Martin M. van Brauman
In early August of 2013, Israeli President Shimon Peres delivered an address at the Valley of Slaughter in the Ponar Forest outside Vilnius, Lithuania, where the Germans and the Lithuanians murdered over 70,000 Jews. He began with the words of Abba Kovner, the Lithuanian Jewish poet, writer and WWII partisan leader.
We shall remember . . .
The city houses and the country houses.
The aged man and the features of his face.
The mother in her kerchief.
The young girl with her braids.
The child, The child,
The entire assembly of Jews
Brought down to slaughter on the soil of Europe
By the Nazi destroyer,
The man who suddenly screamed.
And while screaming died.
President Peres continued his address at the Ponar Memorial Ceremony:
Ponar, from where thousands of our fathers and mothers, our little boys and girls, were murdered.
They will never return.
They will never die in our hearts.
Seventy thousands of them were Jewish.
And thousands were others.
Why? What for?
The pastoral scenery surrounding us here is misleading.
Its color remains green. But the ground is red.
The screams of the victims detonating from the damp soil will remain a disgrace to humanity.
Vilnius was considered the Jerusalem of Lithuania, where hopeful and vibrant Jewish communities built a life of their own.
And suddenly, a third of Lithuania’s Jewish people were slaughtered in these fields.
Only a mass grave remains in front of us.
Innocent men and women, babies and children were stripped and then pushed and thrown to the cold bottom of this pit.
Their bodies were tortured and burned at the sound of a short-range burst of fire.
In the massacre valley of Ponar, there were no gas chambers.
Just direct murder.
Just by pressing the trigger.
One after another.
Day in, day out.
Five hundred a day.
No second thought.
No thought at all.
Killing was their vocation.
History had known no such atrocities, ever.
Just few survived.
From the scorched bodies, only the spirit remained.
An eternal spirit. Facing evil. Our people remained humane.
The spirit of our moral call, Tikkun Olam – to better the world – was molded from the lead of the bullets.
Ponar is a warning.
For us all.
For the generations to come.
Never, not even for a moment, may we weaken in our common mission against racism, anti-Semitism and mass destruction.
In Vilnius, there were 200 churches and 110 synagogues. Yet there is just one Lord in heaven.
Why and what for – the persecution and hatred, if “there is just one Lord in heaven.” I am a remnant of Israel, seeking answers from God, and so should all. My grandfather’s older brother, Josel Brauman, was a tradesman who was married and lived in Panevezys (Ponevezh), Lithuania when he died on January 13, 1940. Fortunately, he was buried in the Panevezys Jewish Cemetery before the Germans came with their killing pits outside of town, but his wife and sons Chaim Ber (age 33), Itsik and Eliokim (both age 20) died an unknown death when the Germans arrived. Sholem Brauman once lived as a merchant, who was born in 1877 and lived in Zarasai (NovoAleksandrovsk District), Lithuania, also my grandfather’s place of birth, and was married to Zelda Kaufman. From the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names at Yad Vashem, all that is known is of their deaths in their home town. Nothing more is known of their children and grandchildren that they must have had. There once lived Khaim Brauman, who was from and died in Rakishok, Lithuania, in 1941. There once lived Ferentz Brauman (prisoner number 92818) from Lithuania (native language German) who died from disease in the camp at Muehldorf Mettenheim in January of 1945 at age 51.
On June 26, 1942, Szmul Zygielbojm, a member of the Polish government-in-exile, broadcasted on the BBC a report on the Nazis’ extermination of the Jews of Europe by gassing. He could not persuade any government to intervene on behalf of the Jews. On May 10, 1943, Arthur Goldberg told him that the United States government rejected his request to bomb Auschwitz and the Warsaw Ghetto. On May 12, Zygielbojm committed suicide in London saying:
The responsibility for this crime of murdering the entire Jewish community of Poland falls in the first instance on the perpetrators, but indirectly also it weighs on the whole of humanity, the peoples and the governments of the Allied States, which have so far made no effort towards a concrete action for the purpose of curtailing this crime. By passive observation of this murder of defenseless millions and of the maltreatment of children, women, and old men, these countries have become the criminal’s accomplices.
Nothing has changed since European and world governments shut off the historic Jewish homeland as a place of refuge for the Jews fleeing Nazi extermination during the 30’s and 40’s. Today, European and EU ministers still are dictating whether Jews have the right to live in their historic homeland of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem itself, as they pamper to the Muslim mobs in their own territories. They continue the “disgrace to humanity.”
Israel’s very existence ignites Muslim anger, not the borders of Israel itself. For the Muslims want a judenrein Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. The EU and the world want Israel to return to the 1949 armistice lines of Israel’s War of Independence. The 9-mile-wide 1949 armistice lines that even the ultra-dove Abba Eban called “the Auschwitz lines” would move Hamas and the Palestinian Authority/PLO closer to their goal of their judenrein Palestine and to continue the legacy of Adolf Hitler.
During the Arab invasion of 1967, Israel was forced to defend its existence against another Holocaust and pushed out the occupying armies of Jordan, Egypt and Syria from the land originally set aside for the Jewish homeland during the British Mandate period as established by the League of Nations, following the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. The British Mandate granted Jews rights to all the land west of the Jordan River as the Jewish homeland and the Arabs received the Transjordan.
The world is infuriated that the Jews did not die after 2,000 years of persecution, pogroms, the Holocaust and finally the Arab invasions of genocide against the Jews in Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973.
I raise my eyes upon the mountains; whence will come my help? My help is from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to falter; your Guardian will not slumber. Behold, He neither slumbers nor sleeps, the Guardian of Israel. The Lord is your Guardian; the Lord is your protective Shade at your right hand. By day the sun will not harm you, nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from every evil; He will guard your soul. The Lord will guard your departure and your arrival, from this time and forever. Psalm 121:1-8.