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Holocaust Education Is for Everyone, Not Just Jews
Visitors view an exhibition at Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial and education center, on the eve of the ceremonies marking the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Jerusalem on April 6, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)

Holocaust Education Is for Everyone, Not Just Jews

Ma’ariv, Israel, April 8

Just like the motto “never again” shouldn’t be directed towards Jews alone, so, too, education on the topic of the Holocaust should be intended for everyone. Every human, regardless of faith or religion, must understand where extremism and racism can lead us. I am the son of Holocaust survivors. My father grew up in Romania. After joining a Zionist youth movement, he left his family home in the countryside and moved to Bucharest. At that time, the fascists came to power in Romania, and Ion Antonescu, the Romanian dictator, joined the Axis powers. My father was imprisoned in a labor camp, forced to work, and starved. In some miraculous way, he managed to obtain forged identification documents and escaped on a ship to Turkey. In 1944, he arrived in Palestine and later fought in the War of Independence. Following the war, he became an emissary for the Jewish Agency in France and North Africa and spent his early days helping Jews migrate to Israel. My father tried to live on a kibbutz but found that the cooperative lifestyle was too difficult for him. He decided to leave his friends and, full of adventurous spirit, traveled with a friend to Canada. My mother, an only child, also grew up in Romania and lived in hiding throughout the war. Her father was a tailor, and his non-Jewish appearance, as my grandfather described, helped him support his family during those years. In 1947, her family sailed to Israel but was captured by British forces and sent to a detention camp in Cyprus, pending the declaration of the state. My mother was 14 when she came to Israel. She attended high school in Jaffa and settled into the nascent Israeli society, but her parents had a hard time coping with the hot climate and moved to Canada. When my father came to Canada, he joined the local Romanian Jewish community, where he met my mother. They got married and raised four children. My parents were very matter-of-fact about their experiences during the war. My mother was a girl while she was hiding and did not talk much about those five years. My father, on the other hand, talked about his time at the labor camp and described how they had to look for food like beggars while working all day to aid the war effort in Romania. He loved to tell the story of his epic voyage at sea. He would smile and joke about his experiences. My father was an optimistic and forward-thinking person. Despite the Romanian background and command of the language, my parents saw themselves as Jews and did not speak of Romania affectionately. In 1992, we returned to Romania with my parents. We visited a house in Bucharest where my mother hid throughout the war. My mother saw an old woman, and in perfect Romanian asked her if she remembered the family who lived in the apartment. “Oh, yes,” replied the old woman who did not recognize my mother, “a family of dirty Jews used to live there.” Growing up in the home of Holocaust survivors affected my perspective in terms of zero tolerance for anti-Semitism. I experienced slight anti-Semitism as I grew up. People would call me a “dirty Jew.” I got into more than one fight and defended my honor, but I was never in any danger to life. The motto “never again” should not be directed only at Jews. It’s supposed to be “never again,” period. It was supposed to be a universal value. I believe that nationalistic sentiment can be a force for good. What could be more unifying than cheering on the country where you live in the Olympics? But we’ve also seen what can happen when this emotion is taken to the extreme, and what harm can be done when it is turned into xenophobia. I grew up in a Zionist household, with parents who saw spoke fluent Hebrew and saw the Jewish State being built. They loved coming to Israel and visiting friends and relatives. For me, immigrating to Israel five years ago allowed me to come full circle. It completed the journey my parents had started. My father passed away last year at the age of 100. The resilience and strength of his generation are unique in history. This will be the first Holocaust Remembrance Day and the first Independence Day I will mark since his death, and I will think about him more than ever this year. –Sylvan Adams (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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