What is the significance of 1944? Why was that such an important year?
These questions come up for many reasons. D-Day, or Operation Overlord, occurred on June 6, 1944. France was liberated from Nazi control in 1944. London had been hit for the first time by V2 rockets, in 1944. America bombed Tokyo in 1944. The fight for Warsaw, Poland sees close to 170,000 civilians and soldiers killed in 1944. Basically, 1944 was chaotic, yet often the question of 1944’s importance is brought to mind by the Holocaust.
Of the six-year span of the Holocaust [1939 – 1945], 1944 was one of the deadliest! In massive droves Jews, in particular, were literally packed into train cars and taken to places such as Auschwitz to meet their end. Others were taken into forests, stripped of their clothes, shot, then dumped into mass graves. Every Jew was methodically searched out by the Nazis before they, and any who helped them, were taken prisoner or killed. It was a violent and bloody year both in Europe and the Pacific. The whole world seemed to go mad and the Nazi’s were trying desperately to grasp any lifeline—clinging to what they’d conquered, but more so, trying to remove what and who they loathed.
“O my soul, my soul!
I am pained in my very heart!
My heart makes a noise in me;
I cannot hold my peace,
because you have heard, O my soul,
the sound of the trumpet,
the alarm of war…”
Still, this happened over 70 years ago, is it relevant?
Yes, it’s absolutely relevant. While the events of this destruction occurred over 70 years ago there are still many survivors, and many generations which have followed. And it was out of these ashes that Israel, as a nation, was reborn!
Why mention 1944 specifically?
In 1944 there was a group of young men who decided enough was enough. While many others acted, Joseph Gani’s life tells an important story which climaxed October 7, 1944.
Joseph Gani was born in 1926 to Greek/Baltic Jews who lived in a small seaside town, Preveza, Greece, boasting a Jewish population of approximately 300. Joseph’s father was a small textile shop owner which allowed the Gani’s a comfortable existence.
It was in Preveza that Joseph attended a public Greek school which allowed a good religious education. Weekly, a Rabbi would visit the school for several hours and teach the Jewish students important Jewish tradition, law, and texts. Besides Joseph’s religious and academic interests, Joseph was incredibly fond of sports—particularly soccer and baseball.
Yet, this idyllic life wasn’t to last. Germany invaded Greece in 1941 and by autumn of 1943 the town of Preveza was occupied. Soon after, in March 1944, all known Jews in Preveza were sent to Auschwitz.
Joseph’s parents were immediately sent to the gas chambers while Joseph, being young and fit, was set to work. He was assigned, along with his brothers, Moise and Albert, to the Sonderkommando unit of Birkenau—a group of Jews assigned to take the corpses of other Jews to the crematoria. This ‘occupation’ was not only physically exhausting but unbearable. The corpses had been stripped of their clothing, their hair shaved, and bodies often disfigured or emaciated.
Yet, on October 7th, 1944 many of the Sonderkommando’s revolted—Joseph and his brothers included. They fought their SS guards, disarming them and blowing up the crematoria! They ‘sounded a trumpet’ against the inhuman practices of their prison and decided that they’d rather die fighting this cruelty than eek out an unbearable existence.
Joseph died in Auschwitz at the mere age of 18, having lived the last moments of his life choosing to be brave, make a stand, and attempt to stop the madness he’d known. His brothers, Moise, then 31, and Albert, then 28, also perished in the uprising.
“And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.’”—Genesis 32:28
What can we learn from this lost life?
There are hundreds of things we can learn from Joseph Gani’s life, but one that is important to take away is that Joseph didn’t allow the world he’d been thrust into replace what he’d been taught. He knew that what was placed before him wasn’t in-line with God’s Word or laws.
“…when you are on the verge of battle, that the priest shall approach and speak… ‘Hear, O Israel: Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint… for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies…’”—Deuteronomy 20:2-4
Joseph and those around him that day chose that they were not going to obey ungodly mandates. Yes, they knew they could live longer, perhaps even somehow survive the madness if they obeyed, but they also knew they weren’t meant for that existence. God’s Word was within them and they acted. They slowed down the process of destruction. Their actions were violent, but the love of God for His people can be violent—God won’t just stand by when His chosen are mistreated!
“But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children…”—Psalm 103:17
Today, we are living in an age where it’s easy to move in the ways of the world. Information is everywhere and commonly is not always true; it’s misaligned with God’s Word. Slowly the Church is turning from the fullness of God. It’s so easy. Yet, there has to be a point where, like Joseph Gani, we stop and say, ‘No. No more! I won’t do it!’ For most of us it isn’t going to be a violent act, but one of a simple and strong decision to move with God, not man.
Through My Olive Tree’s Holocaust Victim’s Legacy Package YOU can sponsor a tree in memory of a Holocaust victim! By doing so you not only honor the fallen, but YOU give a Holocaust survivor a warm blanket—a symbol that God still has them in His loving arms; they are not forgotten. Additionally, you bless the nation of Israel by bringing jobs and beauty for generations to come!
The survivors and victims of the Holocaust have taught us so much. Isn’t it time we showed God’s chosen that they are loved AND remembered?