By Amira Hass Haaretz 4/18/07

The cynicism inherent in the attitude of the institutions of the Jewish state to Holocaust survivors is not a revelation to those born and living among them. We grew up with the yawning gap between the presentation of the State of Israel as the place of the Jewish people’s rebirth and the void that exists for every Holocaust survivor and his family. The personal “rehabilitation” was dependent on the circumstances of each person: the stronger ones versus the others, who did not find support from the institutions of the state. During the 1950s and 1960s we saw the demeaning view of our parents as having gone “like sheep to the slaughter,” the shame of the new Jews, the Sabras, over their misfortunate, Diaspora relatives.

It can be argued that during the first two decades, much of this attitude could be attributed to the lack of information and the very human lack of an ability to grasp the full meaning of the industrialized genocide perpetrated by Germany. But the awareness of the material aspects of the Holocaust started very early, with Jewish and Zionist institutions starting in the early 1940s to discuss the possibility of demanding reparations. In 1952, the reparations agreement with Germany was signed, by which that country agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel to cover the absorption costs of the survivors and pay for their rehabilitation. The agreement obligated Germany to compensate survivors individually as well, but the German law differentiated between those who belonged to the “circle of German culture” and others. Those who were able to prove a connection to the superior circle received higher sums, even if they emigrated in time from Germany. Concentration camp survivors from outside the “circle” received the ridiculous sum of 5 marks per day. The Israeli representatives swallowed this distortion.

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See Amira Hass’ mother’s “Diary of Bergen-Belsen.” Hanna Levy-Hass wrote this diary while she was in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen. She shows clearly, as Primo Levi does in his writing, that the struggle was to maintain your humanity under hellish conditions. Levy-Hass addresses what was happening to the Jews from a perspective that I have never seen addressed. She shows how the outside social structure persisted within the camp with “better-off” Jews (either because they came from wealthy families or because they had manouvered themselves into a favourable position within the camp) were able to buy privileges that others did not have. She and some other camp inmates organized to challenge (and were successful) this system of privilege. She also discusses the behavior of the German guards. Hanna Levy-Hass went to live in Israel/Palestine after being released from Bergen-Belsen but she refused to accept the house of a Palestinian who had been put out of their home.

See also Amira Hass’ book, Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege