January 14, 2007

Nobody There

My grandfather, of blessed memory, was a much loved rabbi in Pressburg (Bratislava) before he was taken to be killed in Auschwitz. After my father was liberated from the concentration camp after the war, he returned to find little left of the old home. But in the backyard he found the charred remains of weekly speeches my grandfather gave to his congregants on the weekly Torah reading.

These manuscripts are the only remnant of my grandfather’s life, and I like to read them on a Friday night at the Shabbat table.

This week’s Torah portion tells of the birth of Moses and how, as a young prince in Egypt, he saw an Egyptian beating a Jewish slave. The verse says: Moses “looked this way and that, and saw that there was no-one there” before killing the Egyptian and burying his body in the sand. The assumption was that Moses was just checking that there were no witnesses. Other commentators say that Moses was looking forward through the generations to check that the Egyptian he meant to kill would have no descendants of any importance to the world.

But you have to be a Holocaust Jew to come up with the commentary that my grandfather came up with for that week’s sermon.

He said simply that Moses “looked this way and that”, but could find no-one paying attention as the Jew was being beaten.

Just as is has been throughout the generations. When Jews are being beaten and oppressed, no-one pays any attention. Whether it is by the hand of Romans, Greeks, Crusaders or Cossacks. Whether in the fires of the Spanish Inquisition or the ovens of Nazi Germany it is always the same. You can look this way and that, but there is never anyone there. No-one to speak up for the Jews. No-one to defend us but ourselves.

And it’s every bit as true today as it was in those last precious weeks of my grandfather’s life as a free man and a leader of a once thriving community.

A community which was reduced to ashes.

Because, no matter which way they turned.

There was no-one.

And there never will be.

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