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November 12, 1993 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-11-12

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Community Views

Opinion

Another Handshake,
Some Other Thoughts

Holocaust Museum
Misrepresents Shoah

LEONARD FEIN SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

All the while we
were sitting in
the presidential
suite of the West-
in Hotel in
Washington โ€”
sitting in a circle
with Yassir
Arafat โ€” the
other "track" in
my head, the one that wasn't lis-
tening to what he was saying
and wasn't thinking about what
I would say next, was moving in
an endless loop: Munich,
Ma'alot, all the place-names of
the murders he and his PLO
had planned and executed over
the years.

stairs in its lobby and up and
down the ninth floor's hallway
were not about imagined visi-
tors: They were about the short
man with the thick lips and the
bulging eyes and the khaki uni-
form and the precisely arranged
kaffiya. They were about the en-
emy of my people, the enemy of
his own people.
Now, he was Israel's full
partner in the pursuit of peace.
I swallowed hard and listened
as Arafat chatted amiably about
the need for economic develop-
ment in the West Bank and
Gaza, about this being a "peace
of the brave," about the tight
timetable for setting up an ad-

The historic handshake in Washington.

There sat a smiling Chair-
man Arafat. And there we were,
a dozen people who'd answered
his invitation to meet some
American Jews. It was near the
end of the heady day that began
with the Palestinian-Israeli
treaty signing at the White
House. We were dazed and
nearly speechless: What could
we say to this man on this day?
Should we dredge up the bitter
memories? For what purpose?
But how could we ignore all the
years and all the blood before
this turn towards peace?
I tried to comfort myself with
the thought that this could not
really be happening, that the fa-
miliar face just six feet or so
away was actually a digitized
image: the virtual rather than
the actual Arafat. BLit I knew
better. The PLO flag flying out-
side the Westin and the throng
of Americans and Palestinians
111111116 outside the hotel and down-

Leonard Fein is a writer in

Boston.

ministration in Jericho and
Gaza.
I desperately wanted to speak
of my loathing and my hopes, to
acknowledge the pain of the
Palestinians and my concerns
for Israel's safety, to tell him
that even I, a dove long before
Yitzhak Rabin came out of the
closet, was deeply conflicted
about shaking his hand, his
bloody hand, am not yet a "part-
ner."
As we rose to leave, Mr.
Arafat held up a photo from the
morning ceremony that had
been snapped at the moment he
reached out his hand to clasp
Mr. Rabin's. Smiling broadly,
he said, "Isn't this a wonderful
photograph!"
I replied, "No, Mr. Chairman,
that's not the photograph you
want to be showing. The one
you want is the one that was
taken three seconds later [when
Mr. Rabin grasped the out
stretched hand]."
Mr. Arafat looked at me
quizzically, and I reached out

D

RABBI CHAIM BERGSTEIN SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

my hand to his. What I wanted
to say was, "Until you under-
stand why the photo you didn't
hold up is ever so much more
important than the photo you
chose to hold up, I will remain
troubled. Hopeful, yes, but trou-
bled." I also wanted to say, "Be
a mentsh."
Instead, I said, "May God
bless you." Meaning, of course,
"May you put an end at last to
your vile desecrations and
killings."
Our handshake was pro-
longed, each of us trying with
flesh to communicate what we'd
not been able to with words. But
the truth is that I have no idea
what
he
sought
to
communicate
to me.
And I to
him? That af-
ter all, I pray
that his ac-
ceptance of a
"peace of the
brave" will
not hasten for
him the peace
of the grave,
that the
South Lawn
on which in
overwhelm-
ing fact we as-
sembled this
very morning
with the
whole world
a watching be
speedily re-
visited upon
ยง the occasion
" of the signing
a full- fledged
peace treaty.
As I exited,
a young man in Mr. Arafat's en-
tourage took my hand in his.
"It's important you came, im-
portant we've met like this," he
said.
And I: "I agree. Who are you?"
He looked at me gravely and
very slowly said, "My father was
killed in 1988 in Tunis."
I knew then who he was: the
son of Abu Jihad, the Chair-
man's close colleague and friend,
killed (it is generally believed)
by the Israelis and soon (so it
has been reported) to be re-
buried in Jericho.
Of all the very many words
spoken that day, the one that all
by itself became the most elo-
quent was delivered by Mr. Ra-
bin: "Enough!"
Of all the images and words
that flashed through my mind
as I found my hands entwined
with Yassir Arafat's, it was that
word I sought to press into his
flesh: Enough.
If "enough" works for him, I
will try to make "partner" work
for me. โ‘

wring my recent trip to de-
liver the opening prayer
of the June 9th session of
the U.S. Senate, my fam-
ily and I had the privilege of get-
ting tickets to the U.S. Holocaust
Museum.
Expecting to be swept up with
emotions of grief, anger and de-
termination for "Never Again,"
we left limp and lifeless. Perhaps
we thought it was because we
had heard stories, read books,
seen movies and visited the Is-
raeli museums on the Holocaust.
Reflecting on this, I conclud-
ed, however, that it was not the
case. I was reacting to a viola-
tion of my sense of truth. I was
outraged by the manipulation of
an unseen hand trying to rewrite
history in its favor while trying
to preserve the memory of the
Holocaust and its victims. In this
it not only fails, it irritates me
and others like me.
Apparently there was a desire
to present the victims as every
day people, with the occasional
traditional Jewish looking zayde
or bubbie. Furthermore, the true
brutality of the perpetrators was
toned down. The collaboration of
the Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrani-
ans, Romanians, etc. in the
killing and torturing process
seemed to be non-existent. The
killing of Jews required engi-
neers, laborers, railroad work-
ers, tradesmen, etc. These people
had many relatives who knew
what they were doing. That mil-
lions of people knew about it and
said nothing should be shouted
out from the walls. That millions
participated, that the Vatican
apparently sympathized with or
acquiesced to it should cry out
for more than just an apology.
One should feel disgust at Eu-
rope's apathy when viewing the
Holocaust Museum's murals and
films.
These facts are muted, as is
the true sadism of the Nazi's, es-
pecially the SS. That a victim
died a thousand deaths daily, be-
fore his last breath was taken, is
missing. The stark brutality of
guards chosen for their cruelty
is missing. It is almost sanitized
as if to put a human face on the
Nazis.
Hitler, himself; is glossed over,
explained away by economics,
when in truth Hitler's sadism,
cruelty and torture were devel-
oped while part of a group of sol-
dier killers. They terrorized the
German countryside with thou-
sands of mysterious murders af-
ter World War I. The viciousness
and callous attitude toward his
own people opens up one's eyes
as to how he could produce a

Rabbi Chaim Moshe Bergstein is
spiritual leader of Bais Chabad
of Farmington Hills

Holocaust. A man who would
have tens of thousands of his
own soldiers savagely butchered
in one night is capable of any in-
humanity.
This, however, was not
stressed. His racist ideas go un-
challenged. The "Der Shturmer"
is displayed without rebuttal. Is
it because you expect visitors
from Germany and Europe and
don't want to offend them by the
reality of the guilt of their par-
ents? Let the truth be told.
Furthermore, a mask is
placed over the true face of the
victims. My father's Poland was
an Orthodox Poland, filled with
shuls and Batei Midrash (study
halls for learning Talmud and
Torah). Men with beards and
women with wigs tried to main-
tain Jewish life under the anti-
Semitic Poles. No self-respecting
Jew in the small towns or even
most in the big cities would ever
appear in public, dancing with

The Holocaust
Museum is
not for "us."
It's for "them."

one's wife or even going bare
headed. These were a small mi-
nority of Polish Jews. One would
not know this from the pictures
and films.
Where are the rebbes and
their Chasidim?
Where is the Gerer Rebbe
with his almost one million fol-
lowers who perished? Where is
the Alexander Rebbe whose
words grace Yad Vashem as he
prepares his flock to meet their
maker. "Al Kiddish Hashem?"
Where is the holy Rabbi El-
choner Wasserman who travels
back to Poland from here in 1939
to be with his city in their hour
of mortal danger?
Nowhere. My Poland has
been robbed of its last refuge of
respect, its true identity. I have
no connection to the trade
schools and dances. Most of the
Polish Jewry is not represented,
nor are more than half of the vic-
tims of the Holocaust.
A mask may make a point to
the uninformed, but it never sat-
isfies the relative. Furthermore,
a true face evokes true and last-
ing emotion. By westernizing the
victims' faces you actually rob
much of the true feeling. You
also rob the Jew of the unique-
ness of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust was not just
"man's inhumanity against
man" it was Martin Luther's in-
nermost feelings expressed by
"Christians" against Jews. It was

MUSEUM page 8

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