Racheli Segal
Racheli Segal Racheli is 34, married and mother of three girls. Racheli lives in Talmon, between Modi'in and Ramallah, and is editor of the "Land of Binyamin" newsletter. Thursday 16.4.15 No comments 2825 views

The Most Important Lesson I Learned in University

The most important lesson I learned in university was actually part of one of the core courses, not even from my department. In the auditorium sat 140 students, including freshmen students from the Jewish History Department at Bar Ilan, for whom this was a mandatory introductory course for their Bachelor’s degree. The lecturer, Professor Judy Baumel Schwartz, ascended to the podium in front of us. The subject of the course was “From Hatred to Murder – A Basic Outline of the History of the Holocaust,” and we slouched in our chairs. Yeah, the Holocaust. We’d already taken the high school matriculation exam on the subject and watched Schindler’s List.

                The lecturer said that at the beginning of the course, she would first make sure we were all on the same page regarding our knowledge of the Holocaust, beginning from the basic facts. “How many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust?” she asked. From the audience, she was answered: six million, perhaps seven million. She asked how this figure is known, and it wasn’t long before the following answer was given – the number of survivors is subtracted from the number of Jews in Europe before the Holocaust. “Correct,” she said, and then began to shoot information at us.

                Backed up by numbers, documents, books and the biographies of their authors, and with a confident voice + microphone, she began to explain to us young students why in the Holocaust, there were not actually six million Jews murdered, but rather 5.8 and above (according to population censuses taken), no more than 5.8 (in accordance with those who prepared the lists for the Eichmann trial), essentially 5.2 or perhaps 5 million (according to Raul Hilberg, the German documentation researcher, who explained that 200,000 people who were thought to be murdered were apparently transferred to the USSR and disappeared behind the Iron Curtain). She then reached 4.9 (if those Jews counted as victims of the Holocaust who fought against the Nazis in various armies are deducted), but perhaps it would be more precise to say approximately 4.8 (if those who died during the years of the Holocaust due to natural causes are not included). To be really precise (because the period of Holocaust is unique due to the Final Solution, which was only initiated in 1941), 3.3 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. In any event, the number of Jews who appeared in the census of 1939 was apparently too high, and it is hard to say that the numbers for the survivors are exact, because at the end of the war, there was a phenomenon of people who were afraid to identify themselves as Jews, children who did not know that they were Jewish, and similar cases.

Lopochova forest, Poland. How many Jewish children where killed during the Holocaust?

                The number “six million,” she revealed to us, first appeared in the New York Times in August 1942, in an article written by a Jew named Otto Zonsberg who estimated that, “by the end of this terrible war, six million Jews will find their deaths.” This was just an estimate. At this stage of the lecture, the audience of students was already fidgeting uncomfortably in their seats, but no one said a word.

                The lecturer concluded that the exact number of people murdered was actually not significant when considering the atrocious genocide because “murder is murder is murder.” If any of us still had a small voice inside shouting in protest at the reduction of the number of victims, it was quieted. She continued to explain that the number is only important because of the reparations agreement with Germany, which was made according to the assertion that there were six million victims. “Those reparations payments,” she added dryly, “are being used by the State of Israel to inflict a holocaust upon the Arabs.”

                At that point, a wave of protest swept through the auditorium. What?! How can you say such a thing? That is not true! The two cannot be compared! The atmosphere became turbulent. Quite a few students stood up from their seats and planned to leave in protest. She quieted all of us down and said: that was an exercise in Holocaust denial.

                “You all jump at what I just said?!” she said to us, almost shouting. “But when I stand in front of you for an hour and a half and explain that 3.3 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and not six million, no one utters a word? Do you know how many false facts I presented to you during the course of the lecture?

                “Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.” She repeated that sentence three times.

                “Why did you only jump now? Because you can argue with me about the reality in which you live right now, but about history – you can’t. You don’t have a clue. To face the rampant Holocaust denial that exists today, you don’t know what to respond. Therefore, even if you think that this mandatory introductory course has nothing to offer you, and that you know everything there is to know about the Holocaust, or that you’re fed up of hearing about it – you have a lot more to learn and it will be worth your while to attend the course.”

                “And another thing,” she added, “the fact that you’re just freshmen students doesn’t mean you need to believe every PhD or professor, or everything you read in a book or newspaper. Check, research, ask, doubt, but remember: six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.”


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