As Jews, how do we convey the significance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day to those who did not grow up living and breathing the reality? Our obligation to the deceased, the victimized, the terrorized, the imprisoned – how do we respect their memories, their struggles, and their realities? How do we ensure that atrocities and bad behaviors remain consigned to history while guaranteeing the memories and lessons learned remain alive and active?
Throughout my religious education at temple, Holocaust survivors would kindly, patiently relay their tales of extreme horror to rooms full of children. These nightmarish stories could easily be flippantly dismissed by those who refuse to accept the true evil of man due to the depravity, absurdity, and cruelty if there weren’t common threads of rape, humiliation, starvation, torture, emotional abuse, and death.
Some would gasp and say “This is inappropriate! Young children shouldn’t hear such things.” while forgetting that young children were living these things. When you point that out, the ardent protectors of young children typically fall silent, stupidly and helplessly. One could even argue – complicity as it relates to today’s genocide, today’s rampant bigotry, today’s unchecked abuses of power.
There are many answers to how we Jews ensure we meet our obligations to the victims and the survivors of the Holocaust, but there is one common theme: education. Using resources such as Yad Vashem, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, one’s local Jewish community center, synagogue or library, we can maintain historical accuracy and share the truth.
But what of the obligation for those who aren’t Jewish? What is their obligation on this most somber of days and should there be one? Absolutely. And, perhaps their obligation and burden should be slightly heavier, slightly greater, slightly more significant and entail a bit more work as their exposure to the realities of the Holocaust doesn’t parallel the average Jewish person’s experience. For they, they live a life free from concern and wonder about WHEN this will happen again, WHO among their kin perished in The Shoah, HOW they will respond when the time comes, WHY do people want to exterminate them on a massive level, and WHAT would propel an entire world to do nothing about genocide to this very day.
Never forget. Never again.
Note for fellow Jewish folks: please join Yad Vashem’s Circle of Friends. It’s an annual, nominal donation. I cannot think of a more meaningful mitzvah.