We Know the Road to Treblinka

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Forest near Treblinka concentration camp, Poland.
Forest near Treblinka concentration camp, Poland. Credit: אריאל ינאי
Zehava Galon

The Noam faction entered the Knesset surreptitiously this week, under the wings of Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party, a party promoted with all the might of Benjamin Netanyahu. Smotrich was the person who organized a “Parade of Beasts” to counter a Gay Pride Parade, shortly after he was arrested on suspicion of planning an attack aimed at the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

In recent years he has been demanding that a “Joshua choice” be presented to Palestinians. The choices are flight, living under oppression or being annihilated. His party’s platform, which was removed from its website, says that the party will demand that women and rape victims who file a complaint be required to sign a document in which they acknowledge the significance of making false charges. As for his colleague Itamar Ben-Gvir, we already know him.

On Thursday we are marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. Treblinka did not come down from heaven fully formed, with its gas chambers and incinerators. It was built over a long decade of hate, of defining entire populations as inhuman. The road to Treblinka began with boycotts of Jewish stores, with denying Jews the right to study or teach, to work as doctors or lawyers, and with the stripping of their citizenship. And the train gathered speed, with prohibitions on marrying Germans, sitting on public benches, being in stores when Aryan customers were there, on possessing radios, eating chocolate or having pets. Only then, when their humanity was stripped, could their mass murder begin.

Before the planned annihilation of Europe’s Jews came the extermination of the disabled, the “purification” of the German Volk by murdering terrified children. Gas-emitting trucks camouflaged as coffee-carrying trucks roamed the streets at night, carrying inmates of mental hospitals. T4 was the name given to that vanguard of extermination. A year or two later, the T4 teams were the ones who erected Belzec, Treblinka and Auschwitz.

Why do I mention this today? “This is tied to the Christian attitude of identifying with the weak, which has turned into a postmodern Christian attitude that sanctifies the crippled and the weak. The strong, heaven forbid, must not express their power but be ashamed of it, employing all their feelings of shame to bring about the anticipated equality, which would empower the weak. … In that camp, women are the flag-bearers.”

Itamar Ben Gvir walks alongside Bezalel Smotrich, March 2021.Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND - AFP

These words were not written in German in the early 1930s but in Hebrew, less than a year ago. The writer is Igal Canaan, then No. 3 on Noam’s Knesset list. He’s not in the Knesset, but his party never dissociated itself from him.

The Holocaust has two lessons: Never again, and never again to us. The second approach denies in essence any general human rights, only seeing the rights of Jews. But we know that to avoid that slippery slope we must insist on human rights for every man and woman, disabled and stranger. When we deny their humanity, we deny our own. We must stand up with all our might against the hateful party of Smotrich and his ilk. Now, before we reach that slope.

My father was a Holocaust survivor. He refused to believe in a god that allowed believing Jews, including his family, to be burned alive in their synagogue in the Lithuanian town of Marijampole. Today he would be horrified to hear people speaking in his name of ethnic cleansing, denial of citizenship and the denial of women’s rights. He would be horrified by people who once etched on their belt buckles the words “God is with us.” Never again.

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