Reflections on Yom HaShoah

FROM WIKIPEDIA: Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah known colloquially in Israel and abroad as Yom HaShoah (יום השואה) and in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Holocaust Day, is observed as Israel’s day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, and for the Jewish resistance in that period. In Israel, it is a national memorial day. The first official commemorations took place in 1951, and the observance of the day was anchored in a law passed by the Knesset in 1959. It is held on the 27th of Nisan (falls in April or May), unless the 27th would be adjacent to the Jewish Sabbath, in which case the date is shifted by a day.

After leaving the active duty military, and after graduating from college, I started working for a security manufacturer that was ultimately bought by German conglomerate Bosch.

The organization sings hosannahs to a humanitarian vision of their founder, Robert Bosch. For me, as a Jew, I know his company used an estimated 20,000 force laborers, 1200 from concentration camps. Some subsidiaries owned by Bosch today used more. The company history claims he “resisted” Hitler, but he was closely associated with Gottlob Berger, SS-Obergruppenführer and in charge of SS recruiting, and a profound antisemite. In fact, after one of Bosch’s consultants was executed for the July 1944 attempt on Hitler’s life, it’s likely Bosch’s association with Berger that kept it from reaching his company. Bosch was also personally awarded “Pioner der Arbeit” by Hitler, and was given a large Reich funeral.

Bosch corporate historians also often stretched specific instances where half-Jews or Jews were saved to be somehow connected to Robert Bosch. “Bosch in Feuerbach saved half-Jewish employees from deportation.” Eastern Jewish were not so lucky. They always significantly overstated how “well” forced labor was treated. This fiction is always unsupported by anything but anecdotes and profoundly tendentious historical analysis. Today, the company still leverages association with Hans Walz, who as an individual saved Jews (and is rightly honored at Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations”) to divert from its corporate accountability. They also mention their contractor (not full time employee) Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, who was the man executed for the July 1944 assassination plot, without noting that Bosch himself was already dead 2 years.

However, from where I sat, so many institutions with long histories have blood on their hands. Bosch’s attempts to whitewash their founder are stupid and disgusting, but I don’t work for them anymore. The real insult to me were the number of German coworkers who felt compelled to tell me, upon spying my yarmulke, their family history of mercy towards Jews during World War II.

“That’s nice,” I would reply, “but my family came from Lithuania, where 90% of the pre-war Jewish population was wiped out.”

I never considered it an obligation to make a German coworker feel better about their national history.

The capper for all of it came with an article in the Bosch corporate newsletter, an international publication, about the restoration of Einstein’s Tower in Potsdam. I had the pleasure of visiting it on a later work trip to Germany. The article didn’t mention once why Albert Einstein fled Germany, or that the tower was renamed under the Nazis, or that his portrait and bronze statue were destroyed, though it did mention being damaged by Allied bombing.

Years later, I’m glad to have that organization in my rearview. I met and worked with many wonderful people, but I frankly found the German cohort insufferable. Smug in their certainty of German engineering superiority, even though they bought this company as a means to enter the American security manufacturing market with a very sophisticated American-designed and -made product portfolio. They had, I daresay, a Nazi-like commitment to design styles and rules. They told themselves stories about the nobility of their founder, all while the foundation behind the business was compelled to contribute heavily to various reparations funds.

For me, as a Jew, working for Bosch Sicherheitssysteme GmbH was my first real confrontation with just what implications Shoah held for me as a Jew. As kid, Shoah was a tear-inducing abstraction about what it meant to have Jewish heritage. It was an identity by-way-of-oppression that didn’t particularly resonate with me, since my family’s losses were distant and forgotten because of our own struggle with assimilation in the New World.

It was a lonely experience, too. My non-Jewish coworkers never related to it in the way I would, and it would have been unfair of me to expect that they should. It defied every sense of justice—this company and the country it called home savaged my people, and here it was, signing my paychecks and setting German-driven parameters on my work, and telling tall tales about the WWII morality of both their company and their founder.

With tomorrow being Yom HaShoah, I have to wonder about some things. We all rail against obvious Holocaust denial, but what about German corporate entities like Bosch, Siemens, Junkers, Blaupunkt, BMW, and more, who were compromised during World War II and do everything to obviate their troubled pasts? Siemens, to their credit, takes full responsibility. Junkers didn’t have as far to go – their founder was notably left-wing and spent the last few years of his life on house arrest.

There’s a lesson, too, that I always hope Jews can share with our black friends descended from slaves. As I complain about German companies, how much accountability do whole United States industries take for their slave past? As German companies, and Germany, have paid significant reparations to survivors, albeit not always perfectly, whither is the same level of national and corporate accountability for African-Americans?

Tonight through tomorrow evening is not a time for moralizing and drawing parallel lessons, though. The grandfather of my wife’s friend Avi, emotionally sang “El Male Rachamim” at Auschwitz last year on the 75th anniversary of its liberation. Leah lost her last surviving relative in the last few years, but we have their video testimony that we may share with our children.  I think we may learn and mourn this on our own in years to come.

We fight many forces as the events of Shoah are distanced from us in time.  One is the obvious state of denial, either for white supremacy or to advance an anti-Zionistic agenda.

The second is the attempts to universalize the lessons of the Holocaust.  It has become so commonplace to compare this or that politician to Hitler, and to compare distasteful or disliked policies to that of the Reich.  There are also the various attempts on the part of left-wing academia or politicians to apply these lessons—often ironically “Judenrein” without mention of Jews—to other forms of bigotry and hate.

The third is the soft-form denial I saw from my German employer, where a more comfortable vision of the past is presented.

There are surely more, but my emphasis turns now towards mourning, not analytics.

From Siddur Sim Shalom, the Yom HaShoah insert for the weekday Shemonah Esrei:

Hashem our G-d, comfort the remnant of Your people Israel, a brand plucked from the fire. For a cruel enemy arose to destroy us—to murder every Jew, young and old, women and children, saying: “Come, let us annihilate them, so that the name of Israel might no longer be uttered.” The waters engulfed us; our tormentors fed us bitter poison. Alas, we are undone, for our Source of comfort is yet far off. recalling these things, I weep. But You will not forget us eternally.


Writer, President of Bangor's Congregation Beth Israel, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

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About Brian

Brian Kresge

Brian Kresge

Writer, President of Bangor's Congregation Beth Israel, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

About Leah

Leah Kresge

Leah Kresge

Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine, special educator and former school board member, mother to Amelia and Nezzie.

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