Remarks made years ago by a controversial Rabbi about the scope of the Holocaust were publicized last week and unleashed a storm of protest. In his ill-informed statement, for which he only recently apologized and admitted his ignorance of basic statistics, the Rabbi made the egregious assertion that the number of Jews killed by the Nazis, historically known to be six million, was in reality closer to one million. Only. One million souls — one million worlds. That’s significantly more than the sum total of every single religious Jew — man, woman, and child — living today in the United States of America.
This statement, notwithstanding explanation and apology, has already created unimaginable damage, and who can calculate the future adverse ramifications of such an irresponsible statement for the world at large.
With such a statement he has, presumably inadvertently, joined the infamous league of Holocaust deniers, whose goal is to rewrite history. This is not only an injustice to the Six Million Kedoshim; it is an injustice to all of us, their heirs, whose lives are dedicated to rebuilding a world that was destroyed so brutally. While he explained that his intention was to draw attention to the burning spiritual holocaust that has consumed Klal Yisrael with increasing intensity since the Second World War, and that assimilation and intermarriage in Europe rendered many of those who are counted within the Six Million not to have been halachically Jewish, both the insult and the danger that his outrageous words caused cannot be so easily healed or reversed.
In Sefer Tehillim (79:2) the verse says that the “flesh of your devout ones was left to the beasts of the earth.” Rashi asks why this verse, which refers to Jews who had not adhered to the standards of the Torah, praises their piety after their demise? He answers that after their death, they are considered “chassidim,” righteous.
As the Novominsker Rebbe, shlita, said in a statement released to Hamodia:
“I condemn in the strongest terms possible the outrageous claim that fewer than a million halachic Jews were killed in the Holocaust. This claim is demonstrably false, profoundly offensive and extremely hurtful. It is an affront to the Six Million Kedoshim, precious, holy, Jewish souls whose lives were snuffed out by the sonei Yisroel. Minimizing the degree of the terrible destruction of Churban Europa, in a most morally irresponsible manner, does a grave disservice to truth, and only gives enemies of Klal Yisrael ammunition for their lies.”
As the Rebbe said, the statements made by this speaker are not only offensive, but totally unsubstantiated. There can be no doubt as to the bona fide Jewishness of the Six Million. While secularization was indeed rampant by 1939, in Eastern Europe, the power of the church and anti-Semitism most likely prevented any noteworthy amount of intermarriage from occurring. Even the members of the most overtly anti-religious and popular movements such as Zionism, Communism, Socialism and even Bundism remained Jews. Assimilation, as we know it in American terms, was simply not an option. So the point is not the precise number of Orthodox victims (now estimated to be between a third and a half of more than 3 million Jews in Poland alone) but the total number of Jewish victims, whose halachic Jewishness is not a question.
However, this was not only a case of insult, but of injury. In our age of “instant information,” where statements are transmitted all over the world in seconds, such remarks recorded and publicly available are fodder for any malicious Holocaust denier in search of irrefutable “proof.” What an unexpected windfall! Already the headline “Rabbi Admits, Only One Million Jews Killed” is being gleefully embraced by the enemies of Klal Yisrael.
In search of an elusive but potentialy productive outcome of this painful fiasco is the powerful way this demonstrates the crying need for comprehensive Holocaust education. These comments went unchallenged for so long, despite the fact that the speech was made before engaged Jews. Apparently, the audience was so ignorant and desensitized that his statements were received without objection. How many Jews, particularly of the younger generations and those whose family history spared them the horrors of the Holocaust, have familiarity with even the basic facts and the gruesome reality of what befell the Jewish People during those dark days? It is our obligation to ensure that the current and future generations of Jews know the truth.
Only armed with the proper knowledge can we hope to approach and understand the Kedoshim with the reverence that befits them, and dedicate our lives to preserving the rich heritage they died for and that no one can take away from the Jewish people.