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Facing the Future

Binyamin Rose, Monaco

You can’t run away from your past, even when facing it forces you to publicly admit your sins. Monaco, the world’s tiniest land, internalized that lesson well

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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The battles that European Jewry fight today are no longer life and death, but for the right to live as observant Jews — to circumcise their newborn males, to eat locally slaughtered kosher meat, to safely walk the streets to synagogues and Jewish centers. During three days of meetings, members of the CER’s standing committee debated the most effective methods to fight for the religious rights that are written into the EU’s constitution, but often eroded by individual member nations (Photos: Eli Itkin)

T he view from the steep hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea should have been breathtaking.

But when the vista is from a cemetery, one’s eyes are blurred with tears.

Tzvi Leider, a chazzan from London, intoned the Keil Malei Rachamim in the small Jewish section of Monaco’s only cemetery last week, while a group of rabbis and journalists stood at attention at a monument in memory of Jews who were either deported or arrested while trying to escape Monaco during World War II.

Monaco, a tiny monarchy along France’s southeast coast, protected its 300 Jewish citizens during the war, and even issued false papers that enabled some of them to escape before Nazi Germany’s occupation began in September 1943.

But the story was different for 92 Jewish noncitizens who sought asylum in Monaco. To their pleas, the government turned a blind eye. Only nine of the 92 survived the war. Monaco’s Prince Albert II finally acknowledged this badge of shame on August 28, 2015, when he formally apologized during a dedication ceremony for the monument, on which the names of the victims are etched in black lettering on two tall, white marble tablets.

That’s where our group assembled last Wednesday for a memorial ceremony held during a convention sponsored by the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), established in 1956 and today uniting more than 700 Orthodox mainstream synagogue communities in Europe.

Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Poland’s chief rabbi, delivered a eulogy. He noted that some historians contend that neither Prince Louis II nor Monaco’s minister of state were personally responsible for the deportations, since both were out of the country at the time and ultimate decisions were made by lower-ranking officials.

Still, he said that doesn’t absolve the top leaders of responsibility.

 

“We learn this from the eglah arufah,” Rabbi Schudrich said, referring to the Torah law requiring breaking the neck of a calf when the perpetrator of a murder cannot be found. “Even though the elders declare ‘we didn’t spill any blood,’ there is still a moral blemish that cries out for atonement.”

This was not the first time Rabbi Schudrich employed this analogy. The first occasion occurred in Poland in 2001, after publication of a book by NYU historian Jan Gross, Neighbors, detailing the 1941 pogrom at Jedwabne, during which hundreds of Catholics murdered some 1,600 members of Jedwabne’s Jewish community, corralling them into a barn and setting it ablaze.

Poland prefers to view itself as a victim of Nazi Germany and not an accessory, and no one official was willing to take any responsibility for Jedwabne — until Rabbi Schudrich dispatched a letter to Cardinal Josef Glemp explaining the eglah arufah analogy. On March 4, 2001, on his weekly radio program, Cardinal Glemp took ownership: “It is altogether fitting, that as a Church we should, in the company of people of the Jewish faith, apologize to G-d for the sin committed according to the truth revealed in the Bible.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 687)

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