The 50th annual Holocaust Remembrance Day was attended by more than 100 people at Young Israel of Forest Hills on April 7.
Young Israel of Forest Hills was the first synagogue in the United States to observe the day set aside by the Israeli Parliament. The day marks the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when Jews fought the Nazis for 28 days in 1943.
The synagogue’s first speaker was Rabbi Hershel Schachter, the Jewish chaplain who was attached to General George S. Patton’s 8th Army and led a prayer service at the Buchenwald concentration camp hours after it was liberated. This year’s theme was how the Holocaust started.
Rabbi Manfred Gans, senior rabbi at Machane Chodosh in Forest Hills, remembered his childhood in Leer, Germany. He recalled how Nazi storm troopers would sing in the streets, “When Jewish blood spurts forth from a blade of a knife, then it is good for us,” even before Hitler took power in 1933.”
“To the average Jew,” he told attendees, “they said they didn’t mean it.”
“I had wonderful non-Jewish friends, neighbors,” Gans said. But one friend had a grown teenage brother who became a virulent Nazi and told him, “You damn Jew, leave this house and never come back.” Little by little, Germany banned Jews from parks, schools, stores. “This was mild for what was to come,” Gans said.
At 2 a.m. on Nov. 10, 1938, storm troopers pounded on the doors of Jews in his hometown, telling them they had one minute to get dressed. The Nazis marched the Jewish community through the streets to their synagogue to watch it burn. They then marched them to a meat factory, pointed to the cattle hooks and said, “That’s what we’re going to use.”
“Could you imagine the horror to go through something like that?” Gans asked. “That was an evening that will remain ingrained in my mind.” Houses were ransacked and men were sent to concentration camps on the night called Kristallnacht.
After World War II, there was great sympathy for the Jewish people and Israel was established as a country, Gans said, but “Now, they say let’s boycott Israel. There is hatred of Jews but they use the word Zionist. Mankind has not learned the lesson.”
He continued, “We said, ‘Never again should humanity, nations be overcome with hatred because of their ethnic origins or religion.’ We need not be quiet.”
Dr. Moshe Katz, a Holocaust survivor, educator, and author, said, “It began with the hatred of Jews many centuries ago, especially with the Dreyfuss trial in 1894 when a Jewish captain in the French Army was falsely accused of giving secret military documents to the Germans.”
During that period, Dr. Katz said, “They chanted ‘Kill the Jews’” in France, Russia, Holland, Germany and across Europe. Courageous French people stood up and found one or two anti-Semites who had forged the documents stating Dreyfuss sold secrets.”
Theodor Herzl, a journalist covering the Dreyfuss trial, started modern Zionism. At the first Zionist meeting in 1903, “Herzl foresaw the destruction of the Jewish people,” Katz said. Jews were blocked from going to then-Palestine. Uganda was offered by the British as a homeland for the Jews but the Zionists rejected the idea.
Hitler promised the German people jobs, cars, and beautiful roads, Katz said. IBM in Germany compiled the names and addresses for Hitler of the 600,000 Jews in Germany.
Katz said the Nazis originally wanted to kick the Jews out. In 1933, Nazis arrived in Palestine to discuss Jews being sent there but the British blocked the plan. By 1938, no country would take in the Jews.
“We were taught we were no good, we were low, like rats,” Katz said. And today, he added, it’s happening in France, and in Venezuela, where half of the Jewish population has left.
“They say, ‘We have nothing against the Jews; we hate Israel for oppressing the Palestinians,’” Katz said, but that masks the real anti-Semitism that he said “could happen anywhere with propaganda.”