At What Moment Should European Jews Leave?

It's like before the Holocaust.

Paula R. Stern

OpEds Paula Stern
Paula Stern

At what moment prior to the Holocaust should the Jews of Europe have chosen to leave? Was it in 1933, as Hitler was on the rise? Was it in 1938, when the Germans went on a killing spree, burning Jewish stores, homes and synagogues and beating Jews in the streets? Was it in 1939, when World War II began?

What was the moment in time when it became too late, that their fates were sealed...and where would they have gone? The United States turned them back to death; so did the British and many others.

We now know that these anti-Semites are the ultimate cowards and we do not fear them.

The buildup was, as it is today, subtle. Too subtle for us to understand, then, the full extent of destruction and death that can result from such hatred. We honestly didn't know, didn't believe. Sure, we'd been hated for centuries, but we lived by the absurd concept that it was good once, it would be good again. All we had to do was wait for it.

What World War II taught us was that this is a lie. Sometimes evil can win; sometimes evil can override the humanity and decency of the majority. Germany taught us that lesson and we must never forget it.

It is now 2014 and it is happening again. No, not concentration camps and gas chambers...yet...but those were not happening in 1933 either.

In the last few days, I received a series of messages from a Jew in Amsterdam. He wants me to give a message to Israelis who are visiting Europe. His message is chilling. Here's what he wrote:

"It's like before 1945, Germany has warned do not be recognizable as a Jew it's too dangerous. It is in many EU countries like this. Israelis should know. Do not talk Hebrew and no Jewish dress like tzitzit [a fringed garment]. Europeans on the streets, warning Israelis who might go to Europe on vacation about Germany it was by the Jewish community leader of Germany. But it is also here [in the Netherlands], and every country of Europe. Better not to show that you are a Jew openly.

"No Kippah, or Tzitzit, and don't speak Hebrew openly. I myself have been attacked six times but only with words, no beatings. In the Netherlands, it is mostly Moroccan boys and even girls, yesterday they attack party member of PVV (Wilders). I do see many Israeli tourist and they wear Kippah's, but it is just to dangers to do so. You can wear one but hide it. Really, it feels like before 1945, but many people support Israel here. Only police and politicians do nothing. I work at a small Jewish memorial, and we were visited by the police and warned to be extra careful because of the danger of an attack".

I read this several times and agonized over how to answer, over what to think. Finally, I asked if I could share this message here. And as I thought about it, I realized there are two messages here, not one.

First - there is a warning in Europe, being told quietly to Jews, but also to Israelis. This Jew in Europe is worried about Israelis coming to Europe. Afraid that they will feel they are free, as they are in Israel, to be what they were born to be. Proud. Strong. Jews. Out in the open, nothing to hide. We speak the language of our forefathers with pride; we wear the signs of being a Jew on our heads, on our bodies, in our hearts.

That is how we raise our children here in Israel. So different from how Jews are raising their young in America and especially different from how Jewish children are being raised in Europe. 

My children do not know the fear of the ghetto; Israeli children do not know that to walk, to breathe, simply to exist is enough to cause hatred and anger outside the safe world where they were raised. Without thought, they speak an ancient language with modern words. They dress, without thought that the mere sight of a kippah (a yarmulka, a skull cap) could get them attacked. What do you mean we should hide what and who we are? It is as natural for my children to speak Hebrew as it is for them to breathe.

It is too dangerous to wear a kippah, to openly be seen as Jewish in Europe today. I didn't write these words. They were sent to me by a Jew from the Netherlands - not even France and Germany, where we know that the level of hatred has risen tremendously.

And I beg him to leave. Why would you continue to live there? I hear many reasons - I accept none of them. I can't.

The police and the politicians do nothing, he writes. Nothing. As before and during World War II, nothing. He writes to tell me to warn Israelis - this is where his mind is, his love and concern evident. If you come here, be careful, he begs.

I can imagine if I read this to my sons, what they would think. They would look at me like I was crazy. WE should be careful? What do they think we are? Let them try; we will beat them, kill them if they try to beat us, kill us. What, do you think it is 1940?

I have three sons - each stepped forward when called to the army; each came home with a 97 profile - that means the State of Israel examined them and found them to be in excellent health; strong, tall, proud.

Okay, the army didn't find them proud...or maybe it did. Do you want to serve, each was asked. Are you willing to serve in a combat unit? Will you fight, with your body and soul for the State of Israel, for the Jewish State?

Yes...Yes...and Yes.

Each one has raised with the belief that he stands in front of Israel, in front of Jews and behind him stands a nation that will never bow to anti-Semites. We now know that these anti-Semites are the ultimate cowards and we do not fear them.

If they can live in a world where they can dress as they want, so can we. If they can speak the language of their fathers, so can we.

When my sons were called to the army, there were other questions that they were never asked and yet they were answered. Yes and No, as needed.

Will you protect Jews, not just here in Israel but around the world? Yes.

Will you be the ghetto Jews? No.

Will you, as a representative of the State of Israel, protect Jews here in our land, and everywhere in every land? Yes. 

Will you allow others to demand you be other than what you are? No.

Will you sit in silence while Jews elsewhere suffer? No.

What will you do if that old hatred rises up again? Fight it.

What will you do for the Jews of France and Germany, Holland and the Netherlands and even, if it comes to it, for the Jews of the United States of America? And each son, every son of Israel answered. We will bring them home.

Bring them home. Come home. That is my response to this man, the second message I get from reading the above. He sits in the Netherlands and cares so much about my sons, as my sons care about him. He has reasons he can't leave - too many Jews in Europe have reasons.

But the reasons have to be put aside or brought with you. Elderly parents - bring them; a thriving business, leave it, sell it. Don't put things and money above your lives. Don't wait until the doors close; until you can't get out. Don't wait until the violence comes to your city, never mind your door.

Get out of Europe now.