Oskar Schindler, a famous Righteous Among the Nations, is buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, just outside the Old City walls, in a Catholic Franciscan cemetery.
About half a year ago I did something that I had never done before but had always wanted to do. I visited the grave of Oskar Schindler in Jerusalem. Schindler is buried on Mount Zion just outside the Old City walls in a Catholic Franciscan cemetery. When I stood at his graveside I made a silent promise to try to bring as many people as I could to visit.
As part of the fulfillment of that promise, I brought a group of about 20 Christian tourists to the grave. It was Schindler’s wish to be buried in Jerusalem, as he once remarked, “My children are here.”
Schindler saved about 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. Today, the descendants of the Jews whom Schindler saved number well over 7,000, many of them living in Israel. Schindler’s children are alive and well.
While standing at the graveside I read the words inscribed on his tombstone to the group: “Righteous Among the Nations,” an honorific title given by the State of Israel to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Below it reads in German: “The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1,200 Persecuted Jews.” The moment was extremely moving for me as a Jew speaking to a group of Christians.
After telling the story of Oskar Schindler to the group, I ended with a question that I believe is unanswerable. If you were alive back then, would you have been considered among the “Righteous of the Nations?” Sure, everyone would like to immediately say yes, but it is not that simple. Remember, if you helped Jews back then, you were risking your life and the lives of your family. Would you be willing to put your own children at risk to save a Jew? Not so simple. On an individual level it is very difficult to answer this question.
When prominent American media personality Glenn Beck was in Israel, he met with the person at Yad Vashem, Israel’s National Holocaust Memorial and Museum, who is in charge of compiling the list of names of the Righteous Among the Nations. Beck asked what they all had in common. What is the common thread linking all of those who were willing to risk their lives? Beck said that he was shocked by the answer. He expected it to have something to do with deep religious faith, but that was not the answer at all. The Yad Vashem representative told Glenn that the common denominator was that they had all known a Jew. It was as simple as that. When you know someone personally, when you have a relationship, it is a totally different ball game.
With Israel being vilified and attacked daily by the media and the Arab world, it is critical that Israel is not merely seen as some country in the Middle East. We are real people with real lives. We are individuals who take our children to school, shop at the grocery store and like to take a vacation once in awhile. We like to play with our children, go to the mall and eat ice cream. We want you to know us personally and see that we have so much in common. We love freedom, democracy and opportunity for all. We want you to visit our homeland. There is nothing that can compare with a face-to-face encounter.
This week, Wednesday night marks the beginning of Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Memorial Day. Let us be mindful that remembrance on its own isn’t enough. Remembering yesterday is only meaningful when it impacts our lives today. And today, the Jewish State faces another Hitler, another existential threat. What will you do?
By Rabbi Moshe Rothchild, Licensed Tour Guide