Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Holocaust Memorial Day has also become a day of disgrace

A day of shame

Shlomo Papirblatt

Published: 04.18.07

The State of Israel has managed to do the inconceivable: The official annual memorial ceremony marking the slaughter of Jews at the hands of the Nazis has turned into a day of memory and disgrace. The media has compassionately and justifiably sounded the voices of tens of thousands of poverty stricken refugees from hell. For them, it has become tragically apparent that their suffering had just taken a pause of several years, but it has now returned; albeit in a different form but no less painful, because despite being amongst their people their grief is rife.

There is no room for the bewilderment in the face of recent headlines regarding the imperviousness, the stinginess and even the cruelty towards Holocaust survivors in Israel. This phenomenon has deep-set roots. Those in the know are aware that there has always been a terribly cold attitude by many Israelis and in the establishment's conduct towards survivors of the death camps.

It began with their arrival here prior to the founding of the state, their bodies still broken, their souls haunted. Some had a fierce need to tell, a need to expose the atrocities, but time and again they were met with unheeding ears. Shrinking in pain they learned that in the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel they were regarded as "lambs led to the slaughter." So they put their heroism aside.

When Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann was captured and the detailed testimonies from the trial resounded throughout the country, for many it was the first time they had heard of what transpired on another planet. Yes, just a decade and half after concentration camp gates were broken down and the human skeletons were freed.

And when the time was ripe and negotiations with the "other Germany" led to reparation agreements, a strange situation, to say the least, was created. Survivors who chose the Zionist option and came here to partake in the establishment of the state were forced to accept the government's handling of their restitution entitlements. Their funds entered the Treasury coffers, which were heavy-handedly controlled by government officials appointed for the purpose.

Nothing can stop the tears

They have been holding on to the funds of the sufferers for dozens of years. Any additions to this aid involved going through a humiliating process; remuneration for the cost of false teeth was a voyage of trials and tribulations. When they complained about the deterioration in their condition they were often treated as swindlers.

The others, who after World War II remained in Western Europe or even in Germany, received generous pension and restitution funds that enable them to live out their old age in dignity, while being provided treatment for ailments that emerged years after they were freed from the camps.

When Israeli survivors were young and active, with a craving for life, they were silenced by their own desire to rehabilitate and raise a new family. They didn't demand respect; they concealed their emotional distress and looked to the future.

Yet today, at such an advanced stage in their lives, with the resurging nightmares that had simmered deep within, nothing can stop the tears. And these tears are being heard; they are heard when we lend an ear once a year - on Holocaust Memorial Day. The day of memory and disgrace.

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