This post is the eighth in a series about 25 years living in Israel.
A subject like mine could not be complete without mentioning that terrible subject: the Holocaust. In the 25 years I lived in Israel, coming from a non-Jewish background, I have come to learn and understand a great deal about the Holocaust and how it influences Israeli society till today.
When I came to Israel for the second time, I looked for a place to stay. Resources were low, and when somebody asked me if I wanted to stay with an old lady in return for a room in her house, I jumped on the opportunity.
Growing up in the Netherlands after the Second World War, I read lots of books about that period. The books described Dutch heroes, Dutch traitors, Nazi soldiers, and people who had to hide from the Nazi’s, both Jews and non-Jews. I thought I knew a lot. In fact, I knew very little.
The old lady turned out to be a survivor of a concentration camp. In addition to being in her house in case she needed someone – I had to be at home from 8 pm till 8 am – I was responsible for her on Friday afternoons. Sometimes she would tell me about her experiences. I always listened without comment, feeling too terrified to know what to say.
She told me once that there was not a day that she did not think about her experiences in the Holocaust.
When the survivors came to Israel, after the Second World War, there was no room for their stories and trauma’s. There was a land to be built. Past experiences should be forgotten and one should look forward to a better future. In fact, somebody who had been in a concentration camp was looked upon as a weakling, somebody who had not defended himself like the Jews in Palestine did. The attention went to the Jews who had joined the resistance against the Nazi’s, the Ghetto fighters, the Jewish heroes.
That changed when Adolf Eichmann was captured and brought to trial in Israel. The testimony of more than a hundred survivors shook the entire nation.
It took a lot more time, but today the study of the Holocaust is a mandatory part of the Israeli curriculum. What most Israeli’s refused to see in the early years of the State was, I think, the same thing that I could not see when I was still reading books in the Netherlands. It was the question: what would I do if it happened to me? What if somebody was out to kill ME and my people, now?
According to an article published in 2004 (From the Scandal to the Holocaust in Israeli education, by Dan Porat), the Six Day war in 1967 and the Yom Kippur war in 1973 were the trigger. Suddenly Israeli’s were confronted by a real danger of annihilation, their personal annihilation and the annihilation of their State. The Holocaust became relevant for today.
When, in the winter and early spring of 1991, night after night I ran to the old lady’s room when I woke up from the siren, sealed the plastic sealing the door, put the wet towel before the threshold, put on my gas mask, helped her with her protection (she could not handle a gas mask, but there were alternatives – we hoped), turned on the television and waited together with her for the all clear sign, I am sure she was back in those years long ago.
After the war she said I defended her like a lioness. I honestly did nothing. But I was glad I had chosen to stay.