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May 6, 2016 6:52 am

We Must Keep the Memory of the Holocaust Alive Through Aggressive Education

avatar by Isi Leibler

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The entrance of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The entrance of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

My grandparents and many members of my family were exterminated by the Nazis. I would probably also have perished had my parents not had the foresight of leaving Antwerp when I was a young infant on what was probably the last boat to sail to Australia before the outbreak of war.

Like survivors, those of us whose families were murdered by the Nazis retain the memory of the Holocaust as part of our DNA. Indeed, in most cases this also applies to our children, who share the sensitivities of their parents.

But today, 70 years later, for our grandchildren, most of whom were deprived of the opportunity of hearing their families agonize over memories, the relevance of the Holocaust will fade unless there is a conscious effort to convey it within the framework of their history.

The extent to which Holocaust commemoration is maintained by future Jewish generations will largely be determined by the educational approach and curriculum provided in the Israeli school system.

We should be under no illusions. The so-called Holocaust commemoration in Europe and other Western countries is a sham. In most cases it trivializes the Holocaust by linking it to other mass murders. In fact, commemoration has become so broad and universal that the words “Jew” and “antisemitism” are not even mentioned in the European Union’s lengthy call to its constituents to engage in Holocaust remembrance.

If Holocaust awareness truly existed, it would have been inconceivable for the current anti-Semitic tsunami to have swept through the continent of Europe, which was soaked with the blood of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.

In fact, a survey of adults in 101 countries reveals that only 54% had ever heard of the Holocaust, and a large proportion of these considered it a myth.

With the actual number of survivors dramatically diminishing, Holocaust deniers have proliferated and indeed today there is a growing campaign, spearheaded by Islamic antisemites, promoting Holocaust denial.

As Jews, I believe that it is our obligation to ensure that this dark chapter of our history is commemorated and studied by future Jewish generations. This is not merely to honor our martyrs but to appreciate the contrast between the Jewish people today, which, with the revival of nationhood, can defend itself, and the powerlessness of those dark years when the world stood by as we were being murdered. If we follow the double standards and bias currently leveled against us, particularly at the United Nations, often with the support or indifference of the Europeans, we must appreciate how fortunate we are today that we are able to rely on our own defenses.

There are some, including far-left Israelis, who seek to scale down or even cancel Holocaust commemoration within Israel on the spurious grounds that it is exploited to create an environment of Jewish victimhood and as a means of extorting money and political favors from European countries.

This would be disastrous because it is imperative that future generations understand what happened to their European ancestors and realize that the state in which they live cannot be taken for granted.

As we commemorate our Exodus from Egyptian slavery to freedom, so we are obliged to remind ourselves how, after 2,000 years of exile and immediately in the wake of the most barbaric genocide, we revived Jewish nationhood in the State of Israel.

My grandson returned a few weeks ago from his school’s journey to the Nazi death camps. Even though his family was already sensitive to the Holocaust, the visit had a profound impact on him.

I was therefore deeply saddened to read that the principal of Tel Aviv’s prestigious elite secular Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, Dr. Zeev Dagani, proposes canceling annual trips to the Nazi death camps. He claims that “there are many youth who are not emotionally built to grasp the reality of the horror. It is too much for them and I think it is too early to send 16- and 17-year-olds to trips to Poland. It is a trip which requires emotional and intellectual maturity.”

The reality is that if adequate education is provided and the tours are led by well-informed guides, the results have proven to be extraordinary and have major beneficial impact on the participants, not only in terms of comprehending the Holocaust, but equally so in relation to their understanding and appreciation of the Jewish state.

There is a valid complaint that the escalating costs prevent some students from participating. This is something the government should be reviewing with the aim of providing subsidies to enable all students who wish to participate. It would prove to be a worthwhile long-term educational investment.

Of course, it is sickening to hear of occasional groups visiting a death camp and engaging in drinking parties in the evening or interspersing their visit with a shopping day in Warsaw. Under such circumstances, it would undoubtedly be preferable to cancel such trips.

But most trips are well-planned and have immense educational impact, highlighting the emergence of a Jewish state like a phoenix from the ashes of the Holocaust – something that no classroom study course can replicate.

I listened in awe as my grandson described how his group visited Rachel’s Tomb before the flight, and on their return, assembled for a moving ceremony at the Western Wall. He described how some of the most moving moments for him were not merely the camps, the museums or even the crematoria and gas chambers. What touched him most profoundly was standing on the soil where hundreds of thousands of Jews had been brutally murdered and where their bodies had been buried in mass graves.

The immensity of what transpired during that terrible period was further realized when he and his companions related to numbers comprising their own home communities and appreciated that more than the equivalent of an entire community were murdered in one single day.

The trip also highlighted the extraordinary thriving religious, cultural and social life of the great Jewish communities in Poland – snuffed out overnight by the Nazis.

Unless we continue to educate the younger generations so they appreciate the lessons of the Holocaust and its relationship to our status today as an independent Jewish state able to defend itself as well as providing a haven for Jews in distress, we will have betrayed our solemn commitment to remember. And this terrible episode will simply become a footnote of history.

Isi Leibler may be contacted at This article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom. 

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  • Wojciech Pisarski

    Many years ago, during the Cold War, when West Germany was undergoing an unprecedented economic boom, based on Marshall Aid and the spoils of their wartime pillage of occupied Europe they gave Israel massive reparations for their murder and mistreatment of Jews.

    Now, as a result, Jews do not mention Germans as being responsible for the Holocaust (which of course included many people other than Jews such as 3 million non-Jewish Poles. Instead they talk of mysterious “Nazis”, visits to the camps built by the Germans in occupied Poland with no mention of the perpetrators and instil hatred of Poles in the young people that they take to Poland by tales of alleged “Polish complicity” in the Holocaust. This while campaigning for financial compensation from the Polish state for property destroyed by the Germans or taken over by the post-war communist authorities.

    Will this campaign against Poland cease if the demanded money were to be found?

  • sue

    I wonder who these mysterious Nazis were?

  • Damian Wojtylak

    Agency 114 (German: Dienststelle 114), was a Cold War era clandestine front of the postwar German intelligence agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which served as the main entrance point for the former Nazis into the field of domestic counter-intelligence, including war criminals active during the Holocaust who have never been brought to justice.

    Following the onset of the Cold War, West Germany did not pursue any war criminals for over twenty years. Thousands of them led normal lives often in positions of prominence, power and wealth, protected by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in office from 1949 to 1963. Agency 114 was established within the Gehlen Organization soon after World War II. The United States Army, seeking intelligence on activities of the Soviet agents within the American-occupied zone, brought the assignment to Reinhard Gehlen previously in the Wehrmacht, who proceeded to initiate the operation.

    At the height of the Cold War in the mid 1960s, the agency was merged into the BND, the successor of the Gehlen Org. It was located in Karlsruhe and the Zimmerle & Co. which served as the front, ostensibly specializing in roller blinds. Aside from Soviet counter-intelligence activities, the agency also began monitoring domestic leftists and pacifists.

    By this time Agency 114 was headed by Alfred Benzinger nicknamed “der Dicke” (Fatty), a former sergeant of the secret Nazi military police Geheime Feldpolizei. Among the former Nazis who worked in the agency were Konrad Fiebig, and Walter Kurreck.

    In 1956 Alfred Benzinger (Abwehrpolizei during World War II) proposed a coordinated action to move the blame away from the German war criminals under various investigations. Benzinger adopted a deceitful term “Polish Concentration Camps” in reference to the Holocaust in occupied Poland and propagated it in popular media. The term was to suggest, contrarily to the facts, that Poles, not Germans, were responsible for the mass genocide during World War II.

  • Peter

    it’s a shame what happen during second world war.
    Reading this article from Yewish person perspective this potentially make sense but please keep in mind that this is your own point of view where I think your knowledge is limited to gossips provided from mouth to mouth.
    So as I homework I would recommend you to do a research on Treblinka concentration camp or even death camp where out of 25 people who was responsible of killing people who got transport there – was 5 Nazi officers and 20 “volunteers” who was participating in the mass murders. Please do research about their nationality – you might be unpleasantly surprised.
    In my opinion not only Yewish people got killed during those horrible events so instead on focusing on national pride – let’s stick together and be sure that those events will not occur again.

  • DIM

    Tell me – if these are “polish” camps, then why there is a sign in german language? German is also everywhere in it.
    BTW. – in II world war almost 6 000 000 of Polish citizens was killed…

  • jajcek

    Będzie po Polsku.
    Podobno Żydzi współpracowali z nazistami i ukrywali się w domach polaków tylko po to żeby potem Niemcy mieli pretekst do zabijania Polaków za pomaganie Żydom. Polacy, głupi naród, pomagał Żydom, ukrywał ich pod groźbą wymordowania całej rodziny, a Żydzi wykorzystywali to. Może byli w zmowie z Niemcami, że ci wybiją Polaków, a potem Polskę oddadzą Żydom?
    Czyje brednie są lepsze?

  • Lukas Chmielewski

    The camps were NOT Polish but GERMAN! Not only nazi but GERMAN NAZI! The biggest concentration camp for Jews was Auschwitz II – Birkenau and used to exterminate Jews since 1942 after Wanzee conference. Before, as of 1939 there was Auschwitz I – Main Camp used to exterminate Poles! Both were located in Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete which means German administration of occupied Poland. Hope you over there in Israel finally will stop lie the yungsters. Also – would be nice if Israelis would start behaving better when visitting these camps.

  • QTip

    Poland had no control over its territory… How on earth, nation, which lost control of everything – lives, laws, taxes, tresuary, army, etc etc form up death camps, fund them, organize transport, make germans pack trains full of Polish citizens, kill them, make sonder commando(jews, who lived because they killed jews…) pack those bodies into furnaces ? Seriously, how narrow minded or bribed can one be to spew such nonsense… I really regret my great grandparents risked their lives for such ungrateful seed to sprout…

  • P. Salgyrg

    These was a Jewish death camps. In the end it has been built for Jews.

  • Yvonne Kowalczewski

    Isi Leibler: “…the words ‘Jew’ and ‘antisemitism’ are not even mentioned in the European Union’s lengthy call…to engage in Holocaust remembrance.” You obviously fail to see the irony of your own words. Not once do the words “German” or “Germany” appear in your article. You disguise the identity of the perpetrators by the nebulous term “Nazi” which was neither a country, nationality, language or army. Yet you fallaciously refer to the German camps as “Polish death camps” and liberally refer to Poland without any historical context e.g. that Poland was under German occupation. Apparently you deliberately sow disinformation. Even the Association of German Historian has condemned the use of history-distorting terminology such as “Polish death camp.” Oh, the irony…

  • Jakub Przedzienkowski

    The term ‘Polish death camps’ is incorrect. The German Nazis established the ‘death camps’ on occupied Polish soil. The camps were not Polish as implied by the comment. Please correct the error

  • “Polish death camps”???
    These were German camps in occupied Poland.

  • Bartosz Bilinski