Yom Ha Shoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day
The plots to destroy the Jews hatched by Pharaoh, Haman, Antiochus, and others in history were almost realized in recent times by Hitler’s “final solution,” the plan for the complete destruction of the Jewish people. “Shoah” means “calamity,” which barely describes what happened to so many of our people at the hands of the so-called “civilized Christian nation.” Mass murders are all too commonplace in history, but never before had any state, with all its leaders’ authority, announced its intentions to extinguish the Jews, including the old, women, children and babies, using every resource available, with great zeal. While not all victims were Jews, every Jew was a victim. Why were Jews the main target? The answer lies in Genesis:
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis [B’resheet] 12:2-3).
“I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you in the generations to come, to be your Adonai and Adonai of your descendants after you” (Genesis [B’resheet] 17:6-7).
Blessings to the whole world were promised through the descendants of Abraham, the most famous of which is Yeshua. The devil, the father of lies, is always looking for ways to prove Adonai a liar . . . destroying the Jewish people would prevent them from fulfilling Adonai’s promise, and also proving that Adonai does not keep His covenants. In Satan’s attempt to do this, he enlisted men with wicked hearts to carry out his deeds.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah [Yirmeyahu] 17:9)
The calling of the Jews to be holy and set apart for Adonai often led to their being singled-out for discrimination, as we learned in Esther (Ester):
“‘Then Haman said to King Xerxes, ‘There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business’” (Esther [Ester] 3:8-9).
Often, the Church was silent on the persecution of Jews, or, in some cases, even encouraged it. Seeds of hate were planted by early church fathers, such as John Chrysostom (4th Century): “Thy synagogue is a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ, the domicile of the devil. Indeed, Jews worship the devil . . . their rites are criminal and impure. Their religion is a disease. Jews are the most miserable of all men.” His sermons had great influence, and were followed by others with similar misguided ideas. Martin Luther (1500’s) wrote: “Concerning the Jews and their lies, Jews are poisoners, ritual murderers, usurers, parasites on Christian society. They are worse than devils, doomed to hell. Their synagogues should be set on fire; their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed. Let us drive them out of the country for all time.”
Centuries later, these ideas were carried out in the mostly Protestant Germany. In November of 1938, one of the first large-scale pogroms was established by the Nazis in honor of Luther’s birthday. The seeds of hatred for the Jews were especially evident in pre-World War II Germany. 1873 saw the first use of the term “anti-Semitism” by Wilhelm Marr. Before this, the Jews were considered evil for what they believed. Now, they were considered a separate race, fundamentally different from “Aryans,” a fictitious super-race invented by the Nazis. In 1920, the book Protocols of the Elders of Zion was translated into German and sold 120,000 copies the first year. Even when this book was proven a forgery and totally bogus, it grew in popularity. Lectures and classes were given on the “international Jewish conspiracy” posed by this book.
Later, in the 1920’s, the worst inflation hit Germany. This was partly caused by Germany’s huge reparation bill from Germany’s losing World War I, ironically blamed on the Jews, even though 100,000 fought in the war, and 12,000 died for Germany. Money became worthless, unemployment escalated, there were food riots . . . and someone had to be blamed. Since the Middle Ages, Jews were prohibited from many trades, except debt collection, as a service to landowners. This tradition in finance led to them being targeted for all Germany’s financial woes, even though they consisted of only 1% of the population. Paradoxically, while Jews were accused of being too successful as capitalists, they were also accused of being Communists, and thus enemies of Germany. Hitler’s Nazis rose to power on the platform “The Jews are our misfortune!” Hitler’s cause of Jew hatred became intertwined with German nationalism to the level of a religion, with Hitler as god. The Nazi said: “In fighting the Jew, I am doing the Lord’s work.” This new Nazi “religion” had its roots in the occult, which Hitler and his associates practiced
Under the guise of “protection” for Germany, laws and policies were established that slowly, but persistently, disenfranchised the Jews. Soon, they were no longer citizens and had no rights. Men were expelled or were driven out. Towns would probably boast to be “Judenrein,” cleansed of Jews. November 9, 1938, the “Kristallnact,” “night of broken glass,” left no doubt about Germany’s attitude toward the Jews: 190 synagogues destroyed, along with 800 Jewish-owned shops, 30,000 Jewish men sent to concentration camps, and thousands murdered. All Jewish owned factories were nationalized, and as a “bonus” for this treatment, Jews were fined one billion reichmarks, about $400 million.
When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, persecution of the Jews escalated. Warsaw, the center of European Jewry, was turned into a ghetto, where up to 5,000 people a month died of disease, starvation, and attacks by both the Germans and their eager accomplices. In 1941, Reinhard Heydrich organized a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem:” Jews were deported from all over Europe to death camps. In all, over 6 million Jews were murdered, a figure that cannot describe the toll in human suffering it represents.
Despite the accounts of “righteous Gentiles” who came to our peoples’ aid, most of the world was silent, or even in agreement with this destruction. Jews who sought to escape certain death were given the cold shoulder. The U.S. and U.K. limited Jewish emigration with laws and quotas. Anti-Semitic papers, magazines, and radio shows reflected an attitude that the Jews deserved their fate. At the Evian Conference of western powers in 1938, the response to the Jews’ plight was represented by Australia: “As we have no real racial problem here, we are not desirous of importing one.” Britain would not even let Jews immigrate to Israel . . . refugee boats were refused entry, and turned back from every port, with no solution but to return to the Nazi gas chambers.
Such is the story of the Saint Louis. On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba. On the voyage were 938 passengers, 930 were Jewish refugees. They all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. Most were German citizens, some were from Eastern Europe, and a few were officially “stateless.”
The majority of the Jewish passengers had applied for US visas, and had planned to stay in Cuba only until they could enter the United States. But by the time the St. Louis sailed, there were signs that political conditions in Cuba might keep the passengers from landing there. The US State Department in Washington, the US consulate in Havana, some Jewish organizations, and refugee agencies were all aware of the situation. The passengers themselves were not informed; most were compelled to return to Europe.
Since the Kristallnact pogrom of November 9-10, 1938, the German government had sought to accelerate the pace of forced Jewish emigration. The German Foreign Office and the Propaganda Ministry also hoped to exploit the unwillingness of other nations to admit large numbers of Jewish refugees to justify the Nazi regime’s anti-Jewish goals and policies both domestically in Germany and in the world at large.
The owners of the St. Louis, the Hamburg-Amerika Line, knew even before the ship sailed that its passengers might have trouble disembarking in Cuba. The passengers, who held landing certificates and transit visas issued by the Cuban Director-General of Immigration, did not know that Cuban President Federico Laredo Bru had issued a decree just a week before the ship sailed that invalidated all recently issued landing certificates. Entry to Cuba required written authorization from the Cuban Secretaries of State and Labor and the posting of a $500 bond (The bond was waived for US tourists).
The voyage of the St. Louis attracted a great deal of media attention. Even before the ship sailed from Hamburg, right-wing Cuban newspapers deplored its impending arrival and demanded that the Cuban government cease admitting Jewish refugees. Indeed, the passengers became victims of bitter infighting within the Cuban government. The Director-General of the Cuban immigration office, Manuel Benitez Gonzalez, had come under a great deal of public scrutiny for the illegal sale of landing certificates. He routinely sold such documents for $150 or more and, according to US estimates, had amassed a personal fortune close to $1,000,000. Though he was a protégé of Cuban army chief of staff (and future president) Fulgencio Batista, Benitez’s self-enrichment through corruption had fueled sufficient resentment in the Cuban government to bring about his resignation.
After Cuba denied entry to the passengers on the St. Louis, the press throughout Europe and the Americas, including the United States, brought the story to millions of readers throughout the world. Though US newspapers generally portrayed the plight of the passengers with great sympathy, only a few journalists and editors suggested that the refugees be admitted into the United States.
Sailing so close to Florida that they could see the lights of Miami, some passengers on the St. Louis cabled President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for refuge. Roosevelt never responded. The State Department and the White House had decided not to take extraordinary measures to permit the refugees to enter the United States. A State Department telegram sent to a passenger stated that the passengers must “await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.” US diplomats in Havana intervened once more with the Cuban government to admit the passengers on a “humanitarian” basis, but without success.
Quotas established in the US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924 strictly limited the number of immigrants who could be admitted to the United States each year. In 1939, the annual combined German-Austrian immigration quota was 27,370 and was quickly filled. In fact, there was a waiting list of at least several years. US officials could only have granted visas to the St. Louis passengers by denying them to the thousands of German Jews placed further up on the waiting list. Public opinion in the United States, although ostensibly sympathetic to the plight of refugees and critical of Hitler’s policies, continued to favor immigration restrictions. The Great Depression had left millions of people in the United States unemployed and fearful of competition for the scarce few jobs available. It also fueled anti-Semitism, xenophobia, nativism, and isolationism. A Fortune Magazine poll at the time indicated that 83 percent of Americans opposed relaxing restrictions on immigration. President Roosevelt could have issued an executive order to admit the St. Louis refugees, but this general hostility to immigrants, the gains of isolationist Republicans in the Congressional elections of 1938, and Roosevelt’s consideration of running for an unprecedented third term as president were among the political considerations that militated against taking this extraordinary step in an unpopular cause.
Roosevelt was not alone in his reluctance to challenge the mood of the nation on the immigration issue. Three months before the St. Louis sailed, Congressional leaders in both US houses allowed to die in committee a bill sponsored by Senator Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.) and Representative Edith Rogers (R-Mass.). This bill would have admitted 20,000 Jewish children from Germany above the existing quota.
Two smaller ships carrying Jewish refugees sailed to Cuba in May 1939. The French ship, the Flandre, carried 104 passengers; the Orduña, a British vessel, held 72 passengers. Like the St. Louis, these ships were not permitted to dock in Cuba. The Flandre turned back to its point of departure in France, while the Orduña proceeded to a series of Latin American ports. Its passengers finally disembarked in the US-controlled Canal Zone in Panama. The United States eventually admitted most of them.
Following the US government’s refusal to permit the passengers to disembark, the St. Louis sailed back to Europe on June 6, 1939. The passengers did not return to Germany, however. Jewish organizations (particularly the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) negotiated with four European governments to secure entry visas for the passengers: Great Britain took 288 passengers; the Netherlands admitted 181 passengers, Belgium took in 214 passengers; and 224 passengers found at least temporary refuge in France. Of the 288 passengers admitted by Great Britain, all survived World War II save one, who was killed during an air raid in 1940. Of the 620 passengers who returned to continent, 87 (14%) managed to emigrate before the German invasion of Western Europe in May 1940. 532 St. Louis passengers were trapped when Germany conquered Western Europe. Just over half, 278 survived the Holocaust. 254 died: 84 who had been in Belgium; 84 who had found refuge in Holland, and 86 who had been admitted to France.
Adonai sees it differently:
“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” (Proverbs [Mishlei] 24:11-12)
When the war ended, the full horror of the “final solution” was revealed to the world. The word Holocaust derives from the Greek word “holo,” “whole,” and “caustos,” “burned,” meaning entirely consumed by fire. Out of this fire, Adonai faithfully preserved a remnant of His people.
“But Zion said, ‘Adonai has forsaken me, Adonai has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah [Yeshayahu] 39:14-15)
The Israeli Knesset chose the 27th of Nisan, usually the beginning of May, as Yom Hashoah, a day to remember the Holocaust. It is uncertain why this date was chosen, but it is linked with the end of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one of the few instances of Jewish organized armed confrontation with their persecutors. It also falls one week before the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, symbolically linking it with the fall of the old European-style Jew, and the birth of the modern Zionist, the strong, independent Sabra. It is possible to say that the Holocaust caused world opinion to show some favor to the founding of a Jewish state, and that the Jewish people saw once and for all that no matter how well-assimilated, no matter how indifferent to Zionism, they would only be safe in their own land, the land of Israel promised to them by Adonai.
About The Author
Rabbi Amnon and Rebbetzin Lynette Shor are international conference speakers on prophetic subjects, the Middle East conflict, Biblical holidays, and Jewish cultural life. Rabbi Shor has appeared on many radio and television programs which include CBS, CBN, TBN, and Jewish Voice. He has also worked with Promise Keepers as the international liaison to Israel and the Middle East, and with the Road to Jerusalem Ministry as global spokesman.
Rabbi Amnon Shor, was born in Israel to an orthodox Jewish family. His grandfather Zachariah was a Rabbi in the local synagogue. Rabbi Shor learned the Old Testament and the Jewish Law from early childhood. After his service in the Israeli Army, where he fought the Egyptian Army in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he set out to see the world working for EL-AL Israel’s Airlines , where he met his wife of 41 years Lynette. They have three children and seven grandchildren.