Shabbat Shalom Magazine

Written by: Clifford Goldstein

The Last Jew

In more somber moments (usually after another suicide bombing in Israel), I get a thought: Go to Auschwitz, stand in the gas chamber, and slice my wrists.

The last Jew to die at Auschwitz.

Of course, it’s only a thought, an outrageous expression of the frustration felt when, at times, the injustice, the horror, and the lack of true retribution all hit home. Six million Jews were murdered by some of the same men who are receiving pensions from the government for their service to the Reich.

More than 50 years after the Holocaust, as Jews, we still don’t know how to deal with it. How do we fit it into our theology? How do we fit into our view of the world?

How do you relate it to Israel? To Germany? How do we keep the memory alive without throwing it up in the face of the Germans and Austrians who didn’t do it? I don’t think we should shame children with the sins of the fathers, but how can you talk about the murder of millions without implicating the murderers? “Murdered” implies “murderers” (language offers no way out of that one).

A while back, a German, all 18 years old, talked with me, and when he realized I was Jewish, he said, “I don’t know how to look you in the face.” I don’t know either, but he managed to anyway.

I’m still somewhat amused by this notion of forgiveness. The wrong people are being asked to forgive. The ones who should be asked are traces of carbon in the lush fields of Ukraine, or molecules around which raindrops water our gardens and fill our reservoirs.

“When the extermination of the Jews in the gas chambers was at its height, orders were issued that children were to be thrown straight into the crematorium furnaces or into a pit near the crematorium without being gassed first.”

A few years ago, as I was sitting in an outdoor café in Salzburg, a young Austrian sat down next to me and my two children, 5 and 6 at the time. Though he knew I was Jewish, he said something like, “Well, what the Nazis did to the Jews, the Jews are doing to the Palestinians.” You are your father’s child. I then asked him for directions to the Hitlerhaus in Braunau and left.

Israel, it has been said, is a sort of restitution for the Holocaust. That, or thanks to some WMD, it will be the denouement.

“Jerusalem was destroyed because the children did not attend school and instead loitered in the streets” (B.T. Shabbath 119b).

Though I’ve been living in DC for almost twenty years, I still haven’t made it to the Holocaust Museum. I don’t need to go inside it, for it’s been inside of me since I was a child. I could name every concentration camp in Europe long before I knew the Ten Commandments; I knew the name of every Nazi bigwig long before I ever heard of Joshua, Eli, or Judas Maccabaeus.

At Nuremberg, notorious Jewbaiter Julius Streicher pulled out an empty chair and set it next to him.

It was, he said, for Martin Luther. I’ve said nothing worse than he did.

Somewhere floating in the Mediterranean are the remains of Adolf Eichmann’s ashes. Ashes? Whoever said there’s no justice in this world wasn’t fooling. No wonder Kant argued for an afterlife. There’s no justice in this life, and if God is just, then justice will have to come in another one.

Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. It’s going to have to be. Hashophet kol-ha’aretz lo ya‘aseh mishpat? (Genesis 18:25).

 

Clifford Goldstein

Image: Jews from Hungary arriving at Auschwitz, summer 1944

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