MY NAME IS CHAIM FERSTER, NOT B10924
My name is Chaim Ferster. I am 92 years old and I survived the horrors of the Holocaust.
I was 17 when the Nazis came to my hometown in Poland, and by the time I was 21, I had been through 7 concentration camps. In that time, I witnessed the true depths to which man can sink and the speed with which others can rush to join him there.
In Sosnowiec, where I was born, I was given a yellow star to wear, and later in Auschwitz I was given a number (reveal tattoo and read number B10924).
Why, because I was Jewish – a problem that needed a solution, a final solution!!
It is easy to think that this was a more primitive time, that it was not a surprise to a people used to pogroms and forced migrations, but Poland was my home, as Britain is now, and the idea of the Holocaust was as unfathomable to us then as it is now.
Nobody can tell me that anti-Semitism is imagined or a product of our own paranoia.
I am not here to scare you, or to suggest that the recent upsurge in anti-Semitism means we are headed for the same fate. I do not think that we are.
Our government and those of France, Germany, and Italy, have been quick to denounce the abhorrent events that we have read about. The burning of synagogues, physical attacks on religious Jews, and chanting of “Jews to the gas chambers” in the streets.
I am grateful to the leaders of Europe, for their leadership, but we must never be complacent. We need to stand up for ourselves, and that is what we are doing today in a way that could not be imagined in my youth.
This country has been good to me, to my children, my grandchildren, and by the grace of G-d my great-grandchildren. Its people are liberal and tolerant, and the vast majority see anti-Semitism and racism for what they truly are.
But anti-Semitism has evolved, it now has Israel firmly in its sinister cross-hairs. Zionism has become a dirty word used to beat us with. We need to reclaim it. Zionism is simply the belief that Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel.
As all of us here know, Israel is a vibrant and modern democracy, in which self-criticism is a crucial and important part of the political process, indeed of Zionism. Criticism of Israeli policy does not frighten me, it engages me. But to demonize and delegitimize Israel is to let in an old and dangerous foe.
In the words of the historian Simon Schama, “Israel does not cause anti-Semitism, Israel was caused by anti-Semitism.”
We need to speak out, and educate others about the darkest days of our past, to ensure that anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination have no place in the modern world. Education is the only way to beat ignorance.
My name is Chaim Ferster, not B10924.
Our name is B’nei Yisrael, the children of Israel, and we must not let anyone replace it with a number, a daubing on a wall, or an insult chanted in the streets.