By Barb Arland-Fye
Seventy years after the liberation of the Nazi death camps one of its survivors told his audience at a Holocaust Remembrance event, “My friends, if you don’t know what the messiah looks like, there’s two of them. One is black and one is white,” Irving Roth said of two of the American soldiers who liberated Buchenwald.
Roth, director of the Holocaust Resource Center in Manhasset, N.Y., was the speaker at this year’s Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance held April 19 at Temple Emanuel in Davenport. Among the event’s sponsors were Augustana College, Tri City Jewish Center and Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, Rock Island, Ill.; Churches United of the Quad City Area; St. Ambrose University, Davenport; and Temple Emanuel.
A native of Czechoslovakia, Roth shared how his idyllic childhood was transformed into a nightmare by the time he was a teenager sent to the Auschwitz death camp with his brother and grandparents in 1944. The boys had earlier become separated from their parents during the Nazis reign of terrorism. Roth and his brother endured a starvation diet of coffee and soup and a piece of bread a day.
As World War II came to a close, they were sent with others on a death march to Buchenwald. At the death camp, Roth said he was separated from his brother, whom he never saw again. His grandparents also perished in the Holocaust, but Roth was reunited with his parents. He said his mother fainted when she saw him again.
His profound loss, suffering and deprivation seemed to fuel what appeared to be frustration in his talk at Temple Emanuel.
He spoke of the step-by-step strategy of the Nazis to turn others against Jewish people. Jews were demonized, Roth said. They were held responsible for the Depression, loss of jobs and other things that made life difficult in mid-20th century Europe. To that point, I agreed with Roth’s assessment.
Anti-Semitism has returned, Roth warned, and he blamed it largely on the media. But he also cited a UN conference in 2001 which unfairly accused Israel of being an apartheid state. He spoke of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and how Israel was criticized for its defense of its citizens from missile attacks by the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza last year. In my viewpoint, Israel and the Palestinians share blame. When people live in oppressive conditions they lash out, even though that’s not the right thing to do.
Roth sees demonization of Israel as well as the Jews as signposts on the way to Auschwitz. He said the words “Never forget,” the anthem of the Holocaust Remembrance, must not be silenced. “Jewish people must remain alive.”
Allan Ross, the Jewish Federation’s executive director, said Roth “has a very powerful message. It comes down to the fact that we have to be very wary today of repeating the mistakes of the past and that Jews and other minorities throughout the world in many cases are under attack.”
Intolerance based on religion seems to be a growing phenomenon around the world. Roth acknowledged that fact, which I appreciated.
But it was another speaker at the Holocaust Remembrance, teenager essay winner Allison Stutting, who most impressed me with her message: “forgiveness is the seed of peace.”
Allison, a junior at North Scott High School in Eldridge, was inspired by the story of Eva Kor, a Holocaust survivor who has personally forgiven her Holocaust tormentors. As a child, she and her twin sister were victims of Joseph Mengele’s horrific experiments. Now 84, she has devoted her adult life to fostering peace and forgiveness. It’s a message that bears repeating in a world that is repeating mistakes of the past.