The challenge facing Israel isn’t just to learn from past mistakes, but also to learn from past successes. How might we combine the lessons learned in exile with our native bottom-up organizational culture to build a more resilient society?
Ovadya ben Malka's writings on the shoah and memory
What is the role of fiction in holocaust education? While some argue that fiction and literature have no place at all, one could make a case that The Diary of Anne Frank has done more to cement the lessons of the Holocaust in the minds of real people than any number of documentaries and studies. Art, literature, and film play the same role for civilizations as dreams do for individuals; they allow us to integrate our experiences and learn from them. They allow us not just to remember what happened but to be changed by it.
The recent kerfuffle around Whoopi Goldberg has once again ignited the perennial debate about whether the Jewish people constitute a race. The problem is that such distinctions are modern social constructs, and were invented long after the Jewish people came into being. Jews are not so much a race or a religion, but a civilization—a culture. As a culture, Judaism has its own laws, folk tales, myths, songs, and several similar—but not necessarily identical—religions. We’re a people, and any attempt to fit us into the little boxes designed for and by Western societies is destined to fail.
In honor of the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, here is an excerpt from the story of Ovadya ben Malka. “Here is one task for you to do,” Rav Ish-Shalom told him. “You must remember everything you can about individual people from that place. One cannot keep alive the memory of thousands; it just isn’t possible. Instead, call to mind individuals. Their lives, not their deaths. You must remember everything you can about them; how they were dressed, what they said to one another; any names that you heard spoken. Anything!” In this excerpt, Ovadya finally begins to overcome the barrier to telling what he witnessed.
A poem in honor of Yom HaShoah 5779. A Sonderkommando’s memories and the role of the living.
When does survival become a crime? What is the nature of Evil? Where was God during the Holocaust? What are the limits of human responsibility in the face of overwhelming coercion? These are just some of the question faced by Jews—particularly religious Jews—during the Shoah. This guide explores these questions and more through a series of dialogues between Ovadya ben Malka, a former member of the Birkenau Sonderkommando and the rabbi to whom he turned for judgment.
Some things should continue to awaken our sense of outrage, because not to be outraged is to cease to be human. We should not surrender our humanity without a fight, even if we know we will lose that fight in the end.
Teshuvah is, among other things, a process of reaching closure and healing. In wronging another, we dealt a blow to our relationships—our connection to ourselves, to our community or society, and to our relationship with God. Reaching closure means healing these wounds. But what if we can’t ask for forgiveness because those we wronged are no longer alive?
“Not only with you am I making this covenant and this oath, but with those standing here with us today before the Eternal our God, and with those who are not here with us, this day.” Every generation is the Jewish people. And every generation must choose life or death: do we pass on our traditions to our children or do we let the Jewish people die with us?
When does survival become a crime? When does choice become treason? And what choice do we have when all choices are wrong? These are the questions faced by the Sonderkommando—the Jews who were forced to burn the bodies of the dead.