You open The Jewish Press and turn to my column and perhaps say to yourself, “Again? How long will these ‘Dusty Windows’ columns go on? Enough already!”
My answer is simple. As long as the winds of Jew hatred are blowing, I will speak. I am a Holocaust survivor. How can I remain silent? The earth is drenched with our Jewish blood. So long as G-d grants me the years and the voice, I shall cry out.
Some argue that the Holocaust is history. Let it go, they say. I wish I could, but all of Jewish history is replay. What happened yesterday is bound to be repeated today. The only things that change are the names and the places. Our generation does not see it and more significantly does not want to see it. Many will dismiss my thoughts as paranoia. But I breathed the stench of Jew hatred and never again want to feel those noxious fumes filling my lungs.
We, the wisest of nations, cannot identify the simple formula that would immunize us from this devastating terminal disease. Our Torah gives us the prescription. Our Psalms lovingly plead with us, “If only My nation would heed Me. If Israel would walk in My ways, in an instant I would subdue its foes…” (Psalm 81). But we have yet to clean our windows from the dense dust that has accumulated over the centuries. The dust is so thick that it obscures our vision. We don’t even bother to look out. We assure ourselves there is nothing to see.
We’ve also blocked out sound. Our ears are not attuned. We do not hear the angry growls of the Israel haters who are popping up everywhere. We assure ourselves that in our civilized 21st century, Hitlers cannot exist anymore. So what if Israel is branded a racist, apartheid state? It’s just empty talk. And we happily go on our way.
We fail to understand that each generation cloaks its Jew baiting in benign, non-threatening garments. It’s politically incorrect to be a racist today so the haters clothe the new anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism. Only too late do we discover that anti-Zionism is an accepted way of demonizing Israel and eventually all Jews.
I was born in Hungary, in the city of Szeged, a cosmopolitan metropolis with concert halls and universities. Szeged boasted one of the largest, most beautiful Neolog (Reform) temples in the world. The great majority of the Jewish population was assimilated – Hungarians first and Jews second or not at all.
My father, of blessed memory, a man of great vision and love, settled in Szeged to try to salvage Jewish lives. It was a daring, revolutionary move. In those days outreach was virtually unknown, and there was little communication between religious Jews and the rapidly growing assimilated population.
In pre-Holocaust Europe it seemed possible for Jews to shed their Judaism and fully integrate into secular society. I remember the pitiful cry of one of the grande dames of our city who, in impeccable German (the language of the intelligentsia), protested to a Nazi guard, “Bitte schoen, Ich bin nicht kein Jude” – “Please, I’m not a Jew!” The Nazis shoved her into the cattle car just the same.
Throughout Europe, Jews were deported to concentration camps. Perhaps nowhere was the situation more blatantly tragic then in Germany. For German Jews, the “fatherland” came first. But when Hitler came to power, all their loyalty to Deutschland meant nothing. In vain Jews displayed their medals, their Iron Crosses, that testified to their valor in World War I. In vain they pointed to the contributions they had made to the development and prosperity of the country.
Our bondage in ancient Egypt commenced when the protective walls of Goshen crumbled. The Jewish city that Joseph designated for his family so that they could retain their faith in that decadent society disintegrated. The Jewish commitment also evaporated. We have seen this throughout the generations. In the 19th century the Haskalah movement led to Jews being swallowed up in the universal “melting pot.” In 1880 the prominent German Jewish leader Abraham Geiger declared, “It’s time to bury Jerusalem. Berlin is our new Jerusalem.”