The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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A World That Has Vanished

On whose head did this venomous wrath of extermination and murder fall?

We shall prove that the Jewish people were bereaved of many millions,
certainly close to six million people. But this meant more than the
destruction of over a third of the total; it meant the extinction of those
Jewish communities which represented the most important element of the
nation from the point of view of inspiration and national consciousness,
creative power, cultural and spiritual resources, devotion to the Jewish
people and its values. There were some grounds for the Nazis belief that if
they could succeed in wiping out this part of Jewry, they would prove
victorious in their battle against Jewry in general.

From the point of view of Europe, a national community was exterminated
which had resided there from the second century BCE as an integral part of
its human landscape, a nationality of which H.A.L. Fisher, the historian,
wrote in the introduction to his History of Europe:
     "As the sunshine of religious toleration spread through Central and
     Western Europe, the Jews were admitted to civic rights. The
     hospitality of the Christian state was amply repaid in noble
     contributions to art, science and literature."

Of the 257 Nobel Prize winners during the first fifty years of this
century, thirty-four were Jews, twelve of whom were expelled by the Nazis.
I shall not list here all the outstanding Jews stemming from those
countries which had suffered the hand of Hitler. It will suffice if we
mention just a few of the many hundreds, to pin but a partial idea of the
Jewish People's contribution to European culture and life - great geniuses
like Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud; Fritz Haber, the chemist; Henri
Bergson, the philosopher; Paul Ehrlich and Elie Metchnikoff, biologists;
Niels Bohr, physicist; Otto Warburg and Ernst Boris Chain, physiologists;
thinkers like Martin Buber, writers like Emil Ludwig, Stefan Zweig, Franz
Kafka, Franz Werfel, Jakob Wassermann, Max Brod and Lion Feuchtwanger,
sculptors and painters like Antokolsky, Chagall, Modigliani and Max
Liebermann; Max Reinhardt, the producer; musicians like Huberman,
Rubinstein, Kreisler and Richard Tauber.

The associations between Jewry and Germany comprise a tragic chapter in
human annals. Anyone who peruses Bernfeld's Book of Tears*{*Sefer
Ha-Demaot, vols. (1923-26)},which is an account of the persecutions that
have befallen the Jewish People, will readily see that Germany was the
country where Jews suffered more than in any other place. And yet, the
Jewish people bestowed great love and devotion on Germany. Its
folk-language, Yiddish was created on the pattern of German; it carried
this tongue with it to every country of the dispersion, to Poland, Russia
and across the seas. It was in German that Herz1 wrote his classics of
Zionism, that the proceedings of the Zionist Congresses were held, that
standard works on Jewish history and philosophy were written. In other
European countries Jews also settled down and attained positions of honour,
but nowhere in recent generations did they display the same devotion and
enthusiasm as in Germany. Karl Marx and Ferdinand Lassalle created German
Socialism, which spread throughout the world, and it was their pupil,
Eduard Bernstein, who founded reformed socialism.

When World War I broke out, the German Jewish community flocked to the
ranks of the German army with patriotic zeal; the aged philosopher, Hermann
Cohen, stepped down from his university rostrum and called for a supreme
effort on behalf of Germany. Fritz Haber devoted himself tirelessly to the
scientific effort and invented the synthesized ammonia which was of much
assistance to the German war effort. The German Jewish community was proud
of every soldier and officer awarded a medal. After the capitulation, the
Jews devoted themselves to the reconstruction of the country. Walter
Rathenau, first as Minister of Economic Affairs and later as Foreign
Secretary, achieved much on behalf of Germany. Hugo Preuss, the Jewish
Minister of the Interior, prepared the draft of the Weimar Constitution,
one of the most progressive constitutions in Europe.

But all this only served to fire the anger of the Nazis. Rathenau was
assassinated by nationalist plotters. The Jewish contribution to Germany
was represented by the Nazis as a foreign growth which had to be uprooted -
and this became an accepted aim in their campaign of incitement.

In terms of the Jewish People, European Jewry on the eve of the Holocaust
was the heart of the whole nation, the source of its vitality. The great
majority of its spiritual guides and leaders either dwelt there or were of
European origin. Here were to be found the great religious scholars, the
inheritors of the great Rabbi Elijah of Vilna, in the renowned Volozhin
Yeshiva. It was here, in a suburb of Kovno, that the Slobodka Yeshiva was
situated, in which the Lithuanian tradition of study was maintained. It was
from Europe, that Rabbi Kook and the Hafetz Haim came; that the visionaries
of the State, the architects of Jewish nationalism, it leaders, thinkers
and writers, emerged. This was the Jewry which, in the last generation,
gave to the nation HerzI and Nordau, Ahad-Ha'am and Pinsker, Bialik,
Tchernichowsky and Schneour, Weizmann, Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky. It was
from here that the daring pioneers set forth in the quest for the Promised
Land, the members of the first and second waves of immigration, who laid
the foundations on which the State was ultimately built. From here came the
dreamers and the fighters, the moulders of the new Jew's way of life,
thought and character, men like A.D. Gordon, Berl Katznelson, Kurt
Blumenfeld, Shmaryahu Levin and many others, whom I will not list here.

These millions who were destroyed waited for their State, but were not
privileged to see it. It was in these communities which were destroyed that
the wonderful youth movements, imbued with national and social ideals,
sprang up in the years between the wars - their members burning with faith,
pure of body and heart for whom Zion was their life-breath.

Ancient communities were destroyed of which I shall mention only a few.
There was the illustrious Jewry of Amsterdam, shelter of the Spanish
Marranos, where Menashe ben Israel dwelt, where Baruch Spinoza lived and
wrote. Gone is the Jewry of Prague with its magnificent synagogues which
had been in existence since the tenth century, the city of the "Maharal"
and the "Noda Biyehuda." The Jewish community of Berlin - the home of Moses
Mendelssohn and Ezriel Hildesheimer - was exterminated.

Doom descended on the Jewry of Vienna with a history going back more than a
thousand years, where Theodor HerzI wrote and worked. Gone forever are the
glorious Jewish centres of Poland, headed by the illustrious Warsaw com
munity, the city of Nahum Sokolow and David Frischmann, the centre of
Polish Jewry, steeped in Jewish culture. Lvov Jewry has vanished, a great
centre of Jewish religious scholarship and enlightment, a focus of Jewish
education, cradle of leaders and guides, the city of the "Turei Hazahav"
and the "Shir." Even its ancient cemetery, itself a glorious record of
Jewish history, was destroyed and is no more. The Jewry of Lodz, city of
industry and trade, of Jewish craftsmanship linked with a rich Hebrew
culture, was wiped out. Jewish Vilna is no more the Jerusalem of Lithuania,
the home of the Vilna Gaon, a city full of teaching, wisdom and study,
which its Jewish poet described as "a city of spirituality and simplicity,
a city immersed in contemplation." It was from here that the famous edition
of the Talmud was distributed to all Jewish communities throughout the
world. The Jewry of Cracow has gone, city of enlightenment and scholarship,
bearer of a wonderful tradition and culture, the city of Jews who combined
East and West, the city of the "Rama." The Kovno community is no more; it
was here that Rabbi Israel Salant lived and worked. The Odessa Jewish
community was exterminated, the cultural cradle of Bialik, Mendele Mokher
Seforim and Ahad Ha-'am. Gone is the Kiev Jewish community which once so
proudly confronted the blood libel in the Beilis trial. Gone is the ancient
community of Salonika, where Jews had lived for some two thousand years,
the city which gave shelter to the refugees from Spain and Portugal and in
which Jewish scholars and great religious luminaries grew up side by side
with Jews strong of muscle and healthy of body, the city of Rabbi Moshe
Almosnino. Gone forever is the Jewry of Bratislava or Pressburg, the
zealous guardian of the Law and the commandments, the city of the "Hatarn
Sofer." Vanished is the community of Budapest, where Jews probably lived
even before the arrival of the Magyars, a city of renown in Jewish life,
mother of some of Jewry's greatest luminaries.

The Jewish townlet in eastern and southern Europe is destroyed; the shted,
the abode of tens of thousands of Jews, each with its study center and
lodging house a reservoir of scholarship and of love for Israel, where the
Jewish spirit was nurtured until the last generation, where the tradition
of Jewish family life was preserved in the typical small Jewish houses,
which all the winds in the world could not shake, stronghold of Torah and
tradition, of yearning for the coming of the Messiah - this too is no more.
An entire civilization, with a characteristic way of life, an atmosphere
and faith, has been destroyed.

Landmarks of Jewish history have been obliterated. The heart of the Jewish
people has been wounded. Adolf Eichmann knew what he was about: If he
should succeed in destroying this Jewry, he would destroy the whole of
Jewry. The others, he hoped, would perish, or be assimilated.

By the mercy of Providence, which preserved a saving remnant, Adolf
Eichmann's design was frustrated, and the intention that he cherished was
not implemented to the end.

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