As a child I always remember my parents speaking of what took place in Holland during the Nazi occupation. The term ‘Holocaust’ was rarely if ever used. Instead they would generally speak of it in terms of “40-45”, representing the years 1940 until 1945 when Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands.
I always knew I had lost family, specifically the parents and younger sister of my father and the father and younger brother of my mother. It was not until I was a bit older that the scope was understood to me, very possibly due to my parents shielding me from the reality at my young age.
I always knew of the greatness of the Lubertus and Geeske te Kiefte. The people known to me from as far back as I can remember as Oom (Uncle) Bertus and Tante (Aunt) Geesje were the people who shielded my parents, specifically my mother, and gave her a welcome home at the risk of certain torture and death. They would always remain to me as family, as would their children and grandchildren.
I always knew it was Germany. What history was then and what it became was something I did not begin to comprehend until my teen years. My first understanding of the contrast that existed was my awareness that Willie Brandt, who was German Chancellor from 1969-1974 was a “good German” who had not been part of the Nazi party. As an ignorant child it was all just numbers and random information to me. Of course it was sad. I never had the experience of knowing my grandparents and knew that the world my parents were born into had been destroyed. But the true scope was something that was next to impossible for a child to grasp. Then I grew up and realized it had very little to do with age.
Soon after I finished writing the book “Jew Face” I was thinking about all that had taken place and my perception of the events of 40-45. As a New Yorker, I know what it means to live in a city with a strong Jewish influence, not unlike Amsterdam prior to 1940. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine most of my family gone and 75% of the Jews of New York wiped out. After 10 seconds I opened my eyes because it was too painful to continue. I had the option of opening my eyes and making it no longer a reality. This is what makes Holocaust survivors such as my mother and late father and so many others the tremendous heroes that they are. The very ability to go on with life in the face of such awful memories without the option of opening their eyes and making it go away. It never did go away, yet they continued to live with the pain, often turning it into new worlds filled with joy and happiness. We owe a debt of gratitude to all these heroes that we can best repay by always remembering and fighting to make sure it never happens again. May God bless them all forever.
I have no long tribute to write on the woman known as “the Iron Lady”, but as a Jew who today is commemorating the murder of 6 million, interjecting a post of any kind not related to Holocaust Remembrance is my own personal tribute. Her accomplishments were important not just to her country but to the entire world and she always conducted herself with a dignity and decency hard to find in today’s world and government. Rest in Peace Margaret Thatcher.
The honor and memory of 6 million Jews is not a political issue. It is not aligned to being a Man or Woman, Democrat or a Republican, Conservative or Liberal, Jew or non-Jew. It transcends race, nationality or color. As a Jew I make no apologies for this being my main focus. It does not mean I hold no importance to genocides that have taken place in other parts of the world. It does not mean I do not condemn slavery or oppression against people throughout history. It is very simply an issue of remembering the murder and devastation committed against the Jewish people. Let no one make a mistake by thinking atrocities committed against any people is of no consequence. As long as our world still allows this to happen everyone is potentially at risk. But that should not be what it takes for people to care. As human beings we can never be complacent about the suffering of others. But just as importantly, we must identify evil where it truly exists. Murderous governments still exist and in some ways are stronger today than ever before. Muslim leaders referring to Jews as pigs or dogs and speaking of the annihilation of the State of Israel is a very true reality today. So the importance of remembering goes beyond honoring the dead, it speaks to the survival of our people and moral development of the entire human race. Do we as people hold power? In joining together in decency and dare I say love, we have a far better chance than if we battle each other and let the true enemy off the hook by battling each other over theory and conjecture. If there is one advantage we have today it is that the enemy is not hiding from us, but is rather out in the open and very clear about their intention. Let our remembrance of the 6 million who perished be a lesson that helps our world survive the very real threats that exist today, and let our actions be a blessing for their memory.
In the 68 years since the end of the period in which the horrors of the Holocaust occurred, much has been written and said to honor and remember those who perished and survived a time so terrible words cannot really do it justice. Rightly so, the day set aside to commemorate what took place is called Holocaust Remembrance Day. There is nothing we can do to change what happened and nothing we can say to make it better. All we can do, and hopefully cause others to do, is remember. That is our solemn obligation and moral responsibility.
There should be no guilt in living a happy and healthy life. Those who are blessed with the good fortune of a happy life have every right to enjoy what they have and live that life to the fullest. However, every single one of us needs to remember what happened from 1933 till 1945 when Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany was in power. The crimes against humanity defy every decent person’s sense of reason and to forget must never be an option. The systematic murder of 6 million Jews must be something we carry with us in constant remembrance, for lest we forget we allow their honor and memory to die as well. Our responsibility is to see that their honor and memory live on forever, not just in our lifetime but in the years to come.
Enjoy your lives, have your fun, but never shy away from this responsibility. All that we have today was made possible by their sacrifice. Never ever forget.
Starting Sunday April 7th through Tuesday April 16th, Holland’s Heroes will post a series of photos and articles related to the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel. There will also be specific stories and pictures directly related to the book “Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi-occupied Holland”.
Picture on the left: Flag of the State of Israel
Picture on the right: Hall of Remembrance in Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem)