Holocaust Day, Yad Vashem
Holocaust Day, Yad VashemHillel Mayer/TPS

This Monday night and Tuesday, Israel and Jewish communities worldwide mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Israel chose this date, 27th Nissan, back in 1951, when the Holocaust was still a horribly fresh memory from the immediate past which the majority of Israel’s population had personally experienced.

The date of 27th Nissan has twin significance:

First, it was the date of one of the fiercest battles of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – the battle of 2nd May 1942, commanded by Marek Edelman, the commander of the bunker at Franciszkanska 30.

Second, it is a week before the Memorial Day for fallen Israeli soldiers, which is itself the day before Israel Independence Day.

The rest of the world, however, commemorates the Holocaust on 27th January, the date that the Soviet Army entered the Auschwitz extermination camp and liberated the inmates.

This has the international legitimacy of the United Nations: back in 2005 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/60/7, designating 27th January as the annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

The Resolution “reaffirm[s] that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”.

And so, two days to memorialise the Holocaust, representing two fundamentally different world-views:

Israel, and Jewish communities the world over, chose the date which commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and which directly connects to Israeli independence. The rest of the world marks 27th January, commemorating the day that Auschwitz was liberated.

What is the significance of this divergence?

While secular humanism has long since replaced Christian theology as the dominant ideology of Western society, the teachings and culture of two millennia of Christianity still have enormous influence over Western relationship to Jews. And since Western civilisation is the dominant force among the intelligentsia (even if not among the masses) in much of the world, commemorating the Holocaust on the day that Auschwitz was liberated is indicative of the way in which Christian (or post-Christian) civilization relates to Jews.

Christian (or post-Christian) civilization chose the day that Auschwitz was liberated, reflecting this Christian (and post-Christian) attitude to Jews. Because Christianity has its paradigm of the “perfect Jew”, arguably the most famous Jew in history, the Jew whom most Europeans for most of Europe’s history have worshipped as their Lord and Saviour.

The “perfect Jew” in Christian (and post-Christian) theology is the Jew who walks calmly and unresistingly to his own death; the Jew who is pre-destined to be crucified (or shot, or gassed), because that is his mission in life; the innocent Jew who, by his death, expiates the sins of mankind.

In Christian (and post-Christian) theology, the perfect Jew is the Jew who, as the Roman executioners nail him to the cross, raises his eyes in mute prayer: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. The perfect Jew is the one who, in his death-agony, declaims: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”

This is the Jew whom the Christian (and post-Christian) Western world feels comfortable, indeed righteous, in commemorating.

What the Jew must never do is raise a sword or a gun and fight back. The fighting Jew is definitely not in the script of Christian (and post-Christian) theology.

The perfect Jew is the one who raises his hands in meek surrender. The Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto who raised a knife, a pistol, a rifle, a hand-grenade, a petrol-bomb, the Jew who fought the Nazis, the Jew who killed the murderers, is an aberration for Christian (and post-Christian) theology.

So Christian (and post-Christian) civilisation cannot memorialise the Jew who fights, cannot honour the memory of the Jews who died fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto.

The Jewish State and Jewish communities commemorate the Holocaust as a time when Jews were murdered, but also as a time when Jews fought back and killed and died with weapons in their hands.

Christian (and post-Christian) civilisation memorialises Jews who died in the gas chambers and were shot in mass graves, unresisting and unprotesting, and whose sole salvation lay in the Gentile armies which defeated the Nazis – epitomised by the Red Army which rolled into Auschwitz on 27th January 1945.

The deaths of those Jews – the “good” Jews, even the “perfect” Jews – “will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice” (as the UN so eloquently expresses it), and thereby expiate the sins of humanity.

Whether the perpetrators themselves – primarily Germany and Austria; or whether the countries which contributed so many enthusiastic collaborators – notably Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, and France; or whether the countries which remained neutral – Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Turkey; or whether the Allies – primarily Britain and the USA – who, even while heroically battling the Wehrmacht into surrender, nevertheless refused to bomb the death-camps or the railway tracks leading to them, even as their heavy bombers were overflying those targets by day and by night –

– the Jews whom the Nazis exterminated atoned for the sins of them all by their agonies.

Just as a Jew, crucified by the Romans as a Jew, was taken over by Christianity for universal salvation, so too the Holocaust directed primarily against the Jews has been hijacked by Western civilisation as a universal “warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”.

And this applies, mutatis mutandis, to the Jewish state – the only state in the world which is expected to risk its citizens’ lives, even its very existence, for the sake of peace.

Israel, whose independence we will celebrate next week, is expected to play the rôle of the perfect Jew: to go calmly and unresistingly to its own death, and thus to appease its enemies. To die in order to expiate the sins of mankind.

Because without a doubt, if Israel were to be destroyed, it would assuage the conscience of Christian (and post-Christian) civilization. The annihilation of Israel, and the resultant massacre of its six million-plus Jewish citizens, would at last vindicate Christian (and post-Christian) Western civilization: Look, we are not unique in slaughtering Jews! It’s a normal part of the universal human condition!

And Israel, by juxtaposing Holocaust Memorial Day with the Memorial Day for fallen Israeli soldiers and Israel Independence Day, responds inexorably: “That which arises in your thoughts – it will never happen!” (Ezekiel 20:32).

The resurrected State of Israel, which after 2,000 years of Jewish homelessness and physical weakness and vulnerability has become a world-class super-power within living memory of its independence, is the single greatest challenge to the Christian (and post-Christian) civilization’s idealized view of the perfect Jew.

Daniel Pinneris a veteran immigrant from England, a teacher by profession and a Torah scholar who has been active in causes promoting Eretz Israel and Torat Israel.