"This is not the first 'Ahmadinejad' we have encountered"
Yom Hashoah 2009 Speech by SWC Dean & Founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier
April 21, 2009
My friends, today Jews around the world come together to commemorate Y’mei Hashoah – the long nights of the Holocaust - when millions of men, women, and
children trapped in Hitler’s Europe beseeched their Creator with prayers, hoped that there was still someone out there who would remember them, who was prepared to act. They waited by the trains, in the forests, in the concentration camps, in the ghettos, but they waited in vain for none came and too few cared.
Can you believe it? That yesterday, on the eve of Yom Hashoah, President Ahmadinijad used the platform of the United Nations Durban II in Geneva to question Israel’s right to exist – calling it a country created by 'military aggressions to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering' from the Second World War. But as he said in an interview to Der Spiegel magazine, “The Zionist regime is the result of WWII - what does any of this have to do with the Palestinian people or with the Middle East. I believe we must get to the root of the problem - if one doesn’t consider the causes there can be no solution.” In short, what he’s saying is that Israel shouldn’t have been created after WWII and there will be no solution until Israel stops existing. And this morning, we learn that Ahmadinijad’s actual speech distributed to UN diplomats contained a denial of the Holocaust, claiming, “The West had used the ambiguous and dubious question of the Holocaust in setting up the State of Israel.” At the last minute Ahmadinijad eliminated that line from his speech.
What has changed, my friends, in these last 7 decades – we were just there, in the Swiss side of Evian, 71 years ago when the nations of the world met with an opportunity to save Europe’s Jews but, instead, they closed their doors on them and left them all to Hitler. Yesterday, another world conference in Geneva, and, once again, the Jews are the principal targets.
Yes, its true – 23 nations and numerous NGOs walked out of the hall right in front of Ahmadinijad, but it is true as well that the United Nations, an organization founded as a result of WWII gave a platform on the eve of Yom Hashoah to a Holocaust denier who, once again, railed against the Jews.
What should we learn from all this? We should learn the vital parable Rashi quotes in the Book of Exodus, in the verse depicting the Amalekite attempt to obliterate the Jewish men, women, and children. Rashi quotes this strange parable from the Medrash: one day a father went off into the forest carrying his son on his shoulder. As the son would see things he wanted retrieved, he would ask his father to bend down and retrieve it. He did it once, twice and three times until, suddenly the son noticed some people coming toward them. He called out to them, “say, have any of you by chance seen my father?” The father was so insulted that his son had forgotten where he was that he tossed him to the ground and then the evil Amalek came and bit him. What Rashi is telling us is you know when Amalek comes when we forget how we got here and who is carrying us.
The first time the world learned about the gas chambers was from an ordinary Jew named Szlamek, who was deported to Chelmno on January 7, 1942 as part of a work detail assigned to the mobile gas units. He was responsible for pulling out bodies of dead Jews from the gas van and then burying them. At the end of the first week, he discovered the bodies of his own parents, and buried them.
When he returned from work one night during his first week there, the SS guard forced him to lead his group in a song. When he chanted the Shma, the SS man demanded another song, so Szlamek and his group sang the Hatikva – there was no State of Israel then – to Szlamek, it was only a dream. But today, the dream has become a reality and that reality, the State of Israel, is carrying the entire Jewish people on her shoulders. Without her, the Jewish future would be bleak and the revival of Judaism we are now experiencing would never have occurred.
Do not be fooled by Ahmadinijad’s rhetoric – he means all of us – every Jew who sings the Hatikva is his enemy.
Of course, the Mullahs have a broader agenda than the Jews – they yearn to see the end of western civilization but few sane people believe that Iran will ever attack France or Britain, but no one should doubt their deep, irrational hatred for the people of Israel.
Today, more than 5 million Jews live in the State of Israel. What took Hitler 5 years to implement through his Final Solution, could take just a few hours to accomplish should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.
Since the Holocaust, American Jews, the strongest most prolific Jewish community in the world, have learned what is expected of them. They remember well how little was done by America’s Jews to save their brothers and sisters during the Nazi Holocaust. A new generation of activists has risen determined, never again, to repeat those mistakes.
They have taken to heart the words of the great Talmudist, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who became a religious Zionist after the Holocaust because Jews, he said, can no longer be passive – passengers in somebody else’s vehicle but must learn how to drive their own future, becoming active partners in converting fate into destiny.
Some have great difficulty in accepting this new role of activism and have begun a new campaign to vilify and cast aspersions on the right of American Jews to speak up for the security of a sister democracy – America’s only dependable ally in the Middle-East.
An example is the recent resignation of Charles Freeman, President Obama’s appointment to head the National Intelligence Council responsible for coordinating all of America’s intelligence operations. Freeman’s credentials were challenged by Jews and non-Jews, including United States Congressman and Senators, calling into question his relationship with Saudi Arabia, and his support for the Chinese government’s Tiananmen Square policy.
But Freeman ignored all of this, preferring to place the blame squarely on the Israel Lobby for his resignation. He said, “The libels on me ... show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired.... The tactics of the Israel lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency... the aim of the lobby is control of the policy process ... and the exclusion of all options with decision by Americans and our government other than by those that it favors.”
This is also the line used by John Mearsheimer, a professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and Steven Walt, a professor of International Relations at the Kennedy School at Harvard, authors of the book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, who argue that at the core of the Israel Lobby are American Jews who make a significant effort in their daily lives to bend US foreign policy so that it advances Israel’s interest.
Apparently, Mearsheimer and Walt do not want to grant the same rights to American Jews that are regularly granted to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and millions of other Americans because, to them, American Jews who support Israel have an unworthy political agenda and simply cannot be trusted.
In 1938, a young boy, Eric Lucas, was uprooted from his home in Germany. This is how he recalled it: “It was a cold, dark February morning when I left Germany. I was the only passenger who boarded the train at the station. I rushed to the window to look for my parents. They stood in the distance, but could not come to the train. I waved timidly, full of fear, but even that was too much for the guards. A man in a black uniform rushed up to me and said, ‘You Jewish swine, one more sign or word from you and we shall keep you here.’
And so I stood at the window, in the distance stood a silent and aging couple, to whom I dared neither speak nor wave a final farewell. But I could see their faces very distinctly.
A few hours before, just before they took me to the train station, my father and mother had laid their hands gently on my bowed head invoking the ancient blessing, that G-d let me be like Ephraim and Menashe – let it be well with you, do your work and duty, and if G-d wills it, we shall see you again. Never forget that you are a Jew, do not forget your people and do not forget us.
My boy, added my mother ... but know that you will never be away from me, as tears streamed down her kind and sad face. It was the first and the last time I had seen them both weep. As the train pulled out of the station, I leaned my face against the cold glass of the window and wept bitterly.”
Eric Lucas arrived in London in March of 1939, he desperately tried to bring his parents out, but was unsuccessful. He received one final letter from them. In it, his mother wrote:
“We shall never see you again, was there no space in the whole wide world for us two old people? I hope we shall not live very long now. There is nothing left to hope for. We are so lonely and forsaken. Was there nobody who could have helped?” Three years later, Eric Lucas’ parents perished in the Holocaust.
What happened to the parents of Eric Lucas and to six million others will never happen again.
To the President of Iran, we say this – you’re not the first to attempt to destroy us. We’ve met up with your ancestors many times in our 3,500 year history – we were burned at stakes, persecuted in Crusades, force baptized in Inquisitions, robbed and pillaged in pogroms, gassed in crematoria - even in your land, in ancient Persia, Haman plotted to destroy us – but we survived all of them – depositing them in the dust bins of history as we shall survive you, undeterred and committed to building a civilization based on tolerance and human dignity, a civilization worthy of passing on to our children and grandchildren.