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Israel Is Our Country: From Holocaust to Independence Day

Israel, Yom HaZikaron

Yom HaZikaron (Israel Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption)

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess,’ says the Lord.”  (Jeremiah 30:3)

In honor of Yom HaZikaron (The Day of Remembrance), as the sun set last night, entire communities all over Israel solemnly filed into their local Yad LaBanim (Memorial to the Sons / memorial facilities).

They went there to commemorate the sacrifices made by the men and women, the boys and girls, sometimes friends and members of their own family for the cause of Israeli security and sovereignty.

Portrait of the 23,447 who have fallen since 1860 during the period of the Yishuv (lit. Settlement), the name given to the Jewish communities that rose up outside the walls of Jerusalem in pre-state Israel, flashed on screens as their sacrifices and often short lives were recounted.

Yom HaZikaron, flags, cemetary

Israeli flags at half-staff are positioned on the graves of Israeli soldiers. (Photo by Ari Bronstein)

For some communities, this took a long time as scores of lives were honored.  Our Bibles For Israel (BFI) staff is not exempt from experiencing this loss:

“In Kibbutz Beit HaShita where three of my five children were born, 11 members were lost during the one month war of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in 1973, the largest loss per capita of any town in Israel,” said Barry, a BFI team member.

“Most of these men were killed in one battle at the famous Chinese Farm as paratrooper units fought to clear a path to the Canal so that the Israeli forces could cross over into Egypt,” he explained.  “They were cut down as they approached in half-tracks, armored personnel carriers, by deadly accurate Russian-supplied Sagger anti-tank missiles at the Lexicon-Tirtur Junction.”

The desperateness of the situation is described by battalion commander Major Nathan Shunari who at 6:15 the morning following the attack radioed for help saying,

“We are under a tank attack; the going is tough.  Request for urgent artillery, tanks, and aircraft support.  Cannot disengage.  Many casualties.  It’s urgent! My entire force is getting killed off; they are practically in on top of me! Why can’t you throw in tanks faster?!”

The brigade commander’s replied, “We have no tanks here, or aircraft.”

Shunari’s battalion lost 25 men that night, including his brother, Yehiel, along with Israel Schindler, a decorated veteran of the 1967 Six Day War, and Dudu Aharon, whose brother, Hanoch, was killed three hours earlier, on Tirtur Road; and an equal number of wounded.  (Crossing “Tzlicha,” by Amiram Ezov)

Kotel, Western Wall, Yom HaZikaron

Israeli soldiers stand in formation during a ceremony to mark the beginning of Memorial Day or Yom Hazikaron at the Kotel (Wailing Wall).

While each community mourns individually, an official ceremony marking the opening of the day takes place at the Western Wall, and the flag of Israel is lowered to half-staff, watched on television throughout the country.

All of these events commenced with a one-minute siren that blasted across the nation at exactly 8 p.m. last night.  Citizens everywhere stood at attention and all traffic ceased.  A second two-minute siren sounded this morning at 11 a.m.

Throughout the day, Israeli flags have been waving from homes, buildings and cars, in cities, towns, villages, kibbutzim (collectives), and moshavim (cooperative farming communities).

In defiance, many Israeli Arabs have been displaying the Palestinian flag from their vehicles.

During these 24 hours of remembrance, one television station is streaming the names of the fallen by date, including those who have been killed in battle and, since the second intifada, those in terrorist attacks.  On the airways, somber music befitting such a day is playing.

Today, families gather in cemeteries, visiting the graves of their sons, daughters, husbands, and wives who have sacrificed their lives in the defense of the Jewish state or fell as victims of Palestinian terrorism. 

Yom HaZikaron, two-minute siren

Traffic comes to a two-minute standstill in Israel at 11 a.m. on Yom HaZikaron.  (Photo by Avital Pinnick)

Yom HaAtzmaut: Remembering the Liberation Before Independence

“As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.”  (Zechariah 9:11)

Yom HaZikaron never loses its significance, even when the sun sets here in Israel and this day of mourning turns to joy as Israel’s 68th Day of Independence, Yom Atzmaut, begins.

In 1948, Israel once again became an independent nation, only a few years after the end of World War II when the floodgates of homeless Jews trying to escape Europe were opened.

No one who participated in the liberation of the Nazi death camps in 1945 can forget what they saw, heard, smelled, and touched there.  That includes the supreme allied commander in Europe, General Dwight David Eisenhower, who later became America’s 34th president.

Holocaust, Holocaust survivors, liberators, Holocaust victims

While on an inspection tour of the newly liberated Ohrdruf concentration camp, General Dwight Eisenhower and a party of high-ranking U.S. Army officers, including Generals Bradley, Patton, and Eddy, view the charred remains of prisoners that were burned upon a section of railroad track during the evacuation of the camp.

Eisenhower visited the forced labor camp Ohrdruf in Germany on April 12, 1945, just days after the Nazis led the prisoners on death marches to Buchenwald concentration camp and killed those who were too sick to walk to the rail cars. He recalls,

“The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick.  In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter.  He said that he would get sick if he did so.  I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’”  (ushmm)

Patton and Eisenhower were not the only people moved by that devastation.

Barry also recalls, “Among the liberators of the death camps was my own uncle who returned from World War II a shaken man.  He never was able to completely recuperate from that psychologically shattering experience.  It is, therefore, only fitting that those few who remain should honor that event by revisiting the site of those camps.”

Holocaust survivors still carry the pain of the Shoah. In the above photo, survivors comfort one another as they visit Auschwitz on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the extermination camp.

Holocaust Survivors visit Auschwitz to attest to the brutality of the Nazi death machine during WWII.

March of the Living

Another kind of Remembrance memorial occurred last week at the 28th annual “March of the Living” in Poland.  There, some 10,000 people from 40 different countries traced the three-kilometer path linking the former Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz–Birkenau.

The march included a delegation of Holocaust survivors, GI liberators, and soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), who participated under the sponsorship of the Friends of the IDF (FIDF).

They began marching in the Polish city of Tarnow, which was once the home of thousands of Jews; and continued to the city of Krakow, which housed Poland’s Jewish ghetto; and on to the Auschwitz–Birkenau death camp.

From there, the delegation flew in an Israeli Air Force transport jet to Israel, where they are now commemorating Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut.

The trip is entitled “From Holocaust to Independence.”  As FIDF CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir described it, “This one-of-a-kind delegation will span the modern history of the Jewish People by uniting Holocaust survivors, American liberators of concentration camps, and IDF officers.”

He added that the trip covers the Jewish People’s history from their near-extinction to the rebirth of the modern state of Israel to “the new generation of a Jewish army that watches over our legacy today, making sure that ‘never again’ and ‘never forget’ are not just phrases, but rather promises.” 

Auschwitz, March of the Living, IDF

IDF soldiers participate in the March of the Living at Auschwitz.  (Photo by Yaffa Phillips)

Klifi-Amir stressed that visiting the Nazi extermination camp with IDF soldiers has deep symbolism, sending a “message to the world that we remember, and that the Holocaust cannot, and will not, ever happen again.”

Included in the delegation were Israeli Auschwitz survivor Martha Weiss and Birkenau survivor Giselle Cycowicz.

They were joined by three American soldiers who liberated concentration camps, including 94-year-old Sid Shaffner from Colorado of the 42nd Infantry Division, one of the first US soldiers to enter Dachau; Cranston Rogers, 91, of Massachusetts, who liberated Dachau with the 45th Infantry Division on April 29, 1945; and William Bryant Phelps, 90, of Texas, who liberated Mauthausen-Gusen with the 11th Armored Division.

Shaffner reunited with Marcel Levy, who was liberated from Dachau and joined his division as a cook.  The two have been friends since 1945.

Holocaust, survivors, liberators

While on an inspection tour of the newly liberated Ohrdruf concentration camp, General Dwight Eisenhower and a party of high-ranking U.S. Army officers, including Generals Bradley, Patton, and Eddy, view the charred remains of prisoners that were burned upon a section of railroad track during the evacuation of the camp.

National FIDF President Peter Weintraub noted that this might be the last opportunity for liberators and survivors to join together and share their stories.

Before the trip, Weintraub said, “It promises an incomparable emotional experience for everyone involved.  I can’t imagine a more bittersweet moment than walking through the gates of Poland’s most notorious death camp surrounded by those who suffered within its walls, those who helped set them free, and those who must make sure they are not forgotten.”  (jpupdates)

The fact that fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remain as each year progresses is typified by the story of Sam Harris, who at 80 is still able to relate witnessing the slaughter of his family and other members of his community when the Nazis invaded in 1939.  He survived the war as an inmate of Czestochowa concentration camp.

For many years, Sam, who now lives in the States, was unable and unwilling to speak of this time.  But after the publication of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Arthur Butz, a book declaring that the Holocaust was merely propaganda,  Sam is taking every chance he can to share his experience — in schools, conferences, and other events.  (Jewish Chronicle)

Israel, Yom HaZikaron, wreath

On Yom HaZikaron, a Jewish man recites prayers at the grave of a family member or friend who died defending Israel.

The Death Toll Continues to Rise

“For I hear many whispering, ‘Terror on every side!’ They conspire against me and plot to take my life.”  (Psalm 31:13)

Every year since our independence, the enemy of our souls endeavors to wipe out this nation.

Ten years ago, before the construction of the security fence in Israel, the second intifada stole the lives of whole families, many of them in bus and cafe bombings.

“Personal friends of mine were saved when they decided not to board a bus that subsequently blew up a few moments later,” Barry remembers.  “That can only be called an act of God.”

In a distressing reminder of that intifada, 21 people, two critically, were recently injured when a bomb exploded last month on Egged bus number 12 in Jerusalem’s Talpiot industrial area.

As a result, two Egged buses and a third vehicle were reduced to skeletons of burnt steel.

Today, some say a third intifada has been underway since Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) in September 2015.  In this uprising, terror activity has been mostly limited to what might be called “lone wolf” attacks, encouraged by the Palestinian Authority, in which teens as young as 13, some of whom are girls, seek to kill soldiers and innocent passersby with knives, vehicles, and other weapons.

You might say that these misguided teens are wasting their youth, since we already know from God’s Word that not only did He reestablish the Jewish state, He continues to protect our state from all of its detractors.

Palestinian terrorism, lone-wolf attack, Egged bus, Jerusalem

Aftermath of the April 18th terror attack (Source: IDF)

Israel Is Our Country and There Is No Other

“‘I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,’ says the Lord your God.”  (Amos 9:15)

On Yom HaAtzmaut, a special ceremony will take place on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

On the Mount is the national cemetery and parade grounds where Zionist founder Theodore Herzl and such state leaders as murdered Prime Minister and military commander Yitzhak Rabin, and former prime ministers Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, and Yitzhak Shamir are buried.

All of Israel will be watching on TV as military troops are reviewed.

They will also watch a presentation of the flag of Israel, a Menorah, a Magen David (Star of David), and the ceremonial lighting of twelve torches, one for each of the Tribes of Israel.  That lighting will be performed by twelve citizens who have made a significant contribution.

Palestinian terrorism, Yom HaZikaron

A relative of a fallen soldier puts a hand on the grave of the victim at a ceremony to mark Memorial Day or Yom Hazikaron at the Memorial Service for Victims of Terror on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem

Last year, Channel 2 Israeli-Arab news anchor Lucy Aharish was one of those chosen to light a torch.

When Aharish took her turn at the ceremony, she said that she was lighting the torch “for all human beings wherever they may be who have not lost hope for peace — and for the children, full of innocence, who live on this Earth.

“For those who were but are no more, who fell victim to baseless hatred by those who have forgotten that we were all born in the image of one God.  For Sephardim and Ashkenazim, religious, and secular, Arabs and Jews, sons of this motherland that reminds us that we have no other place.  For us as Israel, for the honor of mankind, and for the glory of the State of Israel.”

She also spoke in Arabic adding, “For our honor as human beings, this is our country and there is no other.”  (Times of Israel)