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Light from a death camp (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By BARBARA SOFER 02/03/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1107314591928&p=1006953079865 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Gabi Neumann was seven when the Red Army liberated him from slavery in Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. Now 67, a handsome artist with a trim white beard, he´s going back for the first time. Neumann has difficulty fitting his long legs together with the flag and a poster tube he´s carrying into the seat on the charter flight taking President Moshe Katzav, other survivors, soldiers, and the press from Ben-Gurion Airport to Krakow. I am privileged to travel with this delegation representing the Jewish state.

From the row behind us, a slim woman with auburn hair leans towards my seatmate. "Isn´t your name Gabi?" she asks him, her voice soft. "I´m Erika. You slept above us in Birkenau. Your face hasn´t changed at all."

Sixty years are swept away, but their bittersweet reunion includes no hugs or shouts of joys. Neumann is grim. Erika Dohan confesses she threw up before boarding.

Neumann remembers Dohan. She was friends with his older sister Eva in their hometown of Obyce, Slovakia. At night, in Bock 7, the two preteens would talk until they fell asleep. Then Eva was sent to a work camp and Neumann was alone. But he was lucky, he´ll tell you. The selections had ended when they arrived; he was allowed to keep his shoes; his mother and Eva survived and they made aliya in 1949. Neumann studied sculpture and, like Victor Brenner, a Lower East Side Jewish immigrant who escaped from a Russian prison and later designed the American Lincoln penny, Neumann crafted our shekel.

Until now he had waved away invitations to return. Neumann uses the strong Biblical word arrur, for "cursed," to describe Poland. Nonetheless, he´s drawn by the 60th anniversary ceremony hosted by Polish president Alexander Kwasniewski and the presence of so many world leaders. Neumann hints he has prepared a surprise statement to make on the frozen wasteland where his grandmother was murdered.

Indeed, in the midst of the ceremony in Birkenau, when army Chief Rabbi Israel Weiss and soldiers move through the crowd with the IDF standard, Neumann walks behind them, bare fingers gripping the pole of his Israeli flag. The soldiers stop, and from inside the flag, Neumann unfurls a poster he has designed himself with the words "Stop it before it begins again."

"It begins again" means anti-Semitism. He signs his name and B14206, the number branded on his forearm.

A few photographers step forward. Too few. For me, the question hangs heavy and unanswered in the frigid Polish air: Will the visit of presidents, prime ministers, queens, and princes be a wake-up call or an excuse for closure on the Holocaust?

I know I should be grateful that so many leaders have shown up, but I want more. For that day in Auschwitz to mean something, I want what Yad Vashem Chairperson Avner Shalev called "a concrete commitment" from the participants.

President Vladimir Putin impresses us by admitting his shame over anti-Semitism, but continues to sell missile parts to Syria. In the United States, The Washington Post and its muscular investigative reporters care more about the color of Vice President Dick Cheney´s parka than why the Americans didn´t bomb the gas chambers. Call me touchy, but listening to the message of the pope at Auschwitz, I didn´t catch the word "Jew." I was offended by the choice of a well- known convert to Catholicism as the papal envoy. From England, the country that closed off Palestine to the refugees and where anti- Semitic attacks have become commonplace, the errant prince Harry was conspicuous by his absence.

Maybe I missed it, but I didn´t hear the Swiss expressing regret for keeping Jews out, nor the Dutch wondering why their own policemen facilitated the deportation.

What exactly do I want? I want the governments of France, Belgium, and Denmark, where teachers are allegedly reluctant to teach about the Holocaust, to make that a condition for employment.

Most of all, I want all the nations to say, as German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told the UN General Assembly, that his country would always be linked to Israel by the events at Auschwitz, and that "The State of Israel´s right to exist and the security of its citizens will forever remain non-negotiable fixtures of German foreign policy. On this Israel can always rely."

On the plane home, we wait two hours because President Katzav wants to speak to President Putin. Neumann says he was emotionally numb at the ceremony and can´t yet sort out its meaning. But he will never return to Poland; the past must remain behind him.

In the future is his son, 22, a long-haired redhead who has worn a suit because of the weight of the occasion. For all the candle lighting, the ominous searchlights penetrating the track, the fires outlining the infamous tracks, Neumann knows the only sure beacon is a generation committed never to forget and willing to illuminate the future.

That´s why he´s named his only son Ohr, the Hebrew word for "light." (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 02/03/05)

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