by Dwight Owen Schweitzer
Edgar Bronfman, Stuart Eizenstat, Israel Singer, Elan Steinberg, The World Jewish Congress, The World Jewish Restitution Organization, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (“Claims Conference”) of complicity in the continued suffering of the victims of the Holocaust who remain alive, and of not keeping faith with the millions who have died and will continue to die.
It is not by accident that I choose the words uttered by Emile Zola in his open letter to the President of the French Republic expressing his outrage at the sacrifice of Alfred Dreyfus to the ego of the French General Staff who knew he was innocent and did nothing to free him from Devils Island. It was injustice and arrogance that spurred the French novelist to rail against the sacred institutions of his beloved France. It is injustice and arrogance that compel me to repeat his words today, and to address them to some of the most prominent and influential Jewish leaders in the world.
Literally thousands of Holocaust survivors wallow in abject poverty, waiting for death, while you decide what is to be done with money you have no moral right to control, to allocate, to save or to spend as long as one survivor of the Holocaust is without medical care, adequate shelter, adequate food, and a quality of life that does not crush the spirit that climbed out of the ashes of Auschwitz with only skin and bones as their legacy.
You talk about allocating money for Jewish renewal and this too is born of arrogance and injustice, for by your actions you do not send the right message to the world of the Jews of why they should want to be renewed if you are what that renewal represents. You hear the cries of your fellow Jews who survived a horror so profound that all the documentaries, museums and memorials in the world cannot capture it, and in your divinity decide what shall be given and what shall be taken away. Your standards are worse than arbitrary, your choices less than biblical, and your lust for self aggrandizement is at the expense of those whose voices you do not hear, whose misery you do not feel and whose needs you cannot even imagine.
There will be Jewish renewal when those who come to lead us, set an example by their lives and their choices, of the essence of what we are, what our values mean in our daily lives and how the teachings of our faith play out in how we treat ourselves and keep faith with all who are oppressed. Let the stilled voices of our millions call out to you through the pleas of the few who remain as their living proxies, that you must leave behind the hubris your positions have endowed you with, and replace it with a thirst to fulfill the modest needs and hopes of those whose lives are literally in your keeping.
I call upon you to resist the urge to rationalize, to qualify, to explain and to justify that, which anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of the obligations you have chosen to take upon yourselves, would find wanting. The Jews of the world are, and shall be, judged by what you do and the decisions you make with what can only be described as a sacred trust.
You cannot stand in the shadow of the victims when you seek redress and ignore them when you find it.
Dwight Owen Schweitzer
This Editorial was originally published in the Jewish Star Times and placed into syndication on June 19th 2002.