Monday, April 20, 2009

Of Holocaust Remembrances and Irena Sendler

We are now in the days of Sefiras HaOmer. This is the period between Pesach and Shavuos where we count the number of days until Matan Torah. It is a period where we mourn for the 24,000 students of Rebbi Akiva who were martyred during this time.

It is also the time where world Jewry mourns the 6 million Jews martyred during the Holocaust. One can debate the timing of holocaust memorials. Mourning is forbidden during the month of Nissan.

But I am not here to talk about this. Suffice it to say that the enormity of the Holocaust is so overwhelming that if masses of survivors and their children are involved in it, we have an obligation to respect them and not protest. Certainly 6 million martyred souls deserve that as much as 24,000 souls do.

This time of year we are flooded with holocaust remembrances of many different kinds. Yesterday in the heavily Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois - a new holocaust museum was opened to the tune of 74 million dollars. Money raised by the holocaust memorial association here. Former President Bill Clinton attended it and gave the keynote address. Elie Weisel spoke too. As did President Obama via remote video hook-up.

This was all very nice and a real tribute to this great country of ours that refuses to forget the Holocaust - and covers every event surrounding it all the time.

The only thing that troubles me about that is the 74 million dollars that were raised. As a child of the Holocaust – memorials are important to me. But 74 million dollars for a museum in Skokie?! Do the Jews of Skokie require that kind of memorial now – over 60 years after the Holocaust …with a national memorial in Washington DC and Yad V’Shem in Israel available to the world? I’m not so sure that a museum in Skokie was worth those charitable funds that might have been better spent elsewhere – especially now. But that is not my reason for writing this post.

That event was not the only holocaust story. Among many other stories in various different media there was a television broadcast of a true event - the Irena Sendler story – a Hallmark Hall of Fame special.

I watched it last night and frankly I was a bit disappointed. Not that it was that bad or inaccurate or unrealistic. It was in fact quite good in all those respects. Watching that dramatization - I did not have the emotional response I thought I would. It told a story that I already knew and had already reacted to emotionally. I had already imagined what happened. The visuals did not match my own imagination although the basic elements and truths were there.

I guess that’s why I was disappointed. Until the very end that is. After the dramatic presentation there was a brief clip of the real Irena Sendler who was shown in an interview before she died.

That’s when I teared. She spoke not of herself or what she did. She spoke of all the Polish women who took in the 2500 children she managed to smuggle out of the ghettos at the height of the slaughter. She asked us to remember the sacrifice the Polish women that had taken in those children on penalty of death if discovered. She spoke of the pledge she received from all of them to return those children to their families after the war.

In many cases those women became very attached to those children - as if they were their own. And yet when the time came they made good on their promise. They returned those children to whatever was left of their families. It was not easy and many of those surrogate mothers cried bitter tears when they gave up ‘their’ children to their real families. True heroes - all of them. But the greatest hero of the all was Mrs. Sendler herself. The video located here tells her story in less than 2 minutes and is well worth viewing.