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April 18, 2003 - Image 32

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-04-18

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Ghetto Uprising Remembered

t was exactly 60 years ago, at the
seder night, that the Warsaw
Ghetto Uprising erupted, a fate-
ful event that was to become an
example for the ultimate in man's
struggle for freedom and dignity.
But unlike the ancient Hebrews under
the great leadership of Moses, the heroic
figures of the Warsaw Ghetto could not
hope for freedom, not even for mere
survival. For them, the redemption of
Jewish honor and dignity — even in
death — was a good cause to fight the
Nazis to the bitter end.
I was a 4-year-old girl when it all
happened, growing up in the far off
Land of Israel, then under British rule,
where Hitler's murderous clutches
luckily failed to reach. At a time when
hundreds of thousands of Jewish chil-
dren all over Europe were slaughtered
mercilessly, we, the children of the
Land of Israel or Palestine as it was
called by the rest of the world, lived a
more or less happy and normal child-
hood shielded by our parents who
were not aware —almost till the end
— of the horrifying magnitude of the
almost total annihilation of European
Jewry, an event so unique in human


Rachel Kapen lives in West Bloomfield.

annals that it warranted a name of its
own, the Holocaust (Shoah in
There were all those beautiful faces
staring at me from our family album.
These were part of my uncles, aunts
and cousins who were murdered by
Hitler, my mother used to tell my sis-
ter and me, again and again wiping
her tears. I was no doubt well versed
at what happened to my people, but
was I really? After all, how can a child
growing up in a land of less than a
million Jews conceive of the mind-
boggling number of 6 million Jews?
This being the case, for me and my
contemporaries who were born in our
own land and for whom the concept
of anti-Semitism and being a persecut-
ed minority didn't apply personally
and was only something to be learned
from a textbook, the real concept of
the Holocaust was virtually incompre-
hensible. Not until I was a wife and a
young mother that it finally was inte-
grated in my being.
It was 1961, when we were living in
Jerusalem, the capital. For hours on
end, I was glued to the radio listening
to every word that was said in the
Eichmann Trial as one after another
the witnesses recounted the hair-rais-

ing horrors to which they were
Watching me hang diapers on
subjected by the man who sat
the clothesline on my front
expressionless in the bullet-
porch, he started to shout at •
proof glass booth, horrors they
me questions about my opin-
miraculously survived to tell
ion regarding the trial.
their story to the world.
I asked him politely to come
These were ordinary people,
up to my apartment and told
Israelis, Americans, and from
him about the family album
various European countries who
and all the family members
spoke in Hebrew, Yiddish and
whom I never knew and who
Corn munity
other languages. These were real
perished in the Holocaust and
Vi ews
people just like me and my par-
that only now it was really sink-
ents who had the bad fortune
ing in. He asked to see the
to be in Europe and not in the Land of
album but I told him that it was with
Israel or America at that darkest of
my elderly mother, the only reminders of
times in world history.
her beloved family members she left
Walking around my small apartment
when she returned to rebuild the land of
as if in a daze, I still had an infant who
her forefathers in 1921. He was deeply
demanded my attention every now and
moved, thanked me and let me return to
then and thus helped me face reality.
my seat next to the radio.
The city of Jerusalem was swamped
One of the most powerful sentences
with journalists from all over the globe
in the Haggadah, which is recited in
who came to cover the sensational
unison, is: "In every generation a per-
story of a Nazi arch-war criminal who
son should regard himself as if he per-
was kidnapped from Argentina, the
sonally came out of Egypt." This year,
country where he found shelter and
as the brave soldiers of the American
brought to justice by his former vic-
army are fighting valiantly to rid the
tims or in their names.
people of Iraq of an evil tyrant who
One of them wandered one sunny
poses an existential danger to the
day into my neighborhood, only a
entire region and most eminently to
stone's throw from Yad Vashem, world- Israel, these words, no doubt, will
famous memorial to the Holocaust.
hold an even greater significance. El

The Modern Exodus From Egypt


Newtonvilk, Mass.
s an Egyptian Jewish refugee,
I celebrate Passover with spe-
cial meaning.
Passover is a time to corn-
memorate the Jews' liberation from slav-
ery in Egypt in 1300 BCE and return to
freedom in Israel. Little did we know,a t
my family seders in Cairo in the 1940s,
that we would soon experience our own
exodus from Egypt as a result of racism
and oppression.
The Haggadah instructs us that, as we
retell the story of Exodus, we should feel
as if we ourselves experienced persecu-
tion and exodus from Egypt. I hope
that this year we can also take a
moment to experience the modern exo-
dus of Middle Eastern Jews, one million
of whom fled their homes in Arab
countries and Iran between 1940 and
1980 under duress.
Jews are the oldest existing indigenous

Joseph Abdel-Wahed is former chief




economist of Wells Fargo Bank and the
co-founder of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous
to the Middle East and North Africa). His
e mail address is wahed@davidproject.org


group in the Middle East and our con-
tributions to modern Arab states are
Sasson Heskel, a Jew from Baghdad,
was Iraq's finance minister in the 1930s.
My relative Mourad Bey helped draft
the Egyptian constitution in the 1930s.
And Layla Murad, the great diva of
Arabic music and film, was also an
Egyptian Jew.
But even as child, I understood that
Jews were second-class citizens.
Signs in the street read: `El yahud kalb
el arab" (The Jews are the dogs of the
At school, my best friend Menyawi
turned to me and said with a half-smile,
"One day, all the Jews will have their
throats slit."
An older Muslim man advised that if
I was threatened in the streets, I should
say: 'Ana Muslum, M'wahed
am a Muslim and believe in one god).
In 1950, as a teenager, I attended a
British prep school in Cairo that
boasted prominent alumni like King
Hussein of Jordan and Columbia
Professor Edward Said. But I never
got the chance to graduate.

In 1952, Egypt's new nation-
dollars in property and assets
from fleeing Jews.
alist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser
Some fled to Europe and
began arresting Jews on
America, like Vidal Sassoon,
trumped-up charges and confis-
from Iraq, or Jerry Seinfeld's
cating their property.
mother, from Syria. But the
My uncle and cousin were
majority returned to Israel,
arrested and a warrant was
where today more than half of
issued for my father. My family
the population is Mizrahi —
happened to be traveling in
the descendants of Jews who
Europe, and my father said,
fled the Middle East and North
"We'll never return."
Africa in the 20th century.
My uncle chose to remain,
Spe cial
Today, hatred of Jews is
and, following the 1967 war
Comm entary
stronger than ever. I see it in •
with Israel, was thrown in an
the Arab media, school curricula and, of
Egyptian concentration camp for
course the mosques. Just a few months
three years, along with hundreds of
ago, Egyptian television ran a 41-part
other Egyptian Jews.
series based on the anti-Semitic myth of
In 1943, 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt.
the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
In 2003, fewer than 50 remain.
As we recall the Israelites' exodus
This pattern of intimidation and
from Egypt, we should not forget the
expulsion was repeated in countries
modern exodus of Jews in the Middle
throughout the Middle East: Morocco,
East. This Passover is a time to com-
Libya, Syria, Iran, Yemen and Iraq.
memorate these lost Jewish communi-
Arab governments forced hundreds of
ties and seek justice for the victims of
thousands of Jews from their lands
through government laws and waves of the Forgotten Exodus. When Arab gov-
ernments recognize their role in turning
pogroms. The American Sephardi
nearly a million Jews into refugees,
Federation estimates that Arab govern-
peace will at last be possible. ❑
ments confiscated tens of billions of

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