Ma'ariv in Adar 5727, the end of March
1967, only a few days before the memorial ceremony at Auschwitz):
“… the international committee for the commemoration of the Auschwitz victims turned to the State of Israel, among others, requesting that it contribute its share in the establishment of the monument… . To begin with, a struggle took place about the inclusion of a 'Jewish pavilion' in conjunction with the other national pavilions that were put up in Auschwitz housing various exhibits and documentary material that displayed the suffering of the prisoners of Auschwitz from all the European countries… that the Polish authorities did not want to permit the inclusion of a 'Jewish pavilion,' claiming that there was no justification for a pavilion for 'the followers of a specific religion'… and certainly, the Poles argued, there was no justification for an 'Israeli pavilion,' since the State of Israel had not even been in existence during the years of the Shoah… to which argument they replied in the name of the State of Israel that East Germany, too, had not been a state during those years, and nevertheless a separate 'East German pavilion' had been built at Auschwitz…Just like that? Murderers of peoples? Who then were these special people, whose millions of sons and daughters were incessantly and systematically transported from all ends of Europe in special “death trains” to the gates of Auschwitz?
“As far as the plaque displaying Hebrew lettering was concerned, agreement was finally reached with the Polish authorities that the very same text as phrased in the 18 languages would also appear in Hebrew, in this laconic form: 'Here were exterminated with torture and cruelty four million victims by the German murderers of peoples – 5700-5705; 1940-1945.'”
The Jewish press in America reported these sorrowful remarks, at the conclusion
of the memorial ceremony at Auschwitz:
“How very sad it is that, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the victims in Auschwitz were Jews, the Kaddish prayer was not said during the ceremony….The Polish authorities permitted prayer only after the official ceremony was concluded with the uncovering of the monument in Auschwitz, and only then was Kaddish recited by the members of the Israeli delegation. All the speakers never said even one word about the 'Jewish' victims, and the Polish representatives spoke only of the 'Genocide of the Polish people.' One French representative, Robert Weitz , a Jewish member of the underground in the Auschwitz camp, proclaimed the truth about who the vast majority of the Auschwitz victims were. His words, however, were not translated into Polish, with the clear intention …”Thus the historical truth of the graveyard of millions of Jews at Auschwitz was stifled, and all that was allowed in communist Poland was that which was expressed in the Jewish communist journal, the Folks-Shtimme in Yiddish, which headlined the victory issue in this style: “The most horrible grave of our people – which we shall always remember – Auschwitz.”
This horrible grave, the grave of millions of martyred Jews, has turned into a sort of “unknown grave,” a grave of victims without identities. If important celebrities are truly visiting Auschwitz in increasing numbers out of a desire to express their horror at the atrocious Nazi crime of genocide, then the Polish rulers, who are their official “hosts” at Auschwitz, are making every effort to completely deny the Jewish tragedy.
Here are two reports that appeared in the German and French press (and were reprinted in the Ha'aretz newspaper in November and December 1970).
The first report, on the visit of the French premier at the ruins of Auschwitz:
“Eliyahu Macy [?], Ha'aretz reporter in Paris, telegraphs: 'Western leaders who visit Poland refrain from specific mention that the Nazi victims were Jewish. I asked a number of the members of Premier Chaban-Delmas' entourage whether he had specifically mentioned the Jewish victims during his recent tour. The answer was no. For example: 'The entire time I was near the premier, I did not hear him say the word Jew .' ”
The second report, on the visit of the German foreign minister, Walter Scheel, at Auschwitz:
At Auschwitz there is no monument for Jews… it is arguable whether considerations of communist ideology in its Soviet version or those of traditional Polish anti-Semitism, which preceded communism and was not abolished by it, contributed to the absence… One way or another, Poland is attempting to erase from history the fact that a third of our people were murdered by the Germans – because they were Jews. The shameful fact is that the German foreign minister, Herr Walter Scheel, who visited Auschwitz this week, was extremely careful not to break the Polish conspiracy of silence with reference to the Shoah of the Jews. It would have been regrettable had the foreign minister of another country behaved that way, but the representative of a people whose acts had transformed the word Auschwitz into a synonym for the descent of man to the depths of barbarism may not permit himself to behave in such a way just to gain his host's approval Precisely because he is the German foreign minister, he was duty-bound to speak about the Jews at Auschwitz – even if this would not have met with Polish approval
Writer on the Shoah
It was destiny that a city, an old one at that, with generations of Jews in the past and – we had thought – in the future, would turn, regrettably, into the symbol of extermination of the Jewish people in Europe. Trains ran to it every day, day and night, with our entire cities, entire communities, and entire families together. For this the city became known the world over. The name Auschwitz arouses horror.
One might say that in Sinai we became a people. We received the Torah and went out into the world, and we were conveyed to Auschwitz in order – heaven forfend – to end our existence as a people so that we should be reduced to nothingness, as the enemy in his blind, everlasting hate intended, an eternal hate for the eternal people.
The author, Elie Wiesel, writes in one of his essays about the two great brothers, the rebbe R Elimelech and the rebbe , R Zushe, that when they wandered to redeem the exile and trudged from town to town, they avoided Auschwitz: they passed it by and proceeded onward. We might assume, therefore, that they had sensed in advance the holocaust that would occur there, when the earth of Auschwitz would open its maw and engulf a third of the Jewish people.
I don't know if this is a legend or a bizarre projection by the author. Whatever the case may be, it struck me like a whirlwind. The horrible foresight penetrated deeply into my soul. Yes! The rebbe R Elimelech and the rebbe R Zushe avoided Auschwitz!
I think, though, and I want to express a formidable idea here: that Auschwitz is for us also the resting place, the most colossal graveyard where the thoughts of Jews from all over the world want to go for a visit to our ancestors' graves; our Yizkors reach there from all four corners of the earth. We are unable to forget the Auschwitz earth or its chimneys. There, where now lies the greatest “holy place” [a synonym in Yiddish for cemetery], the graveyard where our martyred victims saw the light of the world for the last time; there they proclaimed “ Shma Yisroel” for the very last time.
I, myself, must admit: I hadn't heard in our ghetto, east of the Vistula on the way to Brisk [Brzesc], about the death camp Auschwitz. From our town, as from the entire surrounding region, Jews – including my relatives – were transported to Treblinka, Novominsk, on a Shabbat morning in a sealed train, like a hearse in which the living escorted themselves to their own funeral; and we know that on that very Shabbes (Ellul 9, 5702 [August 22, 1942]), towards evening, they were all driven into the gas chamber. It was at dusk, at shaleshudes time, the moment of sublime communion that their souls returned to their maker. For two years, in hiding, we believed that we were the last Jews in Europe. We knew no one. Only after emerging from our hiding place did we hear that tens of thousands of Jews were being tormented while slaving in Auschwitz. I must confess that this news brought joy to our hearts and hope, expecting that these Jews would remain alive. However bizarre and contrary it seems, the name Auschwitz instilled in us a sense of reassurance.
I want to suggest that if it is a mitzvah for us, the survivors, we who were resurrected from the dead, to publish yizkor books for all the cities, then how much more important is it to publish such a yizkor book for Auschwitz? We must not forget in the process that Auschwitz was called Oshpitzin by Jews (which always reminded me of ushpizin [guests]) and that it was a significant Jewish community. We, here, the surviving remnant, for whom it has been decreed to generate a new Jewish continuity, must publicize its Jewish pedigree, its daily life and its Shabbat and Festivals; tell about its rank and file Jews, its craftsmen and merchants, its rabbis throughout the years, its authors, talmidei chachamim, doctors, lawyers, students, and dreamers. Jews must know about Oshpitzin! “Vehigadeto levincho!” [You shall tell your children!]
Hitler, YM”S [may his name be blotted out] wrote: “The real war is taking place only between the Germans and the Jews. The Jews have poisoned our soul with concepts of morality and conscience. These are Jewish inventions! They debase mankind. We Germans will liberate ourselves from them.”
In Auschwitz the intention was, in fact, to eradicate human conscience and morality!
Remember what Amalek has done to you, and Oshpitzin, remember what Amalek has made of you!
The Besh”t said: “In remembrance lies the secret of redemption.” With our remembrance we redeem them from extinction, from being forgotten, which is what the enemy had decreed against them.
We must be worthy!
Writer on the Shoah
To the coming generations, the children born since the Shoah and those yet unborn, – so that they will know.
A Kaddish for the parents who were exterminated in those fearful and nightmarish days, for the brothers and sisters who were killed by malignant goyim, by cultured cannibals, a Kaddish for the infants whose heads were split open on the rocks.
Some thirty years have passed since then, years of mourning that will never cease until the end of time, until we deserve that the Creator, Blessed be his Name, will desire to resurrect the dead and those trampled in the dust will arise and we will see, face to face, the ones who perished in those days.
Yisgadal Veyiskadash Sh'mei Rabba...
Our tears are carried there on the wings of the wind: to the unmarked graves, wherever they may be; to the pits covered with fertile earth, flowering and sprouting; to Auschwitz; to Majdanek; to Treblinka; to Sobibor, and to every other place where the gas chambers operated and the crematoria burned at full blast, so much so that the chimneys were unable to exhaust all of the smoke – the smoke of the burning bodies.
No. The smoke has not yet cleared; it has not yet dispersed, nor has it settled. If your eyes are sharp you will still see it billowing above you in space and looking at you through millions of sooty eyes, charred, as if they whisper silently, hinting:
“My son, this is your father going up in flames.”
“And I, I am your mother; I fell into the pit after being shot.”
“And we are Shloime'le, Itche'le, Moshe'le, and Bere'le, your brothers. Lift
your eyes and look at us; don't turn away
“And we are here, too, your uncles: Itche-Meier, Yankel, Lipe, Dovid, Shloime, and Ahron – all of us are here; we fill up outer space, hovering disembodied souls. Do not forget us – remember – do not forget us! Oh, if you remove us from your hearts, woe unto us!
Like sheep under the crook of the shepherd they are moved, counted, and recorded, all who arrive in the Auschwitz camp. They are undressed, naked as on the day of their birth. Confused and frightened. They have nothing left but the look that whispers towards heaven, to Him who dwells in the heights.
Every morning, a phylactery for the hand [half of the pair] passes from hand to hand, from hut to hut, from one block to the next. Barbed wire separates them, but they are unable to prevent the transfer of the hand-phylactery with its long strap from one Jew to another. They tie it on with awe and reverence and make the blessing, in soulful pain, sighing and groaning the blessing “ …who has sanctified us with His commandments…” The fear is great, the danger is enormous, but even greater is the will not to surrender, the desire to remain a Jew to the very last minute of life.
A Jewish tzadik who chanced to be in the camp burrows beneath his blanket and lights the Chanukkah candles, which bring light out of the darkness, the blackness of their lives.
Before Pesach, endangering their lives, they bake matzos on the metal sheets of the kilns in which the hand grenades for the German front are forged...
Young Jewish daughters gather scraps of paper to write down the calendar in order to know when the Sabbaths, holidays, and fast-days fall...
And Yisgadal veyiskadash – the name of the Holy One, Blessed be He – even in the death-camps.
Altogether thirty years have passed since then, and we are so far removed from those days, as if we are talking about events that happened generations ago.
About thirty years. Before our own eyes all of this happened, as if only yesterday, only yesterday . . .
Let us look back and see: there they are, our homes, filled with gaiety and the joy of life. Here are Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts; here are all the Jews of the town, the Jews of all the Jewish towns in foreign lands; here are the many synagogues on the streets and in the alleys, their stores and workshops.
Listen, please, and let us hear them talking, laughing, crying, joyous, studying and dancing. Here they are in their typically Jewish clothes, their silken kapotes and round velvet hats on Shabbes and holidays. Alas, these Shabbes and Festival days in town! Let us look into the apartments of our Jewish brethren there: sitting at the table are parents and their children, sweetly singing the songs of praise to the Blessed G-d and delighting in the sanctity of the day.
No. They are gone. Disappeared.
Tell me, how could this have happened? How could an enlightened, free world see the smoke billowing from the crematoria where people were thrown – and continue to exist?
Why don't I have a father and mother? They could still have been alive, to reach old age, to their seventies and perhaps even their eighties? Why did we lose them? Why were parents bereaved of their children who could have grown, matured, and filled the homes, the yards, the schools, and the synagogues with their joy and laughter and gladdened all of our lives?
And in spite of it all, and out of weeping and wailing…
Writer on the Shoah
The attempt to describe the Shoah in words is tantamount to trying to achieve the impossible. Choosing the words, composing the sentences, the character of the punctuation and spacing – all of these have much logic. The Shoah, however, from the viewpoint of a human being created in the image of God, from the viewpoint of a Jew, had no logic at all. The atrocities and murders, although meticulously planned and executed according to a plan prepared in advance – no creature of flesh and blood is capable of grasping their “logic”. The acts that were perpetrated are beyond human understanding. Nevertheless, it is our duty to recount and to transmit from generation to generation, even if only by inadequate human expressions, all of those tortures and killings that were perpetrated against our people just a few years ago. Moreover, by doing so we carry out at least a part of the last wishes willed to us by those who went to their deaths. So often, the last thought of the survivors, who expressed it loudly as we received it from them, was “Let someone remain alive in order to convey the truth.” In the shadow of the Auschwitz crematoria, on the walls of the murder locations, they wrote with the blood of their wounds, “Exact revenge and tell the coming generations.” They felt, as it were, that their immortality of the soul, or some meaning in their deaths, could come about only if their last wishes would be realized. In fact, the last eyewitnesses who survived felt that not only had they been granted the privilege but that they had been charged with the responsibility of returning and telling those left alive. They also had the duty to pass it on from father to son, in the category of “And you shall tell your son…” Just like the Hagadah of the exodus from Egypt, and the afflictions with which Pharaoh plagued the Children of Israel, like the legacy of the afflicted during the Crusades and the period of the evil edicts in Spain, Portugal, and Germany, and the persecutions of 5008 , so also – and even more so – must we pass on from generation to generation the word about those murdered. The survivors from the hidden bunkers, from the extermination camps and the death pits – in all of them blazed the determination to tell their stories.
When, however, life resumed its normal paths, when the earth covered the bodies and ashes of those who had been murdered, there were many who began to wonder whether it was worthwhile to tell; whether those who had not themselves experienced the terrors of the Shoah would comprehend. Can then the human brain grasp what happened to us, to transmit the events? And despite that, there were many who told. There were those who had to try to discharge the accumulated burden from their memories in order to remain sane, those who saw the only purpose in their existence in fulfilling the bequests of the dead; and there were even some who planned to clothe the experience of the horrors in literary garments.
The Eichmann Trial contributed much to bringing up the past. Witnesses testified in court and told of their experiences, and young people asked their parents. During the “waiting period” before the Six-Day War, the dread of the threat to our existence aroused memories of the Shoah, and with the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, the very same dread came about. Indeed, whenever an enemy rises up against us, the recent past returns and casts its black shadow, as if to say, “The Shoah might recur.” Survivors of the Shoah still live in our midst, and since that is so, there is no recourse but to repeatedly present this past, not as history in which only the chapters of cause and events are learned, and not only as a repeated mention of the number of the six million victims or of the million and a half children killed in horrible deaths; there remains no choice other than to deal with the past again in the clearest of manners, through the eyes of those who experienced it themselves or in the distress of their awareness, having been Jews living at the time.
As I began to write this, I thought that this anthology would include only such material which is of literary scope, a description which had passed through the crucible of the writer's heart, so that the agonies of a specific individual have been transformed into the torment of all men on earth; the murderer is a symbol of the killers in all the generations, and the victim is the eternal victim of all times – symbolic objectivity. Behold, the mass of material which is piled up before me has made me realize that there may be something of a distortion in raising the subject of the Shoah in symbolic form, without emphasizing the specific murderer: the German Nazi, the Polish anti-Semite, the Ukrainian thirsting for Jewish blood, the Lithuanian coveting the property of a Jew. Without remarking on all of these in their individuality and the specifics, the view of the Shoah is perverted. So also the victim: this young girl from Holland, this young boy from a town in Poland, this young chalutz who had prepared himself for aliyah and life in Eretz Yisrael, the mother of little children, the Jewish tailor, the shoemaker, the merchant, the rabbi and rosh yeshiva . All these were sons, mothers, and fathers who suffered and died horrible deaths in great agony only because they were born Jews. They died without any possibility of choice between life and death, and they died only because the Nazis wished it.
These words are written to fulfill the obligation: to tell and not forget.
It's a summer day. Wonderful weather. The sun is quite high in the blue skies and sends down its golden warming rays in abundance. Birds fly around freely without cares and chirp sweet melodies. The air is fresh and invigorating. The only thing upsetting this idyll is a thick plume of smoke soaring up to the sky from several factory chimneys. It is quiet and calm along a lengthy street of blocks of living quarters on both sides of it, and not a living soul is visible. At the well-formed entry gate that closes off the street, some 20 dignified people holding violins and double basses are seated. They sit in a half circle like a string orchestra and test their musical instruments, as if they are preparing for a rehearsal of a gala celebration concert or a prelude at a grand wedding.
There is a sign of life now along the street. Human frames, bent, half asleep, dressed in striped pajamas with wooden clogs on their feet, moved along hurriedly in the direction of the gate. The orchestra began to play. The calling out of numbers, amounts, and short, choppy commands are heard. The arrivals have lined up in rows, and accompanied by the happy, soaring notes of a Strauss waltz they march out through the open gate.
It is needless to note that this march was not a summer excursion of free, happy people who wanted to enjoy the beauties of godly nature, but was the marching out of the work-Kommando of the Auschwitz death camp. For them, perversely, the wonderful idyll of nature and the nice orchestra recital represented a bitter joke of fate and salt on their wounds. Just a glance was enough to realize and discern from their fallen faces, their pointed heads swollen from hunger, their eyes deep-sunken in despair, and the broken skin and bones of the bodies of the marchers that these were despondent creatures sentenced to death, no longer possessing names but only tattooed numbers, located in the Birkenau death camp in order to perish in the crematoria or to expire in a slow, gruesome death.
Leaving the gate, the Kommandos split off to go in several directions. A guard of avenging angels of green-uniformed SS men with skeleton emblems on their caps, accompanied by restrained bloodhounds, attached themselves to each Kommando. The SS men roared harshly and the dogs bit and snapped at the feet of anyone leaving the ranks or trailing behind the column.
One of the work-Kommando at that time was called “ Steingraben” [stone diggers]. This was a group that took on any number of prisoners. Every morning at their departure, several empty wagons harnessed to and pulled by the prisoners trailed behind the Kommando. Going to work, in that direction, the wagons did not perform a task of any importance, but on the return trip they served a terrible function. Every day, after work, they were loaded up and carried back seven or eight dead bodies of those who had been beaten to death by the Kapos and SS men with their truncheons during the ten-hour workday. The work itself took place on a flat field some five kilometers distant from the camp. Close to 200 prisoners stood in rows and dug long, deep ditches, like graves. Supposedly the goal was to drain the water from the nearby swampy fields. The truth was that it was simply hard labor without a purpose, only to dig, cover over, and dig once more, just to exhaust the half-dead people and to satisfy the sadistic tendencies of the bloodthirsty SS men who were having their pleasure with the helpless Jewish victims.
Until midday the SS men whiled away their time pleasantly in a nearby grove of trees; they ate, drank, sang, and laughed with abandon. Having eaten their good meal they approached the workplace. Not knowing their names we called them [among ourselves] by improvised nicknames: “the blabber;” “the owlish face;” “the one with the eye.” A hellish bacchanal was now begun. The SS men went to stand next to a row and called over one of the toilers, usually a weak, exhausted Muselmann and without any cause began to beat him murderously with sticks and rubber truncheons, until the unfortunate fell covered in blood without a sign of life. This gruesome game was repeated six or seven times. The howls of pain and the death rattles echoed heartrendingly across the field. All were feverishly clinging to the handles of the pitchforks and shovels, clenching their teeth, and pretending not to notice or hear. The dead bodies were thrown on the wagons and pulled back to the camp.
The first two days after arriving in Auschwitz I worked in this death-Kommando. On the third day I made a daring decision: I will not go there anymore! Before dawn next day, before the march, without having been summoned, I joined another work group. I heard the Steingraben Kapo calling my number: 2101. I knew well that such a desertion risked death, but in Auschwitz death was no longer a fearful thing. What is Auschwitz actually? A large, gigantic death enterprise; a factory that produces the one and only merchandise, which is called: Death! Secondly, the “Steingraben-Kommando” was in any case designed for certain death, so what kind of risk was I taking! I pushed my striped prisoner cap down over my eyes and fused myself together with the workers of the new Kommando. It seems that that Kapo didn't look for me too long. He must have thought that number 2101 had been one of the “passengers” on the wagons the day before. So it was that I finally marched out with the new Kommando.
A six-kilometer march. We passed farmers' homes with curtained windows. My heart was full of pain. We arrived at a pool of stagnant water. The Kapo commanded us to undress completely and to crawl into the water. Each pair of men received a wooden frame, and with it we had to crawl around in the water up to our necks and pull out grass and undergrowth growing there. Up to thirty pairs like this soaked in the water from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon looking for growths to pull, of which there was no abundance at all. No SS men stood by at the work, only a Polish Kapo. There was no risk of death at this work, but about beatings there was no certainty. The Polish Kapo, too, would often get the urge, with some kind of excuse, and call someone out of the water to beat him on his naked torso until he fainted. After a day's work like this the skin turned a sickly gray, like a cadaver, with boils on the hands and feet. After a week at this work I got an infection. A swelling the size of a ripe plum erupted under my left arm, and I couldn't move my hand. At night I felt very feverish and my whole left side was inflamed and felt as if it was being stuck with needles.
To go to work next morning was out of the question. I was not even able to bend
over, to say nothing of walking six kilometers and soaking in the dirty, murky
waters for ten hours. Simply remaining in the camp and not going to work was
possible only on one condition: when one was already registered on the list of
the camp administrators to go to the “oven” during the weekend selection.
Should I go to complain to the block elder? Yes! He would enter me into his
ledger and point to the pillars of smoke that fought their way to the skies from
the crematoria just opposite. I decided to go into the ambulatoria,
which was situated at the street's end, near the wires of the ramp [train
platform]. I showed the receiving doctor, a Jew from Czechoslovakia, the swollen
abscess. He shrugged his shoulders. “The only one who can help you is
Dr. Mengele himself, at the medical building…”
I had seen Dr. Mengele before, when he was making the selections when I arrived in Auschwitz. I had no illusions about this arch-murderer, but I had no other choice. In that particular instant, the block elder was more dangerous than Dr. Mengele. Should he see me walking around in the middle of the day, he would immediately enter my name in his ledger, and at the end of the week my body would be smoking in the crematorium oven…
The Czech doctor gave me a written referral, and I made my way to the Lager named Krankenbau. On the way I met a pleasant Jewish boy of around 17, stemming from Hungary. He, too, is going to Dr. Mengele. He is weak and sick and has not the strength to walk around. I shouted at the boy, “Go back immediately! You'll never return from the Krankenbau again!” He responded nonchalantly, “It's all the same to me!” My words had no effect. The boy came along and, in effect, did not return from there.
In the block of the Krankenbau as many as twenty or thirty people had gathered. Aside from the Hungarian lad and me there were also non-Jews: Russians, Poles, and Czechs. All were lined up in a long queue and waited for a long time. Suddenly the doors burst open and Dr. Mengele appeared, accompanied by a group of officers. Without delay he went up to the first one in the row, listened to him, and wrote in his notebook. To a second he said something that I couldn't hear. The third he ordered out of the line. He had shown him a wound on his foot, and Mengele, it seems, suspected that it was self-inflicted in order to avoid going to work. He started to beat him with his baton and to kick him with his boots. The officers joined in. Bleeding profusely, he collapsed and fell. He was a Pole, as I heard his cries and pleas in the Polish language. When Mengele got to me I said nothing, I only lifted my left hand and pointed at the swelling with my right one. Mengele wrote something down and gave me a note. I left the Krankenbau at once.
The Czech doctor from the camp didn't believe his own eyes: a note, personally signed by Dr. Mengele himself! He told me to lie down on the table, put me to sleep with chloroform, and when I awoke I was healed: the swelling was gone.
One would think: a regular operation performed by the lager doctor with the approval of the Angel of Death himself, so what did I have to fear? I went back to my block and lay down on the bunk to take a nap. Suddenly, I felt a biting pain in my feet. I forced myself awake and see before me the block elder with his runny mouse-eyes and protruding chin. He holds a rubber truncheon and yells as if possessed, “What are you doing here? Lazybones, manicurist, you don't want to work!” I began to explain: Dr. Mengele, operation, bandages, but he doesn't want to listen, or know anything. He pulled out his notebook and wrote down my number. “Tomorrow,” he said, “you won't have to work anymore!”
The block elder was also a prisoner with a green triangle, a German, a criminal. There was no point in talking to him. So I lay there in my bunk and saw that my end was imminent. I didn't cry, and didn't feel any heartache. I quietly mumbled a prayer. Before my eyes I saw a kaleidoscope of my childhood years. Suddenly I heard steps in the block. It was Simche, a middle-aged Jew who assisted the keeping of order in the block and who did not go out to work. He asked me what I was doing there and I told him everything. As it turned out, this Simcha Rosenberg from Dlugosiedlo had known my father, the rabbi of Goworowo, and once came to him for a din Torah [Jewish legal court case]. He calmly listened to my story and responded with one word, “Wait!” He left the block in haste and a half hour later he returned with a smiling face. “Okay! He erased your number! The cost was a can of sardines.”
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