of Genocide and Redemption

- by Fred Schlomka - 
Holocaust Memorial Day, 12th April 2018

Michael Schlomka
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. My father, Michael Schlomka was an early survivor, and escaped from Nazi Germany in 1934, eventually making his way to mandate Palestine.  - May his memory be a blessing - He had been tortured and abused by the German regime, contributing to his early death in the 1950s when I was just a child. 

Remembering him is painful. His life and death defined my early years.  He passed suddenly when I was three years old, resulting in my mother’s psychological breakdown and hospitalisation shortly thereafter. My father, mother and brother had fled Palestine in 1948 and settled in Edinburgh, Scotland, where my sister and I were born. 

We became wards of the state after father’s death, passing through a series of orphanages and foster parents, leading to my brother Connie’s suicide when he was just fourteen years old - May his memory be a blessing - . My mother was confined to an institution until I was fifteen, by which time we were so traumatised and estranged as a family that there was no recovering from it, at least not for me while I remained in Scotland.

Hannah and Conny Schlomka
I left the country at seventeen years old, became a wandering hippie for many years, settling first in the USA, then finally back in Israel with my dear wife Sunita, and our two wonderful children, Mikhael (Muki) and Maya. It has also been a blessing that after serious estrangement in our early years, my sister Helen and I have managed to build a close relationship over the past few decades. My mother passed away several years ago after a lengthy period of deteriorating dementia, likely caused by the primitive electric shock treatments she received at the institution.  - May her memory be a blessing - We returned mother to Israel where she now rests in a beautiful spot in the Judean hills.

Such is the legacy of the Nazi Holocaust, which ravaged the Jews and non-Jews of Europe in a manner the world had never seen, and hopefully never will again. Have we learned much from their evil legacy? On the whole, I think not, given the various genocides perpetrated since the 1940s, and the ongoing dehumanisation of the Palestinian population under Israel’s control. 

My mother’s family were indigenous to Palestine for generations before the advent of Zionism. Like many devout Jews an ancestor of mine settled there for religious reasons under the Ottoman Empire and became part of the mosaic of ethnic and religious groups, some of whom date back many centuries, even millennia. I now have over a thousand living relatives in Israel, who are part of the revival and renaissance of Jewish life, reborn in the shadow of the holocaust.

Yet the trauma has not left us, and will not for another few generations, until the survivors, and their children, myself included, are long gone. Many second and third generation Israelis sadly continue to instil xenophobic notions of humanity into their children, resulting the type of narrow religious nationalism that is prevalent in Israel today, and growing stronger.

Michael Schlomka was a socialist and an activist in the political opposition against the Nazis in Germany, which was why he was among the first to be taken. Shortly after the Nazis were elected to power in the early 1930s, they consolidated their power by eliminating all opposition, torturing and imprisoning the leadership, my father among them. Eventually in 1934 he escaped Germany with his wife.

Father was probably shocked after his arrival in Palestine, at the excesses of the terrorist pre-state Jewish militias, and by the attitudes of many immigrant Zionists towards the non-Jewish population. His imagined Zionist-socialist utopia melted in front of him, even as it was emerging into a state, strident and authoritarian from the beginning. 

I can only imagine what he might have thought of today’s scenario in Israel/Palestine - the colonisation of the West Bank - the encapsulation and blockade of Gaza - the dehumanisation of human life - the wanton killing of Arabs - the degeneration of Zionism into a twisted effigy of the founders’ dreams.

What have we become? Have we learned nothing from the Holocaust? Does ‘Never Again’ really mean that in order to be strong we have to degrade most of the non-Jews in the so-called Holy Land? The soul of Jewish life in Israel is slipping away and being replaced by an ugly and deformed parody of the Zionist Dream. 

Worst of all, the nation can’t see it. The Jewish people in Israel are so bedazzled by their ‘Start-up Nation’ status and Neo-riche lifestyles, that they have come to accept the daily atrocities as somehow a normal and necessary part of our development as a state - Much like the European immigrants to the colonial regimes of the Americas accepted the genocide of the native population. 

I cried last night after watching ‘Shindlers List’. Not for the 6 million who perished. Their tragedy is over. Enough tears have been shed in their memory. My tears were for us, the descendants of the survivors, who have normalised the barbaric attitudes and behaviours that continue to define the state of Israel. 

Rays of sunshine - Maya and Muki
together with parents Fred and Sunita
Despite the country's descent into a fortress state of religious nationalists, many of third generation have emerged as rays of sunshine. Some of us have beaten the odds, and raised healthy vibrant children who have humane values and are pursuing productive lives. These sons and daughters are the hope of the future, and our ultimate redemption as Jews and human beings.

They will eventually show the world that the legacy of the six million lives that were cruelly taken, will become light amid the darkness, and hope amid despair.

I am counting on them to let my father’s memory and countless others, shine like beacons of possibility, and create a future where all of us, Jew and non-Jew alike, can live together in dignity, equality, and peace

Make no mistake, my fellow Israelis and fellow Jews, Zionists and non-Zionists alike. We are all responsible. Turn your backs if you like. Put your head in the sand. Justify all you want. But when the tally is taken at the end of the road, we will all be found wanting, and you may be asked by your children or grandchildren,  - “What did you do?”. How will you answer?

Dedicated to the memory of the six million. May they rest in peace.
Fred Schlomka is the CEO of Green Olive Tours and currently spends about half the year in Israel/Palestine, and a few months each year in Scotland and the USA, where his grandson Logan came into this world in 2016. 


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