Shoshanah Ovitz passed away this month. She was 105 years old. Shoshanah was an Auschwitz survivor, and an observant Jewish woman. Last year, aged 104, Shoshanah took a photo with all her descendants at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. There are four hundred and one people in this picture.
For the photo includes Shoshanah Ovitz herself, her children, her grandchildren, her great grandchildren, and her great great grandchildren. All four hundred of them. And they are all pious and observant Jews. Mrs. Ovitz’s legacy, is indeed one primary and supernal way, to spiritually triumph over Nazism.
A second way to spiritually triumph over Nazism is the way of my former neighbor, Mrs. Regina Hirsch. I invited Regina several years ago to address us in the synagogue for Holocaust Remembrance Day. When asked by a teacher what is the seminal existential lesson to be derived from the genocide, Mrs. Hirsch immediately and unequivocally responded, with passion and grand pathos: “Humanity! Love people!” This humanistic approach is indeed the second ennobling way of defeating Nazism.
Clearly, Shoshanah Ovitz spiritually defeated Nazism by perpetuating the particularistic path of Jewish faith and inter-generational continuity. Conversely, Regina Hirsch complemented Mrs. Ovitz’s way, by augmenting Mrs. Ovitz’s particularistic spiritual triumph over Nazism, with her universalist approach, exemplified by her call to “Love [all] people!”
Thirdly, we also spiritually defeat Nazism, when we behold a Jewish community of some one hundred thousand souls, in today’s Germany, amongst whom are also Jewish scholars, theologians, poets and artists, who create Jewishly and universally in German, in Hebrew, and on German soil. The Nazis dreamt of ethnically cleansing Germany from all and any Jewish presence.
Their overtly proclaimed diabolical goal was a “Judenrein” (“Jew-Free”) Europe. When the Nazis and their political heirs today, behold Jewish residents and citizens of Germany sitting on public benches and parks in Berlin, in brotherhood and friendship with their fellow-Germans, it provokes their utmost ire and sense of overwhelming historical defeat.
For a Germany which learned from its past, a Germany which supports, defends and protects Israel’s right to exist more than any other European country, a Germany which culturally flourishes with Jewish art and Jewish culture and a sizable German-Jewish community, such a Germany is indeed also a worthy and uplifting triumph over those who would like to see a Europe utterly “cleansed” and bereft of a pervasive Jewish presence.
Hence our threefold triumph over Nazism:
1/ First, cultivating in the spirit of the late and righteous Shoshanah Ovitz, large and Jewishly literate families and communities, and beholding in our day and age more people studying Torah and Jewish culture today, than at any other point in Jewish history, including in pre-Holocaust Europe.
2/ Secondly, Jews remaining the people who, in Rabbi Heschel’s majestic words, continue to exemplify and personify “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity,” in the spirit of Mrs. Regina Hirsch, whose chief lesson from her days in Auschwitz is: “Humanity! Love people!”
3/ Thirdly and finally – We solidify and further cement our spiritual triumph over Nazism, by empowering, infusing and blessing the new Germany, and today’s Germany is indeed a new and different Germany, with a large and culturally vibrant Jewish community, a community which is mindful of its tragic past, entrenched in securing a different and loftier German-Jewish existence today, and steadfastly committed to a better and brighter tomorrow, for Jews, for Germans, and for all other members of the human family.
Shoshanah Ovitz & her descendants in Jerusalem: