By Harriet P. Gross
It’s 100-plus degrees outside, but I’m thinking fall. In just about two weeks, the preparatory month-of-Elul shofar-sounding ritual will begin, so this is also a good time for me to start preparing for the coming New Year by clearing out my files and sharing some saved tidbits with you.
As always, so much of what I collect bears on the Shoah, which must never fade from our collective Jewish memory any more than we would excise the Exodus from our history.
Did you know that Munich, Germany, the city that Hitler dubbed the capital of his Nazi movement, is now offering Holocaust-related tours? If you ever want to go there (I don’t, but if I should do so, it will be for educational purposes only), Munich Walk can take you on its Third Reich Tour, from Feldherrenhalle, the site of Hitler’s 1923 attempted government overthrow, to Konigsplatz, where he later held his huge rallies. But maybe tourists should wait until next spring, when a new Center for the History of National Socialism will open.
A tour of nearby Dachau is already highly popular, and might actually be the most useful, since Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson recently weighed in with sobering new information about today’s ignorance of the Holocaust. Two-thirds of those questioned in ADL’s global survey responded that they’d never even heard of it, or that its history is greatly exaggerated. Gerson stresses how those who deny this history altogether strive for academic validation, and find it in classrooms like that of a California junior high whose eighth-graders were assigned this essay topic: “Do you believe the Holocaust was an actual historic event, or merely a political scheme?”
On a different note, with a startling kind of simplicity, comes a controversial book by Phil Chernofsky: “And Every Single One Was Someone.” Gefen Publishing of Jerusalem has issued this polar opposite of Yad Vashem’s towering “Book of Names”; its 1,250 pages contain only one word, repeated in small print six million times: Jew.
“These are not individuals,” says Chernofsky. “That’s how the Nazis viewed their victims. But pick any ‘Jew.’ That ‘Jew’ could be you…”
A coffee-table curiosity, perhaps? You can own one for $60 — a mere $10 per million murdered — and judge for yourself.
The examples above are not the happiest of ways to remember the Shoah, but here is one that rates a standing ovation: a modern-day orchestra created by the grandson of a man who long ago played in its Polish prototype.
Avner Yonai, who was born in Israel, found that his grandfather David Rybak was one of 11 musicians in the Ger Mandolin Orchestra of Gora Kalwaria, a small town just 20 miles southeast of Warsaw. The others died in Treblinka, but Rybak had already left this little community for Palestine in 1935. It had 7,000 residents before World War II, about half of them Jewish; when Yonai, 42, visited, he found 12,000 people with only two Jews among them. To his utter amazement, one of them was a man in his 90s who actually remembered both the Rybak family and the orchestra!
That discovery was enough to set Yonai on a search for mandolin players and old sheet music for them to play. The new orchestra gave its first concert at the Berkley Jewish Music Festival and its second in Gora Kalwaria’s old synagogue, and is now booked for an appearance at Warsaw’s new Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
This tuneful creation is providing David Rybak’s old home town with new connections to its Jewish past: Gora Kalwaria’s mayor has already gone to Israel to visit Yad Vashem, and will soon be taking local school children to learn about Treblinka.
Yonai says, “I think my grandfather would be happy we commemorate his life and Jewish community by playing the music they loved.” I say his achievement is worth its own shofar blast. What do you think?