The author Lillian Rosengarten had just gotten back from a wrenching trip to the country she had left as a refugee 75 years ago when I visited her last week. She’d given nine talks across Germany under the title “A Jew Against Zionism.” Halfway thorough her trip, the Israeli embassy launched an attack on her, saying she was an anti-Semite for linking Israeli behavior with the atrocities inflicted on Jews by Nazis.
Afraid that she was being targeted, Rosengarten almost called off the rest of her trip. But she decided to show strength.
I changed the format of my talk. I talked about the attacks. I said, ‘I was afraid but I am here.’ I put it on the table. Some of the things others are afraid of happening to them—being called an anti-Semite– have happened to me.
Then she called on others to resist the attacks. “Change can only come from you, from the outside. Inside Israel they like the situation. They have annexed most of the land, they have no interest in any kind of real dialogue. They want a Jewish state, they’re happy. The push has to come from the outside. South Africa only changed through the outside push.”
Rosengarten’s log home in the Hudson Valley has peace posters on the porch and Tibetan prayer flags in the trees. We sat by the cold fireplace. She was exhausted by the trip but she said it had been healing.
At some points when I gave my talks I was almost crying. My whole face changed, I got so involved. I talked about my grandfather’s suicide, my father’s suicide. I talked about a dream I had about [her late son] Phil in Theresienstadt. I was in the museum, looking at the wall of the children who died. Their names are covered in glass. My name would have been on the wall, and in my dream the death of my son [in the United States] was interwoven with their deaths, and it was connected with all the Palestinian children who died. I feel guilt about having survived.
In her talks, she spoke the German she’d learned before she escaped. And just five years ago Rosengarten was deported by Israel for trying to get into Gaza on the Jewish Boat. Now she is publishing a book in which she describes the ways that the rise of the Nazis traumatized her family even after their escape, fostering depression. She has never felt stronger, telling her story. She describes going from a shy and passive nursing student in New York to becoming an outspoken feminist and poet, and activist for Palestine.
She embodies two or three chapters of Jewish history. I asked if she will ever get to speak at the Center for Jewish History or the 92d Street Y. Will she speak at synagogues? She said she’d speak anywhere, but no one has called.
“I said to myself, I would never go to the Great Neck synagogue, where they celebrated the bombing of Gaza. I can’t go to a place that is so closed and hostile. Then I thought, I would go if they invited me. I’d like to be asked in. I’d like to open up some dialogue, and have the mainstream media be interested.”
It is not likely to happen soon. The Zionist establishment wants to shut Rosengarten down. Israel is afraid of her. Here is the attack that was mounted on her from Israel in the Jerusalem Post:
Israel’s embassy in Berlin sharply criticized on Tuesday Germany’s Sparkasse savings bank network – and various NGOs – for allowing an opponent of the existence of Israel, who has likened the Jewish state to the Third Reich, to deliver a talk in its office space titled “Jew against Zionism.”
“We regret that certain organizations provide a platform for hatred. It is important and would have been beneficial if institutions would have double-checked before allowing their resources to be used as platforms to spread hatred. Actions are being taken,” the embassy told The Jerusalem Post.
Rosengarten denied every charge levied at her. She did not liken Israel to the Third Reich; she spoke of the ways that traumatized people reenact abuse. She did not want to destroy anything: she was just for equal rights. “Jews and Palestinians who are brothers and sisters must be able to live together with equal rights. It must happen if there is going to be peace.”
This is a hard message for German Jews to absorb. They are generally Zionists, or afraid to criticize Israel. Few Jews came to her talks. When she went to Frankfurt, the city she lived in as a girl, she wrote the city’s Jewish mayor to ask him come to her talk.
His secretary answered and said he was busy. I knew he was afraid. I wrote and said, I understand you have some problems with it, but it will be a sweet talk–it will be a discussion. Nothing will frighten you. I’m not against Israel, I’m against the occupation. Please rethink your decision. He never answered.
He has a position as the mayor of Frankfurt. And Aipac [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] has the same kind of organization in Germany as here. He would be ostracized, he would not win again, and he was afraid. That’s the general atmosphere.
The discourse is much more open in the United States, but Rosengarten may well be marginalized by the mainstream press. Will a reporter for the Times or the Post visit her and hear her astonishing story? Most periodicals are invested in protecting Israel. And Rosengarten’s entire experience undermines that effort. She left Germany for her safety but sees Israel as an unsafe place.
“Why are you against Zionism?” I asked. She shook her head in sadness.
Zionism is an ultranationalist racist regime; and it is a morally corrupt regime. It has been in a state of emergency since 1948. They have been keeping Palestinians under occupation for 70 years. This is unheard of.
The lesson of her trip, she said, was that it will take great strength on the part of those who believe in equal rights to overcome Israel’s supporters. By speaking up, she did not feel lonely and did not feel weak. Reconnected with her German girlhood, she felt strong.
Be strong, do not be afraid of labels. You cannot be intimidated by this. That’s what they want. That is why I go toward the fear.
Rosengarten will be speaking next week in New York about her book, Survival and Conscience: From the Shadows of Nazi Germany to the Jewish Boat to Gaza.