In the Passover Haggadah we read every Seder night, it says: “In every generation, one must look upon himself as if he personally has come out of Egypt.” Our generation did come out of deadly enslavement, and worse. I, for one, have learned a valuable lesson from it, one that our sages have taught us over the centuries: that by remembering Egyptian slavery, we should be incapable of enslaving or in any way dehumanizing other peoples. If there is any lesson to be learned from this mad epoch, this must be the paramount one!
All of us who survived the Second World War came out profoundly changed. This horrific experience has not left any of us untouched. And as is always the case, our experiences have affected each of us in very different ways.
My experiences affected me on many levels: as a practicing Jew, as a member of a despised, persecuted group and as a young human being who experienced the injustice of it all. When the war broke out, I was an innocent, easy-going child of nine. Four years later, when it ended, I had matured into a street-smart, independent and deeply disillusioned young man of thirteen.
My religion came out in tatters. During the war, there were many nights when shivering and alone, looking mistrustfully at the dark skies above, I asked: “Where is that force, that God, who is the overseer of the just and the innocent, like myself? Where is His mercifully protective wing, which should be extended over little victims like myself?“
On a different level, my Jewish identity and my Jewish values came out of the debacle stronger than ever. We Jews, hunted and suffering, have known slavery since the days of Egypt, and we commemorate it each year at Passover when we say that each one of us must feel as if he or she has come out of Egyptian slavery. That means that we must be humble, compassionate and understanding of the suffering of others. Where there is discrimination, hatred and torture, there must be Jews protesting and speaking out for the equality of all races and all religions. Surely, we must have learned from the war to never hate anyone because of the colour of her skin, or because of his ancestry. We must learn to never inflict upon others the injustices and the cruel treatment that we suffered under the Nazis.
As a human being, I have experienced hunger, cold and homelessness and I have suffered some of the most extreme depravations imaginable. Having experienced this misery, I cannot accept it as a permanent condition of life for millions of others. All human beings must have the basic right to share in the wealth of the world, to have enough food for themselves and their children, to have basic shelter over their heads, to live in safety and peace. This is not just a favour we should grant to the “less fortunate,” but rather a basic right of every human being on this earth.