Remembering Some Unexpected Heroes of the Holocaust!

Every year around this time, Israel commemorates Yom Ha Shoah, or "The Day of the Catastrophe". It was first commemorated in 1951, and a law was later passed by the Knesset in 1959 to make it an official holiday. It was known as the Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day Law. The official day is the 27th of Nisan, which falls a week after Passover and eight days before Yom Ha'azmaut (Israel's Independence Day).  In Israel, at 10:00 AM, a siren sounds and almost everybody stops what they are doing, including motorists on highways getting out of their vehicles, to observe two minutes of silent reflection for the victims and heroes of the Holocaust. It is one of the most solemn moments on the Jewish calendar, observed by religious and secular Jews alike.

As the Law passed by the Knesset is called Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day Law, each year, we remember the six-million innocent victims of Hitler and his Nazi regime, helped by co-perpetrators across Europe. Remembering the victims is critical if we want to keep history intact and learn from it. Incidentally, if we were to keep a brief moment of silence for the six-million victims, it would require us to be completely silent for 11.5 years non-stop. But what about the heroes of the Shoah? What about the people who risked their lives to help Jewish people? Better yet, what about all the unknown heroes of the Shoah, without whom the world would have lost much more than six million Jews? Without forgetting the six million–one of them being my maternal grandfather, Maurice Weinzveig who perished at Auschwitz–we need to pay tribute to some incredible unsung heroes of the Shoah. Let's also keep in mind that those who hid Anne Frank were breaking the law and those who killed her were following it!

We have all heard about Oskar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg and Corrie Ten Boom. They are some of the most known heroes of the Holocaust, and rightfully so, but this year let me introduce you to a few other heroes that have been in the shadow of history for too long.

Ho-Feng-Shan (1901-1997): Ho-Feng-Shan was born in China at the turn of the 20th century. He started out as a writer and diplomat for the Republic of China before he was appointed Consul-General of China in Vienna, Austria in 1937. Not long after his move to Vienna and against his government and the German authorities, Ho-Feng-Shan started to issue visas, especially after Kristallnacht in November 1938. He had issued 2,000 visas to Jews in the first six months of his tenure as Consul-General, which leads many historians to believe that by the time he was called back to China in 1940, he had issued many thousands of transit visas to Shanghai. No visas were required to enter Shanghai, but the papers helped Jews cross the border towards Italy and Switzerland with Chinese visas. Later, when asked why he did it, he answered, "It was just natural to feel compassion for those persecuted and help them. It was what had to be done” In 2001, he received the Yad Vashem Medal of Righteous Among the Nations posthumously.

Dr. Hans-Georg Calmeyer (1901-1972): Born in Osnabrück, Germany, Calmeyer was stationed in the Netherlands during WWII. He was put in charge of the Interior Administration which also handled "Jewish Affairs". While Jews in Germany had no recourse to try proving they were not Jewish, in the Netherlands, they could provide papers to document their ancestry and find loopholes in the system to escape certain death. Calmeyer saw an opportunity to disobey his superiors and started to accept false papers from Jewish people. He was credited for having saved at least 4,000 Jews, even though he received some serious complaints from the Nazi party. After the war, he rarely spoke of his actions. In 1992, he received the Yad Vashem Medal of Righteous Among the Nations posthumously.

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski (1922-2015): He was a Polish politician and social activist. He participated in the defense of Warsaw against the Nazi forces and as a result, was sent to Auschwitz. After Auschwitz, he met Catholic Priest Jan Zieja, with whom he had this dialogue:
– How could all this be God’s will?
– Don’t think about why God allows evil. Think about why God saved you. It was for a reason, wasn’t it? It was for a purpose. Bear witness to the truth. You saw how people are suffering. Help them!– Help who?
– Help those who need it.
– But who needs it?
– Those who are suffering the most.
– But I’m a student, Father. I have no resources with which I can do anything great.
– So do something small, but don’t turn your face away. People in the ghetto are suffering. Help them.
He joined the Polish Underground in 1941 after his release and became a leader of Zegota (The Council for the Aid of Jews). Zegota was responsible for saving several thousand Jews and, according to one estimate, 40,000 to 50,000 Jews benefited in some way from its activities. He also fought during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In 1965, he received the Yad Vashem Medal of Righteous Among the Nations.

Eduardo Propper De Callejon (1895-1972): He was the Secretary of the Spanish Embassy in Paris during the Holocaust years. In July of 1940 alone, he issued 30,000 visas to Jews of France and Spain to allow them to get into Portugal. After a while, he was exposed and transferred to Rabat, Morocco. He is credited for having facilitated the escape of more than 30,000 Jews. He never received any recognition in his lifetime. In 2007, he received the Yad Vashem Medal of Righteous Among the Nations posthumously.

Vesel and Fatima Veseli (1895-1972): Vesel and Fatima Veseli were a Muslim couple who lived in a small village in Albania during WW2. Albania was predominantly Muslim and was one of the first countries invaded by Italy which was Germany's ally at the time. The Veselis took in the Mandil family who were Jews in dire need of protection. The whole village was friendly to Jewish people during the occupation. In the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an, it says, "Whoever saves one life, saves all of mankind" (Al-Ma'idah 5:32), which is very similar to the Talmudic quote saying, "Anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world." (Sanhedrin 4:5). The Veselis went out of their way to hide, protect and feed the Mandils, going as far as dressing them like Muslims to move them around more freely. In 1987, they received the Yad Vashem Medal of Righteous Among the Nations posthumously.

These unknown people from around the world are a few unsung heroes of the Holocaust. Without their unconditional and compassionate involvement, many more Jews would have become the innocent casualties of the evil of Hitler and his regime. They had much in common, as they became heroes of this great human catastrophe. They acted as good Samaritans (Luke 10:29-37). They were breaking the Law. They knew the risk they were taking (Esther 4:15-16). They were creative with what was at their disposal (Joshua 2:4-7). They never worried about how many or how few people they helped. Yet today, many believers are in a place where we are soon going to have to decide how we can help Jewish people in dire need of protection and provision again. Surely, many believers will display the same qualities that these earlier heroes had, but as disciples of Yeshua, we have much more:

• To bless those who bless the Jews (Gen. 12:3)
• To curse those who curse the Jews (Gen.12:3)
• To never forsake Israel (Jeremiah 31:35-27)
• To go after the enemies of Israel (Zech. 12:9)
• To watch over Israel 24/7 (Psalm 121:4)
• To never change (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6)
• To have Yeshua return BECAUSE of the Jews calling on Him (Zechariah 12:10)

• The Gospel is the power of God (Romans 1:16)
• The Word of the cross is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18)
• The whole universe is His (1 Chronicles 29:11)
• His greatness is unsearchable (Psalm 145:3)
• Nothing is too hard for Him (Jeremiah 32:27)

We are valuable to God (Luke 12:24)
• God will meet all our NEEDS (Philippians 4:19)
• God provides for those who seek Him (Psalm 34:10)
• There are no limits to God’s provision (Luke 9:1—17)

Heroes are rarely if ever, self-proclaimed. They are usually recognized after the fact, but sometimes they remain in the shadows of history. As we commemorate Yom HaShoah, let us never forget the six million, but let us also recognize and express our gratitude to the many who selflessly reached out to Jewish people in dire need. They are some of the people God used to continue to keep His promise that He will never forsake Israel. May their memory be a blessing and may they become models for what's to come!

Holocaust Remembrance Day in the midst of COVID-19!

We continue to shelter-in-place and practice social distancing as well as cover our faces with masks and hands with gloves. This might go on for a few more weeks and frankly, even as we re-open the country, a gradual re-entry into the economy will undoubtedly continue to incorporate the items that are quickly becoming our "new normal" for the foreseeable future. Additionally, more and more people are starting to hear of the death of someone they know. When this is all said and done, we will have a sobering reminder of how fragile humanity really is. Eventually, people around the world will have memorials to the victims of COVID-19, because remembering the positive AND the negative is part of our human fabric and is necessary for our survival as a global village.

On the subject of remembering, Israel and the global Jewish community are gearing up to remember the Holocaust during the 2020 Yom Ha Shoah (The Day of the Catastrophe) Commemoration. At 10:00 am in Israel on April 21, sirens will sound all over the land for 2 minutes, as all people will literally come to a halt wherever they are, including cars on roads. Some will say that the last thing we need to worry about is another Holocaust Memorial, especially when the whole world has its eyes fixed on COVID-19, the rising death counts and the race for a vaccine. It seems like just about all the news we get nowadays revolves around some aspect of the pandemic and its effect on the economy, so who cares about another event to remember one of the biggest human tragedy of all times? Well, we all should and here are some reasons:

 We Need to Shift Our Focus: It might do us some good to shift our focus onto something else even for a day. How many press conferences, News reports and hunts for toilet paper and hand sanitizers can we go through before we go insane? There is something very healthy about shifting our focus onto another person, group or event for a while so that our attention is no longer on our own situation. We can easily find a person or a cause worthy of our attention. The alternative is to negatively dwell on our own lives and as a result, ignore the rest of the world around us. Sure,  businesses, restaurants and many other places have closed for now, but there are many things that we can do to encourage, help and sustain others. Remembering the victims of the Holocaust will help shift our focus, even if for a day!

• Life goes on during a pandemic: Even though for the first time in the history of mankind the world literally came to a screeching halt, the earth still orbits the sun and we still have 24 hours in a day, divided between night and day. True, we are being introduced to a new normal that will most likely dictate our every moves for the next several months or possibly years. But this is no reason to forget or ignore important dates to be commemorated. It might be expressed differently amidst a pandemic, but we should not ignore the remembrance of the 6,000,000 for any reason whatsoever!

• The Fight against antisemitism is still needed:
Not only is it still needed, but it is needed more than ever. Our fight cannot be put on hold because people are forced to shelter in place for a while. As a matter of fact, one of the most lethal weapons against the Jewish people and Israel is the intricate web of social networks. Social networks have become the number one method of propagation for the longest hatred, and it can all continue as people are stuck in their homes. People get indoctrinated online as they buy conspiracy theories against the Jews, hook, line and sinker. Eventually, the propaganda turns people into propagators of antisemitic acts either against property or people. This is all happening right now in front of our very eyes.
A pastor–and in his case, we should use the term very loosely– recently told the Jewish community that they were being infected by COVID-19 because they rejected Jesus. Iran is accusing Israel of being behind the virus. White Supremacists are also connecting the virus to the Jews. Now is not the time to pause on either our fight against antisemitism or our recognition of its victims over history. Let us not give Holocaust deniers and historical revisionist one shred of an opportunity to push their evil agendas any further!
"We are all in this together" is as valid for the fight against the virus as it should be for the fight against antisemitism–another deadly virus!

Join me on Monday, April 20th at 6:00 pm when I will conduct a Virtual Service for Holocaust Remembrance Day live from my house. I promise you it will be uplifting. Register here

Who Cares About the Holocaust Anymore?

Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom HaShoah (meaning "Day of the Catastrophe") has taken place every year on the 27th of Nisan since its inception in 1951. At 10:00 AM local time in Israel, everything comes to a stop as a siren is heard all over the country. Motorists literally stop in the middle of the road and observe two minutes of silence. It is both eerie and poignant!

This year more than ever we need to remember what took place in Nazi Germany almost 80 years ago:

• At a time when Israel is falsely accused of ethnic cleansing in their very own land, we must remember the days when Jews were almost eradicated from the face of the earth.

• At a time when it is becoming more and more dangerous to be Jewish anywhere in the world (except Israel), we must remember those who died simply because they were Jewish.

• At a time when worshipping in a synagogue could end in a lethal terror attack, we must remember the victims of Pittsburgh and San Diego and all other houses of worship around the globe.

• At a time when the world is pushing for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, we must remember that it already took place during the November 1938 Kristallnacht and that there is nothing new under the sun.

• At a time when the US Congress has been infiltrated with a new generation of anti-Semitic representatives, we must remember when Jewish people didn't have a voice in government.

• At a time when a mainstream US newspaper publishes yet another virulently anti-Semitic cartoon, we must remember 2,000 years of anti-Jewish caricatures leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

• At a time when two-thirds of millennials do not know what Auschwitz is, we must remember the motto "NEVER AGAIN."

• At a time when anti-Semitism is becoming the new normal around the world, we must remember that according to Edmund Burke, "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing."

And finally, at a time when much of the world would rather not talk about the Holocaust, undermine its tragic outcome or worse, pretend it never happened, we must remember it, lest it happens again. Nobody cares about something they forgot, don't know about or believe never took place. Historical revisionism is akin to time travel to the past hoping to erase a part of history that is uncomfortable or hard to deal with. But we cannot erase the past and we must learn from it, as painful as it is. There is an increasing numbness to the rise of the new anti-Semitism that should send chills down the spine of all people of good will. It is like some sort of "anti-Jewish fatigue."

This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day coincides with the National Day of prayer on May 2, 2019. Wherever we are located, either at 6:00 AM or 6:00 PM local time, it might be a good idea for us to pause in our busy day and pray for the remaining family members of the six-million and to the memory of those same victims. Keep in mind that if we were to have one minute of silence for all the victims of the Holocaust, it would require us to be silent for over eleven years straight!

We can all spend two minutes to remember the Holocaust, but we should all spend the rest of the year to fight those who try to undermine it, ridicule it or erase it from history! The future of many Jewish people could depend on our involvement!

Holocaust Remembrance Day: More Relevant than Ever!

Yom HaShoah was voted by the Israeli Knesset as an official national memorial day in Israel in 1953. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion established that day as a yearly memorial for the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Every year since that day, Jewish people remember the Shoah or “Catastrophe” as they perpetuate the memory of the loved ones they lost in the Holocaust. In Israel, on that day, two minutes of silent reflection is observed at 10:00 AM as a siren is heard all over the country. It isn’t unusual to even see motorists stop in the middle of the road and get out of their cars to observe that solemn moment. This year, it takes place on the 27th of Nisan which happens to start at sundown on April 11.

The importance of perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust cannot be underestimated. It is not about dwelling on the past for the sake of dwelling on the darkest days of Jewish history, but rather for the sake of never allowing future generations to forget these events and possibly preventing another “Catastrophe” in the future.

Historically speaking, the Shoah is a unique genocide for at least one reason. It is the only attempt at annihilating a people group–The Jews–by even going outside of the area where they resided to gather them and bring them back to a certain death in the myriad of Death Camps. It was an orchestrated, organized attempt at the total destruction of European Jewry. With all other genocides, as brutal as they might have been, there was always a way for potential victims to escape and/or immigrate. This was rarely the case for the Jews during the Holocaust years. My maternal father Maurice Weinzveig was one of the six million. He died in Auschwitz on July 24, 1942. Here are four reasons why Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), is more relevant than ever:

• Holocaust denial continues to grow
How could we possibly go from NEVER AGAIN to NEVER HAPPENED in 75 years? Holocaust denial is gaining a lot of momentum globally. Holocaust denial officially got organized by Willis Carto (Liberty Lobby) in 1978 with the founding of the Institute for Historical Review (IHR). Even Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wrote his dissertation in which he doubted the existence of the gas chambers and the high number of Jewish victims. Even though in 2014, he backpedaled to admit that the Holocaust was a heinous crime, his statements made in English and Arabic vary greatly. Some claim that the Holocaust never happened, some claim that it was greatly exaggerated, some claim that it was used as Jewish propaganda and some think that we talk too much about it. The frightening truth is that according to a recent survey by the ADL, 1/3 of the world population believes that the Holocaust was a myth... One third!

• Holocaust survivors are dwindling down to a very small number
As the years go by, Holocaust survivors are getting older and many of them are rapidly passing away. If a baby was born in the camps in 1945 and survived the horrors of the Holocaust, they would be 73 years old today. In reality, the vast majority of Holocaust survivors are in their mid-eighties at best, and even older. Within the next 20 years, the surviving witnesses of the Holocaust will have ALL DISAPPEARED, facilitating the propagating of lies by historical revisionists. Thanks to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the Spielberg Shoah Foundation, names, stories, artifacts and testimonies are added every day.

• The Holocaust might have been worse than we even thought
It was about 18 years ago when a team of their researchers started to gather data from about 400 different sources about the Holocaust, Camps and Ghettos of the 30s and 40s. Based on their preliminary studies and available records, they had estimated the number of ghettos, labor camps, concentration camps and extermination camps at about 7,000. In 2013, They published their findings and realized that the numbers were not 7,000 but over 42,500. It is hard to fathom that the horrors of the Holocaust could have been a lot worse if not in intensity, most definitely in numbers. This renders the excuse of those who claimed that "they didn't know it was happening", completely unrealistic. Considering these findings about the 42,500 camps and ghettos, not only more people had to be well aware of the events but possibly more bystanders might have been more than just watching. A bystander who does nothing only facilitate the work of a perpetrator. Bystanders became co-perpetrators by default!

• End-Times Antisemitism is on the rise
By downplaying the Holocaust, we run the risk of minimizing recent acts of antisemitism. The last decade has seen an exponential increase in acts of antisemitism all over the world. These acts are getting more frequent, more spread out and much more the point of death.  Until recently, antisemitism–as evil as it is– seldom claimed the lives of Jewish people. Since the Spring of 2012 and the "Toulouse Massacres", Jews are now fearing for their lives and for good reasons, they are leaving Europe. The recent death of French Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll is a tragic example of the growth of End-Times antisemitism. She was an 85-year old Holocaust survivor who lived alone in her Paris apartment. She was stabbed 11 times and then burned inside her home. The poor woman who barely survived the flames of the Auschwitz factory of death, ended-up losing her life in flames, as if in a personal Holocaust.

As we remember the victims, the survivors and their families, I would like to encourage you to visit the site Shadows of Shoah that presents the truth about the Holocaust. It is neither dramatized nor romanticized. The stories come from first-person interviews with survivors of the Shoah across the world. Considering the fact that fewer and fewer survivors are still alive today, there is a sense of urgency in this kind of work. As first-hand witnesses continue to disappear, the “Catastrophe” runs a greater risk of falling into oblivion.The simplicity of the presentation brings out the profound reality of the Shoah. Each survivor has his/her own ordeal to recall and relive in front of the camera and they do it with difficulty but with dignity. It gives the audience a sense of hope based on mankind’s resilience. Some of these people who came out of the Shoah as survivors are still with us, telling their story and letting us know that after they survived the horrors of the camps, they chose to live and to share. Shadows of Shoah brings truth, light and hope into a world that too often lacks all three.

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.  For not only are we responsible for the memories of the dead,  we are also responsible for what we are doing with those memories”  Elie Wiesel