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History Repeating Itself

By Peter Gorog

On May 5, 2019, I was one of two speakers at a Yom Hashoah commemoration in Denver, Colorado. The gathering could not have been more timely. When I saw the printed program for the first time the day before, I was glad to see that someone had titled my presentation, “Surviving Mass Genocide. Anti-Semitism; History Repeating Itself.” Great title, although I thought I might have put a question mark at the end, as I was not ready to make such an affirmative statement. I would have raised it as a question: “Is History Repeating Itself?”

On the morning of the commemoration I changed my mind entirely. The original title was the right one. No question mark was needed anymore. From that day on, I would have no doubt that the correct title is “History Is Repeating Itself!” The exclamation point is the right punctuation mark indicating how strongly I feel about the hatred against the Jewish people in 2019, here in the United States, in Israel, and all over the world.

On May 5, 2019, the rising antisemitism and the unrelenting terrorist attacks against Israel, became very personal. What changed my mind about the title of my presentation is a text message I received the day before and a frantic phone call at 4 o’clock the next morning from my daughter Ilana, who was volunteering for a year in Rehovot, Israel. Here is the verbatim transcript:

[5/4, 15:45] Ilana: Please don’t tell mommy cause I don’t want to worry her but I can hear rockets and sirens in the far distance

[5/4, 15:50] Ilana: They’re getting louder :(

[5/4, 15:58] Peter: I read what you sent to mom. We are with David, we will pray.

[5/4, 17:29] Peter: Anything new?

[5/4, 17:34] Ilana: Heard the last loud boom 30ish minutes ago 

[5/4, 17:34] Ilana: I don’t know if it’s a rocket or iron dome intercepting it

[5/4, 17:34] Ilana: About 10 minutes ago I saw some fighter jets going towards the Gaza area

[5/4, 17:34] Peter: Are you still at the shelter?

The phone call early the next morning came from a bomb shelter where Ilana had to move because—for the first time since she arrived in Israel last August—the air-raid sirens went off in Rehovot.

According to the final count, in the course of two days, Hamas launched from Gaza almost 700 rockets to kill Israeli citizens indiscriminately. They killed four Israelis, dozens were injured, and some of them are still in critical condition. We, the Jews, are not safe anymore in our homeland, Paris, Brussels, Pittsburgh, or California. The Yom Hashoah ceremony in Colorado was held at the local Babi Yar memorial, and I was reminded that we are targeted again just like the more than 30,000 Jews 78 years ago on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine. They were massacred for one reason only, because they were Jewish.

I am a child survivor of the Holocaust, all too familiar with the sounds of air-raid sirens. I spent the last three months of World War II mostly in the basement of a house in the Budapest ghetto. Three months on a blanket, on a dirt floor, where wood and coal were stored for heating the apartments. Three months with hardly any food, water, or electricity. Three months in a basement where the chances of surviving a bombing was only five percent better than standing on the street. Thirty-nine years ago, when I escaped the miseries of the communist system, I never thought that one day one of my daughters would be forced to take refuge in a bomb shelter in Israel.

After surviving the Holocaust, I also survived 30 years of Communism in Hungary. When the oppression became intolerable I defected to the United States in 1980. I came here to find freedom and yes, I did find it. I was free to reclaim my Jewish identity. I was free to practice the Jewish religion. I was also free to find out what the Holocaust was, because the Holocaust was taboo in Hungary while I was growing up there. For a long time it was not taught in schools, nor was it mentioned in the government-controlled newspapers, radio, and television. No books were published and no films were shown about the Holocaust. The silence was maddening to me. I did not realize until after arriving in the United States the complicity of the pre-war Hungarian government in the deportation of the Jews to the Nazi killing camps. The annihilation of almost 600,000 Hungarian Jews, three out of four, was never mentioned while I still lived in Hungary! 

I did find freedom and safety 39 years ago here in the United States, but our country in 2019 is different and not all the changes are for the better. The long-sought freedom and safety was taken on October 27, 2018. That is the date of the Pittsburgh shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where 11 people died and six were injured. They died and suffered injuries for one reason only, they were Jews who wanted to practice their religion on a Sabbath morning. Since last October, a police officer greets me every Saturday at the door of my synagogue in the suburb of “The Capital of the Free World.” This uniformed police officer symbolizes the changes I, as a recently reconnected Jew, have experienced in the last 39 years. I, as a Jew, no longer feel safe here in the United States. The long-sought freedom I found here is gone.

On Saturday April 27, 2019, just one week before the Yom Hashoah commemoration in Denver, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, California, killing one woman and wounding three other people. Another Jewish religious service where people died and were wounded for one reason only, they were Jewish.

A little while ago those of us who celebrated Passover, the Jewish holiday dedicated to the idea of being liberated, being free in our own land, we read from the Haggadah:

“In every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand!”

This is a yearly reminder that history repeats itself. Although there is rising antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment, we can also find consolation that exactly 71 years ago today, on May 14, 1948, the Jewish state was reestablished. We might not be safe individually anywhere on this planet, but, “Am Yisrael chai!” The Jewish people live!

© 2019, Peter Gorog. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.