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.

Read more at Forward

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

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security