A national anthem written more than 50 years before the birth of the state for which it was composed, “Hatikvah” has served as a source of hope and inspiration for Jews who have found themselves in the most dire of circumstances. During the darkest hours of the Holocaust, Jews defied their tormentors by singing the song’s powerful lyrics.
‘The SS could not stop them
Filip Muller was a Sonderkommando in Auschwitz—a Jewish slave laborer who was kept alive because he helped take corpses from the gas chambers to the crematoria. One of the very few Sonderkommandos to survive the Holocaust, Muller later described the remarkable behavior of one group of Czech Jews who were being marched towards the gas chambers and were told what was about to happen:
“Their voices grew subdued and tense, their movements forced, their eyes stared as though they had been hypnotized… Suddenly a voice began to sing. Others joined in, and the sound swelled into a mighty choir. They sang first the Czechoslovak national anthem and then the Hebrew song ‘Hatikvah.’”
Enraged SS men tried to halt the singing by beating the Jews into submission, Muller wrote. “It was as if they regarded the singing as a last kind of protest which they were determined to stifle if they could.” But the SS was unable to stop them. “To be allowed to die together was the only comfort left to these people… And when they sang Hatikvah, now the national anthem of the state of Israel, they were glancing into the future, but it was a future that they would not be allowed to see. To me the bearing of my countrymen seemed an exemplary gesture of national honor and national pride which stirred my soul.”
Overwhelmed by feelings of remorse, Muller tried to join the group as they entered the gas chamber, but they pushed him back out. A woman implored him, “Your death won’t give us back our lives. That’s no way. You must get out of here alive, you must bear witness to our suffering and to the injustice done to us.”
‘Despite it all they sang’
Jan Michaels was a 23-year-old Polish Jewish pilot who was shot down in 1944 and imprisoned near what he called “a forced labor camp in Silesia” (German-occupied southwestern Poland). Michaels managed to escape, and his eyewitness testimony about the mistreatment of the Jews reached the West in November of that year.
Michaels reported that 300 Jews between the ages of 18 and 25 were being held in the slave labor camp. “The prisoners, who came from France, Holland and other European countries, were forced to work inhuman hours in the freezing cold, although they received little food and were clothed in rags,” according to news reports relaying his account. “Persons who became ill feared to report to the camp infirmary because they knew that it meant death.”
“Despite their mistreatment, the youths maintained their morale,” Michaels said, and he “could frequently hear the strains of ‘Hatikvah’ coming from the camp.”
(A precise identification of the camp to which Michaels referred has never been made. Earlier this year, researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum completed a study which identified 42,500 Nazi ghettoes and slave labor camps throughout Europe, a much higher number than previously recorded.)
‘Am Yisrael Chai’
BBC Radio reporter Patrick Gordon Walker was on hand when the British Second Army liberated the Bergen-Belsen death camp in April 1945. On the first Friday after the liberation, Walker broadcast an account of a British Jewish army chaplain, L. H. Hardman, leading what Walker called “the first Jewish service that many of the men and women present had taken part in, for six years—probably the first Jewish service held on German soil in absolute security and without fear, for a decade.”
“Around us lay the corpses there had not been time to clear away,” Walker reported. “People were still lying down and dying, in broad daylight… A few hundred people gathered together, sobbing openly in joy at their liberation and in sorrow at the memory of their parents, bothers and sisters that had been taken from them, gassed and burned.”
“These people knew they were being recorded, they wanted the world to hear their voice. They made a tremendous effort, which quite exhausted them. Listen.”
Walker evidently assumed that what he heard was part of the traditional Sabbath prayer service, but the survivors actually sang “Hatikvah.” At the conclusion of the song, a voice — perhaps that of the chaplain, L. H. Hardman — declares: “Am Yisrael Chai, the children of Israel still liveth!” (The broadcast can be heard on YouTube.)
Mrs. Oran Aviv (formerly Helen Einhorn), an Israeli health care practitioner originally from San Francisco, has identified her mother, Cesia Frommer Einhorn, among the survivors on Walker’s recording. Just days earlier, Frommer Einhorn had “contemplated running and killing herself on the electric fence of the camp,” Aviv notes on her Web site.
But there she is on the BBC recording, “belting out the song with her operatic voice, full of determination, wanting the whole world to know that despite all that she and others had suffered through, they had not lost their hope and still dreamed of returning one day to Zion. Where did my mother’s amazing strength come from? How did she find this strength and hope, despite the atrocities she witnessed and suffered, despite the death march from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen…?”
Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, www.WymanInstitute.org. His latest book is “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.”
Israel marks Warsaw Ghetto uprising with flags
(JNS.org) Schools throughout Israel this month will wave Israeli flags at precisely the same time as part of a special ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising during the Holocaust, Israel Hayom reported. Exactly 70 years prior, those who survived the uprising waved flags to symbolize their victory and sent a letter to local municipalities and school principals explaining the significance of the effort. “This year will mark 70 years since the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, an event that magnifies the connection between the Holocaust and the renewal of the nation in their land and country. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising represents courage, unity of destiny and the leadership inherent in the Jewish people from our outset,” said Israeli Education Ministry Director-General Dalit Stauber.
The synchronized flag-waving ceremonies at all Israeli schools are set for April 19 at 10 a.m., the exact time when flags were waved in the Warsaw Ghetto.
“At a time when Israeli society faces social, educational, security and ethical challenges, the values manifested in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising can serve as a model for our society today,” Stauber concluded.
Holocaust memories revived at controversial Berlin museum exhibit
(JNS.org) Almost 70 years after the Holocaust, the Jewish Museum in Berlin is fending off criticism for hosting an exhibit, “The Whole Truth, Everything you wanted to know about Jews,” which asks Jewish men and women to sit in a glass box and answer questions by visitors about Jews and Judaism.
Today “a lot of our visitors don’t know any Jews and have questions they want to ask,” said museum official Tina Luedecke, according to Fox News. “With this exhibition we offer an opportunity for those people to know more about Jews and Jewish life.”
But critics have voiced concern that the exhibit is not an appropriate way to educate the German public about Judaism. In addition to the glass box, another part of the exhibit includes a placard asking “How do you recognize a Jew?” next to several yarmulkes, black hats and Jewish women’s hair covers. In another section, visitors are asked if Jews are “particularly good looking, influential, intelligent, animal loving or business savvy.”
The museum Jewish curator, Miriam Goldmann, says the “in your face” approach is necessary to deal with a subject still painful in Germany for both Jews and non-Jews. The exhibit has attracted a lot of visitors. While sitting in the box, Ido Porat, a 33-year-old Israeli, was asked what should be brought to a Shabbat dinner in Israel and why only Jewish men and not women wear yarmulkes. Another person asked about Judaism and homosexuality.
YOM HASHOAH — HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY
Holocaust Remembrance Day is Sunday, April 7. All events are free and open to the public.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3
Fairfield — 30th Annual Town of Fairfield Holocaust Commemoration with guest speaker Bob Gillette, author of The Virginia Plan, about Richmond, Va. department-store owner William B. Thalhimer, who created a safe haven for Jewish agricultural-science students fleeing Nazi Germany; 7:30 p.m.; at First Church Congregational, 148 Beach Rd., (203) 400-2060
West Hartford – Hanna Perlstein Marcus, author of “Sidona’s Thread: The Secrets of a Mother and Daughter Sewing a New Life in America,” will speak; Marcus was born in the Bergen Belson displaced persons camp in Germany and immigrated to Springfield, Mass. with her mother Sidona, who was well known throughout the area for her sewing abilities, but held on to many secrets from her life in a concentration camp; 7 p.m.; Mandell JCC, 335 Bloomfield Ave., (860) 236-4571, www.mandelljcc.org.
SATURDAY, APRIL 6
Southport — Congregation for Humanistic Judaism (CHJ) Annual Yom Ha’Shoan Commemoration: “Never Again: Heeding the Warning Signs”; screening of short video from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, followed by presentations by CHJ member and Holocaust survivor Lou Reens of Wilton, and survivor Zelig Preis’s granddaughter, Julia; open to adults and children ages 13 and up; 7:30 p.m.; at the Southport Congregational Church, 524 Pequot Ave.; (203) 226-5451
SUNDAY, APRIL 7
Bridgeport — Eastern Fairfield County Community Holocaust Remembrance Day: “Generations Rising: From Memory to Responsibility”; service of remembrance with local Holocaust survivors and community clergy, followed by panel discussion focusing on the question, “Has the world changed since the Holocaust?” including Dr. Samson Munn, Harry Weichsel and Mayer Kai-Uwe Spanka; 2 p.m.; Sponsored by Congregations Rodeph Sholom (Bridgeport), Ahavat Achim (Fairfield), B’nai Israel (Bridgeport), B’nai Torah (Trumbull), Beth El (Fairfield), and UJA/Federation of Eastern Fairfield County; at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, 2385 Park Ave., (203) 334-0159
Greenwich — 31st Annual Yom Hashoah Commemoration with guest Speaker Judith A. Kallman, author of A Candle in the Heart. Born in Czechoslovakia, Judith Mannheimer Alter Kallman was only five years old when she watched as her parents and older siblings were deported to Auschwitz. Rescued and hidden by both Jews and Christians, she spent the final year of the Holocaust in German-occupied Budapest. Today, Kallman lives in Greenwich. Holocaust survivors who would like to participate in this year’s candle-lighting ceremony should call UJA Greenwich at (203) 552-1818, or email Pam Ehrenkranz: Pam@ujafedgreenwich.org; 3 p.m.; at Temple Sholom, 300 East Putnam Ave.
Meriden — Yom Hashoah Commemoration; a short video will be followed by a memorial service; 5 p.m.; Temple B’nai Abraham, 127 East Main St.; (203) 235-2583, www.meridentemple.org.
New Haven — In honor of Holocaust Memorial Day: “The Power of Witnessing: Feeling the Trauma and the Resilience of the Survivors” presentations by editor/writers Nancy Goodman, Marilyn Meyers and others; 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.; Slifka Center, Yale University, 80 Wall St.
Stamford — Community Yom Hashoah Program: “Lessons from the Holocaust: Humanity for the Future” with Justice Thomas Buergenthal, a child survivor and author of A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy; (7 p.m.; prior to the commemoration, Justice Buergenthal will also attend the Jewish Twenties and Thirties’ “Dinner with Survivors” at 5 p.m.); at Temple Beth El, 350 Roxbury Rd.; (203) 321-1373, ext. 114. (An interview with Buergenthal will appear in the Apr. 5 Ledger)
West Hartford — Yom Hashoah Holocaust Commemoration featuring guest speaker Anita Ron Schorr, a survivor of the Terezin, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps who lives in Westport; an hour-long reading of the names of Holocaust victims and deceased survivors will begin at 6:30 p.m.; program begins at 7:30 p.m. with candlelight procession of survivors and their families; hosted by the Mandell JCC and the Jewish Federation Association of CT; at The Emanuel Synagogue, 160 Mohegan Dr.; to submit names for reading email email@example.com or call (860) 231-6351. FREE
Westport — Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk Yom Hashoah Community-Wide Observance with rabbis, cantors and community leaders, including the mayor of Norwalk and the first selectmen of Westport and Weston; guest speaker is award-winning filmmaker and Holocuast survivor Agnes Vertes; 7 p.m.; at Temple Israel, 14 Coleytown Rd.; (203) 227-1293
Woodbridge — Holocaust Remembrance Day observance featuring a sneak preview of “I Am Your Witness,” a locally-produced documentary film about the Adopt a Survivor program, introduced by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman; the Adopt a Survivor Program is an annual year-long project that transfers the life experiences of local Holocaust survivors to local high school students; 4 p.m.; JCC of Greater New Haven, 360 Amity Rd. (203) 387-2522, www.jccnh.org. FREE
MONDAY, APRIL 8
West Hartford — Children’s illustrated book reading in commemoration of the Yom Hashoah; Dr. William Freund will read from his new book “The Towel that Saved Elizabeth,” a story of friendship and courage of two youngs girls in Germany in the 1930s; 10 a.m. – 12 noon; at the Museum of Jewish Civilization, Mortensen Library, University of Hartford.
TUESDAY, APRIL 9
New London — Annual Coast Guard Academy Holocaust Memorial Luncheon; theme of observance is “Individualism,” featuring a video presentation about the Holocaust provided by the U.S. Holocaust Museum and comments by Holocaust survivor Henny Simon; 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.; in the Academy’s Leamy Hall ballroom; firstname.lastname@example.org. $9
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10
Fairfield — Fairfield University Annual Holocaust Remembrance Service; Alan Bell, son of Aron (Bielski) Bell, the last-surviving member of the Jewish partisan brothers whose resistance to the Nazis was the subject of the 2008 film “Defiance,” will speak; 4:30 p.m.; co-sponsored by Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, Campus Ministry, and KADIMA; at Egan Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola, Fairfield University, 1073 North Benson Rd.; (203) 254-4000, ext. 2066
Storrs — “The Holocaust and Obscenity in the U.S.: Love and Death, U.S. v. Roth, and The Pawnbroker,” with Josh Lambert, director of education, National Yiddish Book Center and visiting assistant professor at UMass Amherst; complimentary lunch; hosted by the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life and the Konover Chair of Judaic Studies at UConn; 1 p.m.; in UConn’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, Rm. 162; (860) 486-2271, email@example.com. Reservations for lunch required
FRIDAY, APRIL 12
Hartford — 35th Annual Connecticut Holocaust Commemoration Day, “Never Again: Heeding the Warning Signs,” keynote address given by Ruth Fishman, a Holocaust survivor who was sent to the Dutch concentration camp, Westerbrook, at the age of nine; a statewide event hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and organized by the Statewide Holocaust Commemoration Planning Committee; 11 a.m.; in the Senate Chambers of the CT State Capitol, 210 Capitol Ave.
The Holocaust on film
This week, the Mandell JCC Harford Jewish Film Festival will feature four films on the topic of the Holocaust.
MONDAY, APRIL 8
7 p.m. at Beth El Temple
“Kinderblock 66 — Return To Buchenwald”
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10
8:15 p.m. at Criterion Cinemas, Blue Back Square
“A Wonderful Day” and “Numbered”
THURSDAY, APRIL 11
8:15 p.m. at criterion Cinemas, Blue Back Square
For more information call 860-236-4571 or visit www.hjff.org.