Nurses receive training on using ventilators, recently provided by the World Health Organization at the intensive care ward of a hospital allocated for novel coronavirus patients in preparation for any possible spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sanaa, Yemen April 8, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo.
JNS.org – I learned about the atrocities of the Holocaust when I was a child, directly from those who suffered through it. The memories of my extended family and their close friends helped shape who I became. Their stories were captivating and horrifying. Against all odds, after the brutal destruction of European Jewry, these survivors had the strength to raise strong Jewish families, strong American citizens, and build new homes in their new country. The fortitude of that generation was a marvel to behold.
My parents were luckier than most. My father’s family was able to flee Hungary in time to save themselves. My paternal grandmother painstakingly tried to line up all the necessary visas to enable her family to escape Hungary. It was a desperately frustrating task, where the consequences meant life or death. One day, after months of my grandmother trying and failing, a German diplomat gave her the visas that she was so desperately seeking. My mother’s family was liberated by the Soviet army. After the war, her family made their way back to Debrecen, Hungary, where they were reunited. They continued living in Debrecen until the Hungarian Revolution, at which point they fled Hungary and moved to the United States.
When asked to recount some of my most memorable moments during my nearly three years at the White House, I often speak about a Holocaust-related experience. One day, I was privileged to visit the memorial commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto uprising with the vice president of the United States, the prime minister of Israel, and the prime minister of Poland. For me to be able to stand there with them as a proud American, a proud Jew, and a senior White House official was remarkable. Later that day I gave a speech in Warsaw and I was in awe when I realized that right in the front row listening to me were three elderly Righteous Among the Nations individuals who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
While I have remained in lockdown with my family for several weeks as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, I have had more time to reflect and try to grow as a person. Time to reflect and grow often eludes me during our fast-paced, normal lives. I hope to change this when we emerge from this isolation. I often think about the German diplomat and the three Righteous Among the Nations individuals I met in Warsaw who, together with so many others, heroically put themselves and their families at great risk to save Jews.
It is clear from this current crisis that all of humanity is in this together. We are all partners in this world. Among the many things humanity must work on together is to expose and root out all forms of hatred, wherever it exists. My experience over the past three years at the White House gives me hope that perhaps humanity is ready for this. I am not starry-eyed or naive. I recognize that today, even in the United States, this beautiful “land of the free,” the age-old pernicious ideology of antisemitism is nipping, biting, and in some cases now ferociously attacking our communities.
But I have also learned to be an optimist, a pessimist, and a realist at the same time. Jews today have unparalleled freedoms compared to prior generations. We also have the State of Israel, an exceptional country that has developed into something remarkable — a beacon of light, despite the many threats and attacks on its very existence from the moment of its creation and continuing through today.
Things have also changed in the Middle East. My experience in the Middle East during my time working at the White House was very positive. The leadership in the Middle East who I worked with was always respectful of my religious observance. My Arab hosts always accommodated my religious requirements as best as they could and always did so graciously. I experienced warmth, open minds, and a willingness and desire to engage.
Humanity is in the midst of great challenges and stress. As we commemorate the Holocaust, let us remember the cruelty that man is capable of and what happens when evil is allowed to prevail. But let us also remember the goodness and heroism of humanity, the tremendous good humanity is capable of and what we must all strive for. Let us hug our children tighter and teach our children about hate and the devastating consequences of hatred. But let us also teach them how we can join together to fight it. Let us teach them how to stand up for all of humanity.
God bless all of humanity.
Jason D. Greenblatt is a former assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations in the Trump administration. He is now a partner at OurCrowd, the world’s largest equity crowdfunding platform. Follow him on Twitter @GreenblattJD. A version of this article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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