As a Holocaust survivor, I am sometimes asked about similarities and differences between the era of the Shoah and that of the coronavirus pandemic regarding the fear of death and of being shut in. If at first there seemed to be no similarities, now we see that they have much in common, together with one major difference.
The difference is first of all a numerical one: Six million Jews, 1 million of them children, were murdered, and none of the world’s leaders lifted a finger on their behalf. Fewer people have died from the coronavirus than were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau alone.
Another big difference, of course, is that we live in Israel and are not differentiated as Jews, and we live in hope that the strangers among us are treated in kind. As someone who hid in the Netherlands with Righteous Among the Nations – non-Jews who were later honored by Yad Vashem for taking risks to rescue Jews during the Holocaust – I can say that many of our people are today risking their lives and those of their family, as members of the medical staff in nursing homes, and despite this are not treated appropriately by the nation’s leaders.
Once more we are shut in at home, in small rooms and in some cases alone. We, who hid for years, find ourselves once again completely dependent on the goodwill of caregivers, relatives or neighbors, who see to our food and medicines, and without knowing what the future will bring. It’s true that in the Netherlands, Jews were more often betrayed and turned in to the Gestapo than they were concealed and rescued. Today, in contrast, we have nothing to fear apart from worries about being tested and getting the proper medical help.
I find it strange to see that today, too, the Jewish leadership is weak. It’s known that the local Jewish committees, which viewed themselves as leaders in those days, took care of themselves, their families and people close to them first of all. The current leadership does not even have a legal mandate. The heads of our state failed to set a good personal example; in addition, they arranged for virus testing for their families and associates.
There is a great crisis of trust between the Holocaust survivors and the leaders of the state. The actions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and of President Reuven Rivlin, both of whom celebrated the Passover seder with family members who do not live with them, do not inspire trust. Nor do the coalition negotiations with politicians who changed their spots and the chutzpah of the two Knesset members who declared themselves a legislative faction and are demanding from the future government 6 million shekels ($1.68 million) for “communication with the public.” Such acts by lawmakers, who for nearly a year now have received a full salary without doing anything, undermine trust in the current leadership.
There’s a lot of talk on local television about the sad plight of the elderly. Every day there are calls for people to stay in touch with their poor aged parents and grandparents, but no one even considers interviewing an actual old person. Presumably the broadcasters think that would be bad for their ratings.
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We must give thanks for still being alive. I heard a woman shouting on air, why don’t they let her take her father to her home and give him the care he needs. No one asked her why, in that case, didn’t she keep him at home in the first place. We all know that home care is preferable to hospitalization.
Whether by intention or in error, media outlets don’t distinguish between retirement communities in which most of the residents are healthy, and nursing homes, which account for most of the deaths from COVID-19 and other diseases. If you ask, we’ll tell you the truth, but you don’t ask.
For Holocaust Remembrance Day I have one request: Remember those who were murdered, recite their names, remember the Righteous Among the Nations and the Jews who rescued Jews. We, the survivors of the Shoah who have the privilege of living in Israel, ask that you leave us alone. I promise we won’t trouble you, not on Holocaust Remembrance Day and not on Independence Day. Only allow us to live and to die in peace and with respect in the Land of Israel!
Abraham Roth is a Holocaust survivor. His two sisters and most of his family were murdered in the camps.