ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST UNDERSTANDING & PREVENTION
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MARTYRDOM - KIDDUSH HASHEM
Written by Alexander Kimel - Holocaust Survivor.
In order to survive in dispersion, the Jews had to abandon their military traditions, the emphasis on heroic exploits, and learn humility, humbleness, and submission to harassment and capriciousness of their rulers. The idea of martyrdom helped the Jews face persecution without fighting back, it gave the individual a rationale to sacrifice his life for the community in the name of God, for the honor of Israel. The idea of martyrdom was incorporated into the liturgy.
Crusaders considered killing of the Jews the best way to prove their Christian devotion, and hatred toward the Jews was an expression of the love for Christ. German Crusaders started their long march toward the Holy Land by killing the Jews and looting of their property. In 1096 , in the year of the First Crusade, many Jewish communities were massacred in the Rhineland and a beautiful prayer" Av Harachmim" (Merciful Father) was composed by the survivors.
May the Father of mercies who dwelleth on high, in His mighty compassion, remember those loving, upright and blameless ones, the holy congregations, who laid down their lives for the sanctification of the divine name. ...May our God remember them for the good with the other righteous of the world, and avenge the blood of the people which has been shed.
The Jews accepted the notion that to be a Jew means to be ready to suffer. Leopold Zunz a Jewish Historian wrote in 1885:
"If there are ranks in sufferings, Israel takes precedence of all the nations; if the duration of sorrows and the patience with which they are borne ennoble, the Jews can challenge the aristocracy of every land; if a literature is called rich in the possession of a few classic tragedies- what shall we say to a National Tragedy lasting for fifteen hundred years, in which the poets and the actors were also the heroes?"
Bahya Ibn Pakudah, a Jewish Philosopher wrote, over eight hundred years ago, in 1040:
"Pride is injurious in the extreme. Therefore the among the most necessary of virtues is that one which banishes pride; and this humility ...In misfortunes, the meek and their endurance triumphs over their fear and grief .. In matters of religion, justice, and of right and wrong however, the meek will be high-spirited and fearless."
One day, a Jew passed the imperial train and saluted the Emperor Hadrian, who waxed furious: "You, a Jew, dare to greet the Emperor! You shall pay for this with your life!" Later that day, another Jew passed the Emperor and did not greet him. " A Jew dares to pass a Roman Emperor without saluting?" Hadrian exclaimed. "You shall be killed!" To this puzzled courtiers, Hadrian explained, "I hate Jews, so I use any excuse to destroy them."(Adapted from the Talmud).
The expectation of martyrdom is reflected in Jewish religion, liturgy, literature and folklore, it is deeply ingrained in the Jewish consciousness.
The sufferings of Jews in one year could not be recorded even if all the seas were full of ink, and all the reeds were pens, and all men were set to work writing the story.
Close connected with the idea of martyrdom, is the idea that God punishing his Israel for their transgressions. It is an old idea, forcefully voiced by ancient prophets, like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah. The Prophet Ezekiel said:
And when I passed by thee and saw thee wallowing in thy blood, I said unto thee: In thy blood live; Yea, I said unto thee in thy blood live! (Ezek. XVI: 6).Even today some religious Jews believe that the Holocaust was God's punishment of Israel for the transgression. This belief in God's Will among the orthodox Jews also hindered organizing resistance.
One who expressed this point of view was Rabbi Zishe Friedman, in the Warsaw Ghetto.
"The Lord giveth and the lord taketh away" was his motto. We were not permitted to endanger the lives of the Jews in Poland. Inasmuch as the enemy has established collective responsibility, we could not raise a hand against the Germans, and so bring about the murder of hundred of thousands of Jews".