Where Were You During the War?

What will happen to an elderly person who spent his youth in a concentration camp, perhaps on Mengele's notorious cell block. Will he be neglected in his 80s?

The Holocaust Victims Welfare Fund in Israel is in dire straits, and even though the numbers of its clients is dwindling, it is unable to provide them with their basic needs. Last week, the Finance Ministry rejected a request to increase its allotment to the fund, which provides assistance to some 20,000 survivors.

A few days ago, another government, the German government, agreed to sign an agreement with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. According to the agreement, payments will be made to survivors from North Africa, most of whom live in Israel. The Germans also agreed to add 22 million euros for the care of those who are still alive, and whose conditions worsens with every passing day. The Holocaust Victims Fund in Israel welcomed the agreement and expressed hope that "the Israeli government would join in this assistance."

I have no objection, of course, to the Germans continuing to bear their historic responsibility until the end of time; all the treasures of Germany would never suffice to make up for what happened to the victims. But I do object strongly to this division of labor: our Israel merely increases the need for care, expecting someone else to take care of these needs in its stead; the government of the state of the Jews ignores the living victims among us and sometimes even abuses them, while the government of "the other Germany" bears the consequences of this irresponsibility. We cripple and they heal.

Haaretz recently published hair-raising reports of experiments conducted on the elderly at two hospitals - Kaplan and Hartzfeld. I found it difficult to understand what was new in these horror stories. For years, experiments have been conducted here on the elderly whom the Holocaust did not manage to murder. They survived and made it to the Jewish people's national home, which was supposed to provide them with shelter and comfort. That was a mistake on their part: If they had gone to another country, a properly run country, their fate would have been better. No Western country has turned a shoulder as cold and apathetic as Israel's to the dead who insisted for some reason on living; and if the State of Israel exists, and the raison d'etre for its existence was in part to serve as a refuge for survivors, then that reason for its existence has been weakened and blurred and will soon be entirely erased.

There is no doubt that the experiments in question were particularly interesting medical and human experiments, which could best be performed here, since this is where most of the survivors ended up. For example, how long can someone last who spent a few years in a concentration camp as a slave laborer, his weight dropping to 35 kilograms, and now faces severe psychological and material distress; is that not an interesting subject from a medical-scientific point of view? Or another example: A Jewish child who spent a year or two in the Mengele bloc in Auschwitz-Birkenau, with that psychopathic doctor rooting around in his brain, his eyesight going bad and his teeth going rotten, and now he does not have money to fix either the eyes or the eyes. What will happen to such a person?

Are such unique experiments not as good as any of the research done at Kaplan and Hartzfeld? And all the experiments on survivors are open and legal, since the state itself is constantly conducting them ? under the Budget Law, for example.

Sixty-one years after the Holocaust, the findings of any research into the survivors ? a breed facing extinction ? will only enrich future generations, on condition, of course, that it is conducted with permission and with arbitrariness, with the state's authority and with the right amount of cruelty.

In his new book, On the Slopes of the Volcano, Amos Oz describes the gloominess and discomfort that accompanies him on his visits to Germany. He worries all the time that he is going to be invited together with someone who was among the criminals. "I avoid any contact with Germans over the age of 80 as much as possible," he writes. "Unless they were always Socialists," he adds. "But how can one tell from afar who has a 'Socialist face'?"

This syndrome is familiar to any Israeli who has ever visited Germany; every elderly person one meets seems to beg the question: Where were you during the war, and what did you do? But I am worried about meeting the elderly in Israel, and not in Germany. Every time I encounter a tormented and drained elderly person, I am afraid to ask if they also came from over there, and I am even more afraid to ask myself: Where were you, man, when this person fought alone for his stolen life and robbed dignity? And I still have not completely given up on identifying the "Socialist face" that might actually agree to take part in a war for the teeth, and the eyes, and the heart.

The denial of the Holocaust survivors is another form of Holocaust denial.

Sometimes, that is how it feels, as if one had to cry out, "Hear O Israel, Hear O Israel" ? and Israel does indeed hear something, and Israel hears nothing.