By Michael Jacobs | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Holocaust was possible in an advanced, civilized nation like Germany because of a simple process called demonization, a process that is happening again today to Israel and Jews, survivor Irving Roth told a crowd gathered for the Marcus Jewish Community Center’s annual Yom HaShoah observance April 12.
Through demonization, Roth warned, “there’s no limit to what you can do to people.”
Roth, who was born in in eastern Czechoslovakia in 1929 and survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, gave the keynote address at the observance 70 years and one day after his liberation by the U.S. Army. He said the two American soldiers who walked into his barracks at Buchenwald that day, one black and one white, were his two messiahs.
Roth vividly explained how the process of Nazi demonization of Jews brought him to that day from a childhood in a well-integrated city of 7,000, one-third of whom were Jews. He went to a school for Jews and non-Jews, played soccer with Jews and non-Jews, and found a Greek Orthodox girlfriend when he was 6. His father owned a thriving lumber business that produced railroad ties.
But Nazi Germany swallowed Roth’s country, first taking the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia in 1938 under the Munich accords, then breaking its deal with France and Britain by occupying the rest of the country in the spring of 1939. “So much for signed agreements,” Roth said. “Maybe we should learn something.”
Under the new fascist government of Slovakia, through the process of demonization, life fell apart for Roth.
It started with a sign banning dogs and Jews from the park one day in summer 1939. Curfews and the requirement to wear yellow stars were followed by a ban on non-Jews living with Jews and on Jews owning such “luxury” items as his sheepskin winter coat.
Demonizing government policies changed Roth’s friends and neighbors.
That sweet Greek Orthodox girl he fell for at age 6 decided in March 1940 that he couldn’t carry her books, do homework with her or walk home from school with her because she couldn’t associate with Jews. In September 1940, the same day all Jewish teachers and government workers were fired, Roth and all other Jewish students were kicked out of school, and Roth’s soccer team no longer let him play.
When Jews no longer were allowed to own businesses, Roth’s father put the lumber business in the name of one of his best non-Jewish friends in what was supposed to be a paper transaction only. But that friend soon took control and let Joe Roth stay around just because he was making lots of money for the business.
That vital job did spare the Roth family when most of the city’s Jews were deported to the camps in summer 1942, and eventually the Roths moved to Hungary, where Jews were abused but not being killed — until a roundup in spring 1944. At that point, Roth said, it was clear that the Nazis were going to lose the war, “but the war against the Jews could still be won.”
That’s how he arrived at Auschwitz with his older brother in May 1944. He turned 15 at Auschwitz and was marched out in January 1945 as the Russian army approached. He spent the final months until liberation at Buchenwald. His brother did not survive.
Roth sees the same process of demonization playing out in the world’s views of Israel today. Somehow, he said, the world has come to accept the idea of Israel as an apartheid state even though anyone who visits Israel knows there aren’t separate facilities, accommodations and services for Jews, Muslims, Druze, Christians and so on. He even read an item from the Israel Pride column in the April 10 issue of the Atlanta Jewish Times about an Arab being named the deputy chief scientist in Israel’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Space.
“It’s the same lies, the same demonization, taking place today,” he said.
He pointed to the unbalanced coverage of last summer’s Gaza war, during which the news media never showed Hamas firing rockets at Israel. He said, “The news media has sold its soul and has been outright anti-Semitic.”
Roth said that if “never again” is to be more than a slogan, we must fight such lies day and night by educating our friends, our neighbors and even our children, who are exposed to an anti-Israel onslaught when they go off to college.
Other speakers at the ceremony, held inside the JCC’s theater instead of the Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden because of the threat of rain, also called for action to honor the memories of those slain in the Holocaust.
Rabbi Paul Kerbel said we must remain vigilant against resurgent anti-Semitism.
Israeli Consul General Opher Aviran said the JCC should stop all other activities at the center for 40 minutes each year during the Yom HaShoah observance.
Rabbi Brian Glusman, saying he fears “we may have gotten used to the darkness,” urged remembering the victims by screaming out against modern oppression wherever and whenever it occurs.
“We must stop the lies,” Roth said. “We must stop the demonization. In this way, we will honor the 6 million.”