Raised on the Holocaust

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Israeli high-school students at Auschwitz during a Holocaust trip.in May.
Israeli high-school students at Auschwitz during a Holocaust trip.in May. Credit: AP

You must frighten them when they are still young – “starting with first grade, even kindergarten.” Ironically, the champions of privatization are also the champions of nationalization; to paraphrase Isaiah, “Woe unto them that join the national flag to the prayer shawl.”

She was 17 at the time and had just returned from the March of the Living at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I had come to give her a lift home.

“Do you know someone named Bibi?” she asked me.

“Of course, he is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations,” I replied.

“I am really angry with him. He just stood there and exploited the podium in order to say, ‘Just like the Nazis, the Palestinians want to kill us, and Arafat is the new Hitler.’ I hope that in the future we don’t hear too much about Bibi.”

Since then, to borrow from “The Partisans’ Song,” “Our marches of the living will thunder, ‘We are here.’” Bibi is here and the Holocaust becomes a gallows that can be used for various purposes. He uses the Holocaust theme endlessly: If he personally will not protect the State of Israel, all its citizens will become martyrs, victims of the gallows. When is the last time Israel elected a prime minister whose scepter of hope is inside its scabbard?

Netanyahu is a master of the art of Shoah business, a true disciple of Menachem Begin, who was the first to release the genie of the Holocaust from the bottle. David Ben-Gurion tried to keep that bottle sealed so that Israel’s Jews would not go mad: They have already been so wounded by the Holocaust, why pour fear on their wounds? But Begin remained in Polish exile, haunted and persecuted. Brisk is here, and the memory is still alive, still terrifying. In death, he left us the legacy to live in the shadow of death. Netanyahu is fulfilling that legacy as a true one-man Shoah.

But now he is not alone; imitators have arisen. Seeing that fear is good and that it pays to frighten, they have decided to become partners in selling it to the public, in capitalizing on the Holocaust’s memory. The so-called new politicians who have now been elected to the Knesset have joined the ranks of the fear-mongers. The half-million Israelis who cast their ballots for Yesh Atid (There is a Future) in the last parliamentary elections could not have imagined at the time that the past is actually the new future.

In a recent visit to Hungary, Yair Lapid delivered a typical Netanyahu-style speech, talking not about what the Jewish state has learned in the classes on the Third Temple in Jerusalem, but rather what it can teach others in extension courses.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the March of the Living, which faces backward instead of forward, Education MInister Shay Piron traveled with Israeli high school students and local celebrities to Poland. On his return to Israel, Piron smuggled through Israeli customs an electrifying idea: From now on, not only will all Israeli youths from age 17 and up absorb the Holocaust’s deadly radiation, very young children will also be exposed to it; a young tender soul, after all, absorbs everything deeply.

Children who have not yet fully formed their way of thinking will now face the prospect of being driven mad.

“What did you learn today in kindergarten, my sweet child?”

“We learned that if we don’t eat everything on our plate, a German police officer will come and grab us.”

If any of you readers have children or grandchildren, I strongly advise you to refrain from sending them to a seemingly free-and-easy kindergarten that is more like a maximum-security prison.

Perhaps Israeli children are not tough enough; what is this, Athens? Perhaps Israel should be more like Sparta. Perhaps they should be trained with Spartan-like rough-texture diapers, instead of being wrapped with cotton wool like the etrog. Every Hebrew toddler must know the truth, so he won't leave the country in the end.

Seven years ago I wrote a book published by Yad Vashem and Yedioth Ahronoth: “Pepiczek: He Didn’t Know His Name” – the story of Petr Grunfeld, my friend, who was born the same year I was born, and who was four when he entered Auschwitz and five when he emerged. The book describes his journey in search of his identity, a journey that lasted more than 45 years, and it is not a book recommended for children.

I ask you, indulgent parents: If our Pepi survived the injections in the back Dr. Mengele gave him, and the drops he dripped into his eyes, and the needle he injected into his brain, aren't your children capable of surviving the account of his story? And if a 4-year-old managed to survive Auschwitz's Barracks No. 10, then 5-year-olds can surely survive yet another educational reform.

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