By Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman
My parents, along with millions of other Jews who lived in various countries of pre-World War II Europe, suffered at the merciless hands of the Nazi regime. Six million were worked to death, beaten, tortured, shot, and gassed. Jews, in concentration camps, who survived, suffered years of brutality, indignation, and the pain of knowing that their loved ones were murdered.
The Nazis, who were known for their demented efficiency, took careful count of the Jewish population in both the cities and rural areas, rounded up the Jews, and subjected them to endless waiting on line to be processed and, oftentimes, put to death.
Jews such as my mother ,who were forced to work in Auschwitz, were forced to stand outside their barracks for hours on end, enduring Poland’s winter just to “be counted.” Jews were forced to line up for work detail all while being watched and regularly beaten by Nazis with whips. Waiting on line to “be processed” was part of the Nazi program to oppress and subjugate the Jews.
Over one million Jews were murdered by Hitler’s mobile killing squad, the Einsatzgruppen, in the forests of Ponary, outside the city of Vilna. Ponary is the morbid site of the mass grave of over 60,000 Jews who were murdered by a bullet to the head, frequently delivered by a citizen of their own country. Jews in places like Babi Yar were lined up and forced to wait on line for what turned out to be “their turn” to be shot and cast into a mass grave.
Waiting on line conjures up the horrific memories of the Shoah. It was with those thoughts in mind that I joined hundreds of other Jews at a recent dinner reception for President Donald Trump. Hundreds of Jews, predominantly Orthodox, were instructed to arrive two hours before the event so that we could line up for a routine security check.
As I waited on line for the dinner reception, I could not help but think of my family members who were forced by their local police in various parts of Europe to forcibly enter cattle cars, disembark, and be marched to their death in Auschwitz and other concentration camps.
Fast-forward 80 years later, and I was seated next to Sheya Landa and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Landa, children of Holocaust survivors who are well-known for their philanthropy. Mr. Landa graciously invited me and Rabbi Steven Weil, who also comes from a family of survivors, to the event that enabled us to pay tribute to the president of the free world.
America is truly a great country, and it helps us appreciate the present when we are reminded of the past.