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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 22-07-2019 17:33

A photo with books

We saved the book from our homeland and the book saved us from extinction.

A few days ago I had the great pleasure of visiting Menachem again. Over 90-years-old, Menachem is the relative who stayed in Europe and carries the tattoo of barbarism. It is always warms my soul to visit him, to kiss him, to smell him.

My grandparents arrived in Argentina before the war, leaving behind a large family in Hungary. At the beginning of the conflagration, they lost total contact their relatives in Europe.

Sometimes I try to put myself in their shoes. What would it have been like to live so many kilometers away without knowing anything about your parents, brothers, nephews, knowing what awaited them just for being Jewish?

One day in 1946, my grandmother read in the newspaper a notice from the Red Cross that said that Menachem, my grandfather's nephew, had received a golden ticket out of hell and asked for information about any relatives who had saved their own lives by trying their luck thousands of kilometers away.

When they got in touch with him, offering him the ticket to Argentina, he humbly refused. He said that in the refugee camp where he had been living, he was learning a way to earn his daily bread and that he fell in love with a Dutch woman, with whom he wanted to start a family and emigrate to the Holy Land.

Years later, almost as a miracle, Menachem discovered that his father, brother of my grandfather, had also survived and was in the Soviet Union. After many vicissitudes, they managed, together with my grandparents, to take him to what would become the State of Israel.

And in that hour I spent in the company of the adorable Menachem, he asked his daughter to bring him a package, which he unwrapped for me.

It had two books. A siddur (prayer book) of the late nineteenth century and a Tanakh (the hebrew bible) printed in 1630 in Holland.

I was surprised. I had thought the only thing that he left Büchenwald with was tuberculosis. 

He told me that those books were from his father, who was in camps between 1940 and 1945. Inmates weren’t allowed to have possessions let alone pray. The mere intent to pray would have resulted in instant death. But his dad, Yehuda Leib, managed to save those books. He managed to hide them and during the five years of his captivity, he used them every day.

I asked myself then with tears in my eyes, who saved who? Did Yehuda Leib saved the books or the books save Yehuda Leib?

We are known as "the people of the book".

When other people dedicated their time to other pursuits, for our ancestors learning to read and write was as important as breathing, walking or feeding. Possibly even more important.

Almost 2000 years ago they destroyed our homeland and Jews were spread around the world. They banished us to a two-thousand-year diaspora.

But we took THE BOOK with us. That was our nation.

Wherever in the world Jew happened to live, he knew that that week, Jews all over the world were reading the same Torah portion. 

The same verses were discussed and the rabbis debated the same themes. We saved the book from our homeland and the book saved us from extinction. We gathered around him and he held us together. He guided us, he taught us, he saved us, literally.

I learned to read before starting elementary school. My dad taught me that books must be treated with love.

"If you throw a book, it gets hurts," my dad told me.

And the Nazis did not just throw them away. They burned them.

And he who starts burning books and continues on to burn people.

Argentines know this fact well.

And our mantra to ward off barbarism is the title of a book. A very special one. Nunca más.

Ariel Gelblung

Ariel Gelblung

Dr. Ariel Gelblung is the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s representative in Latin America.

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