Before the Nazis occupied Hungary, my revered father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, was the chief Orthodox rabbi of Szeged, the second largest city in Hungary (not to be confused with Sziget).
As the clouds that had already engulfed other parts of Europe began gathering over Hungary, our home became a gathering place not only for Jews from our city but also for community leaders from the provinces. The discussions went on late into the night.
“What to do?” everyone asked.
The answer to that question, the conclusion to all such discussions, was always the same: “Surely the civilized world will never countenance such beastly evil. People will protest and Germany will find itself a pariah among the family of nations.”
I have often thought about those conversations. Why were we so blind to our horrific reality? Simply put, there was nothing much we could do. We had no weapons. We had no friends. There was no place to run. No place to hide. Hitler was determined to annihilate every Jew and he kept meticulous records of the Jewish populations in the countries he conquered.
Some years ago I was invited to speak at Fort Hood to over 40,000 U.S. military personnel. After one of my presentations some officers asked if they could invite their families to listen to me. They wanted their wives and children to know about the Holocaust. When I concluded my address, an adorable little girl stood up.
“Rebbetzin, Ma’am,” she said in her innocent sweet voice, “why didn’t you call the police?”
For a moment I was so astounded I could only stare at the precious child. What an American question! And then I explained to the little girl that there were no police we could call. The police were as cruel as the Nazis. In many cases they were Nazis. Jewish blood was cheap and could be shed with impunity. The question from the little girl continues to haunt me.
When the sinister darkness of the Holocaust finally lifted, I heard the cry “never again” – “never again will we allow such satanic evil to take place; never again.” Those words have become a clarion call. Tourists visit the sites where the death camps operated and nations build Holocaust museums to ensure that people learn from the past.
Under such circumstances, who could be a Holocaust denier? It’s there for all to see. And yet, incredibly, the Holocaust denial movement is alive and well.
But the problem extends well beyond out-and-out Holocaust deniers. Let a Jew raise his hand to defend himself and otherwise placid people suddenly become seething cauldrons of Jew hatred.
How can it be that those who protest Israel’s defensive actions always remain silent while thousands of missiles are launched at Israeli cities and villages? Or while terrorists blow themselves up as suicide bombers, taking with them innocent men, women, and children? Or, as we have seen almost every day for several months now, while Palestinians armed with knives go looking for Jews to stab?
Only when Israel strikes back do the nations of world finally find their voices.
Those of us who refuse to learn from our past can’t understand it. It’s not because we’re so naïve but rather because most Jews are liberals who want to believe in a higher civilization –one that shuns cruelty and barbaric savagery.
So what is the solution? The Torah that tells us we are “a nation destined to dwell alone…and not considered among the nations of the world.” But it is in that very loneliness that we find our strength. It is in that very loneliness that we turn to our G-d, for He is the only One who can help us – and the sooner we realize that the faster and the mightier our salvation will be.
We are one family united by our faith, our Torah. If our brethren are hurting, we all hurt. If their blood is being shed, we all bleed. If they are in jeopardy, we are all jeopardized.
We are Am Yisrael – one family, indivisible in ahavas Yisrael, in our love for one another. To us every Yiddishe neshamah is precious, and even vast oceans cannot separate us.
May we strive for the gift of shalom and may Hashem bless us with everlasting shalom. As we say in our daily prayers, “Hashem oz l’amo yitein, Hashem yevareich es amo bashalom” – Hashem grants strength to His people; Hashem blesses His people with peace.”Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis