Anti-Semitism and Holocaust

A New Way of Remembering the Shoah

By Fiamma Nirenstein - January 31, 2002

The things that a little girl born after the Shoah knows are different from what other girls know. For example, she secretly reads a forbidden book entitled "Der gelbe Stern" – "The Yellow Star." That's where she first sees the naked bodies of men and women and her curiosity about their differences is smothered by her curiosity for their horrible deaths mixing together the bodies and creating an eternal knot of pain.

A girl like that knows that her grandfather Joseph, born in Baranov, Poland, his wife and four daughters, and my father's beloved younger brother Moshe, were all burned alive with jets of boiling water at the Sobibor death camp (that's how they did it there). The girl stares straight into Moshe's pale eyes in his photos and sees that she looks a great deal like him. Innumerable uncles, aunts and other relatives disappeared with him.

From the time she was little, the girl knows that her mother's family, on grandmother Rosina Volterra's side, was a family with lots of merry brothers and sisters – and that after years of hiding and running away, some acquaintances informed on them, and Angiolino and Gastone were swallowed up by Auschwitz. When they were children, their mother called them "dearest" and "my precious," and then they were turned into Jewish meat for slaughter.

A Jewish girl also knows that her grandfather, Giuseppe Lattes, once a banker, found himself out on the street one day in 1938 after Mussolini passed the racial laws against the Jews in Italy. He was forced to sell cards of colored buttons to notions stores, going from one to another on his scooter. The buttons stayed in the house, playthings for the little girl and her sister until the '60s.

A daughter of the Shoah knows that suddenly, one day in 1938, her mother Wanda and her aunt Riri were not allowed to go to school – just like that – and no one, not teachers or classmates were at all surprised. She knows that the Lattes family went from one house to another, looking for a hiding place. And there weren't many willing to take the risk, actually most weren't. Some even informed on them.

But from her grandmother's stories, the girl knows about one marvelous day: the day when the Jewish Brigade with the Star of David reached Florence. It came from Palestine, then under the British Mandate. Aaron, later known as Alberto, the man who became the girl's father, was among the soldiers. The miracle of love for the life of the Jewish people six million times offended shone in the face of that Jewish Israeli soldier.

Years later, my grandmother Rosina took us girls, Fiamma and Susy, by the hand and we danced the hora in the hallway under a tapestry where a victorious Queen Esther towered over Haman, the Hitler of ancient times. The hora was the dance of the pioneers. My grandmother never thought of herself as a Zionist, but she sensed a miracle of resurrection in finally having a nation of our own. The real way out of the Holocaust.

So many memories. The memories that this reporter saw in Israel during the years of the peace process were the most moving. Then, people could finally cry over the dead of the Shoah without distraction and go through another process … that of mourning.

During the Rabin years when negotiations for peace seemed possible, the Jews seemed to have finally found a place to land in the stormy port of History. No more deaths, no more terrified children and desperate mothers. No more "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," or Jewish-Masonic conspiracies and plutocracies. No more hooked-nose caricatures clutching sacks of gold, no more dirty Jews. Peace was finally coming to the Jews, after 2,000 years of sighs – from the time of the ancient Roman-inflicted exile, after so much persecution, in that country of Jews recognized by the entire world.

But it wasn't true. The "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" has returned – distributed at Durban, sold in Arab bookstores and made into a series on Egyptian TV. The caricatures are back in Arab papers, showing hooked-nosed Jews grasping at sacks of dollars. Once again, there are stories of the Jewish lobby and blood dripping from Israeli hands and mouths.

The call of Islamic fundamentalism to kill Jews – all the Jews, wherever they are – is also back. And the world has not said one word to stop it, not even in the face of a general denial of the Holocaust, defined as "just a way of promoting Zionism." Not a cry of indignation is to be heard.

Not a voice was raised even when Jews were again accused of being Christ-killers or when promises were made to destroy Israel with an atomic bomb. Not even after Sept. 11 when, with obscene lips, many vomited up the idea that only the Jews could have organized such a successful disaster. At the very least, "enlightened" conversations throughout democratic Europe are saying that, in any event, the attack took place because of the Jews.

How can that be? How can it be that modern men and women have not noticed and condemned the glaring new, horrible signs of anti-Semitism? The Shoah will not be over until anti-Semitism is no more. You can think whatever you like about the Middle East, that the Palestinians must have a state, with security for Israel, and that all the suffering must cease. But anti-Semitism has nothing to do with any of that.

If we want protection for all minorities, if we want to meet the needs of all those who suffer, the human conscience must be cleansed of the filth of anti-Semitism. Instead, we are facing a new, enormous wave of this dirt coming toward us from the Arab world. And it is having a surprising effect on the West.

Don't you think that, 50 years after the Shoah, it's about time for Jewish children to live in peace, wherever they are, without being murdered on the streets, in pizza shops, on buses? And the same thing is true for every other child everywhere.

The real end of anti-Semitism will be a signal of peace and well-being for all. But peace must still be conquered. And that is the prayer of a daughter of the Shoah.

Fiamma Nirenstein was born in Florence and lives in Jerusalem as a foreign correspondent and a columnist for La Stampa and Panorama in Italy. Holding a doctorate in modern history, she is the author of several books about the Middle East and other subjects.

©2002 -

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