'Auschwitz, We Have Returned!’

The journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau amounts to the Jewish people’s defeat. It is a depressing tale about a nation that has managed to survive - only to run back to the still-smoking crematoria.

Apparently, the famous fly-over of Israel Air Force fighter jets above the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp was only a preview. On Sunday, Israeli infantry forces will come to the camp and execute the final capture.

This has turned out to be a precision military operation: first, the softening-up of the target from the air then, as is the usual practice, reconnaissance missions (the March of the Living and Witnesses in Uniform). Now, comes the time for the ground operation based on the tactics of vertical outflanking − the landing of a chartered plane, from which will burst forth a 250-person mission, including 60 cabinet ministers and Knesset members, the state comptroller, a Supreme Court justice, one of the chief rabbis, the chairman of Yad Vashem Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem and senior officials of the World Zionist Organization.

Here is Zionism in a nutshell: To paraphrase the lyrics of the national anthem “Hatikva” (“The Hope”), the Jewish spirit yearns with eyes looking toward Birkenau.

The battle plan has been worked out in great detail. Like everything military in Israel, it consists of three parts. Stage one: The combat troops will patrol the pavilions of Auschwitz, led by Education Minister Shay Piron and MK Shuli Moalem, both of whom are seasoned guides of missions to Poland. Stage two: The troops will march to Birkenau, led by a high-ranking senior Israeli official. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein explained this past week that the “elected parliament of the Jewish people is travelling to the valley of slaughter to feel some of the pain and to enable its memory to be engraved in our hearts.”

Stage three: The warriors will stand before the monument in Birkenau. Johnny Daniels, chairman of the Mimaamakim organization, who initiated the event and is producing it, has declared that an event on such a broad scale is intended to reinforce the Holocaust’s memory has never happened before. He also emphasized that the event would have a religious nature.

Daniels is right. This is definitely a religion. The religion of the Holocaust. The event will be a symbolic, metaphysical act in which the Jewish nation will unite around the focus of its faith. Unfortunately, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be participating in this event; they were faced with a difficult, tormenting dilemma but in the end decided to fulfill their obligations at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

In any case, this event is a triumph of the human spirit. To paraphrase former Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur’s declaration, “Birkenau is in our hands!” And to paraphrase the popular Israeli song associated with the Six-Day War of June 1967 when Israel returned to Sharm El-Sheikh and the Straits of Tiran, “Auschwitz, we have returned!” And to paraphrase a familiar phrase used in connection with the peace process vis-à-vis the Palestinians, Auschwitz without peace is better than peace without Auschwitz. The giant headline on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth can already be prepared to accompany a photo of the Israeli delegation between the death camp’s barbed wire fences; the headline will read: “Going back home.”

“The meaning of this difficult journey,” said Edelstein, “is immense. I hope and believe that it will leave an impression that will be beneficial to both Holocaust survivors and the Holocaust’s memory.”

The meaning will certainly be immense and the impression will be horrible. The journey amounts to the Jewish people’s defeat. It is a depressing tale about a nation that has managed to survive a systematic campaign to annihilate it and miraculously created a sovereign, prosperous state − only to run back to the still-smoking crematoria and “close the circle.” This showcase journey is only a symptom; it is a refined expression of an ongoing process in which collective sanity is being lost.

Since there is no limit to the cruelty of historical irony, this event is taking place as Israeli democracy is tasting, step by step, the political processes that led to the rise of fascist regimes in the previous century: the worship of power and militarism, populism, racism, hatred of those different, magnification of the images of real and imagined enemies to satanic proportions, incitement against minority groups, the use of scapegoats, the persecution of people who choose to think differently, the silencing of voices of protest and, of course, legislation, including a law that would outlaw the use of the word “Nazis.”

It is prohibited to talk about Nazism. The only thing that is permitted is to dwell on what it created. Why should we Israeli Jews not just stay in Birkenau? After all, we can always pay a quick visit to Israel as we sing in a loud voice: “Eternity is nothing but ashes and dust.”

IDF Spokesman