The war made it clear that almost everybody agreed that the Jews had no right to live.
That goes straight to the bone.
Other people have some choice of options – their attention is solicited by this issue or that, and being besieged by issues they make their choices according to their inclinations. But for "the chosen" there is no choice. Such a volume of hatred and denial of the right to live has never been heard or felt, and the will that willed their death was confirmed and justified by a vast collective agreement that the world would be improved by their disappearance and their extinction.
– Saul Bellow, Ravelstein, 2000
Yom Hashoah is a day of collective Jewish mourning. We have other days when we mourn – most prominently Tisha Be'av, when we mourn the loss of the First and Second Temples and of our sovereignty.
As a day of mourning, Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day is distinct in that it is not a fast day. We don't deny ourselves things on Yom Hashoah. We eat. We drink. We go to work.
There are explanations – handed to us by generations of rabbis – for the destruction of the ancient Kingdoms of Israel. We were persecuted back then by the Greeks and the Assyrians and the Romans, but we too played a role in our own destruction. We had some power over our fate.
The Holocaust was unique from those other catastrophes that befell us in just how little it had to do with the Jews. We were not actors in the Holocaust. We were objects acted upon by the nations of Europe which, as Bellow wrote, did in fact agree that it would not be too objectionable to anyone if the Germans were to go ahead and exterminate the Jewish people.
In March a dispute between Holocaust survivors and Yad Vashem generated a modicum of domestic media attention. It seems that Jews who saved other Jews want to be recognized by Yad Vashem in some way. These Jewish heroes – now approaching death – argued that since the non-Jews who saved Jews are recognized as Righteous Gentiles, they, who at much greater peril saved far more Jewish lives should also be distinguished officially for their valor.
Yad Vashem rejected their request explaining that from its perspective, a Jew acting heroically to save another Jew is obeying an existential imperative. The murder of one Jew is a wound that every other Jew absorbs. In contrast, the Christians who saved Jews in the Holocaust were exercising a choice. Therefore, said the officials at Yad Vashem, those Christians should be specifically and individually acknowledged for their efforts.
There is something telling in Yad Vashem's argument. It cuts to the heart of something that has nothing at all to do with the Holocaust. It speaks about what it means to be a Jew. We have a responsibility to our fellow Jews because the fortunes of all of us are connected inextricably with the fortunes of each individual Jew. Try as we might, there is nothing we can do to escape this reality.
BUT AGAIN, the Holocaust, in and of itself, tells us nothing about Jewish identity. It only tells us about the rest of the world. The Jews of Europe did not decide to die. They neither seized territory nor did they plant bombs in German cafes. The Holocaust was a German initiative, carried out by Germans and millions of collaborators from France to Greece to Poland to Lithuania. The decision to prevent the Jews' escape from Europe to the Land of Israel belonged to Britain.
The group that really ought to be taking the Holocaust to heart is not the Jews, but the Europeans who two generations ago descended to the depths of human depravity by either conducting the extermination of European Jewry or enabling it.
Sadly, Europe has avoided serious self-examination and instead has turned the Holocaust into a fetish. Holocaust memorials spring up like mushrooms after the rainfall throughout the continent. But what do they signify? A sop to Holocaust-obsessed Jews, they are used to teach Europeans that nationalism is bad.
Speaking in 2000, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said, "The core of the concept of Europe after 1945 was and still is a rejection of the European balance of power principle and the hegemonic ambitions of individual states."
But this has nothing to do with the causes for the liquidation of European Jewry. It was not Polish or American nationalism that led to the Holocaust. The balance of power between Britain and France had nothing to do with the Holocaust. It was genocidal anti-Semitism, nurtured by 2000 years of Christian mythology, embraced by a post-Nietzschean Germany, and accepted relatively enthusiastically by the overwhelming majority of the rest of Europe that caused the Holocaust.
There is something deeply distasteful and viscerally disturbing about the spectacle of dozens of leaders of anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian governments coming together at Auschwitz or the UN General Assembly or Westminster Cathedral and self-righteously bowing their heads for our exterminated brothers and sisters. It is particularly odious given that the nihilistic moral relativism that played such a role in enabling the Holocaust remains the order of the day in the societies these leaders now govern.
Israel exists and Jewish communal organizations in the Diaspora exist both to cultivate Jewish life for the benefit of Jews, and to protect Jewish existence from manifestations of anti-Semitism. Jews cannot convince anti-Semites not to hate us anymore than a deer can convince a wolf not to hunt it. That work must be done by the societies that committed and enabled the Holocaust.
Israel has a duty to recall the Holocaust for what it means to the Jewish people to have lost a third of our members. But we have nothing to gain from joining the Europeans in their bizarre Holocaust rituals. It is neither our right nor our responsibility to wash Europe's hands of our brothers' blood.
Indeed, what that blood tells us most of all is that in the postwar world, we cannot allow ourselves to be enchanted by odes to brotherly love or utopian dreams. We can only defend ourselves, in our land, with our military and with our economic creativity, because the notion of trust perished at Auschwitz.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.