From Jerusalem to Auschwitz

Let me introduce myself a little bit before I start to tell you what I’ve heard and seen today.


I’m Israeli and Jewish.

I was born in Austria, but left that country as soon as I could, at age 20. I then lived, married, studied and worked for 16 years in French speaking Switzerland before my husband and we decided to come on aliyah with our two children, who still were babies then.


When I was young in Austria, I often demonstrated together with like-minded Austrians against old and new Nazis (still very popular there), against racism of any kind and similar issues. This was just something natural for me and for those Austrians who had learnt a lesson from the past.


In Switzerland at first I felt much less racism, much more openness for others, more warmth and more tolerance than in my country of birth. For someone who doesn’t know Austria as I do, this may seem strange – but that’s how I felt – and at first sight (even at the second sight) the Swiss are less racist and more tolerant that Austrians – speaking, of course, in very big generalities.


Yet, as it happens often, with the passing years I learnt to understand better what’s behind the Swiss tolerance and “niceness”. That the picture isn’t as rosy as I just said before – and this was also the reason that pushed us to leave and come to live in Israel. Still, like in Austria, there are many nice and honest, good hearted people around – I’m definitely speaking in generalities here


Arriving in Israel was at first the fulfillment of a dream – to live in a Jewish environment, not to have any troubles to beg for days off for Jewish holidays, possibility to find kosher food everywhere – living, for once, among a majority of Jews, not as a minority as everywhere else.


I definitely knew that “not everything was ok”, not as “democratic” as it should be, that we were at war with the Palestinians, and so on.


Although we didn’t come to “settle the land” across the borders of the Green Line, we weren’t “rich” as Swiss people are “supposed to be”, and as we absolutely wanted to live in Jerusalem, we had to choose what was possible for us – to live in Pisgat Zeev.


Tonight in Pisgat Zeev, as I had done all my life, I participated in a rally against racism – as recently a very serious racist event had happened here.


A group of about 80 young Jewish men from this neighborhood had assaulted two young Arabs from an adjacent Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem as well.


Something that made this vicious assault even worse was the fact that these 80 Jewish adolescents had precisely chosen Holocaust Remembrance Day to commit their crime.


This has been publicized widely and many people know and commented about it.


Today a young woman, resident of Pisgat Zeev like me, had initiated a rally at exactly the same spot where the two young men had been assaulted – in front of the mall of Pisgat Zeev.


I don’t know about the details how the rally came to be. I just got a message about it yesterday, and it seems that many other people were informed in the same way, very recently. This might be the reason why only very few people came to show their opposition to racism and violence. Several peace-groups and movements had associated and called for the rally.


I’m not part of any of them – I’m not the type of person to “fit” into a frame – but I support and follow actively many of these peace-movements and organizations.


Going to a demonstration against such a disgusting act like it was to assault two innocent young men for the sole reason that they are Arab was nothing but a natural act for me.


Not so long ago, while my parents were still young, groups like the SA used to beat up Jews in exactly the same way – many SA men assaulting a few Jews for the sole reason that they were Jews.


In my opinion, that’s what Holocaust Remembrance Day is all about – to remember what has been done to us and not to let things like that happen again.


Yes – that’s what I thought. As I could hear and see, this was NOT the opinion of my neighbors, my fellow residents of Pisgat Zeev.


We, the few demonstrators were parked in a sort of cage by the police to separate us from the rest of the population. I could easily see that this was a very wise decision – the barrier prevented us from being assaulted by the good people of Pisgat Zeev. Violence stayed on a verbal level.


While we were there to protest against something as basic as racism – all of the bystanders and passer-bys shouted insults and curses at us. We were told loudly how the Arabs frequently assaulted girls from Pisgat Zeev.


I’ve been living here for 12 years. My daughter is a beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed young lady of 15. She and her friends go to school right across the mall of Pisgat Zeev – meaning that she’s around there daily – sometimes even in the evening, although (“unfortunately”) she’s a very good girl and doesn’t hang around in the streets at night.


Nevertheless, she’s been out together with her friends many times. Not even once she complained to me about any aggression, anything or anyone bothering her.


I myself shop often in the mall. While I always see Arab ladies around, mothers with children and babies, sometimes couples – all coming from the surrounding neighborhoods of Beit Hanina, Shu’afat, Anita and Ras El Khamis, I never even once witnessed any incident between Arabs and Jews.


One should also note that these neighborhoods are entirely part of the municipality of Jerusalem! These neighborhoods existed long before Pisgat Zeev was even built. This means that every single inhabitant of Pisgat Zeev chose to come to live in the midst of all these Arab neighborhoods. This reminds me of all the talk about a “unified Jerusalem”.


Truth is that the good people of Pisgat Zeev don’t want “Arabs” to access “their neighborhood”. They don’t want them to buy in the mall, they don’t want Arab youth hang around the mall, like the Jewish youth do – not only from Pisgat Zeev, but also from places like Neve Yaakov – which is much further away than Beit Hanina for example.


So I was standing there in the “cage”, hearing all the bystanders describing what horrors the “Arabs” committed in and around the mall very frequently, while I never ever witnessed any single incident of that kind.


But I was told that I must be blind, that I don’t live here, that I’m lying, that my daughter must be lying to me. People were describing furiously how horrible the Arabs behaved with the Jewish girls. Nobody admitted that maybe sometimes Jewish boys might bother Jewish girls as well.


In short: although I’ve never heard or seen anything bad happening at the mall, today I’ve heard that the Arabs behave like animals. True, I don’t see everything, and as I don’t hang around in the streets on Erev Shabbat, neither does my daughter, I must have been missing something very essential of the Jewish life in Pisgat Zeev.


But not only that they Arabs behave like animals – they ARE animals!! Trying to stay calm I asked many people who shouted at us like mad if they knew what the Germans had said about us? I was told repeatedly that I should leave that aside, that there was no connection between the two matters.


Whenever I asked someone if Holocaust Remembrance Day means anything to him, the (repeated) reply was: “Ta’asvi et se” (leave that aside) “that has nothing to do with this”. One man even told me that the entire Holocaust didn’t concern him – he was Yemenite, that there were pogroms in Yemen as well, and his family wasn’t involved in the Holocaust.


Seeing a kippa on his head and as this man was considerably more open to reason than all the others around, I asked him if he remembered what we say about the Bad Child at Pessah – that in excluding himself from the People of Israel, he would have been left behind if he had been there… Therefore I told this man that he should consider that and think that if he had been in Germany at the time, he might have been sent to Auschwitz as well. He didn’t seem to consider this option very seriously… Anyway, he had to go, and wished me “good bye”.


When I asked people why they all chose to come to live among so many Arab neighborhoods, they didn’t answer. Sometimes I tried it differently – I asked them about the “unified Jerusalem”, and if they wanted a unified Jerusalem as well. Although I asked this question to many people, nobody answered – only one told me to “leave politics out of this” and that he didn’t “deal with big politics”.


A good, God-fearing Jew with a black kippa told me that not only the Arabs were animals, but that I was an animal too. I asked him to repeat that – he repeated it! I didn’t leave him and asked: “I am an animal?” – “Yes – you are an animal, just like them”.


But worst of all was a “conversation” I had with a woman of my age, not visibly religious, pushing a pram with apparently her grandchild. She shouted with all her might that she didn’t want Arabs to come here and bother her, that this was “HER country”, pointing at herself. I couldn’t help but tell her that she was wrong, that this was “MY country, not hers”… She was a bit disconcerted by my reply and we fought verbally a few minutes about “whose country” it was – hers or mine – and then she cut the conversation short in telling me that I should be sent to Germany.


While I clearly understood what she meant, I couldn’t believe it and asked her for precisions: “Do you mean to Auschwitz?” – Her reply was: “Yes, they should send you to Auschwitz”… I still didn’t really believe it, and I wanted to give her time to hear by herself what she was saying, and asked again: “Are you saying that YOU want to send ME to Auschwitz?” – She replied clearly: “Yes, you should be sent to Auschwitz!” … then she left, busy with her grandchild.


After this -being called an animal by another Jew and virtually sent to Auschwitz by a good Jewish grandma from my neighborhood, I retreated a little, I needed a rest.


I had known without much discussion what was the atmosphere of the neighborhood I had been living in for the last 12 years. I had heard people of Pisgat Zeev many times speaking of Arabs as animals — actually a very wide-spread way of speaking of Arabs – not only in my charming neighborhood.


As I don’t own a car I use public transport all the time – in Jerusalem and all over the country, and I can’t say how many times I have actually heard that. Often I had talked back – without much result. Racists are racists, wherever they come from, and already in my childhood I had learnt that no human argument could change the mind of a profoundly convinced racist.


I have always, privately and for myself, considered racism as a “heart disease” – leading to a “stonification” of the heart.


You can tell me that I was a dreamer, but I wouldn’t have imagined that the Jewish People could fall so low. What we constantly remind others, to “never forget”, we don’t even consider that it could apply to us as well.


When the rally was over and people from outside the neighborhood had left – (together with the woman who had apparently called for that rally, I was the only inhabitant of Pisgat Zeev who had come to tell people that racism was unacceptable to us) I went over to one of the policemen who had supervised the whole event and told him that there was something that really disturbed me: Back in Germany, racism and racist slogans like these were outlawed, and if someone would say such things like “you are an animal” and “they should send you to Auschwitz” in public, police actually would arrest him – but here, in the Jewish State, people were free to say such thing! – He was very nice and seeing that I was upset, he told me that in his eyes I wasn’t an animal. I appreciate his gesture, and naturally I don’t think of myself as an animal – but for me the damage was done.


Is THIS what the Jewish People have become?


First they came for the Jews Arabs
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew an Arab.
Then they came for the Communists leftists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist leftist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.


Pastor Niemoeller, Germany 1946

[Transformed by Alice]


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