Daily Israel Report

Rabbi Lau: We Haven't Learned the Lesson

The Jewish people, and the world, have not yet learned the lessons of the Holocaust, says Rabbi Yisrael Lau.
By lNN staff
First Publish: 5/1/2011, 5:45 PM / Last Update: 5/1/2011, 6:22 PM

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On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Arutz Sheva spoke to Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the rabbi of Tel Aviv and former Chief Rabbi of Israel who is also a Holocaust survivor, author of a book about his Holocaust experiences, and the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial project.

Rabbi Lau praised the awareness of the Holocaust among today's youth, but warned, “Neither the youth nor the adults, neither the Jewish people nor the peoples of the earth have learned the lessons of the Holocaust.”

One example, he said, is the fact that “the [Jewish] Exile is as strong as ever. We still have not had the wisdom to unite in a national homeland.”

Another lesson that has not been learned is the fact that genocide remains a threat, he said. “The phrase, 'It can't happen to me' was made bankrupt by the Holocaust. All the strong political organizations of German Jewry, all the Rothschilds and Einsteins, all could collapse together in the gas chambers. This lesson, that it can happen at any time, anywhere, we have not yet learned.”

“We have not learned that we are one,” he continued. “The polarization among us grows sharper, we see what divides, what separates us, instead of what bridges the gaps. We have not learned. Nazism could have taught us this lesson: for them, all of us – religious and not religious, chassidim and litvish, Sephardim and Ashkenazim – we are all Jews.”

Finally, he said, “Another lesson that has not been learned is the one question that is not asked. There are those who ask where G-d was during the Holocaust, but in place of that question, we must ask where man was during the Holocaust. How was it that cultured men, who loved philosophy and music, could tear a child to pieces and come home at night to kiss their children and water the flowers? That is a question that we have not asked enough.”

Question: Rabbi, you mentioned that the older generation is less aware. In Israel, Holocaust survivors sometimes live in poverty or worse. What do you think of that?

Mistakes were made. For 65 years wrongs have been committed due to lack of empathy and lack of understanding. But it was not done out of hard-heartedness or wickedness.

Question: What created this difficult situation?

It's no secret that the reparations agreement made in Ben Gurion's day had more to do with benefits for the state than for individual survivors, even though they were needier and deserved it more than others. There was nobody to represent the sick, and we live in a society today where if a person has no representation, his needs will be ignored.

In the 1990s, I already met, during one of my visits to the hospitals, Holocaust survivors who had no money for false teeth, and so stayed at home, so that they would not need to smile in public and show their missing teeth. They did not go out to family gatherings, and depression and loneliness were added to their other sorrows... In recent years there is more awareness. Public opinion is moving in their favor, but for too many, it is too late.

Question: During the funeral of the members of the Fogel family, you said that it seemed 66 years ago that the circle of enmity and pain had closed, but now, the river of blood flows onward. Is there a connection between what the Nazis did and acts like the slaughter in Itamar?

I do not compare anything to Nazism, and I do not compare anything to the Holocaust. It would be doing wrong to the Holocaust and to historic memory to compare anything to it.

I see the qualities of Amalek continuing from generation to generation. Hatred for hatred's sake, illogical anti-Semitism, that is Amalek. We did not attack [Amalek] or seek to rob, we did nothing to provoke them... This is the phenomenon. Anti-Semitism is a historic, international mental illness, one that is sometimes contagious.  

When we were in Poland and we lived by the traditions of our ancestors, there were those who said that they hated us because we were different. We dressed differently, spoke differently, all those made us hated. And here, a short distance away, in Germany, there we were dressed like them, we spoke their language – sometimes better than they did – we had no beards or sidelocks, and did they love us there?

Another example – in all the subway stations in Europe there is graffiti, 'Jews, go to Palestine,' 'Jews get out,' things like that. They said the Holocaust happened because we were homeless in their land, and here we came home to the land of Israel with United Nations recognition. Do they love us? Now they persecute us because we have a home. They pursue us for no reason. That is what I meant when I said that the chain of blood is a river that continues to flow.”

Question: In Europe, they argue that it is not anti-Semitism, but opposition to Israeli policy.

That is an empty excuse. Because of this policy or that one, they spray swastikas on tombstones? They uproot graves and smash synagogues? What does that have to do with Israeli policy? There is no explanation.