On Tuesday, Holocaust survivors set up 100 white chairs across from the Bank Leumi headquarters at the corner of Lilienblum and Nahalat Binyamin Streets in Tel Aviv. To each chair was taped the name of a Holocaust survivor who died in the past few years - before ever receiving a cent of the money held in the bank's vault.
In the 1930s and '40s, European Jews deposited money in the Anglo-Palestine Bank (Leumi's forerunner), but the bank enjoyed the use of the money and did not return it to the heirs, Holocaust survivors, on its own initiative. The survivors say that the bank is keeping some information from them and purposely conducting negotiations in a slow and cumbersome fashion - until time takes its course and they pass away. Bank Leumi claims that it does not have any funds belonging to Holocaust victims in its possession, and that all such funds were already transferred to the Custodian General.
On that same Tuesday, the Finance Ministry made the festive announcement that the finance minister had approved the one-time transfer of NIS 5 million to the Holocaust Survivors' Welfare Fund, which is in economic distress. The fund pays for hours of nursing care for several thousand hard-pressed Holocaust survivors. These needs have increased in recent years given the immigration of tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors from the former Soviet Union whose main income comes from their National Insurance Institute allowances. "They show up at our door with all the suffering that they've been through," says the fund's chairman, Ze'ev Factor.
The fund needs NIS 60 million to continue operating, so the five million that Netanyahu tossed to them is only infuriating - even more so than Bank Leumi's behavior.
The utterly savage murder of six million played a key role in the founding of the state and in its survival till now. If it weren't for the sense of guilt that the world felt, the UN would not have decided in 1947 to end the British Mandate, the Czechs wouldn't have supplied us with weapons in the War of Independence, and the Americans wouldn't have stood by us with financial and political support. Therefore, it is right to observe Holocaust Memorial Day shortly before Israel Independence Day. And therefore, the state also has a supreme moral duty to care for the needs of the few survivors who are left generously - rather than in the usual stingy fashion exhibited by the treasury's budget branch.
The world feels guilty because it knows that the murder of European Jewry was an event unmatched in human history. The world already had experienced instances of genocide, awful horrors in the heat of battle, and a world war in which tens of millions were killed. But the murder of European Jewry was different. It was a wholly lucid, well-calculated and well-planned case of ruthless abuse and murder whose objective was to wipe all traces of the Jewish people off the earth, while the world stood by silent.
In July 1938, an international conference was convened in Evian, France to discuss the possibility of finding shelter for Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria, but most countries refused to open their gates. Even when the Nazis' extermination methods became widely known in 1942, the Western countries did not intervene: they were concerned that if they took action to save the Jews, Hitler could end up demanding that they accept them as refugees - and they didn't really want the Jews, either. Despite thousands of bombing raids and the thousands of bombs that were dropped not far from Auschwitz, the Allies never once bombed the train tracks leading to the crematoria, or the camp itself, even though they could have halted the killing machine that was burning 12,000 Jews a day in 1943. The sad truth is that no one cared that the Jews were being exterminated. Hundreds of years of anti-Semitic propaganda had laid the groundwork for this.
The conclusion to be drawn is that in the cynical world in which we live, you can't rely on anyone. In this aggressive world, you must first of all ensure that you have the military strength to make it clear to all that Jewish blood is not cheap, that today there is someone who will defend every Jew, anyplace in the world.
Another conclusion is that we must ensure the state's survival. A strong army isn't enough. We must ensure that our young people will continue to want to live here, that they will always view Israel as their home and not set their sights overseas. To this end, we must do what we can to ensure that we have a just, ethical and flourishing state that resolves the problems of poverty and socioeconomic gaps - and all this is not attainable without peace and an end to the conflict with the Palestinians; it will prove unattainable unless Israel is liberated from the burden of the territories and redirects the huge budgets from there inward.
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