Choose Life: Boycott the Auschwitz Festival

Discontinuing visits to the notorious concentration camp would help Israel take a small yet critical step forward toward sanity.

Yael Bogen

It’s the end of November 1944. A 10-year-old boy is locked with his parents in a cattle car packed with Jews. The train is hurtling toward Auschwitz. Toward the Final Solution.

When they arrive, it turns out that Auschwitz is fully occupied. They wait in the cattle car. For two months. The parents lose their minds. The boy hangs on. Then Russian soldiers show up. Another two months in a Russian “liberation camp,” and the boy arrives in this country. A youngster who has already seen everything.

The boy’s name is Yehuda Elkana. Prof. Yehuda Elkana: my beloved teacher and mentor, who passed away two years ago.

In 1988, 43 years after he emerged from the cattle car, Yehuda, a historian and philosopher, asked me to help him edit a newspaper article he’d written, “The Need to Forget.”

“I see no greater threat to the future of the State of Israel than the fact that the Holocaust has systematically and forcefully penetrated the consciousness of the Israeli public,” he wrote in Haaretz, adding, “For the first time, I understand the seriousness of what we were doing when, decade after decade, we sent every Israeli child on repeated visits to Yad Vashem. What did we want those tender youths to do with the experience?”

And, as if to prove his every word, I refused to help. “Maybe you can allow yourself to say such things,” I told him. “I cannot.”

In 2013, a young soldier who, during a company lecture in an officer training course, drew a sketch of Hitler – along with drawings of Ben-Gurion, Harry Potter and Mickey Mouse in his notebook – was expelled from the course. At a hearing, the cadet tried to prove his innocence: He’d cried on a visit to Yad Vashem. But the commanding officers decided that his deeds “do not befit what is expected of a commander.”

This lunatic story is only the tip of the iceberg. A whole generation has grown up here instilled with a collective, systematic and organized fear of annihilation. There was a time when we had more to say about ourselves than “Masada shall not fall again.” We have forgotten everything. When we talk about Iran, we talk about Hitler. When we talk about the Palestinians, we talk about Hitler. It’s impossible to deal with our problems, because we are busy with Hitler. Behind every sentence we utter in Hebrew lurks a German with a mustache.

It’s only when we talk with the Holocaust survivors who are still with us that Hitler suddenly vanishes. We can’t come up with the few shekels that are needed to make their last days more palatable. Such is the fate of prophets. When Yehuda Elkana spoke, we didn’t listen. And look what we have come to.

What can we do? Preventing the political establishment from promoting the scare festival will be very difficult. But there is one thing that can be done. The festival reaches its peak in the form of the delegations of high-school students who travel to Auschwitz – and here the students and their parents can declare: Enough is enough! We are going to boycott Auschwitz.

My motion for the agenda, then, is aimed at all high-school students and their parents: Sit and talk about it, in the classroom, at home, at the seder. Decide together. I want to see the first class that will refuse to go, and then another class and another. Let’s end this festival. There can be no deeper act of civil revolt.

After you have decided, you will realize that you have been spared a week from your life – devote it to work on behalf of the Holocaust survivors. Repair neglected apartments, seal up leaks, cook a meal. There are any number of NGOs that need working hands. In the course of that week, you will learn a lot more than you would at Auschwitz.

After you’ve decided, you will realize that you have saved 6,000 shekels ($1,720). If you couldn’t afford that amount, you were spared having to submit a humiliating request for assistance. If you could afford it, decide together what to do with the money. You might want to donate something to the NGOs in which you volunteered.

In contrast to so much else that is going on here, this story is entirely in our hands, your hands. If you stop visiting Auschwitz, you will move everyone here one small, but critical, step forward toward sanity. It doesn’t mean you will forget the Holocaust, it only means you will remember who you are, too; where you live and in what era. Hitler was defeated 69 years ago; it’s time we vanquished him, too.

Dr. Daniel Dor is a linguist and communications researcher at Tel Aviv University and a founder of The Social Guard, a civil organization monitoring the Knesset.