Survivor: Scary Similarities Between Now and 1930s

Survivor: Scary Similarities Between Now and 1930s

Atlanta Jewish Times - Irving Roth Besser Memorial
The MJCCA’s Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden.

By Kevin Madigan |

Holocaust survivor and writer Irving Roth will be the guest speaker at the Yom HaShoah observance at the Marcus Jewish Community Center on April 12. He spoke to the Atlanta Jewish Times from his home in New York.

Atlanta Jewish Times - Irving Roth
Irving Roth

AJT: Mr. Roth, what is your plan for this event?
Roth: I’ll be speaking at the program, obviously talking about the Holocaust itself and also how it relates to the position of the Jews today.

AJT: And what is your view of that position?
I see many similarities between the 1930s and 2015. Some parts of the world want to eliminate the Jewish people. It’s not so different. (Former Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad spoke a couple of years ago at the United Nations, and the audience applauded when he talked about the destruction of Israel. The world just ignored it. It’s true that some parts of the world, including the United States, walked out, which I think is very admirable.
The problem we’re facing now is that the state of Israel and the Jewish people have become the pariah of the world, and that’s a major problem because one of the things is they refer to Israel as an apartheid state, but the relation with what’s going in Israel and what went on South Africa is pure fiction. Yet it’s an accepted truth that’s been generated by people who hate Israel. That’s a major issue. It was picked up, and now it’s on everybody’s lips.
To quote a fellow by the name of Josh Earnest, who’s in the White House someplace (as press secretary), he accuses (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu of undermining the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and are an important part of what binds the U.S. and Israel together. He says in the democratic election Palestinians were being persecuted, yet their people in parliament are being increased by 30 percent. So what is he talking about? Have we lost our minds? We agree that negotiations with Palestinians are necessary. Join with the Jews and create something positive; fully join the government and let them be an opposition. Look, the reason I believe so many voted for Netanyahu is because fundamentally, even though economics is important, lifestyle is important, I think the people voted for life. And that scares them. It’s life and death.

AJT: Netanyahu said during his campaign that there would be no Palestinian state while he is in office, but now he is saying it won’t happen under present conditions.
If you listen to what Netanyahu said, the operative word he said is “today.” In 2009 Netanyahu made a speech at Bar Ilan University about creating a two-state solution. But there’s been nothing but murder and mayhem and war and rockets. They intend to do what they always intended to do, which is destroy the Jewish state. He specifically said “today.” As long as the rhetoric, particularly in Arabic, goes on, as long as we can’t do something about Hezbollah, Iran, agree on disarmament, do something about Hamas, what are we doing, committing suicide? But they, with deliberate malice aforethought, misinterpreted what he said. What do you want him to do? Lie down and die? Or move on? There’s a disconnect between facts and those things that have been generated by the media.
AJT: You support Netanyahu’s position?
What I do is support his concept of a two-state solution. I fully believe in it. And I believe in my heart of hearts that the Jewish people believe in it too. The problem is they’re scared out of their wits because somebody is trying to destroy them and develop nuclear weapons to destroy them, and I think that’s what drives it. And this is a big problem.

AJT: What is your take on the current nuclear weapons negotiations with Iran?
Roth: Let me say this. If the United States agrees to everything Iran wants, what it will do at best is postpone the Iranian nuclear program by 11 years. In the lifetime of a nation, that’s not exactly an eternity. And this is what bothers me. We’re not talking long term. Ten years in my lifetime, of course, is a lot. But in the lifetime of a nation, that’s not a hell of a lot. And they seem to ignore that.

AJT: How do you feel about the settlements?

Roth: I don’t necessarily agree with settlements as such. But (since boundaries were established) after the 1967 war less than 15 miles from Lod (Ben-Gurion) Airport, there is a hillside where you can put a gun, or two, or three. Easily. So every time you land at the airport, you can get blown up by a missile. That’s not a defensible border. So what I’m suggesting is that you put some Jewish people there and trade some other piece of land which is not dangerous. That’s what Barack (Obama) suggested. Let’s trade because there are certain places we cannot possibly afford, particularly when you’re still intending to destroy us. So that makes sense.

AJT: Tell us about your Adopt a Survivor program.
Roth: It tries to make sure that the life of the Holocaust survivor, the testimony, the experience, does not disappear. The way this is conceived is that young people in their 20s, their 30s, their teens, meet a survivor one on one, or three to one survivor, or 10, and listen to the survivor and his life — before, during and after the Holocaust. They effectively become biographers, understand the person, his experience. It dissects the Holocaust, and they are able to speak about it with a level of insight in 30 years. So it’s for the grandchildren, so that the individual testimony doesn’t disappear.
AJT: What else would you like readers to know?
Roth: I would say that I’m hoping the world community will come to its senses and understand that the Jews are not, as a German newspaper used to have it very finely printed, “the Jews have been our misfortune.” The Jews have not been a misfortune, and the Jews and the Jewish state are not a misfortune now. In fact I would say that the Jewish state, the Jewish people, are a very positive force in humanity. And I want to remind you that in September 1938 when Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini met to sign the Munich Agreement — I remember that vaguely as a child — then Chamberlain stated “peace in our time” as he returned to London. Six months later Germany marched into Czechoslovakia and dismembered it. So much for bullies. We speak of learning from history, but unfortunately I find that’s something we do not learn.

AJT: We seem to be making the same mistakes over and over again.
Yeah. This business of never again … it’s again. We can’t just say, yeah, let’s hope for the best. It’s not enough. You have to stand up and say, “Wait a minute, what is really going on?” I think the Middle East is going to become a tinderbox because I certainly don’t think Saudi Arabia is going to sit quietly and not acquire a nuclear weapon. I don’t think Turkey or Egypt are going to do that either. These are very scary times.


What: Yom HaShoah observance

Where: Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden, March JCC, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody

When: 3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 12

Cost: Free

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