Thursday, June 05, 2014

A Little Family History - and Why Israel's Survival is Critical to the Jewish People

In 1926 three brothers left their homes in Munkatsch (Mukachevo) in what was then Czechoslovakia. (It's western Ukraine today.) They traveled to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine and became part of the great Zionist undertaking: the building of a modern Jewish state in our ancestral homeland. They eventually built homes and settled in Netanya. These were my father's uncles, my great uncles. My grandfather stayed in Munkatsch.

In 1935 my (great) uncle Moshe came home for a visit. He told my grandfather that Hitler would be trouble for the Jews, and that my grandfather should bring his family to Palestine. When my grandfather told this story decades later he said that if he didn't know better he would have thought Moshe was a nuvi (prophet) but he knew his brother and Moshe was no nuvi.

In 1938 Munkatsch was occupied by Hungary after the Munich Agreement. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared "peace in our time". It was the beginning of the end for the Jewish community in the small city; the only city in Hungary with a Jewish majority. The Nazis occupied Munkatsch in 1944. On May 30, 1944 the city was pronounced Judenrein. My grandfather, my father's stepmother, my father and his two younger brothers were deported to Auschwitz. Uncle Moshe was serving in the British Army in Egypt at the time. My grandfather and my father survived. The three brothers who had left for Palestine years earlier avoided the Holocaust. Everyone else in my family who was in Munkatsch at the time died.

In 1947 the Communists took over control of Czechoslovakia. My father was living in Prague. Fearing he was seeing the rise of something eerily similar to Nazism he left the country illegally to join his family in Palestine. This was during the revolt against the British. The British sank the ship he arrived in within an hour and opened fire on the Jews trying to reach our homeland. This was the same British army in which uncle Moshe had served.

My father found himself in the Palmach just before Israeli independence, fighting the Arabs who were trying to destroy the nascent State of Israel and push the Jews back into the sea. Those Arabs fought under the command of a British general. Never mind that it was the British who decided western Palestine should be a Jewish state in the first place, a decision affirmed in the San Remo Resolution and the League of Nations Mandate For Palestine. This was accepted by the legitimate Arab sovereign at the time in the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement and reaffirmed in Emir Faisal's letter to Felix Frankfurter. Now the same people who promised a Jewish state decided to destroy it.

In the 1930s, when Hitler first wanted to expel his Jewish population, nobody would take the Jews. The British didn't want any more Jews in Palestine despite their previous support for a Jewish state. In refusing to take in the German Jewish population and then closing Palestine to Jewish immigration on July 13, 1939 the British government became complicit in the Holocaust. In the words of Liberal MP James Rothschild, "for the majority of the Jews who go to Palestine it is a question of migration or of physical extinction". The very country that turned Zionism from an unlikely dream into a reality, the country that was supposed the be the best ally of the Jewish people, stabbed us in our collective backs.

Why tell this story now, in 2014? Antisemitism in Europe today is at the highest levels seen since the 1930s and the rise of Nazism and fascism. Some claim it's actually at a higher level. The shootings which killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Belgium are simply one horrific example. French Jews are leaving in record numbers for Israel while others choose the United States and Canada. We see marches with Nazi flags being flown and anti-Semitic chants in European countries.

"Progressives" in North America are also largely anti-Israel. When I have tried to engage many of these people in discussions and debates their responses echo the antisemitism of the 1930s, often repeating falsehoods and slurs that date back to the 19th century or earlier. As I raise their ire the terms Jew, Israeli and Zionist often become interchangeable.

In the 20th century Jews trusted in allies and friends and the result was the death of over a third of our people. We can no longer afford the luxury of such trust. The State of Israel is the guarantee of a safe haven for the Jewish people. It is, as my friend Ryan Bellerose frequently points out, the only place on earth where an indigenous people have reclaimed their ancestral lands and established a modern state. The Jews of Munkatsch in 1944 had nowhere to go. They faced either slavery or death. So long as we have a strong, secure Israel the Jewish people have a place to go, to escape if antisemitism turns to violence. It is the only guarantee that we won't face another Holocaust.

3 comments:

Ryan Bellerose said...

I really enjoyed this, its a great read, ill share it once im out of facebook jail

Caitlyn Martin said...

Thank you, Ryan. Also thank you for all your support for Israel. Almost exactly 70 years after ther Munkatscher Jews were sent to Auschwitz I felt this story needed to be told. I feel "Never Again" must be more than a slogan. People have to know what has happened and that it can happen again if we don't keep Israel strong.

yaacov benyamin ha-kohen ben-arieh said...

caitlyn - welcome to the club