From Ashes to Statehood, the Jewish People Remember
By Sarah Ann Haves
Emotions have run high in Israel this month as citizens have marked several significant days in Jewish history.
Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, began the eve of April 15, with survivors recalling their liberation 70 years ago from the death camps of Europe. A few days later, the nation of Israel entered Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance, when citizens paused to remember 23,320 soldiers and terror victims who died in Israel’s wars and terrorist attacks. Then, on the eve of April 22, Jews began celebrating Yom Hatzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, rejoicing in the birth of the state 67 years ago.
During a diplomatic reception at Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s residence on April 23, Deputy Foreign Minister and Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi said, “This week has become for us so unique and symbolic because it melts together three of the most dramatic chapters in the history of the Jewish people in modern times.”
It’s been a time
During this intense period, Israelis have gone from remembering the six million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust; to the miraculous return of the Jews across five continents to the only Jewish state on earth; at the same time, not forgetting the tens of thousands of soldiers who died in defending the state from its enemies. It’s been a time of mourning and celebration.
But, it is not only Israelis that have marked such days, Jews from around the world have joined in the March of the Living events in Europe. Others have gone to European death camps to pay their respects for those who died there, while commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of those places of suffering and torture at the hand of Nazi’s and their collaborators.
On April 26, World Jewish Congress president Ron Lauder spoke at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial in Germany. He recalled what it was like 70 years ago when Nazi Germany was collapsing and WWII was ending. The Jews who survived, should have been celebrating, but, “there was no jubilation. The reason is all around you. For Jews, the awful realization of loss suddenly set in. Mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends, over one million children – all gone. Half of the world’s Jews murdered.”
Lauder went on to add that after the war, the Jewish People began to rebuild their lives. “These people had a plan and they had dreams. One of those dreams was a land of their own where they would never again be subject to the whims of others. They would go back to their ancient homeland; the one they dreamed of, and spoke of, for 2,000 years.”
While Bergen-Belsen and the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps have become familiar markers in remembering Jews who perished in the Holocaust, little attention has been focused on the Jews of the Balkan States who lost their lives during that time. Before WWII, there were 80,000 Jews living in 170 communities of the former Yugoslavia. Only 20,000 survived. One of the worst hit countries was Macedonia. An estimated 97-99% of that country lost its Jewish population. Almost all of the Jews died in the Treblinka death camp.
Testimonies from survivors in Israel, heard at an event for the Jews of the former Yugoslavia on Holocaust Memorial Day, revealed that even today these survivors remember the loneliness and pangs of guilt they felt in sometimes being the only one of their whole family that made it through alive.
When the war was over, Jews from the former Yugoslavia came out of the sewers and the forests. Thousands of refugees went looking for their families all over Europe. They started Jewish organizations, and many immigrated to Israel. They sang Hatikvah on the boats and changed their names. Some went to work, others joined the War of Independence.
We have to be
The Israeli army had 88,000 soldiers in 1948. Those Jews who came from abroad at that time were 22,300. At least 25% of the soldiers that fought for Israel came from Europe. The survivors would say to each other, “We have to be a strong nation. Don’t be sad.”
About 189,000 survivors live in Israel today. Approximately, 15,000 die annually. As the survivors age, the numbers increase dramatically. Also on the increase are Holocaust deniers, especially in Europe. Because of the nearly 40% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in 2014, many European Jews have stopped wearing symbols of their faith and are afraid to walk the streets. European leaders are providing greater law enforcement, and at the same time, are asking Jewish communities to stay and not leave their countries. Most of Europe’s leaders are discouraging immigration to Israel. But, Israeli leaders, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are letting the European Jews know that Israel will receive them with open arms.
At Yad Vashem on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, President Rivlin described the Holocaust as the lowest point of Jewish existence. Speaking about issues of identity, he said that the journey of the Jewish People did not begin in the concentration camps, but in the land of Israel, where Jews have always strived to return. “The State of Israel is not a compensation for the Holocaust,” he declared. Rivlin went on to explain that the state was born out of a longing for an ancient homeland, and the dream became a reality.
At his Yom Hatzmaut reception, Rivlin spoke again of that reality. “Israel’s independence is the fulfillment of a two thousand year old dream.” He spoke of Israel’s great achievements.
But, the greatest achievement of the Jewish People, worldwide, is that they not only survived the Holocaust, the War of Independence and many wars after that; today, Israel is a nation that is flourishing, a beacon of light in a dark region. And, through the eyes of suffering, there is that hope in the hearts of Jewish people all over the world, that they have a strong and welcoming place that they can call “home.”
“For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.” Ezekiel 36:34
(c) 2014 Messianic Vision all rights reserved. This article is not reproducible except with permisson from Messianic Vision.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.