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Jan. 23, 2024-13 Sh'Vat 5784

01/23/2024 01:44:12 PM


Since 2005, UN Resolution 60/7 has established January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 2024. This year, it coincides with the coming Shabbat, leading the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [] to hold ceremonial events next Monday, January 22, 2024. Although Jewish calendars do not always include the date, and in the first years after Israeli-proposed resolution it was little known, two decades along the calendar date of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau has begin to take on greater interest in Jewish life.

We have many dates to recall throughout the Jewish year, including those of deep historical and theological impact. I can suggest two themes that have delayed the internal Jewish impact of UN Resolution 60/7. One is the source—an international, non-Jewish group—that in its choice of date opted for the end of terror at one KZ out of more than one-thousand sites where millions if Jews, hundreds of thousands of Roma, tens of thousands of political, criminal, disabled and homosexual inmates met their death through planned execution, starvation, deprivation and overwork. The second—frequently championed by religious traditionalists—is the victim-centered nature, over against the mortal victory of resistance that underlies the 27 Nisan anniversary of the game-changing Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, the enormous city of death a short distance from Krakow, Poland certainly does stand out; so, too,  Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Treblinka, Mauthausen and Sobibor…the list is so very, so shockingly, long. And before these ‘concentration camps’ came Einsatzgruppen—special forces—assigned to eradicate dispersed Jewish communities in areas captured early in the Nazi war of aggression that swept eastward across Poland to the Baltic States and onward into the USSR, stopped by frigid weather at the gates of Moscow. The Einsatzgruppen left a string of unmarked mass graves (perhaps best known is Babi Yar—in the forests of Kiev, Ukraine—rather than adjacent to the memorial erected while Ukraine carried the letters SSR, prior to 1991.

There were so many more, as the malicious geniuses of the Third Reich moved inexorably to eradicate millennia of Jewish civilization from Europe. The roundups, the ghettoes, the trains, all came into use before the gas chambers using Zyklon-B and the crematoria went into operation as part of the implementation of the Final Solution decided in January 1942. The charming great house on the shore of the Wannsee adjacent to Berlin and close to Potsdam, has been a dedicated site of remembrance since 1992—dedicated 50 years to the day after the infamous meeting there.

In earlier years, I frequently met many who endured parts of the Nazi terrorization. I have consumed endless literature in the field, but my knowledge remains anything but exhaustive. Indeed, the Holocaust (Hebrew: Sho-ah), has become a vast field of study, even as a name for the Nazi crime has become part of general vocabulary: genocide. Holocaust itself is nearly a neologism—or invented word. Its older meaning, from Biblical sources, was the sacrifices offered in ancient Judaism that were burned completely. 

As a teenager, the Rabbis of both congregations my family joined were direct survivors. And multiple members of each synagogue had experienced both the pre-war years in Europe, or life as Kindertransport exiles, and more than a few—detention in the vast turbulence of death. With the passage of decades, only a small remnant of survivors lives—for even the miraculous survivors of that terror will at some point all be gone. Their signal contribution has been in the documentation and exhumation of a history it might be more comfortable to simply forget, and in its establishment in human consciousness that we should ‘never forget’ and work to see it will occur ‘never again.’

These are more than slogans. They are important insights into contemporary Jewish consciousness. In Israel, beyond the official Yad vaShem Memorial, numerous smaller museums and archives established decades ago are constant reminders. Across Europe, memorial sites are frequently high on the list of Jewish visitors while offices of public records hold the key for many seeking to clarify their personal family history. In cities like Krakow or Prague, the surviving Jewish old city has all things Jewish—except a Jewish population commensurate with its pre-WW2 size. While Jewish communities and congregations mark the religious dates for Judaism, including Yom ha-Shoah (27 Nisan—13 days after Pesach) and Tisha b’Av, and mention of the martyrs of old remain traditional, were it not for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is entirely possible that the world at large might forget. 

The power of memory is fierce, and the emotional impact of grief is immeasurable. Jewish society—and the degree to which Jewish communities have influenced development in many branches of human endeavor, progress and development—are hard to overlook. But they are easy to deny, to submerge to other political ends, in the same way, it was easy to ignore Jewish suffering for hundreds of years before we attained civil rights and moved into modern status. Of course, we fight for our own hard-won position; now we need to build a common cause and offer a hand up to each minority.

Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamism, Christian Nationalism—the movements imbued only with their own current power—miss the point. Never Again. Never Forget.


Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784