Opinion |

Forget Poland, Germany Has So Much to Teach Israel

B. Michael
B. Michael
The Nazi camp of Buchenwald, upon its liberation in 1945.
The Nazi camp of Buchenwald, upon its liberation in 1945.Credit: Wikimedia Commons
B. Michael
B. Michael

Once I was in Weimar. The city of Weimar. I sat in the Theaterplatz in the city center, drinking coffee. Opposite me were Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, cast in bronze. These two intellectual giants lived and worked in Weimar. In the adjacent street stands the Bauhaus Museum. The marvelous language of design and architecture was also born in Weimar. As was the Weimar Constitution. The epitome of democratic perfection, except for a few little mistakes that enabled Hitler to come to power.

In short a city filled with culture, philosophy, poetry and enlightenment. And the coffee was pretty good too.

Northwest of the city there is a gentle hill. A highway surrounded by a lovely forest of beech trees leads to it. Within a few minutes I reached the top. A forest of beech trees is called “Buchenwald” in German. And there, eight minutes from Schiller and Goethe, stands the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Buchenwald was not an “official” extermination camp. It was actually built before the war. Imprisoned in it – by administrative order and without trial – were political detainees, pacifists, Jehovah’s witnesses, homosexuals, democrats, Jews, communists, Gypsies and critics of the Nazi regime. Because over the years over 50,000 people were murdered there, there was a crematorium in the camp. For hygienic reasons.

After the liberation of Buchenwald, Gen. George Patton ordered 1,000 of the residents of the city of Weimar to tour the camp (on foot), so that they would see what took place under their noses. There’s a video. Oh, how surprised they made sure to look. Really dumbstruck. Who imagined that there was such a thing right near home.

They saw nothing and heard nothing. Nor did they smell anything. I could smell the coffee I drank in the Theaterplatz from there. They were unable to smell the smoke of a crematorium that burned 50,000 corpses.

And why did I recall this story? Because of the Poles, of course. The people who suddenly interrupted the routine of our students’ visits to the death camps. Gevald! Who will now shower our youth with the paranoia and hatred that are so essential to their proper education? But on second thought, maybe it’s actually coming at the right time. Between us, we can already admit: The power of the traditional Holocaust has faded considerably from overuse. And all the children already know everything: “They want to destroy us. The Poles are to blame. No longer ‘sheep to the slaughter.’ Let’s get to the hotel already.”

So maybe the time really is ripe to change direction. The youth can derive the paranoia from the Iranian squads that aspire to eliminate us, and the hatred – from Palestinian flags. During trips abroad we’ll teach the children more contemporary lessons. More useful, perhaps more important.

And here we come to Buchenwald. In the camp and its environs lies an instructive lesson that is worth learning: How to develop selective blindness. How to live a stone’s throw away from abominations, and not give a damn. How not to see, not to hear and not even to smell human beings whose lives are worthless, whose property is stolen, whose rights are trampled and whose bodies are prey for pogromists. How to manage not to see all these things, and to carry on with our good lives.

And not only in Buchenwald can we learn all that. It is also true of Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbruck … All of them were built years before the Holocaust, all of them next to bustling cities whose residents were extremely surprised when they learned what had happened under their noses.

That’s where we should send our young people. There they will learn how to be good, blind, righteous and obedient Israelis. And the hotels are as good as those in Poland.

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