Friday, April 09, 2010

Yom Ha-Shoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day

This Sunday (April 11, 2010) is Yom Ha-Shoah, a holiday created by the State of Israel to remember the losses the Jewish people suffered during the Holocaust (known in Hebrew as Shoah).  There is an international Holocaust Remembrance Day created by the United Nations that is observed on January 27, the day that the Allied forces liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp, a day of Allied triumph.  Yom Ha-Shoah is scheduled on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the largest single revolt by the Jews during the Holocaust, on Nissan 27 of the Hebrew calendar, about a week after Passover.

I've seen a number of gentiles suggest that the purpose of Holocaust remembrance is to make them feel guilty about what they did or did not do during the Holocaust.  To anyone who feels that way...
I suggest you get over yourself.  Seriously.  Sometimes it's not about you.

The primary theme you hear in Jewish Holocaust remembrance is: Never Again.  We reaffirm our commitment to never allow anything like this to happen to us or to anyone else again.  It was a gentile philosopher, George Santayana, who said that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  In that spirit, we commit ourselves on this day to remember our past, and to refute those who deny it, so that we do not repeat it.

We also mourn those who were lost, many of whom died on unknown dates and had no surviving descendants to mourn them properly through Jewish law and tradition.

I am fortunate enough to have no direct ancestors who were affected by the Holocaust -- my ancestors were all in America by 1906.  But my great-grandmother's siblings barely got out of Germany before the Holocaust began, and one of her nieces survived the Holocaust by hiding in an attic.  More distant relatives were not so fortunate.  One of my grandmother's second cousins died in a forced labor march to the Mauthausen concentration camp.  His brother died of starvation in that camp a week before it was liberated.  Other cousins appear in lists of the missing-presumed-dead after the war.  And I've known a number of older Jewish women who never wear short-sleeved shirts, because they don't want anyone to see the numbers tattooed on their arms when they were young girls.

But the most powerful memorial to the Holocaust I've ever seen said nothing at all about the Shoah itself.  It was an exhibition of thousands of family photographs called "And I Still See Their Faces."  They are photographs from Poland in the early 1900s: Class pictures from Jewish day schools.  Jewish family portraits.  Wedding photos.  Pictures of young Jewish adults frolicking at the beach.  Passport photos.  A vibrant Jewish community, full of people rich and poor, religious and secular, and underlying the entire exhibit is the unspoken knowledge that 90% of the Jews of Poland died in the Holocaust.  You can see many of these photos online here.

1 comment:

JewFAQ said...

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