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How Will the Holocaust Be Remembered When All the Survivors Are Gone?

Avraham Roet
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A ceremony on Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem in 2021.
A ceremony on Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem in 2021.Credit: Alex Kolominsky
Avraham Roet

There is no event in human history comparable to the Holocaust. Until the Holocaust, no sovereign state (Germany) had decided to destroy another people, not only to murder the people, but also to destroy their culture and faith. Thus, any comparison is inappropriate. To equate the Russian invasion of Ukraine to what happened to the Jews in the Second World War is to distort history.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is our duty, as part of the Jewish people, to warn and to remember how our brothers and sisters, our parents and our families were murdered. We the survivors of the Holocaust remember. Will the coming generations remember when we are no longer here? And how will they remember? We won’t know.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is a time for speeches that express concern for the well-being of survivors and that they should be able to spend their years comfortably and honorable. The reality, however, is quite different. Institutionalized assisted living is expensive and out of the reach of most survivors. Many of them can’t get the home help they need. The government provides for no more than 90 hours a month. Often that is not enough, but many survivors can’t afford to pay for more.

The Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority has a 5.5-billion-shekel ($1.7 billion) annual budget. But when survivors call it, they are answered by a contractor that he has no direct connection with the authority but promises to return all calls. I have tried at least five times to call the authority, but have always received the same answer – the authority will get back to you – but they never do. The authority’s direct phone number seems to be a secret, and they cannot be contacted directly.

Another field that has been neglected is the return of property of Jews who died in the Holocaust. During the 10 years that it existed, the government’s Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets located assets worth more than 2 billion shekels, but only a small part of that was returned to the heirs and the rest to Holocaust survivors. (The writer of this article served as its first chairman.) When the company was shut down four years ago, its outstanding balance of 700 million shekels was transferred to the office of the Official Receiver. However, the receiver has failed in returning the property of Holocaust victims.

Harsh criticism by the state comptroller was shunted aside and to this day, nobody knows what happened to the funds that came into the hands of the Official Receiver. What did happen is that about a year-and-a-half ago a secret inter-ministerial committee was set up by the Justice Ministry under whose authority the Official Receiver operates. The committee solicited the opinions of several Holocaust survivors, but since then it has cut off any contacts, and we do not know what happened with it.

Institutions such as Yad Vashem were founded to provide testimonies about the Holocaust. But recently it transpires that this institution, 80 years after the Holocaust, is involved in endless studies. Yad Vashem has become inflated with countless researchers and employees, luxurious buildings whose upkeep costs a fortune, and publication of books and studies that nobody reads. The result is that a chairman has been elected whose knowledge of the Holocaust is minimal and his main field of expertise is fundraising.

Because of its huge expenses and large personnel roster, Yad Vashem suffers from chronic financial difficulties that require it to take into account the desires of its main sponsors – primarily Russian oligarchs. The head of the Yad Vashem board, Moshe Kantor, is a Russian oligarch who features on the list of sanctioned individuals. (He is prohibited from entering England, for example). It is no wonder then that Yad Vashem has refrained from condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with all its harsh consequences on civilian life.

But that is not all. Since the chairman took up his position, we have not heard of any meetings with Holocaust survivors. The state has contributed a further 30 million shekels to Yad Vashem’s budget, but that, it seems, is just a drop in the ocean. Things have become so absurd that on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yad Vashem now organizes paid tours of its museum. Foreign citizens who wish to take part in a virtual tour are also required to pay.

We remain unfortunately a group of just a few activists for the rights of survivors. The first circle is disappearing and when we disappear, Holocaust Remembrance Day will also become a historic event in the history of the chronicles of the Jewish people – just another of the disasters that have befallen the Jewish people over the generations, such as the destruction of the Temple, the exile and others. It is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the liberation of Auschwitz, that will remain in the world’s memory.

Yet despite the above, those like me who went through the German bombings of cities in Europe cannot but be shocked by the horrors and destruction in Ukraine. We naively thought that the modern world would not allow total destruction of cities as is happening now in Ukraine. These images return us to the Second World War and give us no rest. All the talk that it was not possible to conduct a war of destruction such as the one being conducted by the Russian army in Ukraine in the age of television and social networks has transpired to be nonsense. An undemocratic regime, it turns out, can commit murder and destruction in a democratic state without any pangs of conscience, and the free and democratic states have found no solution to fight dictatorship and terror.

Today already there is a lack of knowledge in the field and unfortunately little has been done to instill the memory of the Holocaust as part of the revival of the people of Israel. Many Holocaust survivors live with a feeling of helplessness and inability to influence the memory of the Holocaust.

The writer is a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor. Most of his family was murdered in the camps.

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