Yom HaShoah 5771
Shabbat Shalom. In this year’s Academy Award-winning best picture, The King’s Speech, the story of the stutter king, George VI, and his unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue, there is a pivotal scene late in the film. Logue deliberately provokes the King to anger, leading the king to overcome his insecurity. In anger, the king shouts: “I have a voice!”
Deeply satisfied at the reaction he has stirred, Logue responds: “Yes, you do.”
If we were to characterize the last half-century of Jewish history, we could say that that this was the time that we told the world that we too have a voice.
This month marked the 50th anniversary of a watershed event in modern Jewish history: April 11, 1961, the Adolph Eichmann trial began.
Gideon Hausner, Israel’s Attorney General at that time, whose legal experience was commercial, and who had no courtroom experience, took upon himself the role of prosecutor. His opening statement set the tone for what was to follow: “As I stand here before you, Shoftei Yisrael, Judges of Israel, to lead the prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I do not stand alone. With me …stand six million accusers. But they cannot rise to their feet and point an accusing finger …For their ashes were piled up in the hills of Auschwitz and in the fields of Treblinka, or washed away by the rivers of Poland; their graves are scattered over the length and breadth of Europe. Their blood cries out, but their voices are not heard. Therefore it falls to me to be their spokesman and to unfold in their name the awesome indictment.”
Hausner, with some justification, was criticized throughout the trial by legal experts, and by the judges themselves, for stepping beyond the facts of the case, and introducing into evidence testimony that had nothing to do with Eichmann’s specific role in the Holocaust. But Hausner, and all who were involved in determining the shape of the trial, understood that they had a greater responsibility… that of giving, for the very first time, a voice to the survivors. Hausner understood that it was not the specific case against Eichmann alone, but rather, the larger story of horrors experienced by European Jewry that would transfix the Jewish people, and an even-greater world-wide non- Jewish audience as well. It was the Eichmann trial 50 years ago that told survivors of the Shoah: “You have a voice. The world must hear. You must speak out and tell your stories. You can no longer be silenced.”
It was at the Eichmann trial that more than a hundred survivors of the Shoah stood up and proclaimed to a stunned audience, both Jewish and gentile, that “we have a voice.” It was a voice that before had been largely stilled, but which now shook much of western civilization to its core. Victims were no longer faceless, many now had names attached to them, and horrors that many had wanted to deny or ignore were now laid bare in excruciating detail.
But the survivors’ testimonies did something else for the Jewish people. Not only did it set the record straight, as to what had happened to the Six Million, and as to what sufferings the survivors had endured. Not only was it informative, it was transformative as well. The courage of the survivors in finding the wherewithal to share their harrowing stories signaled to Jews everywhere the need to eschew silence, to abandon the fear of making waves, and the need, when necessary, to demonstrate that we have a voice, a voice that would be heard, a voice that would make a difference in the world.
The survivors’ testimony fifty years ago in Jerusalem broke that silence. Their courage, and the courage of the many survivors after them who followed their example, including those from our congregation, and many who were with us, but sadly, no longer – who told their stories to whomever would listen, and who, often, after each retelling of those events that had destroyed their families, their communities, their childhood – would need days to recover from the resurfacing pain – their courage reminded and continues to remind each and every one of us that, for Jews, silence is no not an option. Each survivor who spoke told the world: “I have a voice. I will use that voice to insure that what we endured and those we lost will never be forgotten.”
Yes, we have a voice. We are outspoken in our advocacy of Israel and our national leaders have responded beyond what previous generations could have imagined, in supporting Israel’s needs and Israel’s cause. The disinterest of politicians decades ago towards causes close to Jewish hearts have been replaced by sensitivity and concern towards, and identification with the needs of Jewish communities world-wide. The simple fact that a Passover Seder is conducted in the White House is not merely politically motivated, but also reflects a response to the Jewish voice of these times, a voice that has helped transform us into a force with which to be reckoned, our small numbers notwithstanding.
We have a voice, influenced by the generations that preceded us. We have a voice that reminds us of our power to influence our communities and our world for good: Shema Kolaynu Ahdonai Elohaynu – We ask the Almighty to hear our voice as we rise to recite the Ehl Maley Rahamin in memory of victims of the Shoah – p. 196.