Ob­ser­va­tions

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - BRENDA KATTEN The writer is pub­lic re­la­tions chair of ESRA, which pro­motes in­te­gra­tion into Is­raeli so­ci­ety.

Novem­ber 2 (to­day) marks 101 years since Bri­tain’s for­eign sec­re­tary, Arthur James Bal­four, wrote his fa­mous let­ter to Lord Roth­schild com­mit­ting His Majesty’s gov­ern­ment to view with fa­vor the es­tab­lish­ment in Pales­tine of a na­tional home for the Jewish peo­ple. The Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion sowed the seeds for the fu­ture State of Is­rael.

One has to ad­mire the per­se­ver­ance of Bal­four, who faced op­po­si­tion from none other than a Jew in gov­ern­ment, Ed­win Sa­muel Mon­tagu, at that time the min­is­ter of mu­ni­tions and sec­re­tary of state for In­dia. Mon­tagu’s memo to the cabi­net in Au­gust 1917 stated, “When the Jews are told that Pales­tine is their na­tional home, ev­ery coun­try will im­me­di­ately de­sire to get rid of its Jewish cit­i­zens.” Mon­tagu im­plied this would be the cat­a­lyst for in­creased an­tisemitism world­wide, giv­ing coun­tries the right to tell their coun­try’s Jews to go to Pales­tine. Mon­tagu was a ra­bid anti-Zion­ist ev­i­dently em­bar­rassed by his Jewish iden­tity. He felt that the Mus­lims and Chris­tians had a greater right to Pales­tine than did the Jews, who were in his eyes not a na­tion, sim­ply a re­li­gion.

Trag­i­cally, the Jews did not have to wait to be given a home­land in Pales­tine to be­come vic­tims of the most hor­rific an­ni­hi­la­tion of hu­man be­ings – sim­ply be­cause they were Jews. In 1933, Adolf Hitler rose to power. One of his first decrees was the dis­missal of all Jewish teach­ers from schools and uni­ver­si­ties with Jewish stu­dents’ en­try to univer­sity lim­ited to 1% of the stu­dent in­take. By 1938, Jewish chil­dren were no longer able to at­tend pub­lic schools. My hus­band, John, re­mem­bers how one day he was told he could no longer at­tend the school where he had been a pupil since the age of six. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, one of his best friends, a non-Jew, in­formed him they could no longer be friends be­cause he was a Jew.

THE WORLD be­gan to show con­cern about what was hap­pen­ing in Ger­many; as a re­sult of Amer­i­can pres­sure, an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence was con­vened on July 7, 1938 in Evian, a bor­der town be­tween France and Switzer­land. Its ob­jec­tive was to dis­cuss what could be done to help the flee­ing Ger­man Jews. Some 32 coun­tries were rep­re­sented and while each del­e­gate ex­pressed con­cern, very lit­tle prac­ti­cal help emerged. The Bri­tish made it clear that they could not in­crease their quota. The Aus­tralian del­e­gate said, “As we have no real racial prob­lem, we are not de­sirous of im­port­ing one.” Oth­ers cited the eco­nomic de­pres­sion as to why they could not al­low Ger­man Jews to find refuge in their re­spec­tive coun­tries.

Hitler noted how “as­tound­ing” it was that, even though coun­tries crit­i­cized Ger­many for its treat­ment of the Jews, they nev­er­the­less re­fused to open their gates to those seek­ing refuge.

Novem­ber 9, 1938, was the night when my hus­band, the son of the rabbi of the Bam­berg Syn­a­gogue, saw his fa­ther’s syn­a­gogue go up in flames. Kristall­nacht, as it be­came known, marked the night the Ger­mans de­cided to set fire to syn­a­gogues all over the coun­try. Over 1,000 syn­a­gogues were de­stroyed, as were some 7,500 Jewish busi­nesses. Some 30,000 Jews were ar­rested and taken to con­cen­tra­tion camps, as was my hus­band’s fa­ther, who was taken to Dachau. This was the mo­ment John’s fam­ily de­cided they could not wait un­til their Amer­i­can papers, dated Novem­ber 1940, would al­low them en­try into the US. The Amer­i­cans’ quota sys­tem en­abled the en­try of only a lim­ited num­ber of Ger­man Jews per year.

For­tu­nately, John’s grand­fa­ther, an em­i­nent rabbi in Bu­dapest, spoke with his friend Dr. Hertz, the chief rabbi in Bri­tain, and the Katten fam­ily re­ceived tem­po­rary visas al­low­ing them to en­ter Bri­tain in March 1939. Thou­sands of oth­ers with Amer­i­can visas dated Septem­ber 1939 per­ished in the Holo­caust.

In Novem­ber 1995, the mayor of Bam­berg in­vited John to take part in a cer­e­mony on Novem­ber 9, the an­niver­sary of Kristall­nacht, to un­veil a monument in the area where the syn­a­gogue once stood. Iron­i­cally, the monument could not be placed pre­cisely on the ex­act site be­cause to­day it is oc­cu­pied by the Min­istry of Jus­tice. As we sat in the square, on a cold morn­ing, lis­ten­ing to speeches by the mayor of Bam­berg, the cul­ture min­is­ter, the jus­tice min­is­ter and oth­ers, all John could think of was the night he wit­nessed his syn­a­gogue in flames. The fine words meant lit­tle to him.

Aside from this event, a spe­cial plaque was un­veiled in the Bam­berg Jewish ceme­tery with the names of those who were mur­dered in the Holo­caust. The plaque in­cluded the name of John’s grand­mother, who was un­able to ob­tain a visa to leave Ger­many. Her days were ended in There­sien­stadt.

The 32 coun­tries at the Evian Con­fer­ence were pas­sive col­lab­o­ra­tors with the Ger­man mur­der­ers, as their barred gates played an ac­tive role in the an­ni­hi­la­tion of mil­lions of Jews.

On Novem­ber 29, 1947, the United Na­tions voted to par­ti­tion Pales­tine – a state for the Jews and one for the Arabs. Amos Oz, in his au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal book A Tale of Love and Dark­ness, vividly de­scribes how his fam­ily stood out­side their home, to­gether with their neigh­bors, lis­ten­ing to the wireless as coun­try af­ter coun­try cast their vote; 21 of the 33 coun­tries that voted in fa­vor of the par­ti­tion plan were those that chose not to of­fer refuge to Jews seek­ing to es­cape death in 1938, with an ad­di­tional five Evian par­tic­i­pants ab­stain­ing. The jus­ti­fi­able guilt felt by those coun­tries that closed their gates to Jews in 1938 prob­a­bly in­flu­enced how they voted.

Does a Jewish state cre­ate an­tisemitism? It was not the rea­son six mil­lion of our peo­ple were mur­dered

TO­DAY IN the United King­dom, the coun­try that pro­duced the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion, the ma­jor op­po­si­tion party is headed by Jeremy Cor­byn, a vir­u­lent an­tisemite. His an­tisemitism (like that of many oth­ers) is cloaked in his anti-Zion­ism as demon­strated by his choice of friends Ha­mas and Hezbol­lah. At the re­cent Labour Party Con­fer­ence he promised that on be­com­ing prime min­is­ter he will im­me­di­ately rec­og­nize Pales­tine. This was re­ceived en­thu­si­as­ti­cally by del­e­gates wav­ing Pales­tinian flags. Life is be­ing made im­pos­si­ble for the likes of the non-Jewish Labour MP John Mann, chair of the All-Party Par­lia­men­tary Group on an­tisemitism. There is now a con­certed ef­fort to de-se­lect those sit­ting Labour MPs who have spo­ken out against the an­tisemitism per­vad­ing the party. The Jewish com­mu­nity has ev­ery rea­son to feel un­com­fort­able – an anx­i­ety that was ac­cen­tu­ated dur­ing the High Holy Days when, for the first time, armed po­lice (both in and out of uni­form) were nec­es­sary to guard the syn­a­gogues and those at prayer.

Does a Jewish state cre­ate an­tisemitism? It was not the rea­son that six mil­lion of our peo­ple were mur­dered. Per­haps the ques­tion should be how many mil­lions might have sur­vived if there if there had been an Is­rael.

As we com­mem­o­rate 101 years since the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion and 70 years since Is­rael’s re­birth, we take pride in what this lit­tle state has achieved. Is­rael’s hi-tech is on par with Sil­i­con Val­ley. What would we do with­out Waze? Med­i­cal de­vel­op­ments dur­ing 2017 in­clude a com­pound that dis­ables can­cer cells, an ar­ti­fi­cial cornea and the world’s first bone trans­plant. Is­rael is among the first to aid coun­tries hit by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters such as earth­quakes and tsunamis, as wit­nessed by our aid to In­done­sia, a coun­try with which we do not have diplo­matic re­la­tions, yet Is­rael sent wa­ter pu­ri­fiers and Is­raAID sent teams of sup­port work­ers.

On Novem­ber 2, 2018, what is Is­rael’s prime sig­nif­i­cance to ev­ery Jew? In the words of the Amer­i­can poet Robert Frost, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

(Courtesy)

‘MY STORY’: A paint­ing cre­ated by the writer’s hus­band re­flect­ing his mem­ory of what hap­pened on Kristall­nacht, plus his con­cept of the dark and light side of life.

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