The Forest Hills community turned out for remembrance and vigilance on Holocaust Commemoration Day held last Thursday at the Young Israel of Forest Hills synagogue.
This year’s theme was “Nazism: Not Confined to Europe.” Speakers addressed how Nazism had a large impact on the lives of Jews living in the Middle East before and during World War II, and in some cases, passed down to modern times.
“Baathism ideology was greatly influenced by Nazism and Fascism,” said Eli Chomsky, president of the Young Israel of Forest Hills. Baathism is an Arab nationalist ideology.Chomsky said in 1940, Syrian demonstrators, marching against their British and French colonizers, chanted “In heaven God is the ruler; here on earth it’s Hitler.”
Baathism is an Arab nationalist ideology.
“Nazism was no more strongly felt outside of Europe than in the Middle East,” said the keynote speaker, Joseph Levy.
Levy quoted the former grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, as saying that Nazism and Islam were “totally compatible.” He said Radio Berlin was broadcast throughout the Mideast. There were pogroms in Algeria, Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but Nazism was stronger in Iraq than anywhere else.
Jewish civil servants and government clerks were ousted in Iraq and quotas for Jews in colleges were put into place the same time as the Nuremberg Laws, anti-Semitic laws that were passed in Germany in 1935.
In June 1941, the Farhud Massacre in Iraq killed between 100 and 200 Jews; 1,500 homes and businesses were looted; and 2,500 families directly affected. Levy compared that to the Kristallnacht destruction in Germany and Austria in 1938 when 91 Jews were murdered and 7,000 businesses were destroyed.
“Iraq had a plan to kick out the Jews before Israel was created,” Levy said. By 1951, 121,000 out of 125,000 Jews left Iraq. Today, there are fewer than 10 Jews remaining in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad.
Approximately 800,000 Jews lived in Arab countries in 1948, he said, while today there are fewer than 7,000, mostly in Morocco.
“Today, we remember the past and protect the future,” said Rabbi Yehuda Oppenheimer of the Young Israel of Forest Hills.
Forest Hills has held its community-wide observance for 49 years, and it’s “as relevant as ever,” said Phillip Belkin, chairman of the program. He said state-sponsored Holocaust denial is prevalent as well as threats of a new holocaust by Iran.
Cantor Danny Njamin of Congregation Machane Chodosh sang a Hebrew song, L’chol Ish Yesh Sheim” — “To every person, there is a name,” — and a Yiddish song “Zol nit Keinmol,” — “It should not happen again.”
Holocaust survivors and children of Holocaust survivors lit the memorial candles.
The event was held last week to coincide with the 69th anniversary of the start of a major offensive campaign by Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.
An estimated 13,000 Polish Jews, who had been starved, out-manned and fighting heavily armed troops largely with primitive or make-shift weapons, were killed in the uprising. More than 50,000 others were captured and taken to concentration camps.