• Rabbi Idan Scher

The Story Amazon Should Have Told - A Reflection on Holocaust Remembrance Day

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding one of Amazon’s newer TV shows, Hunters.


For those who haven’t seen it, the plot is as follows: a motley group of people led by a Holocaust survivor track down Nazis in the 1970’s to exact a brutal vigilante justice upon them.


It portrays a blood lust, a need for a specific type of revenge that includes very graphic forms of murder. The “Hunters” feel that violence is justified because the atrocities brought upon the Jews demanded the death of these evil people.


There is a point that bothers me deeply about the show. A more incredible story could have been told and it would have been a true story. If our precious survivors harbored hate and the need for violent revenge it would have been completely understandable after the sickest and most devastating crimes had been perpetrated against them. But by and large this was not the response of the survivors of the Holocaust and one of the greatest lessons of the holocaust rests in this little grain of truth: a lesson of strength and a lesson of an indomitable spirit.


On the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald (one of the first and largest Nazi concentration camps within Germany’s borders) the US News and World Report interviewed a handful of people present at the camp at that moment in time. Each interviewee was asked to share the memory that has most stayed with them. One image that stood out for many was entering the gates of Buchenwald and finding stacks upon stacks of corpses, as the crematoria couldn’t keep up with the mass killings, especially towards the end.


But one soldier shared a very different memory. It was the memory of “Zalman,” a Jewish survivor.


As soon as the camps were liberated every Nazi guard and officer tried as best as possible to melt back into society and evade being brought to justice. Sometimes the US soldiers would ask for the help of the survivors in trying to spot and arrest these murderous criminals.


The American soldier tells of he and his fellow soldiers hearing a commotion and finding a German man surrounded by a group of Jewish survivors.


One of the soldiers walked over to one of the survivors, Zalman, who explained that the man in the middle had been their prison guard at Buchenwald. This guard was brutal as the next, shooting, killing, torture – “all in a day’s work.”


The American soldiers had no pity for the Nazis after what they were forced to see in Buchenwald. So one of them handed Zalman his gun and said, “This is your chance.”


The Nazi’s eyes widened in fear, exactly as they do every time one of them is about to be killed in Hunters. Zalman took a step back, cocked the gun and pointed it right at this monster with so much blood on his hands. He then put the gun down and handed it back to the soldier.


Zalman said, “Do not think I am afraid to pull the trigger. This has nothing to do with fear. But as I spent the past five years being treated worse than an animal, I would constantly tell myself that no matter how they treat me, I am not an animal. I am a human being. I have come so far with that thought reverberating in my mind, I will not lower myself now that I am finally free.”


This is the story of our precious survivors.


Many don’t realize, but after the very brief feeling of relief, perhaps happiness, that liberation provided, every single survivor was thrust into a world of unimaginable pain.


With liberation came the knowledge of the immensity of the loss. It was only then that the shreds of hope of reuniting with family were dashed as 76% of Jewish survivors found that their entire immediate family perished in the Holocaust.


No survivor was able to escape the excruciatingly painful existential crisis of liberation.


Where were they to go from here?


They couldn’t go back home. If they tried they inevitably would end up in a Displaced Person’s Camp. Homes, jobs, possessions, and money were taken by their neighbours who by and large wanted to keep their newfound riches for themselves. In Poland, more than 1,000 Jews were killed during the first year after liberation not by Nazis but by the local populations.


It is for this reason (and others) that when over 9,000 survivors were interviewed in 1946, only one expressed a desire to return to their pre-war home.


The doors of the United States, Canada and the rest of the Western World remained closed to the refugees of the Holocaust for quite some time.


The only option was Palestine (soon to be the State of Israel). Despite there being tacit allowance for a brief period of time, it was predominantly an illegal and treacherous journey to reach the shores of British Mandate Palestine. Those borders were completely closed off in 1947. Many Jews survived the Holocaust only to die before reaching (or upon reaching) the borders of the Holy Land.


The Jews who survived the Holocaust went from being prisoners in a hell on earth behind barbed-wire fences to becoming prisoners of circumstance with nowhere to turn. They had no prospects, no light at the end of the tunnel, and nowhere to go. They had freedom in almost no sense of the word.


Yet, they somehow did not give up.


How did they do this? How did they not just give in to the hate and anger they must have felt? How did they not spend their last energy taking violent revenge on the Nazis and all of the their co-conspirators and collaborators. How did they find the strength to say I will not lower myself to their level?


How could William Harvey, a survivor of Auschwitz have found the strength to make it to America at the ago of 22 with one pair of shoes and shirt and slacks and feel any sense of determination “to make a success out of my life.” How did he and so many others discover that “the best revenge in life is success”?


How could he have said “You can't hate your enemies, as I said, because when you hate you're not living”?


How did survivors of the Holocaust find the strength to build families and communities? How did they find the strength to maintain their dignity and belief in humanity? Most shocking of all, how did they find the strength to not hate?


In this one grain of truth, in the lives of so many survivors, we are privy to what human greatness can look like. We can witness, the true potential, the massive - generally untapped - strength that is inside every one of us. This is the story I wish Amazon had told because this is the story we all need to hear.

Credit: Thank you Yad Vashem for the important statistics

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