When I think of the words shared by Mr. Konstantyn, I think of how much this resonates with us today. Unfortunately we are exposed to words of hate on a daily basis: in the news, on our television screens, on the LIRR and in this Presidential campaign. What do we do to stand up to those who preach messages of hate, to refute their words? How do we counter their messages without giving them more attention and thereby credence?
One of the most compelling speeches that I have heard on this topic was from Israeli politician Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party (meaning “There is a Future”), who said the following message just under 2 years ago from Platform 17 in Berlin at Grunewald railway station, from which tens of thousands of Jews were taken to their deaths:
The Holocaust causes us all to ask of ourselves the same question: What would I have done?
What would I have done if I was a Jew in Berlin in 1933, when Hitler rose to power? Would I have run? Would I have sold my house, my business? Removed my children from school in the middle of the year? Or would I have said to myself: it will pass, it is just momentary madness, Hitler says all these things because he is a politician seeking election. Yes, he’s anti-Semitic, but who isn’t? We’ve been through worse than this. It’s better to wait, to keep my head down. it will pass.”
What would I do if I was a German in Berlin on the 18th October 1941, when the first train left this platform, heading East and on it 1,013 Jews – children, women, the elderly – all destined for death.
I don’t ask what I would have done if I was a Nazi, but what would I have done if I was an honest German man, waiting for his train here? A German citizen the same age I am now, with three children like mine. A man who educated his children on the values of basic human decency and the right to life and respect? Would I have remained silent? Would I have protested? Would I have been one of the few Berliners to join the anti-Nazi underground? or one of the many Berliners who carried on with life and pretended that nothing was happening?
And what if I was one of the 1,013 Jews on that train? Would I have boarded the train? Would I have smuggled my 18 year old daughter to the northern forests? would I have told my two sons to fight until the end? Would I have dropped my suitcase and started to run? Or would I have attacked the guards in the black uniforms and died an honorable, quick death instead of dying slowly of hunger and torture?
The question that must be asked today is what we can do today to combat the messages of violence, hatred and discrimination against an entire group of people. When we have a presidential candidate who wants to deport 11 million people, who has spoken of his intent to deny members of an entire religion the right to come to the United States, do we respond to this or do we ignore it? Do we try to dialogue with those who are different with us, to understand their points of view even though we may disagree, or do we marginalize them through classifying them as “the other?” I’ll always remember the words of Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate but indifference.” The words of FDR’s First Inaugural Address also come to mind, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
Almighty G-d, may our presence here on this Yom HaShoah give honor to the lives of those who came before us. May we never forget the impact that they have made through courageously living each day. May G-d also safeguard us by sustaining and sanctifying lives everywhere. May Jews live safely in America and in the land of Israel, in Paris and in Buenos Aires, in Japan and in Iran. May we continue to persevere and fortify ourselves in spite of abominable anti-Semitic events being proud of our identities. May we also never forget the impact that one person can make in the world and may it teach us to speak and act in the face of injustice. Let us learn from the survivors and their families to be courageous and strong, living each day with meaning and purpose. Amen.