restricted access 20: Toward the Millennium

From: Theo

University of Wisconsin Press colophon
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ZtJ Zox flit kein111ol az du geysr den1 lctsrC11 vi::~ Khotsh himlen blayene_farshtclr1 bloyc reg Ku1ne11 vet nokh unzcr oysRchenkte sho S'vct a poyk ton 1111zer trot-111ir zay11e11 do! Never say that you are walking your last way Though leaden skies above blot out the blue of day. The hour for which we long will certainly appear, Our steps shall thunder and proclain1: We are still here. -HIRSH GuK 1922--44 (TRANSLATED uv E. PALEVSKY AND T. l3!KEL) ALL THAT IS LEFT FOR ME UEFOltE CONCLUDING this narrative is to cast a last long look backward and a quick glance forward. I consider 1993 and 1994 milestones, both in terms of world events that affected my life and in terms of personal history. The year 1993 was the sixtieth anniversary of Hitler's rise to power, an event that the world remembers as the beginning of state-sanctioned criminality , which left scars on Europe's face and consciousness that will not fade for many decades. In personal terms, 1993 marked twenty-five Toward t!u-Mfllemuum • +07 years smce l first played Tevye the Milkman, the role that since then has been the mainstay of my stage career-I played my thousandth performance as Tevye in September 1990, two days after Rosh Hashanah, in Providence, Rhode Island. And 1994 is the fortieth anniversary of my arrival in America. I n1ust also take note of the fact-not without a little shock-that May 2, 1994, marked my seventieth birthday. A chronological fact luckily backed by little evidence of physical or mental erosion. The poem with which I started this chapter is the text of a song that has become the anthem of Holocaust survivors. It is always sung standing; each year after 1945 my father would sing it during the Passover seder as we all stood and recalled the memory of the martyrs. I have continued the custom. Among the more public and solemn occasions when I sang it together with thousands of survivors was the 1993 commemoration of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. This marked the fiftieth anniversary of that tragic and yet heroic event in the modern history of Jews. With Madison Square Garden filled to overflowing, I acted as n1aster of cerernonies. I introduced various dignitaries and speakers, including one of the few survivors who had fought in the Warsaw Ghetto, Vladka Meed. As I recited the poem "!11 Varshavcr Getto" by Binem Heller in Yiddish and in English (in the translation by Max Rosenfeld) it was difficult for me to avoid being overcome by my own emotion, yet I had to-my job was to stir others to remembrance. If there were to be tears, they should be theirs, not mine. I read the final lines of the poem: But 110 more willJews to the slau,~hter be led The trurnlent jibes ofthe Nazis are past. And the lintels and doorposts ton(~ht will be red With the blood offree Jews who willfight to the last. As I said these words, I glanced toward the audience and saw Elie Wiesel in the front row; it became much harder still for me to retain my composure. But none of us could. We had already been through a solemn and harrowing ritual. A seemingly endless procession of women had mounted the stage and lit hundreds of candles to comn1emorate the innocent victims as well as the heroes who went down as they fought and died. There was hardly a dry eye in the vast hall, including all of us on the dais, from Vice President Al Gore on down. That week in April had more in store. On April 22, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., opened its doors with a dedication ceremony attended by the president, the vice president, President +08 • TMO Chaim Herzog of Israel, and other dignitaries from around the world. I attended the ceremony on that drizzly morning and would later in the evening greet the survivors at the end of their candlelight march with songs of the ghetto, ending the evening again by singing the survivors ' anthem "Zog Nit Keinmo/"-"Never say that this is your last road." But it was the n1orning cere111ony that brought n1e, along with the thousands who had come to pay homage, to an emotional catharsis . Once again it was Elie Wiesel who stirred the conscience of all who were listening. His words were, as they so often are, an affirn1ation of human...


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