Tuesday, July 17th | 5 Av 5778

May 17, 2016 4:54 pm

A Visit to the Old and New Hells of Europe Provides a Reminder of Israel’s Importance

avatar by Alan Dershowitz

Email a copy of "A Visit to the Old and New Hells of Europe Provides a Reminder of Israel’s Importance" to a friend
The main gate at the Nazis' former Auschwitz II (Birkenau) concentration and death camp. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The main gate at the Nazis’ former Auschwitz II (Birkenau) concentration and death camp. Photo: Wiki Commons.

I just returned from a week-long journey through Hell! It began with a visit to the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps in German-occupied Poland, as a participant of the March of the Living, following a Conference commemorating the 80th Anniversary of the Nuremberg laws and the 70th Anniversary of the Nuremberg trials. My week was consumed with recurring evidence of the worst crime ever perpetrated by human beings on other human beings – the Holocaust.

I traveled from the death camps to several small Polish towns from which my grandparents emigrated well before the Holocaust, leaving behind relatives and friends. During the course of my travels, I discovered the fate of two of my relatives. Hanna Deresiewicz (an original spelling of my family name) was a 16 year old girl living in the small town of Pilzno when the Nazis arrived; she was separated from her siblings and parents. “The soldiers took several of the most beautiful Jewish girls for sex, and then killed them. [Among those] taken [was] Hanna Deresiewicz, 16.”

I also learned that another Deresiewics, named Benjamin, survived, though his wife and five children, along with his parents and siblings were all murdered.  He may have been Hanna’s father, although I can’t document that.  In the book Schindler’s Ark, on which the movie Schindler’s List was base, the following account is given: “[The Commandant of Auschwitz] suspended his 15 year old orderly, Poldek Dereshowitz, from the ringbolts in his office …” Although the book is fictionalized account, it is based on the recollections of an eyewitness.  I cannot, therefore, be sure of the veracity of that episode.  But seeing the name Dereshowitz associated with Auschwitz had an impact on me.

This is not the first time I have visited Nazi death camps. I was fully familiar with the statistical evidence of how six million Jews were systematically murdered. I was also familiar with how the Nazi death machine searched out Jews in the furthest corners of Nazi occupied Europe, even as far as the Island of Rhodes, and transported them to Auschwitz to gas them. I also knew that this was the only time in human history when people were brought from far distances to camps designed for one purpose only – to kill every possible Jew they could find no matter where they lived.  And I knew that because this was part of a planned genocide of the Jewish People, it was most important to kill every child, woman and man capable of producing future Jews.

But this visit, during which I learned the fate of members of my own family, brought the horrors home to me in a manner more personal than any statistic could provide. I was travelling with my wife and daughter, and I repeatedly imagined what it must have felt like for the parents and spouses of the murdered Jews to realize that everything precious to them was being annihilated and that there would be no one left to morn them or to carry their seed to future generations.

From the old Hell, Poland, I travelled to a new Hell, called Hungary. Budapest is a beautiful city, but it too, provided a hellish end to its Jewish residents in the final months of the Second World War when Hungarian Nazis turned the Blue Danube into a red mass grave. They shot their Jewish neighbors and dumped their bodies into the Danube River, even as the Nazis were retreating.  And now in modern day Budapest, I was told of the resurgence of Nazism among many ordinary Hungarians. The increasingly popular fascist party boasts of its anti-Semitism and of its desire to rid Hungary of its few remaining Jews. The fascist party in Hungary also hates Israel, and everything else that is a manifestation of Jewishness.

I ended my trip meeting with a Jewish man of Greek background who told me that his grandfather was murdered by the Nazis and that he was now being targeted by Greek fascists for his outspoken defense of Israel and the Jewish people. Athens, too, has become a hotbed of Jew-hatred, with its own fascist party.

There was not a moment during my visit to Europe that I was not reminded of that continent’s sordid history with regard to the Jewish people. Now, many Europeans — the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who were complicit in the murder of six million Jews — have turned against the nation state of the Jewish People with a vengeance. This time the bigotry emanates mostly from the hard left, but has the support of many on the new fascist hard right. The British Labor Party is as rife with hatred of the Jewish People and Jewish nation as is the Hungarian fascist party. Once again, European Jews are caught between the extremes of the Black and the Red. Extremists on both sides seek the demise of Israel, arguing that there is no place in this world with multiple Muslim and Christian nations for one state that is overtly Jewish in its character, despite the universal acceptance of multiple Muslim and Christian nations. Other Europeans seek to boycott Israel’s products, its professors, and its performers.  While still others simply apply a double standard to its actions — a standard they apply to no other nation, including their own.

My visit to Europe made one thing unmistakably clear:  if there is any group in the world that needs a safe homeland—a sanctuary from bigotry and hatred — it is the Jewish people. When Hitler was willing to expel them from Europe, before deciding to exterminate them, no country – not even the United States or Canada – would give them asylum. Britain closed the doors of what is now Israel to them. They had no place to go. So they were murdered by the Nazis and their willing executioners throughout Europe. There is no group whose history entitles it to a safe and secure homeland more than the Jewish people. For reasons that are difficult to explain, the hatred of the Jewish people and its nation defies rationality, but it is as real as the gas chambers of Auschwitz -Birkenau and the emerging fascist parties of Greece and Hungary. Jews today continue to be scapegoated in many parts of the world, and their nation state is demonized at the United Nations, on university campuses, in the media and in legislative assemblies. Following the Holocaust, there seemed to be an understanding that Jews would no longer be victimized. Now less than a century after the Nazis came to power, that moratorium on Jew-hatred seems to have expired, as the memory of the Holocaust grows dim in most parts of the world.

My week-long visit to Hell reaffirmed my commitment to defend Israel’s right to exist, to speak out for Israel when it is unfairly attacked, and to defeat its enemies in the marketplace of ideas. We owe nothing less to the victims of the worst crime in the history of humanity — a crime that could not have occurred without the complicity of most of the world. And a crime that will not recur if there is a strong and secure Israel.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Emeritus Professor at Harvard Law School and the author of Taking the Stand, My Life in the Law.

Share this Story: Share On Facebook Share On Twitter Email This Article

Let your voice be heard!

Join the Algemeiner
  • Ed Lipke

    So Alan, how is it that you support HilaryClinton ?

  • I searched this piece for the letter sequences “Islam” and “immig”: zero hits. So, I’m glad you had a meaningful trip to Poland, Mr. Dershowitz. But as for the new Hungarian ultra-nationalists, though I wouldn’t invite them to dinner either, you’re barking up the wrong tree if you think *they* are the real danger to today’s European Jews.

    • Steve Firestone

      it illustrates the level of hatred in the world.While everyone realize Arabs hate Jews, the more naive rest of the world thinks Europe is a safe place for Jews.This is because when crimes are perpetrated against Jews the fact that it was a hate crime is suppressed.It wouldn’t do to make the Europeans see themselves as morally bankrupt hypocrites and murderers, even when they are.

      The concentration camps were staffed by people who prayed to a Jew taught their children about god and to love their fellow creatures.Then they stripped the Jews naked, marched them into rooms and inserted gas crystals into the room.After they were dead their teeth and hair were recycled for use by members of Christian society. Companies competed to provide the ovens, the gas and building materials for the camps.

      Its no surprise that a world jealous of Jews who despite severe discrimination are successful and creative.Israeli technology is sought after by some of the same people who reach their children to hate Jews.
      With this much hate, I am thankful we have a refuge in Israel for a time when it may become unsafe to be a Jew anywhere in the world.

      As always Professor Dershowitz nails it with his comments.

  • Uriel Priwes

    What a wonderful article. It says what needed to be said. Thank you, Professor Dershowitz.

  • The unspeakable tragedy making a vicious mockery of human rights that was perpetrated on Europe’s Jews would never have succeeded without the indifference of the greater European population and the vigorous support given the Third Reich by European nationals whose view of Jews reflected that of the Nazis.

  • Reform Schoole

    Is it so hard for aging Leftists to accept responsibility for changing NEVER AGAIN from a lofty goal to a worn cliche that they must split Hard Left from Left to allow denial? “Colleagues” aside, would Dersh act collegial with Hitler? Then why Barry?

  • Felix Quigley

    A very moving and informative article. I do though have one very strong disagreement with Dershowitz in his reference to the “black” and the “red”…those called leftists or left such as (think of Livingstone) have nothing to do with communism. I make that clear here


  • Steven Teiger

    Whilst I agree with the fundamental principles of this article, it leaves the impression that the Jews deserve Israel because of the Holocaust – a claim which Arabs refute as why should we (the Arabs) pay the price of European genocide. It must remembered that the first Zionist congress was held before the turn of the 20th century in 1898, and that Jews have been praying for “Next Year in Jerusalem” for centuries. And more than all that, Jews have been living continuously in the Land of Israel throughout the many occupations.

  • I follow your articles as much as I can and I admire you for the perfect clear idea of fact and actions against our people .
    Israel existence is the only actual factor that can save us in the long run.Shlom and Berachot to you and family

  • Zucker

    Bigotry and anti-israeli bias is expressed by the hard left, extreme right and in polite society.
    It is now politically correct to say out loud what would have raised eyebrows years ago.
    European politicians and representatives of the Muslim communities have been absent or at best restrained in their condemnations of anti-jewish violence.
    This silence will come at a heavy price for all regardless of affiliations.

  • ESLombard

    It’s the Jewish mother in our lives who push us beyond our comfortable mediocrity to be nothing less than hard working/studying achievers. That’s what its all about, jealousy of achievers and their ambitious, loving mothers. The answer is get yourself a Jewish mother!

  • Anschel

    Thank you Prof. Dershowitz for eloquently, strongly, and continuously standing up for the Jewish people. I, too, lost extended family members who lived in Poland (in the Markowizna area) to the Shoah — around 150 souls on my maternal grandfather’s side of the family (infants, adolescents, on up), and I feel some of what you are feeling. I strongly support Israel and am planning on visiting Israel for the first time this coming Autumn. Thank you again for sharing your touching personal story.

  • ONE of the worst crimes.

  • Ephraim

    The reason is because the vicious antisemitism of the 1930s, and earlier, never died. It was pushed underground, but the Nazis continued to teach their children the old hatred, and they learned it well. So, the hard left is a direct descendant of the hard right of the 1930s and 1940s. Antisemitism never abated one single jot, it just lay dormant, like any other virulent virus or bacteria, ready to rise as soon as the conditions were sympathetic for it, as they now are across Europe, and US campuses.

    • i am in complete agreement with ephraim, along with many of the other comments posted above his.
      “vicious antisemitism of the 1930s, and earlier, never died. It was pushed underground…”
      ” Antisemitism never abated one single jot, it just lay dormant…:

      indeed, all true.

      as for “accepting all muslim & christian nations”….that is NOT true…amerika is right now focused more upon hatred of islam & anyone affiliated with that religion….& denying them the same human & civil rights once (& it seems, always), denied to the jews. there is always “the other” & there always has been & there always shall be. i agree that anti-semitism is rife…crawling back out from under its rock the moment it was “okay” to do so…but now we’ve found another group of people to despise, & hope to drive into extinction, at worst; out of our midst, at best.

      i also must say that i take offense at the number always used “6 million”…i believe that its more like 12 million, & that the 6 million refers only to those murdered in the camps…while there were so many more murdered, by many means, out there in the woods & in the ghettos…i wish that people would realize that….as well as realizing that russia herself lost 20 million (far more than any other country did, & actually won that war) &&& that a much larger percentage of the Roma people (gypsies) were murdered than anyone else…when it comes to genocide, they came closest with the gypsies, & every country in europe hated them…& still do. england has always had excessive rules about their living or travelling anywhere, & i doubt that that has changed.
      dear mr. dershowitz, the time has come to stop separating one from another, or such hatreds resulting in murders shall not only continue, but escalate…& yu of all people should know that. there is not one iota of respect of sympathy in amerika for ANY muslims, & there never has been.

      muhammed ali, in my opinion, one of our greatest amerikan heroes, was severely & reprehensibly denied his civil rights, not to mention the rewards of his achievements, merely bx of his islamic religion (oops, & of course, the fact that he was black).
      yu yrself defended a black man… who we all know, as yu knew… was guilty of a vicious double-murder, & decided to press the issue of unfair persecution of a black man, while that man himself has said, more than once, “i am not black, i am o.j.”

      i didnt intend to get into alla that….i agree with just about everything yu said, aside from what i just wrote above. i do believe that it is crucial for israel & her muslim neighbors to make peace with each other; for israel to accept the fact that islamic palestinians have resided upon that land since the time of mohammed, & that they too feel a claim to that holy place. native amerikans would say
      how foolish to think that anyone claims to OwN any land…we simply reside upon it, & with blessings from the Great One above.
      yu are going back 5000 yrs to say, this land was given to us, the chosen, & to no one else.
      it is now a different time & place, as i have been told too many times, & i cannot live by the same standards that the jew, yeshu ben yoseph, lived by…that time is long passed.
      i very much believe that the jews need a safe haven, after centuries of horrendous discrimination & atrocities…
      i have studied the holocaust since i was 10 yrs old, & next week i shall be 62, & those years remain ever present upon my mind, & have affected my whole life & my work. (the knowledge of it)…

      i very much appreciate yr contributions to society, i thank yu….but to insist that the muslims are welcomed,& enjoy the societal benefits that a jew never shall…is actually an outright lie that yu should know better than to repeat.


      by the way, my father’s entire extended family,Serbian partisans,were all murdered by the nazis & their collaborators. about our macedonian people, from whom i consider myself to be descended, i know little. it would behoove yu to consider the hatred, esp here, of the muslims, & desire that such a massacre & holocaust never occur again.
      during the holocaust of the armenians by the ottoman turks, it was syria, & only syria, that took in the women & children (all the men had been murdered) who walked barefoot through the hot sand all the way from their homeland to syria…no one wants to remember…or know..that, now do they, but i am sure that yu do, mr. dershowitz. & now the syrians (merely by the fact of their religion,) are being denied the same refuge that they most generously provided others, when no one else would.
      hatred has existed since the beginning of time, as yu well know, & shall continue to exist… its very interesting to me that one of the very first stories in genesis regards the murder of one sibling by another….& now, both muslims & jews, descendants of abraham, 1/2 brothers, continue to hate & deny the value of each other, & deny each other the right to share the land, & even the right to live.
      as long as everyone, including influential men like yrself, continue to preach such divisive ideas, nothing shall change, & again, yu, of all people, should know sucha thing.
      excuse me for disagreeing with some of yr ideas, & asking that yu consider the information & ideas that yu are dispensing. i am no one really….arent i, alan dershowitz>?

  • Myron Slater

    The Jews of Europe need to leave the hell
    Holes that are the country’s that hated us in the past and now in the present. Go to the only country that will take us in and protect us, Israel!

  • duPont

    It greatly saddens me that the hatred of Jews is making such a tremendous resurgence. I do not think, however, that tiny Israel can absorb all the Jews in the world, therefore, the Jewish “homeland” is really for just a few and not the whole. Are we to see the Jews of Poland again murdered by the people? Are we to allow the Jews of France, the U.S., the U.K. and other countries to be murdered before they decide to emigrate to Israel? We must act now to prevent a new holocaust. I am very fearful that if the Jews congregate in Israel, it will be much easier for the Jew haters to kill them all in one place with one well placed atomic bomb. I greatly respect and admire Dershowitz and I agree that Israel must be supported but I also think we must be aware of the danger Jews all over the world are in and develop strategies that can be mitigate that danger.

    • no one but amerika has ever dropped an atomic bomb,let alone a nuclear bomb, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians…if jews all move to isreal, then someone shall drop a bomb to kill all of them>?
      yu gotta be kidding me!
      israel has the 4th greatest military in the the world…all paid for by amerika. no…anti-semitism has not disappeared, but now we have found another, larger, more ever-present group of people we wish to anhililate, & have always wished to destroy…since the Crusades,more than 1000 yrs ago.
      it is long past time for people to stop feeling that TheY are the chosen ones on this planet, & realize that we all belong here & are all one. or not…yu can continue to follow the desert tribal g-d jhwh, & believe in yr superiority above others, & yr right to destroy others.
      i myself do not wish sucha thing.

  • Luis

    Mr Dershowitz, you say “…the hatred of the Jewish people and its nation defies rationality…” and it does except for the “hard right” hatred and the mohammedan hatred. The hard right, which I prefer to call simply ignorant people, and ignorant not just about Jews and Israel, but ignorant about everything–their ignorance, it is easy to explain, explains the hatred.

    It is also easy to explain the mohammedan hatred: The mohammedans had their brief moment of glory, when?, in the 12th century or so–who cares?–and since have just taken it easy regarding any progress, always consulting their “religious” leaders about how to proceed, but never quite getting to the invention of penicillin or air travel or sanitary bathrooms, so they are jealous of the inventiveness, the industry, the prosperity of the Jews and the stability of the democracy of Israel.

    We pray to God for the next president of the US to commit fully to helping Israel defend itself and continue as the only democracy, with its prosperity, in the Middle East.

    • Luis

      I forgot to complete the thought, that the hatred by the left, soft through hard left, is what is unexplainable, in view of their sympathy with the underdog–not that Israel has been much of an underdog as proven by the whipping that Israel has provided to its enemies over the last 40 or so years. But maybe, the mohammedans have replaced the Jews as the underdogs, so it is fashionable to sympathize with Mrs Yasser Arafat in her chateau in Switzerland counting her gazillions of dollars, dollars provided by the sucker tax-paying Americans, to sympathize with the mad dogs in Iran who count their 150 billion dollars of sanction relief and build nuclear weapons merrily. Yes, it appears that Obama has been tainted by Jesse “Hymietown” Jackson and Al “Crown Heights” Sharpton.

  • Arlene Seidel Abrams

    My cousin’s grandson was on this memorable trip. Important for young people today to know what happened……….

    Their trip ended with a visit to Israel…………..

    I don’t know that I would have the strength to take this trip.