The Shattering of the Myth
My friend, Eliyahu Schultz, was born in Pressburg, today called Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, in 1930. In 1944 he was "deported" to Auschwitz-Birkenau were he was numbered, both on a punched I.B.M. Hollerith card and physically with a tattoo on his forearm, a mutilation he bears to this day.
He even survived a "final" death march as the Soviet forces closed in. Following a stay of a few months in hospital, he returned to Pressburg.
He arrived in Israel before the War of Redemption erupted.
In Israel, Eli attended the famous agricultural school at Mikve Yisrael. Over a thousand students. They comprised two independent groups. Other than farm work which they did together, the two bodies had different programmes: in the classroom, in the dorms and in the dining room. One grouping, of which Eli was a part, was fully made up of Holocaust survivors, largely orphans (Eli's father, who spent part of the war with Eli in concentration camps, survived the murderous period and subsequently also came to Israel) and almost exclusively religious. The second group comprised children of Kibbutzim and Moshavim. Born in Israel, these natives were known as "Sabras", named for the fruit of the indigenous cactus, whose fruit, while having a hard and prickly exterior, is soft inside and sweet to eat.
These Sabras belittled the newcomers, echoing their parents' arrogance, saying that the Jews of Europe went to their deaths because they refused to fight; they were sheep, lead to the slaughter. Israelis, on the other hand, were of a different breed. They took nothing lying down -- they stood up for themselves and for their rights.
And Eli swallowed this. It hurt. But he really came to believe that the Sabras were made of a different stuff. They fought back, and they won. They would not have gone to the gas chambers willingly.
Even in 1961, during the Adolf Eichmann trial, Eli maintained this position. He thus took little interest in the hearings. The testimonies only served to reinforce the idea of the "weakness" of European Jewry who should have stood up and fought back, even against the odds, even in the face of mass cruelty. The heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943, [supposedly] under the Zionist leadership of Mordechai Anilevich, were idealised. The Jew who fought back!
I've known Eli for a long time. Today, in his eightieth year, he is a big cynic. And justifiably. He's held the short end of the stick too often. He need not have continued his narrative. I knew exactly what he was about to say. I really do know him well. I have heard many of his life stories, both in Europe and here in Israel. I hope to share more of these with you in the future.
"That all changed . . . ." The punchline was coming. I knew I didn't want to hear it, though I know his analysis is accurate.
"That all changed during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Soviet-backed Syrian army overran the Israeli position on Mount Hermon", the strategic high point between the two combatant forces. "And we, all of us here in Israel, and everyone throughout the entire world, saw it on television . . . "superhuman" Israeli soldiers, armed with the best, most sophisticated weaponry in the world, were lead off . . . with their hands behind their heads, exactly the same way we were."
When I sat down to write this afternoon, I intended end this story here.
But Eli said something else a few moments later, seemingly a new conversation. I want to share this too with you.
"We just finished Pesach last week", he stated. "Why were the Children of Israel enslaved by the Egyptians?" It was a rhetorical question. He continued immediately, "Because they came to the Diaspora, and they settled down and they were comfortable, and they enjoyed themselves in the Galut. Life was good. It was great!
And they forgot that the Land of Israel was where they should be. They simply forgot to go home.
"This is exactly what happened in Europe."
And Menachem adds, "and it's what is still happening today!"
Menachem Kuchar, 25th March, 2009
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