The world forgot Auschwitz, of course they have forgotten the hostages too – opinion

The world forgot Auschwitz, of course they have forgotten the hostages too – opinion


The victims of the Holocaust at times feel removed from us by time, language, and culture, but the hostages of today will be the “survivors” of our grandchildren’s age.

THE WRITER (right) and another participant walk toward the gates of Birkenau, on the European tour exploring the history of antisemitism and the Holocaust. / (photo credit: Courtesy Anna Babcox)

“Where they burn books, ultimately they will burn people”, our guide Ron said, quoting Heinrich Heine as we stood in Humboldt Square. Eighty years ago, the students of Humboldt University held a cult-like ceremony during which they threw thousands of books into flames. Six million souls would soon follow.

“And now, follow me and we will visit the exhibit they have set up here on behalf of the hostages currently held by Hamas,” Ron continued.

This was the first day of our history of antisemitism and Holocaust tour through Europe. Twenty of us, all Christian leaders and practitioners in Jewish-Christian relations and Israel education, were about to spend the next few days tracing the history of the Jewish people in Europe.

Bring them home

We walked across the square where chairs had been set up with the photo of a hostage’s face affixed to each backrest. “Bring Them Home Now,” read one banner. Another read, “Time is running out.”

The police stood nearby, monitoring the scene and ensuring that the installation was protected. Our group felt it fitting to say a prayer in that place for the release of the hostages. So we prayed in the square where students turned against sanity and reason, the square where the public demand for a Final Solution began. We prayed for those still held in captivity by terrorists fueled by antisemitic fervor, and we cried out for their release.

I had been standing outside of Columbia University just a few weeks prior, holding a poster that read, “We won’t rest until they are home.”

As we walked deeper into the heart of Berlin, we entered the Jewish Quarter, and were greeted by the faces of the hostages – this time lining the gate in front of a 100-year-old synagogue. Memorial candles lined the street, and police officers walked back and forth guarding the posters. I stopped, astounded.

Another in our group said, “How depraved is your society when the police need to protect hostage posters?” I was stunned, but he was right. I was comforted that German police protect these posters, and I am saddened that they even needed protecting.

A new hostage sqaure is set to open in Berlin on Thursday May 16, 2024. (credit: Hostages Families Forum)

WE LEFT Berlin for the Wannsee Villa, the opulent German villa where the so-called “Final Solution” was perfected. At the front gate was another hostage’s face – a Holocaust educator named Alex Danzig. My eyes filled with tears.  

From Berlin, we made our way to Prague. As we entered the oldest synagogue in Europe, familiar faces greeted us once more. Every single hostage Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, American, Thai – every human being stolen by their evil captors on October 7 was present in that room drenched in 1,000 years worth of prayer. I walked around the synagogue and visited each with my gaze. Their faces surrounded the room, encircling the bima, as if forming their own minyan. 

We left the synagogue for the cemetery. “Hello, my dear friends,” I felt my heart say as we passed the Hostage Wall outside the Jewish cemetery of Prague. There, the hostages accompanied us again. They were our companions and silent guides.

At the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, there is a Shabbat table set in honor of the Bibas family. In Poland – the land where millions of Jews were turned to ash – posters of today’s hostages remain undisturbed by Polish society. 

FROM GERMANY, the Czech Republic, to Poland, the eyes of the hostages cried out to us, “Bring us home!” Their silent gaze at times was more instructive about the Holocaust than the historical information we consumed. 

The hostages held in the war initiated by Hamas come to us in living color, their photos taken on iPhones at the beach, living lives much like ours. The victims of the Holocaust at times feel removed from us by time, language, and culture, but the hostages of today will be the “survivors” of our grandchildren’s age. They will speak to rooms filled with people about the horrors they endured at the hands of antisemitic-fueled hatred. Much like the blank and white pictures we saw in museums, some of those whose faces we saw were murdered, and some survived. 

As I walked between the railway ties toward the gates of Birkenau (the work camp of Auschwitz), I stopped for a moment and looked down. Next to my feet, I found a fragment of paper. I picked it up and turned it over. It read, “Dafna,” with “7-10” beneath her name.

I immediately recognized the fragment of a poster for Dafna Elyakim, the 15-year-old abducted with her sister from their home on that evil day. Dafna and her sister have since been released. Much like those who passed through the gates of Birkenau most didn’t survive their captivity; but some did. The survivors’ testimonies remind us of what this gate really means. 

When the events of October 7 are called the deadliest attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust, that anecdote falls on deaf ears to a world that has already begun to forget Auschwitz. I took the piece of Dafna’s poster with me, because, unlike the ashes of the victims within which her name lay, Dafna lives, her testimony lives, and her people live. 

Before the four living hostages were heroically rescued by the IDF this past weekend, I saw images of them everywhere. Seeing the posters of the hostages throughout Europe showed me concretely that I need not speculate about what I might have done in an earlier age; I know I am summoned to moral responsibility and civic courage in this one, for the sake of the hostages of the past and the hostages of today. 

The writer is the associate director of advocacy and strategy at Passages, a Christian organization dedicated to taking Christian students to Israel and mobilizing young people to support the Jewish state on campuses an

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