The names Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, Johan Voskuijl, Bep Voskuijl, Jan Gies and Miep Gies should be well-known, but very few Jews know them. They were Otto Frank’s friends who, during the Holocaust, prepared a secret apartment at 263 Prinsengracht Street in Amsterdam for his family to hide from the Germans.
They smuggled food and clothing to the Franks, including their daughter Anne, during the family’s two years in hiding. Miep Gies also had the presence of mind to keep Anne’s diary and presented it to her father upon his return from the camps—the family’s lone survivor.
These men and women were righteous gentiles who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors and friends.
The Canadian Race Relations Foundation is Canada’s leading agency dedicated to the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination in Canadian society. Its executive director, Mohammed Hashim, recently tweeted about a meeting of community leaders he organized. At the meeting, a very wealthy Jewish leader made a remark that changed Hashim’s perspective.
Hashim tweeted, “She roughly said, ‘For me to truly have trust, I would need to believe that you would hide me.’ This community leader whose name I won’t share was quite wealthy and for a second I thought, hold on, you could literally buy an entire island and fortify it and you worry about who would hide you here in Toronto??? ‘Who would hide me?’ has never been a thought I have had. But it is one that many of my Jewish friends have had.”
Hashim went on to connect this exchange to International Holocaust Remembrance Day and how Jews and non-Jews feel very differently about the Holocaust.
Hashim’s tweet made the rounds on Twitter and many Jews responded by saying that the “who will hide me question” is also at the forefront of their concerns. With antisemitic incidents rising in the United States, such questions are becoming more mainstream among many American Jews. It is now second nature for Jews to look at their gentile neighbors with a different perspective. Instead of judging them by the way they maintain their house and yard, Jews have begun to ask if they would hide them from antisemitic persecution.
Many Zionist scholars and educators hold that Theodor Herzl founded modern Zionism because of the Dreyfus trial, in which a French-Jewish army officer was falsely accused of treason, prompting an eruption of antisemitism. Although it makes a good story, the trial probably wasn’t the only thing that inspired Herzl’s political awakening.
By the late 19th century, Europe was suffering a wave of antisemitism. Deeply disturbed, Herzl sought a solution to it. He contemplated everything from the mass conversion of Jews to Christianity to moving all of Europe’s Jews to Argentina. It was only as his thought evolved that he began to think about a return to the Land of Israel.
Zionism is usually defined as a movement that advocates for the Jewish people’s right to determine their own future in their own state. This definition rarely mentions antisemitism and the need for a place of refuge. A study of Herzl’s writings, however, clearly shows that, although he believed in the Jews’ right to the Land of Israel, he was primarily concerned with antisemitism. To him, the only effective answer to antisemitism was a Jewish state.
It’s easy to argue that Herzl’s belief that a Jewish state would help solve the problem of antisemitism was wrong. As the Zionist movement began, Arab antisemitism kicked into high gear. Jews living in Israel would face terrorism for the next hundred years. War broke out with Israel’s Declaration of Independence and continues today.
Zionism and Israel didn’t end antisemitism, but one could easily argue that Israel was not founded to stop antisemitism, but to give the Jewish people a refuge from persecution and the capability to defend themselves against attack. From this point of view, Israel has been a great success.
One of Zionism’s primary goals and one of its greatest achievements is to ensure that Jews no longer have to ask “who will hide me?” The very question that plagued Mohammed Hashim when he heard it from a Jew who seemed to have nothing to worry about motivated the Jewish people to found their own nation where their security would not be dependent on other people. I am an American immigrant to Israel and I’m gratified to be living Herzl’s dream of a Jewish state that can protect its Jewish citizens.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.