Life Rising out of Death
by Eitan Shiskoff, Executive Director, Tents of Mercy Network

what was it like to be in a concentration camp? With death ever-present and hope an irrelevant word?

Could I have survived? Could you? How would one possibly find redemption in such darkness and depravity? Could any of our emaciated, crushed people even have dreamed that the rebirth of the Jewish state was to occur a mere three years after the slaughter?

Elie Wiesel
(Wikiphoto by D. Shankbone)
On January 27, 1945 the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated. Two of those who survived recorded their experiences that we might dare look through the window of their tortured souls. We want to look away, to wish it never happened. But we must not. It is an inerasable part of our story. On the other hand, we must not become paralyzed. To remain fixated on the endless grave - the ashes - is to surrender to death, granting the Enemy posthumous victory.

Night is Elie Wiesel's haunting account of deportation from the Transylvanian town of Sighet and incarceration in Nazi death camps. As a teenager Wiesel was swallowed by the experience. To read this masterpiece of description and self-disclosure is to be dropped into its frozen frame of time.

"I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora (my baby sister) forever." (page 27)

Descending into the maelstrom of inescapable horror, young Wiesel - who had been a passionate student of Talmud and rigorously committed to daily synagogue prayer - ceased to pray.

"Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust." (page 32)

Even so, "we decided that, if we were granted our lives until liberation, we would not stay in Europe a day longer. We would take the first boat to Haifa." (page 48)

While pouring out the emotions that were seared numb at Auschwitz, the future Nobel Prize winner admits that there was hope embodied in the Zionist dream.

Man's Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl
(Wikiphoto by F. Vesely)
Hope is the very theme taken up by another brilliant Auschwitz survivor, Dr. Viktor Frankl. A published Austrian Jewish psychiatrist, Frankl analyzed the internal reality of prisoners in his classic Man's Search for Meaning.

"Life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones." (page 12)

After recounting his endless days as a common laborer, under the sickening shadow of the ovens where fellow Jews were turned to ash by the hundreds of thousands, Frankl writes this profound conclusion.

"Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone ... Man ... is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values." (page 105)

Riveting is the depth of his experience while thinking of his wife during an endless forced march through icy conditions. While stumbling in the dark he concluded:

"... that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire ... The salvation of man is through love and in love." (page 49)

In a barracks speech to his fellow sufferers the doctor spoke of the many opportunities that give life meaning. He tried to shore up their courage, to show that there was still something to look forward to in the future.

Life from the Dead seen by Israel's Prophets

Young Holocaust victims
(Wikiphoto by Czeslawakoka)
Israel's prophets foresaw a time of terrible suffering. Their lasting testament, however, is life rising out of death. As if viewing both the ovens of Auschwitz and the rebirth of Israel, they spoke of a miraculous resurrection. Without seeing, they saw. One saw ashes turned to beauty (Isaiah 61:2). Another saw dried out bones - a whole valley of them - rising up as refabricated Jews. They came up from their graves, returning to Eretz Yisrael to receive His Spirit and a new heart (Ezekiel 37:17).

One cannot understand the nature of Israeli society without touching the Holocaust. Our intensity, our drive to defend ourselves, our assertiveness with each other, the invisible backdrop of trauma - all these can be traced back to the immeasurable tragedy that ended 70 years ago. I am not justifying arrogance or mistrust. But awareness of the nightmare that preceded our return from the death camps is essential if we are to participate in the Messianic revival promised by these same prophets.

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