Since the NIW has taken two weeks of deserved vacation, I'm actually free too. But what is free? Today I was in Twente for the third time in a few weeks. Once for an unveiling of a tombstone, twice for a lewaja-funeral and the day after tomorrow again for the annual commemoration of the first razzia in Enschede. I still have to prepare my speech. Is that difficult? Year-in year-out I speak at this time in commemoration of the horrific and senseless arbitrary arrest of Jewish young men. Cruel and utterly ripped away from normal daily life. So every year, for decades in the same place, on the same subject and to almost the same audience. And yet, each time I have to deliver the same speech in different words. And I succeed in doing so! How? No idea. Apparently, every year I receive a new thought from Above. Although? A few days ago I received a compliment for a speech. The compliment was really well meant, but didn't feel so cozy. "I really liked your speech today! I didn't expect that". What am I supposed to do with such a compliment, especially when it is added that it was not meant wrongly and that it is quite understandable that the message of my speeches is often the same and that of course I, the speaker, cannot do anything about that. I did enjoy watching the complimenter apologize groggily to recover his somewhat douchy compliment. What he should have done when he noticed he had uttered something less than clever? Shut up! Because you should never rub a stain.
Last week I attended the opening of a photo exhibit called: Survivors - Faces of life after the Holocaust. Faces, an exhibition of only faces. Faces can hide, betray, radiate, represent, and sometimes faces can have multiple faces and speak volumes or conceal the horrific and indescribable torments. This is how I walked through the exhibition. Each face told an inhuman history and betrayed what people can do to each other. But we also saw that some faces, despite everything, had really survived. That they concealed a gigantic strength, so that the suffering, the gas chambers, the hell of Auschwitz, of Sobibor, of Mauthausen, of Theresienstadt, of ... and of ... were barely visible. Hardly, because I thought I could detect and feel the gigantic suffering in all the facial expressions. But perhaps, I said to myself, perhaps I am the only one who sees it, perhaps it is really invisible and I see the suffering because I believe that it is impossible to survive the hell of Auschwitz, perhaps in exceptional cases physically, but certainly not mentally. Because, I believe, if a person comes out of the gas chamber unscathed, then for him there is no before and no after war, because that war never ends for him. And so every face showed a sometimes almost invisible turmoil, in my view.
Faces! Our Minister Grapperhaus gave an impressive speech at the opening of that exhibition. A sincere commitment radiated from his face. The Jewish community is especially fortunate to have such a minister. He analyzed the face of the murderer Eichmann and saw two sides to the face of the Nazi executioner. One side looked unblemished and human, the other half betrayed his true nature. In this Nazi's case, therefore, what could be read from his face was a deceptive good and a bestial evil. With the 75 survivors, there were also two sides to the same face: pain and optimism, death and life, past and future, but not a shred of evil.
How would I sum up this impressive exhibition in a few words?
"Photographs speak volumes, but silence encyclopedias"
During the corona period, Chief Rabbi Jacobs keeps a diary for the Jewish Cultural Quarterly. NIW publishes these special pieces at