(3) Auschwitz, 60 years on: “Evil Too Great to Grasp – or Remember”

January 27, 2005

This is the third of a three-part email. For the introductory note and contents list, please see the first email of this series, titled (1) Auschwitz, 60 years on: "My father was no longer there".

This dispatch contains six articles published to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

-- Tom Gross


EVIL TOO GREAT TO GRASP -- OR REMEMBER

Evil Too Great to Grasp -- or Remember
By Richard Cohen
The Washington Post
January 27, 2005

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A40071-2005Jan26.html

Not long ago, Prince Harry -- an accident away from the British throne -- showed up at a costume party dressed as a Nazi. We know this because someone took a picture that made it into the English tabloids -- a diversion for a day or two before the papers returned to more serious matters such as the sexual affairs of Cabinet ministers. But they should have stuck with the Harry story. The dim prince is truly a child of the new century. Nothing that happened in the past century seems to have affected him at all.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the last century's most searing event, the liberation of Auschwitz. It was appropriately marked at the United Nations earlier in the week, but most people in most places took no heed, and even if they did, they may not have known what to make of it. I understand. The enormity of Auschwitz, let alone the Holocaust, is such that the human brain can scarcely contain it. Even to let Auschwitz in is to let God out.

For some time now Auschwitz has been slipping away from us, officially remembered, unofficially neglected. Accounts of it -- books, films -- are met with jaded boredom: We know, we know. In the infantile imagination of Harry, prince of the realm, the Nazi uniform summoned up not an ounce of revulsion, not a touch of the creeps, as if the Holocaust, like Vlad the Impaler, has been transformed from incomprehensible evil to comic book camp. It may be hard to deal with it any other way.

Auschwitz is never far from my mind. I have been to the place and read its literature. But even if I hadn't, even if I knew it just as a place where more than 1 million Jews and others were murdered, it would still intrude at one of those treacly moments when someone mentions the goodness of mankind or the benevolence of God. It has been this way with me since childhood, when, over and over again, I asked the rabbis in religious school: Why? How? Explain! They could not.

You saw some of this questioning in the aftermath of the recent catastrophic tsunami. Some writers tried to grapple with its theological implications: How could He? The children. The infants. What sort of God is this? But the questions will fade as the tragedy works its way toward the back of the newspaper and ultimately falls off the page. It will become something that just happened. Besides, it was impenetrably scientific, something geological, about volcanic pressures and tectonic plates -- and breathtakingly swift, to boot. Maybe God had just turned His back.

The Holocaust, in contrast, was not an instantaneous event. It lasted years. It consumed about 6 million, 10 million, who knows how many million people, Jews and non-Jews, but 1 million Jewish children -- infants, too. This had nothing to do with oceans and lava and tectonic plates and stuff only scientists could really understand. Auschwitz was the diligent work of man, a constellation of camps and factories, all of it worked by slaves, all of them marked for death. Auschwitz was essentially about murder, about what people did to people. A human being could go from physician or musician or mother or child to ash in the course of a couple of hours. Geology had nothing to do with it. The mysteries are not scientific. They are theological.

Here is my fear. Because we cannot understand Auschwitz, because it is an immense bump in the road in our belief in a good God -- "a just God," the president said in his inaugural address -- we will let it slip from memory, remembered maybe like some statue in the town square that memorializes something or other, maybe a war, maybe a man. Reminders will seem like nagging, and when the survivors are finally gone (they have been an incredibly hardy lot) so, too, will be the obligation to remember. Ah, what a relief!

Then, bit by bit, Auschwitz will fade, becoming something that happened in the last century to people who some may insist had it coming anyway -- Jews and commies and Gypsies and homosexuals . . . mostly. For most people, it may become -- it is already becoming -- too dense a historic burden, a hideously heavy truth about who we can be, not just who we would like to be. Prince Harry just chucked it all. Someday, I fear, so shall we all and then -- as it has in Rwanda and at Srebrenica -- it will happen again.

And again.

 

THE AUSCHWITZ IMPERATIVE

The Auschwitz Imperative
Editorial
Los Angeles Times
January 27, 2005

www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-auschwitz27jan27,0,646355.story

The mass slaughter of Germany's Jews, 1.5 million at Auschwitz alone, was not incidental to Hitler's war aims, but their purest expression. This has long been an accepted historical truth, except in the strange world of the United Nations. This hole in history gave extra significance to a special General Assembly session Monday in which Secretary-General Kofi Annan broke with decades of disgraceful U.N. silence, enforced by anti- Semitic Arab states, about the murder of the Jews: "The United Nations must never forget that it was created as a response to the evil of Nazism, or that the horror of the Holocaust helped to shape its mission." Those words are true and overdue.

Today, a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army will be attended by numerous world leaders, including Vice President Dick Cheney, French President Jacques Chirac and Russia's Vladimir V. Putin, demonstrating a determination that the memory of the Holocaust not be effaced.

It was not always so. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the Holocaust did not figure prominently enough at the Nuremberg war crimes trials or elsewhere. Israel was eager to look forward to a bright socialist future, not to linger on the gruesome past. Only a few scholarly books about the Nazi attempt to exterminate an entire people appeared. What's more, Stalin's Soviet Union was itself anti-Semitic, and it also set up puppet regimes in Eastern Europe and murdered tens of millions in the Gulag.

Only after the spectacular capture of Adolf Eichmann by Israel's Mossad in 1960 did much debate about what happened erupt. But the respectable disputes are mainly about when, not whether, the Nazis decided upon genocide. As historian Walter Laqueur has observed, there is no point in engaging Holocaust deniers who are beyond rational persuasion: "As soon as one set of their arguments concerning the Holocaust is refuted, they will submit a new one."

As the Holocaust has come under closer scrutiny, the United States and Britain have had to examine their own guilty consciences about doing little to take in refugees during the 1930s. Then there is the matter of acting against Auschwitz itself. Should it have been targeted for bombing by the Allies? Of course it should have, but indifference and outright anti-Semitism in the British Foreign Office and the U.S. State Department combined to produce inaction.

The Holocaust remains unique in modern human history, but the memory of it has been insufficient to stop other genocides. The U.N., as Annan acknowledged Monday, has failed to stop slaughters in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda. What he didn't say was that the U.N. has also served as a diplomatic fig leaf, allowing Western powers to justify doing nothing on their own. That is something the assembled statesmen might contemplate as they meet at Auschwitz today.

 

THE LIBERATION OF THE CAMP OF THE DAMNED

The liberation of the camp of the damned
By Tom Luke
Sydney Morning Herald
January 27, 2005

www.smh.com.au/news/Opinion/The-liberation-of-the-camp-of-the-damned/2005/01/26/1106415665805.html

Auschwitz's end was neither prompt nor compassionate, but a byproduct of other manoeuvres, writes Tom Luke.

Sixty years ago, in January 1945, Auschwitz was liberated. To some people, Auschwitz is already a historical notion, a symbol of horror. To others, it is an impersonal subject for (academic) speculation. A few - and the number is rapidly diminishing - are survivors of the camp itself and witnesses to its liberation. There are also thriving schools of thought questioning the number of people murdered and even that the gas chambers existed, insinuating that Auschwitz was an ordinary labour camp where inmates died of natural causes.

Auschwitz was a web of concentration camps and sub-camps. The central camp contained installations of torture, pseudo-medical experimentation and execution, but most of its inmates were exploited as slaves in nearby industrial complexes until their final collapse.

The purpose of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a couple of kilometres from the central camp, was mass extermination. This is where the trains arrived, bringing millions from all over Europe. The stunned arrivals were lined up on the platform and marched towards a selection point, where the fate of each individual was decided with the flick of a finger.

The victims, sent to the wrong side, had no idea what was to happen. Gas chambers with adjacent crematoria turned thousands of people into smoke and ash every night. Officials watched the agony of the damned through peepholes.

Even those who were directed from the arrival platform to Birkenau received only a reprieve. They were instantly dehumanised: stripped naked, shaved from head to toe, dressed in flimsy pyjamas, beaten, tortured, starved, counted and recounted. If there is absolute humiliation, this was it.

They soon understood the significance of the flames and smoke on the horizon.

Murders can be quantified; terror in the soul cannot.

Other selections followed. Able-bodied adults were marshalled into detachments, tattooed and marched or transported off to be slave labour in concentration camps scattered throughout the Nazi realm. Those who stayed behind knew, as they weakened, that there was only one way out.

That was Auschwitz-Birkenau, a product of the human brain.

As the war drew to a close, the extermination installations at Auschwitz-Birkenau were blown up by the Nazis. It is interesting to note that the "master race", aware of the monstrosity of its actions, tried to cover up the magnitude of its crime. The inmates remaining by January 1945, or at least those who could walk, were evacuated by means of so-called death marches. Those left behind were to be shot.

But with the eastern front rapidly approaching, there was not enough time to impose the last act upon the damned. And so the most pitiful, who did not die in the intervening days of frost, disease or starvation, lived to see the Red Army arrive. Let us not jubilate. No one hastened to liberate Auschwitz, or any other concentration camp.

The Soviets had to fight and defeat the Nazi machine, or be destroyed themselves. In the course of their movement forward, the Soviets redrew borders, occupied and enslaved the eastern lands of Europe, imposed communist dictatorships, introduced prisons for inconvenient citizens; they replicated the proven model of the Soviet gulag where more millions died. The liberation of the remains of Auschwitz was a coincidental byproduct.

For that matter, neither did the Western Allies deviate from their set military planning and strategy to advance the liberation of concentration camps; nor did they slow the extermination operations.

It is common knowledge that the Allies and the Soviets possessed information about the purpose and mechanics of Nazi atrocities, and yet not even the bombing of rail tracks carrying human cargo to extermination was judged worth the effort. One would have thought that after the experience of World War II, humanity would come to its senses.

Still, since 1945, further millions of innocent men, women and children have been deliberately enslaved, tortured and assassinated by various members of the world community. Their purpose: holding on to or acquiring power, in the name of nationhood, class, creed, or some other doctrine or agenda.

Moreover, society seems to be replete with fanatics who openly preach death to infidels. Meanwhile, in comfortable chambers at a safe distance from scenes of mass murder, distinguished ladies and gentlemen deliberate as to whether this case or that qualifies as genocide.

As we remember Auschwitz, we must also bear in mind that for the vast majority of victims, liberation came too late.

(Tom Luke, an Auschwitz survivor, lives in Geneva.)

 

COULD BRITAIN HAVE DONE MORE TO STOP THE HORRORS OF AUSCHWITZ?

Could Britain have done more to stop the horrors of Auschwitz?
By Martin Gilbert
The Times (London)
January 27, 2005

www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,1072-1458049,00.html

Should we have, could we have, bombed Auschwitz? Some believe that if the Allies had acted some of the horrors could have been prevented. On the 60th anniversary it is worth examining the historical evidence. Apart from anything, it reveals the identity of an overlooked heroine.

From the summer of 1942 until the spring of 1944 more than a million Jews were deported to Auschwitz, where they were either murdered or kept as slave labourers. Deliberate German deception kept the secret of Auschwitz’s location and purpose hermetically sealed for almost two years. For the deportees, it was “the unknown destination”, “somewhere in the East”, or “somewhere in Poland”.

Throughout that time, Auschwitz lay beyond the range of Allied bombers. It was first overflown by an Allied reconnaisance aircraft on April 4, 1944. The South African pilot later showed me his logbook. His mission was to photograph the synthetic oil plant at Monowitz, three miles east of the gas chambers of which he, and those who sent him, knew nothing. By coincidence, three days later two Slovak Jewish prisoners, Alfred Wetzler and Rudolph Vrba, escaped and brought the news that the “ unknown destination” was Auschwitz, and that up to a million Jewish deportees had been murdered or incarcerated there.

Even as Vrba and Wetzler were presenting their report to the Jewish leaders in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, the SS began the first deportations from Hungary to Auschwitz, dependent for their speed and efficiency on Hungarian police and railway workers. The intended gassing of more than half a million Hungarian Jews began at Auschwitz on May 17. Among those who witnessed it were two Jewish prisoners, Arnost Rosin and Czeslaw Mordowicz, who escaped from Auschwitz on May 27. They too reached Bratislava.

From Bratislava, a summary of the information from the four escapees reached Washington on June 18. It was examined by the War Refugee Board, whose brief was to help Jews wherever it could. The telegram asked for the bombing of the railway lines leading from Hungary to Auschwitz. But the head of the War Refugee Board, John W. Pehle, did not see bombing as a priority. He told John J. McCloy, the Under-Secretary for War, that the board was not, “at this point at least”, requesting the War Department to take any action other than to “explore” it. In turning down the request, McCloy wrote that it could “only be executed by diversion of considerable air support essential to the success of our forces now engaged in decisive operations”. Thirty-five years later, McCloy told me that his worry was that once a request from the Jews was accepted, all sorts of other captive peoples — he specifically mentioned the Greeks — would ask for similar diversion of Allied air resources, then fully stretched by the D-Day landings three weeks earlier.

On June 24, two days before McCloy’s negative response, the escapees’ reports reached the Jewish and Allied representatives in Switzerland. “Now we know exactly what happened, and where it has happened,” wrote Richard Lichtheim, the senior representative in Switzerland of the Jewish Agency, to his superiors in Jerusalem. The reports made clear, he noted, that Jews had been sent to Auschwitz not only from Poland but also from Germany, France, Belgium, Greece and elsewhere, and that they had been murdered there.

One of the British agents in Switzerland, Elizabeth Wiskemann — later a distinguished historian of interwar Europe — supported the dispatch of a telegram from Lichtheim to the Foreign Office in London, giving full details of the hitherto “unknown destination” and making six requests.

The first request was to give the facts the “widest publicity”. The second was to warn the Hungarian Government that its members would be held responsible for the fate of the Jews being deported from Hungary. The third that reprisals be carried out against Germans being held in Allied hands. The fourth request was for the “bombing of railway lines” from Hungary to Auschwitz, and the fifth for the precision bombing of the death camp installations. The final request was for the target bombing of all collaborating Hungarian and German agencies in Budapest. The telegram gave the names and addresses of 70 Hungarian and German individuals who were stated to be most directly involved in sending Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz. On Wiskemann’s inspiration, this telegram was sent uncyphered, to enable Hungarian Intelligence to read it. They did so, and took it at once to the Hungarian Regent, Admiral Horthy, and his Prime Minister, Dome Sztojay.

The request for bombing was followed six days later, on July 2, by an entirely unconnected and unusually heavy American bombing raid on Budapest. The target was the city’s marshalling yards, but many bombs fell in error on government buildings — some mentioned in the telegram.

This seemingly rapid response to the Swiss appeal caused consternation in Budapest. On July 4, Admiral Horthy summoned the senior German official in Budapest, SS General Edmund Veesemayer, and demanded an immediate end to the deportations. Veesenmayer hesitated. Two days later, the Prime Minister repeated the demand. Lacking the military power to force the Hungarian police and railway workers to continue the deportations, Veesenmayer ordered that they end. The last deportation from Hungary took place that day and with it the last major forced removal of Jews to Auschwitz. A chance American bombing raid had stopped the deportations: 380,000 Hungarian Jews had been murdered there.

Also on July 6, a further request for bombing reached London, brought by Chaim Weizmann, head of the Jewish Agency. The next day, Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, put it before Winston Churchill, who responded: “Get anything out of the air force you can, and invoke me if necessary.” Eden passed on Churchill’s request to the Air Ministry at once, noting: “I very much hope that it will be possible to do something. I have the authority of the Prime Minister to say that he agrees.”

But bombing was no longer needed. The deportations to Auschwitz from Hungary had ceased. The 150,000 Hungarian Jews who had escaped deportation by only a few days now had another priority: international protection inside the city from further German or Hungarian Fascist assault. This protection was provided by the neutral embassies in the city: the Swiss, the Portuguese, the Spanish and the Swedish. At the request of the War Refugee Board, the Swedish government sent Raoul Wallenberg to Budapest to take part in this protective work. He reached the city three days after the halt of the deportations to Auschwitz. This rescue effort, of which he became a central part, was coordinated by the Vatican representative in Budapest, Cardinal Angelo Rotta. In recent years, Wallenberg and the other diplomats have all received recognition for their work. Now, Wiskemann, a Briton, deserves hers, as we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

(Sir Martin Gilbert’s books include Auschwitz and the Allies.)

 

AUSCHWITZ: JUDGEMENT DAY FOR HUMANITY

Auschwitz: judgement day for humanity
By Ron Ferguson
Glasgow Herald
January 27 2005

www.theherald.co.uk/features/32294.html

Some people will do anything to get on the telly. They're dying to do it, literally. The corpses which are dissected nightly this week on Channel 4's Anatomy for Beginners gave their permission, in the days when they were in breathing mode, to be cut up in public.

Mine host with the magic scissors is the controversial anatomist Dr Gunther von Hagens. The German is felt by some to be a vulgar showman, and I expected to be somewhat repelled by the programme. Instead, I have been riveted by it. The dear man's passion is to democratise anatomy and to allow the punters to see its wonders for themselves. The commentaries by John Lee, professor of pathology at Hull York Medical School, add a reassuring note of, well, British gravitas.

The respectful filleting of the corpses is not for the squeamish, but it makes for compulsive viewing. These are very material, flesh-and-blood, demonstrations of the vulnerability of the physical; they also provide evidence of the sheer awesomeness of the human. Dr von Hagens carefully removed the brain and the spinal cord of one cadaver to reveal an internal communications system of such sublime sophistication that it makes our most cutting-edge computers seem like primitive toys.

What is a human being? For starters, it's a creature whose heart routinely pumps 6300 gallons of blood through 96,000 miles of blood vessels every day. And did you know, dear reader, that the DNA from all the genes of your 75 trillion body cells would fit into a box the size of an ice cube – but, if all this DNA were unwound and joined together, the string would stretch from the earth to the sun and back more than 400 times? Now, I don't carry around all this information in my 25 billion sparkling brain cells, but I know that it's utterly amazing. What beautiful, awkward, appalling, puzzling, creatures we are.

Another TV programme that raises much more troubling questions about the nature of the human is BBC2's Auschwitz: the Nazis and the Final Solution. The series follows the trail of evil from the origins of Auschwitz as a place to hold Polish political prisoners, through the Nazi solution for what they called "the Jewish problem" to the development of the camp as a mechanised factory for mass murder.

What is most chilling about this brilliant series is the way in which apparently rational people calmly discuss the mass extermination of fellow human beings as if they are talking about a local public transport problem. They coolly arrange for revved-up motorbikes to drown out the haunting screams of the dying. Everything is carefully minuted, giving each death-dealing meeting the feel of a community council in uniforms. Then camp commandant Rudolf Hoess goes off home to play with his children and listen to Beethoven on the gramophone.

The Nazis had an answer to the question about the value of Jews, gypsies and gays. The victims' rings were taken off to be sold, and gold fillings were removed from their teeth. Their skin was used to make officers' lampshades and their hair was taken off for cushions. Each human being might be worth a couple of pounds.

What does it mean to be human? Dr von Hagens, for all his showmanship, is echoing the word of the ancient psalmist that we are "fear-fully and wonderfully made". Another Hebrew poet cries that human beings are created a little lower than the angels. One of the several writers of the book of Genesis insists that humans are made in the image of God. I pitch my tent – in the teeth of a grotesque tsunami – with those who want to insist that the stamp of the divine is hidden within each of us.

When we lose the transcendent rooting of our frail humanity, when the intrinsic worth of each human being loses its ontological moorings and slips into a bottomless utilitarian marsh, humanity is in profoundly disturbing trouble. The Nazi Euthanasia Committee, which provided its own final solution to the "problem" of the mentally and physically disabled, signals the route of the runaway moral train, freighted with psalm-singing children in mortal terror, as it heads remorselessly towards the buffers.

We humans are touched with bright wings, made for glory. At our best, we are creatures capable of supreme loving sacrifices. We are also capable of doing things that no other animal would do. James Froude said: "Man is the only animal to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself."

In one concentration camp, the Jewish inmates decided to put God on trial. The deity was found guilty as charged. The meeting broke up when someone pointed out that it was time for evening prayers. On this Holocaust Memorial day, I want to side with those who are determined to put humanity and God in the dock and to demand answers to charges of committing crimes against humanity; and also to cry a broken and a wounded Hallelujah.

 

ALWAYS, DARKNESS VISIBLE

Always, Darkness Visible
By Aharon Applefield
Op-Ed Contributor
New York Times
January 27, 2005

www.nytimes.com/2005/01/27/opinion/27appelfeld.html

In January 1945, 60 years ago today, the wheels of destruction in Auschwitz stood still.

The few people left alive describe the prevailing silence as the silence of death. Those who came out of hiding after the war - out of the forests and monasteries - also describe the shock of liberation as freezing, crippling silence. Nobody was happy. The survivors stood at the fences in amazement. Human language, with all its nuances, turned into a mute tongue. Even words like horror or monster seemed meager and pale, not to mention words like anti-Semitism, envy, hatred. Such a colossal crime can be committed only if you mobilize the darkest dark of the soul. To imagine such darkness apparently needs a new language.

"Where were we?" "What did we go through?" "What's left of us?" the survivors wondered. Primo Levi tried to use images of Dante's hell; others turned to the works of Kafka, especially "The Trial" and "In the Penal Colony."

In the penal colony of Auschwitz, the Jew was not condemned because of his old or new beliefs, but because of the blood that flowed in his veins. In the Holocaust, biology determined a person's fate. In the Middle Ages, the Jew was killed for his beliefs. A Jew who chose to convert to Christianity or Islam was saved from his suffering. In the Holocaust, there was no choice. Observant Jews, liberal Jews, communist Jews and Jews who were sure they weren't Jews were crammed into the ghettos and camps. Their one and only offense: the Jewish blood in their veins.

The Holocaust stretched over six years. Such long years there probably never were in Jewish history. Those were years when every minute, every second, every split-second held more than it could bear. Pain and fear reigned, but even then, in the midst of hunger and humiliation, the amazement sprouted: "Is this Man?"

During the Holocaust, there was no place for thought or feeling. The needs of the hungry and thirsty body reduced one to dust. People who had been doctors, lawyers, engineers and professors only yesterday stole a piece of bread from their companions and when they were caught, they denied and lied. This degradation that many experienced will never be wiped out.

Under conditions of hunger and cold, the body, we learned in the camps, is liable to lose its divine qualities. That too was part of the wickedness of the murderer: not only to murder, but first to humiliate the victim utterly, to exterminate every shred of will and faith, to turn him into a despicable body whose soul had fled, and only then, that degradation complete, to murder him. The lust to debase the victim until his last moments was just as great as the lust for murder.

In 1945, the ovens were extinguished. Jean Améry, a prisoner of Auschwitz and one of the outstanding thinkers on the Holocaust, says in one of his essays: "Anybody who was tortured will never again feel at home in the world."

Great natural disasters leave us shocked and mute, but mass murder perpetrated by human beings on human beings is infinitely more painful. Murder reveals wickedness, hatred, cynicism and contempt for all belief. All the evil in man assumed a shape and reality in the ghettos and camps. The empathy that we once believed modern man felt for others was ruined for all time.

In 1945, the great migration of the survivors began: a sea of bodies, killed many times over and now resurrected. Some wanted to return to their countries and their homes, and some wanted to go to America, and some wanted to reach the shores of the Mediterranean and go from there to Palestine. Even then, in that strange resurrection, the first questions arose: What is a Jew? Why are we persecuted so bitterly and cruelly? Is there something hidden in us that condemns us to death? Many felt - if an individual may speak for the many - that the six years of war were years of profound trial. We had been in both hell and purgatory and we were no longer what we were.

Some entered hell as pious people and came out of it just as pious. That position deserves respect. But most survivors - myself, and especially the young - were outside the realm of faith, and from the first stages of the liberation, we were engaged with the question of how to go on living a life with meaning. The temptation to forget and be forgotten and to assimilate back into normal life lurked for every survivor. We can barely grasp and internalize the death of one child. How can we grasp the death of millions?

For the sake of sanity, the survivors built barriers between themselves and the horrors they had experienced. But every barrier, every distance, inevitably separates you from the most meaningful experience of your life, and without that experience, hard as it may be, you are doubly defective: a defect imposed on you by the murderers and a defect you perpetrated with your own hands.

God did not reveal himself in Auschwitz or in other camps. The survivors came out of hell wounded and humiliated. They were betrayed by the neighbors among whom they and their forefathers had lived. They were betrayed by Western culture, by the Germans, by the language and literature they admired so much. They were betrayed by the great beliefs: liberalism and progress. They were betrayed by their own bodies.

What to hold onto to live a meaningful life? It was clear to many that the denial of one's Judaism, which characterized the emancipated Jew, was no longer possible. After the Holocaust it was immoral.

No wonder many of the survivors went on to Israel. No doubt, they wanted to get to a place where they could leave their victimhood behind and assert responsibility over their fate, a place where they could connect with the culture of their forefathers, to the language of the Bible, and to the land that gave birth to the Bible.

This is not a story with a happy ending. A doctor who survived, from a religious background, who sailed to Israel with us in June 1946, told us: "We didn't see God when we expected him, so we have no choice but to do what he was supposed to do: we will protect the weak, we will love, we will comfort. From now on, the responsibility is all ours."

(Aharon Appelfeld is the author, most recently, of "The Story of a Life." This article was translated by Barbara Harshav from the Hebrew.)


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.