Hanukkah in Auschwitz

In 1969, the Forverts, then still one of America’s leading Jewish newspapers, published a story by Elie Wiesel about celebrating the Festival of Lights in the darkness of the Holocaust. The story concerns the author’s bunkmate, formerly the head of a small yeshivah, who one winter tried desperately to obtain a few potatoes and some oil. Herewith, an excerpt from a new translation by Myra Mniewski and Chana Pollack:

If it was impossible to get eight [potatoes], four would do. The four could be cut in half to kindle eight Hanukkah lights. I thought he had lost his mind. He had to be crazy to attempt such a thing in the harrowing hell of Auschwitz. But he was strong willed: one mustn’t leave a mitzvah unfulfilled, especially in Auschwitz. Once we neglect observing one, even a small one, there will soon be a second even bigger one. So don’t even start.

The teacher in him explained his approach. Doesn’t Hanukkah symbolize Jewish sacrifice? For the past twenty generations, haven’t Jews lit candles to remember the heroism of Judah Maccabee, who was ready to die rather than betray the Torah? Was this really the moment to abandon those teachings? No, no! A thousand times no! It was especially important in our current circumstances to follow their path—to kindle the Jewish people’s flames of faith.

In vain I pleaded with him—lighting Hanukkah candles was not a mitzvah for which you needed to sacrifice your life. But he kept to his response: these times require us to sacrifice ourselves for every mitzvah. Later, quietly, on our pallet, before falling asleep, he said: I’m convinced my point of view is correct. Especially since we don’t have any prospects of remaining alive. If I thought that any one of us would survive this enemy, I might have a different opinion. Unfortunately we can’t believe in that. So my question is simple: if we’re going to die anyway, why not die for a mitzvah, and not just because the murderer wants us to? . . .

If Jews had the fortitude to believe in victory over the Greeks, then we could not now surrender our trust in defeating our enemy. Whether my bunkmate lasted till the end, till liberation—I do not know. I lost sight of him during the January evacuation.

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Read more at Forward

More about: Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel, Hanukkah, Holocaust, Yiddish literature

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf