Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I'm not blaming the victim, but...

...but watch me while I do just that.

That's pretty much the gist from this speech, given by a Gerrer Hasidic Shoah survivor a year ago, and posted on this blog, whose name ironically enough means "Unity of the Heart". Apparently it was posted in March, well-before Holocaust Memorial Day, but given that I neglected to write a post for the occasion, I think it's appropriate that I use it for this belated purpose.

First, to the blogger's credit, he realizes that the speech is going to piss people off and tries to cushion the blow beforehand.

A people that has been devastated by the Holocaust will not find a morally acceptable rationale for focusing on one Jews choice as juxtaposed against that of another Jew. When those Jews had nothing to compare the horrors they were about to endure with anything that had gone before.

That said we Jews today should have no illusions as to the depths of monstrosity the nations of the world are capable of descending to, there is no room for compromise or excuses.

So, in other words, "We have to be careful when discussing the Holocaust, and we don't want to blame anyone for their choices, but that said..." huh? Why is the "that said" necessary? You really could have thought this introduction out better.

Here are the troubling passages from the survivor, Mordechai Raz:

My grandfather was burnt in Treblinka with all his family and their ashes covered the land of Poland.

This all happened because Jews did not listen to the words of the Gerrer Rebbe.

Really? That's why it happened? Wow, thanks for clearing that up. Incidentally, three are a lot of historians (and idiot ideologues) I need to call.
The Im’rei Emes warned the Jews of Poland 100 years ago to buy land in Palestine just as he and many of his followers had done.

Then, the Gerrer Rebbe told the Jewish people to run and escape to Palestine with whatever they had- ‘Even in their slippers’. But my grandfather, Moshe Shalom Karp, and many men like him didn’t listen to him.

Not to be rude, but when exactly did the Gerrer rebbe start telling people to "escape?" I know he started establishing institutions in Israel in the 20s, but he didn't get out of Poland until 1940, when the Nazis occupied the country and it was becoming extremely difficult to leave. If he had some foreknowledge or intuition that things were going to get bad in Poland, why wait until the war broke out to leave? Or, a better question-- why leave so many people, including his brothers, eldest son, and his grandchildren behind? Surely the rebbe's brothers could have bought some land, too! I can't help thinking this sounds like revisionism to justify the fact that while some rebbes fled and "cried," their followers stayed and died.

Back to Mr. Raz:
We had lived there for a thousand years and so many felt comfortable to buy land in Poland, in Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow, Lamze, Bialystock, Katowic, Sosnowic, Bendin Czestechow and many other cities in Poland, and also in Berlin, Nuremberg, Munich and other cities in Germany as well as Vienna in Austria.

Many other leaders, including Harav Moshe Blau from Agudat Israel in Jerusalem, Jabotinski, Harav Moliver, Gershon Koren from Bnei Brak and many other Rabbis from Palestine tried to persuade Jews from Poland and Germany to buy land in Palestine.

Those Jews who listened to them, now have grandchildren who are now wealthy in Eretz Israel, especially in Tel Aviv, in suburbs like Florentine, Lillinbloom, Shuk a Karmel etc, and also Bnei Brak, Petach Tikvah, Yerushalaim etc.

Those who didn’t listen to the voices of the Rabbanim at the time, stayed in Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz, Birkenhaus, Bergen – Belsen etc.

Their ownership of Polish land was meaningless and made no difference.

I'm sorry, this is just unfair, dishonest and classist. First of all, most Jews in Europe, Poland in particular, were way too poor to buy land anywhere, period. Second, if you were going to buy land, yes, it does make kind of practical sense to buy some in the country where you live as opposed to somewhere you have no plan to ever go. Just saying. Third, ownership of land in Israel was also meaningless by the time Jews were under Nazi domination. They didn't care, and having a deed to a parcel in the desert wasn't exactly protection from Nazi atrocities or death. (Nor, incidentally, did not owning land in Israel doom one to die.) The whole focus on buying land in Israel is a bizarre red herring.

I know Mr. Raz wants to show that his rebbe was really smart and that if people had only listened to him they would have been a golden ticket to safety and life, but the reality is that this is simply not true, and is not a fair point to criticize people for.

Even though there were many wars with the Arabs, these [Gerrer] Rabbis and their followers didn’t leave Eretz Israel, and they tell everyone not to leave Eretz Israel.

The gerrer chasidim are the biggest patriots of the nation of Israel until this day!
Wow. I don't even know what to do with this. I suppose it's an instructive look at Mr. Raz's mindset, if nothing else.

You know, I feel almost bad for fisking a Holocaust survivor. But you can't give a talk in which you criticize people for essentially not being rich and important enough to buy land in Israel or have large groups of followers agitate for exit visas on their behalf and then turn around and pat yourself on the back like this:
My speech is not about advice or opinion, but about history, and a message for future generations.
I'm sorry,Mr. Raz, no dice. Yes, Israel is important. Yes, being able to read "the writing on the wall" is important, as is having "back-up plans" for emergency or extraordinary situations. But there was no logical reason to follow the rebbe's advice. Buying land was not the act that saved people. Being able to physically leave was. And it is unacceptable to chide the victims for not having had enough money to buy their way out. When you make this connection, when you say the Shoah happened because they didn't "listen," you're not just twisting the truth and using other's suffering to enhance your rebbe's image. You're also suggesting that all those people's deaths were their own fault because they were poor. That is simply beyond the pale. My relatives don't deserve this kind of commentary. And neither does your grandfather.


Anonymous said...

Conservative apikoris said...

My grandfather didn't listen to the Gerrer Rebbe. A hundred years ago, instead of buying land in Palestine, he bought a steamship ticket to the US. That also worked pretty well in saving him from the Holocaust.