Origins of the Israeli National Anthem: Background information when reading By Blood

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By Blood

A Novel

by Ellen Ullman

By Blood by Ellen Ullman
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2012, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2012, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Origins of the Israeli National Anthem

Print Review

Shortly before the Second World War ended and the horrors of the Holocaust slowly came to a close, Jews from all over Europe were housed in "displaced persons" camps. These camps gave refuge to Jews who no longer had a place to call home - not Poland, not Austria, not Germany, and not even the new home state created for them, Israel.

One such camp, Bergen-Belsen, was originally established in 1940 as a POW camp, but in April 1943 was converted into a concentration camp by the SS Economic-Administration Main Office. On April 15, 1945, British forces liberated Bergen-Belsen and "British occupation authorities established a displaced persons camp that housed more than 12,000 survivors."

Just a few days after liberation, a BBC reporter visited the camp on a Friday - the Jewish Sabbath. His report, heard in the video below, is soul-stirring and captures a particular momentous incident that took place that day at the camp.

As Ellen Ullman describes in By Blood, despite the horrendous conditions in which they lived (close to 40,000 corpses had just been cleared away), hundreds of Jewish survivors spontaneously broke into a song called Hatikva (hope). While the end of WWII certainly provided people with a modicum of hope, it is said that the same song was also sung by thousands of less fortunate Jews as they made their way to the gas chambers in Auschwitz.

Years later, the song became the unofficial national anthem for the Jewish people's homeland, Israel. Only recently in 2004, was it officially adopted as the country's national anthem.

The lyrics to Hatikva roughly translate as follows:

In the Jewish heart
A Jewish spirit still sings,

And the eyes look east
Toward Zion

Our hope is not lost,
Our hope of two thousand years,

To be a free nation in our land,
In the land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Click on the video below to listen to the original BBC report from 1945 and to hear Hatikva being sung by the Belden-Belsen survivors.

Article by Poornima Apte

This article was originally published in March 2012, and has been updated for the December 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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