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Dachau concentration camp
photo by Rhonda Spivak

photo by Rhonda Spivak

photo by Rhonda Spivak

Torture Barracks, Dachau concentration Camp
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Holocaust Questions and Answers: by Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

by Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg, April 14, 2014

We are entering into the period known as Yom Hashoah. Holocaust Remembrance Day. Here are some questions I have been asked throughout my years of teaching. I have tried to give honest answers.


One wonders why there was not a mass exodus from Europe when they knew that Nazi occupation meant death.


Many Holocaust survivors have told me that the invasion of the Nazis and the annihilation of the Jewish population was like a tsunami. It happened so fast that there was no time to think, to flee, or to leave. Even if one wanted to leave, where would they go? Most countries did not allow Jews to enter, including the United States of America. There were quotas and anti-Semitism throughout the world. They thought it would all pass, just like other instances of anti-Semitism that had occurred in the past. They believed Hitler would never have enough power or support to annihilate German Jewry. They were wrong and it cost them their lives. In addition how does one leave behind family members while escaping to freedom, even if they could?


Following the death of my parents, after I married and started a family, I began searching for the history of those in my family who perished in the Holocaust and for a trace of anyone who survived. The only family I knew to survive were one cousin and aunt on my father’s side. As of today I have not found anyone who survived the Holocaust. My parents of blessed memory spoke about the Holocaust, but basically what they shared with me was the same information over and over again. Feeling I might hurt them emotionally, I never pressed for more information. I never had grandparents, and most of my family was annihilated by Hitler. I run my life with the motto “never again,” and that is why I became a rabbi. Growing up I constantly looked at the numbers on my father’s left arm, which he received in Auschwitz. Those mumbers instilled in me the urge to fight for the state of Israel and against anti-Semitism, wherever it may occur.


When I recall the image of my mother, I cannot remember any time that she did not look older than her age. She worked in an ammunition plant, making bombs for the Nazis. My parents obviously did not wish to share things about the Holocaust which might hurt me emotionally, such as that my father was married before the war. I learned of this by overhearing a conversation when I was nine years old. His first wife and two children were murdered by the Nazis. Recently, I have been able to obtain names of some family members who were murdered.


The questions I asked my parents were “Why did God allow this to happen?” and “Why did you allow me as an only child to leave home, move across the country and become a rabbi?” Now as a parent, I finally understand the loneliness they must have felt, having no other children. I always said to them “My heart tells me I should remain with you, but my brain tells me I must become ordained to make a difference in the Jewish world.” My father answered that the night before he was liberated from the concentration camp, he had a dream in which his father came to him and said, My son, today you will be liberated.”


What do you think about God in the Holocaust?


I have taught Holocaust studies for most of my life on the high school and college level. When I discuss the Holocaust and God, I share many possible views. In truth, after having written numerous books on the subject I don’t have an answer. I cannot in good conscience believe that the Jewish people were punished, because if I believe that, then I would not be a Rabbi, and probably be an atheist. One and a half million priceless Jewish children were murdered. What was their sin? The answer I give myself and others is that mankind caused the Holocaust, not God. It is the only answer I can live with. My students ask me “Can the Holocaust happen again?” My answer is a definite yes. A number of atomic bombs thrown at Israel by its enemies would annihilate the Israeli population. One is naïve to believe that anti-Semitism does not exist throughout the world. If we have learned anything from the Shoah, it is that it is possible for a madman to arise who wants to annihilate the Jewish people. Never fool yourself into believing that you are safe anywhere. We must always be alert and fight against prejudice wherever it may exist.


Finally, how do we keep Holocaust memory alive and what is our message to our children, grandchildren and future generations? In my opinion, all the museums in the world and all the books that are written will not preserve the memory of the Holocaust. In time, the Holocaust may become nothing more than a date in history. If we teach Holocaust and genocide together as one subject, we guarantee that the impact of the Holocaust will merely blend into other genocides. What is the solution? We must incorporate in our religious services and religious traditions, memoirs, readings, and liturgy, readings concerning the Holocaust. I have, therefore, already written a Holocaust Passover Haggadah and a Holocaust Siddur (see on the internet: Reading about the Holocaust must become part of every Jewish holiday, particularly the High Holidays. I want to emphasize to those children and grandchildren who still have living survivors of the Holocaust in their families, ask questions now, don’t be afraid. Sometimes, a Holocaust survivor will not feel comfortable speaking to their children, but will be able to communicate their thoughts with their grandchildren. I ask that you do so before all the Holocaust survivors are gone.


Remember the lives, the culture, the achievements, of those who perished in the Holocaust


I made one promise to my parents of blessed memory, and that is that one day, I would fill up a station wagon with my children. Thank God, I have a lovely wife, Charlene, four children, and so far, seven grandchildren. If you wish to remember the Shoah and the beauty of Judaism which existed before that horrible period in our history, I say to you, have children, name them after Holocaust survivors as I have done, and never forget who we are as a people.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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