Friday, July 31st, 2015 was an overwhelming 24 hour period in Israel/Palestine. We awoke to the story of Ali Dawabshe, an 18 month old Palestinian boy who was burned by settlers in Duma, outside of Nablus right before dawn. We’ll write more about this story in a later post. The day before, several were stabbed at a pride parade in Jerusalem. Solemnly we made our way to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, a Holocaust memorial museum.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
-Pastor Martin Niemöller
Many years ago when I was in college, I took classes in the Holocaust, visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., and later as a faculty member at a community college in NJ, helped co-lead trips to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. for my students. The above quote is on a poster hanging in my office and one that I try to live by. The stories of the oppressed have always been something I felt I needed to bear witness to so that I may help to stop the oppressive forces from happening and to create a more just world.
Yad Vashem was built on beautiful grounds with striking architecture. One could easily spend an entire day there (or several) really taking in the information and surrounding landscape. Walking into the main building, you look up with walls surrounding you in the shape of an upside down V. There is little light that comes in through the narrow opening at the top. Some on our delegation described it as feeling “tomb-like.” Some thought it felt as if you were in a prison since all of the walls were grey and concrete and it felt very cold and austere.
No pictures were allowed to be taken inside the first main building, so I took handwritten notes of some of the quotes on the displays that really stuck out to us on this journey to Israel/Palestine.
“A country is not just what it does – it is also what it tolerates…” –Kurt Tucholsky, German essayist of Jewish origin
“Slay them not [the Jews]…scatter them abroad.” St. Augustine, 5th century church elder
“Myth of the ‘Jewish Conspiracy’ was created, claiming that Jews are engaged in a secret plot to take over the world.”
“…Became a political program by Hitler that demanded an immediate solution to the ‘Jewish Problem’…”
A Journey Through Nazi Germany
“In the autumn of 1935, a Dutch motorcyclist rode from the Netherlands to Berlin. Along the way he photographed anti-Semitic signs posted in the cities and towns as he passed.
“Jews take note – the road to Palestine does not pass through here.”
“Jews entering this place are in danger.”
Third Reich Consolidates
“Germans were satisfied with the stabilization of their political system and most of them accepted the abolition of democracy and the persecution and opponents of the regime.”
Despoiling the Jews
“They confiscated all types of property – homes, real estate, factories, businesses, and artistic and cultural treasures. In Eastern Europe, the plundering continued in the Ghettos. When the Jews were sent to death camps, the local population took control of their homes and property.”
Nazi Policy – East and West
In Eastern Europe, the Germans incarcerated the Jews in severely overcrowded Ghettos, behind fences and walls. They cut the Jews off from their surroundings and their sources of livelihood and condemned them to a life of humiliation, poverty, and degeneration and death.
In Western Europe, the Nazis did not establish Ghettos for the Jews, but rather enforced racist legislation and a policy of Aryanization and discrimination.”
“Softly, softly! Let’s be silent!
Graves are growing here.
They were sown by our tormentors.
Green they grown, and fair.
Toward Ponary run roads a plenty,
From Ponary not one
Father disappeared, and with him
All our joy is gone.”
-song written in the Vilna Ghetto in April 1943
-lyrics – Shmerl Kaczerginsky, poet and partisan
-music – Alek Wolkowyski (Alexander Tamir), 11 years old
Upon exiting the main building of exhibits, a wide and breathtaking view of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas greets you.
Other parts of Yad Vashem that we had to rush through unfortunately, included a children’s memorial and exhibit on children in the Holocaust, an art museum exhibit from 1945-1947, and a beautiful garden.
As you leave the grounds, this is the structure you exit under.
Things were tense on the ground in Palestine after the murder of toddler Ali Dawabshe by settlers. Upon return to our hotel in East Jerusalem, there were numerous Israeli police and military in and around Old City. Word was there were going to be protests after the mosque let out. Our tour bus couldn’t get anywhere near our hotel because of all of the road blocks, so we had to be dropped off a few streets away to walk back.
Later in the day we went on a tour with Micah Kurz from Grassroots Al Quds. During our tour with Micah, we had to leave this area of Jericho Road quickly on the border of Abu dis & Bethany (Al izzawiyain) in Jerusalem after some stone throwing over the separation wall met with tear gas by the police/border control. We were shuttled into our tour bus quickly and our beloved tour guide Said did traffic control so that we could get out of there safely.