The Trump administration took heat because of the following statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day:
“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.
“Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest. As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.
“In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”
Liberals and some Jewish groups took exception to the lack of reference to Jews in that statement. To the layman, this seems like yet another in a series of hyper-blusters from liberal groups that refuse to give President Trump even a minuscule chance.
I will demonstrate why the answer to the question is a big Yes. This offering by Trump for International Holocaust Remembrance is one of the more insidious acts perpetrated by this administration. The reason is quite simple. This is how the Soviets attempted to destroy Judaism – by denying anything special about it or what happened Jewish people.
I have a great example of this in mind to illustrate what I mean. In short, it involves my family. You see, my paternal grandfather’s side is from a little town now known as Vasilishkii in transliterated Russian, but was known to my grandparents in Yiddish as Vassilishok. My grandparents spoke Polish because prior to 1939, Vassilishok was in Poland. That changed when Stalin took over in response to the infamous treaty between the Germans and the Russians in 1939 that allowed the Soviets to take over eastern Poland and the Baltic states. Suddenly, Vassilishok was part of Belarus.
That all changed two years later when Hitler decided to screw Stalin over royally and invade Russian land. Now the Nazis were in charge of Vassilishok and surrounding areas. And it was not pretty. The Nazis were easily able to send in death squads, the Einsatzgruppen, to murder Jews en masse:
The ghetto was surrounded on May 9, 1942, and no one escaped. On May 10 prisoners started to be taken out to the Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of town in groups of 60 people. The graves were already prepared. They ordered people to undress and stack their clothes in piles. They were then pushed into ditches and shot. This continued until May 11. The total number of those shot over those two days was 2,159. A total of 2,865 of all nationalities died in Vasilishki and surrounding region during the years of the occupation, and 598 were sent off to Germany. A special group of the SS from Lida took an active role in the pogrom under the command of the headquarters officer Windish and his assistant Vasyukevich, together with the gendarmie and Gestapo of neighboring regions.
The Belarussian police, headed by commander Yezhevsky, and aided by Tubilevich, Vitold Schmigger and Nikolai Zhurun — who distinguished themselves with particular cruelty – provided significant aid to the Nazis. The Aid Commission of the [acronym for a State Committee] of the USSR of the Vasilishki Region put together a list of 616 families from the peaceful population who were victims. The majority were Jews.
2,159 shot in two days. Virtually all Jews**. (Included in that number were some of my great-aunts and uncles.) The reason for the killing was to kill Jews. The reason the Germans were in the area at all was to get the local population against Jews so that they may be killed that much more easily.
After the war, when the Soviets were back in charge of Belarus, they marked the incident – and many more like these – in 1967 with an obelisk to “Soviet citizens” was erected to those killed by the Fascists.
No mention of Jews.
Which, well, seems kind of silly, right? I mean, who cares? The Soviets were the Jews’ best friend after all, right? Regular Russians and Belorussians suffered, too. And they were all Soviet citizens. Makes sense.
Except for the inconvenient fact that the Soviets had no interest in an ethnic Jewish community thriving within its Universalist borders. Stalin, who encouraged the recording of Nazi crimes against Jews during the war in a “Black Book,” murdered the authors of the Black Book and had it destroyed after the war. The Soviet Union and all of its satellites then turned against Jews with a viciousness only second to Hitler’s.
No way were they ever going to acknowledge crimes against Jews, ever.
Which brings me to Mr. Trump’s statement that leaves out any mention of Jews. Non-Jews suffered greatly under the Nazis, let there be no doubt. And while it seems magnanimous of Mr. Trump to make sure that those people are acknowledged…that ain’t the fucking point of a Holocaust Remembrance day!
The Holocaust was a crime perpetrated against the Jewish people, period. We may acknowledge the other people who suffered as the Jews had, but the act of speechifying is meaningless without directing one’s attention to the act of genocide against the Jewish people. We acknowledge this act because we hope to keep alive the notion that we are all capable of the ultimate act of evil – the eradication of a whole people. Of course, the cynics among us can simply point to the horrors in Syria to note that we no longer need such reminders. Perhaps, but that’s a discussion for another day.
My point is that Trump’s words in acknowledgement of International Holocaust Remembrance Day are an insidious reminder of how the Soviets regarded their Jewish population. Jewish groups that care about the memory of the 5.7 million or so perished but cannot find the testicular fortitude to denounce Trump’s words cannot be taken seriously.
** I cannot leave before mentioning the incredible organization Yahad-in-unum, who has been researching all of the sites across Eastern Europe where mass killings of Jews took place. They are truly doing G-d’s work.