YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel
Messages from Holocaust Memorials
The Old Jewish Cemetery (1439-1787) contains 12,000 tombstones, but the number of persons buried there is about 100,000 as Jews were not allowed to be buried outside the ghetto.Later, over lunch with travel companions, we could not help wondering: Why had the Nazis not destroy these sites immediately upon occupation? With only six synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Old Jewish Town Hall, they could easily have completed the demolition. After all, they had already systematically destroyed and burned Jewish cities, towns and villages of Bohemia and Moravia.
Returning home, I teased out the answer, thereby uncovering a macabre and ironic twist to this story. At the beginning of the 20th century, the old Jewish Ghetto, or Josefov, was demolished for reconstruction of a new town, by decree of the Prague City Council. Only the synagogues , cemetery, and town hall remained. In1906, farsighted Jewish community leaders established a museum to preserve valuable artifacts from buildings demolished during the clearance. All seemed well until the Nazi’s marched in. In one of the most grotesquely ironic acts of WWII, the Nazis seized control of the area that would eventually become the Prague Jewish Museum.
After the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia on 15 March 1939, they closed down the museum. Jewish leaders, after intense “negotiations,” the Nazis agreed to save it. As a result, in 1942, the Nazis established the Central Jewish Museum. Then they began shipping sacred objects and other looted treasure back to Prague, from liquidated Jewish communities and synagogues of Bohemia and Moravia. Why? Because after the Nazi had exterminated the Jewish people they planned to use these treasures as exhibits for a “museum of the extinct Jewish race.” Granted a temporary stay of execution, Jewish scholars labored to catalogue and classify the collection, laying the foundation for the Jewish Museum—seemingly oblivious to the nefarious intentions of the Nazis. In the final ironic, triumphant twist of fate, the Nazi’s were defeated. Today the Jewish Museum in Prague has one of the most extensive collections of Jewish art, textiles and silver in the world; there are 40,000 exhibits and 100,000 books. The collection is unique, poignantly evoking the rich Jewish history and heritage for the present Czech Republic and
Part 2. Budapest: Raoul Wallenburg Holocaust Memorial Park
As we stepped into the sunlit courtyard of the Great Dohány Street Synagogue, a graceful sculpture of a tree with steel branches shaped like a weeping willow adorned with delicate silver leaves are lovely to behold. Then we notice that there are eight branches and that the branches are strangely contorted downward. Drawing closer, we see that each leaf has a name engraved on it. We circle the tree, shivering as we whisper the names, knowing that each one stands for the 5,000 victims of the Holocaust buried nearby. The eight branches must symbolize of the number of candles on a menorah. And the upside down branches remind us of the devastating, hopeless years of the Holocaust. In the midst of the tree stands a black stone with two empty spaces, like empty eye sockets, where the Ten Commandments should be. The stone evokes the abandonment of the Jews by their country and their God, searing reminder of the 400,000 Jews murdered by Nazis and their collaborators.
In the same courtyard, we stopped to pay our respects at the Rescuers Memorials to those who had the courage and moral fortitude to save Hungarian Jews, especially Raoul Wallenberg and other Righteous Among the Nations who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during WW II.
3. Budapest, Shoes on the Danube Holocaust Memorial, on the Danube Promenade in Budapest, a splendid city springing back to life after hard years of communist rule, is without doubt one of the most heart-wrenching memorials you will see. At this spot in January 1945, Hungarian Jews were marched to the banks of Danube, told to take off their shoes, and shot. The bodies floated down river, down to the sea and out of sight. As long as this memorial exists, however, what happened will never be forgotten.
In Conclusion, what do we take away from these memorials? Outrage, horror, and despair that millions of innocent human beings were put to death. Disgust at allowing the Holocaust to happen. What happened can never be undone, the stories keep spooling on and on until only disgust remains. Yet there is a way out of this dark place. The fact that we are here to tell the stories is a resounding victory over the vanquished perpetrators of evil. And, most importantly, each one of us must bravely shoulder the responsibility to speak against evil in all it's guises before it is too late, must tell these stories to the next generation in the hope that it may never happen again.
Chief Rabbi Holocaust Memorial
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