YOM HASHOA: You are a survivor too

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Yesterday I attended the commemoration of Yom HaShoa in Great Neck, NY. For the first time, in that city, the local fire department sounded a siren at 1.00pm., and as it is done in Israel, we all stood up and remained silent for an endless minute. It was very moving. This was followed by the traditional lightning of six candles. The first candle was lit by the children. The second candle was lit by representatives of Medinat Israel. And for the third candle, the MC invited all Holocaust survivors to participate. Instinctively, I stood up. Then I realized that in the back of my mind was the memory of that “one Jew who lived in Albania… “.  This memory, that arose from my subconscious mind, is part of a story that I read from Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Shelita, a survivor of the Shoah and a former Chief Rabbi of Israel.

This is what Rabbi Lau writes

“Those who endured the horrors of the camps are not the only Holocaust survivors. That group includes a wide range of Jews from all over the world. At the beginning of the 1980s, Ed Koch, mayor of New York City, invited me to his office. He is  a warm Jew, sensitive and emotional, a great lover of Israel and the Jewish people.

At our first meeting, he introduced himself to me and declared that he was also a Holocaust survivor. Out of politeness, I refrained from asking him what exactly he survived and where he had been during the Second World War. I wanted to give him a chance to tell his story himself. He said that he had been born in the Bronx and had lived his whole life in New York, but insisted that he was a real survivor. Smiling, I dared to ask how that could be- and Ed Koch began to explain.

Years earlier, he had traveled to Germany for an educational trip. At one of the stops, the guide showed the group the globe that had sat on Hitler’s desk. “It reminded me of Charlie Chaplain’s movie about the great dictator. But unlike the one in Chaplain’s movie,” Koch recounted, “that big globe had lots of numbers written on it in black marker. When the guide spun the globe, Europe blackened with numbers. Other continents had far fewer black marks. The guide explained that when World War II broke out, Hitler recorded the Jewish population of each country. After all, they represented his life’s goal. Albania, for example, bore the number “1” for the single Jew living there. Our enemy decided that he would not rest as long as that one Jew from Albania, a total stranger to him, remained alive. The territory of the United States bore the number six million. [The population statistics are slightly inaccurate] That includes me,” said Ed Koch with undisguised anger. “So I am also a Holocaust survivor-if the Allies hadn’t stopped the Nazi beast, no doubt I would have been destroyed.”

I shook his hand warmly and said, “Today I have learned an important lesson from you, and I will carry it home with me to Israel. I’ve heard that not all Jewish communities feel a connection to Holocaust Day. From now on, I’ll tell them about the Jew born in New York who lived all his life in an American city, but who feels like a Holocaust survivor…”

From Rabbi Israel Meir Lau’s book “Out of the Depths” (p. 241-242)