Yom Hashoah

04.28.03

Today is Yom Hashoah, the official Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It’s a day to take a moment and reflect. A day to light a candle in remembrance of the six million. This is what the US Holocaust Memorial Museum says about Yom Hashoah:

Holocaust Remembrance Day is a day that has been set aside for remembering the victims of the Holocaust and for reminding Americans of what can happen to civilized people when bigotry, hatred and indifference reign. The United States Holocaust Memorial Council, created by act of Congress in 1980, was mandated to lead the nation in civic commemorations and to encourage appropriate Remembrance observances throughout the country. Observances and Remembrance activities can occur during the week of Remembrance that runs from the Sunday before through the Sunday after the actual date.

While there are obvious religious aspects to such a day, it is not a religious observance as such. The internationally-recognized date comes from the Hebrew calendar and corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on that calendar. That is the date on which Israel commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. In Hebrew, Holocaust Remembrance Day is called Yom Hashoah.

The Holocaust is not merely a story of destruction and loss; it is a story of an apathetic world and a few rare individuals of extraordinary courage. It is a remarkable story of the human spirit and the life that flourished before the Holocaust, struggled during its darkest hours, and ultimately prevailed as survivors rebuilt their lives.

For more information, a few good links to visit are the Nizkor Project, the website for Yad Vashem, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s website.

Perhaps not incidentally, Simon Wiesenthal announced his retirement from six decades of work pursuing and catching Nazi war criminals. The 94-year-old and his organisation are responsible for apprehending about 1,100 war criminals, and he is finally ready to quit:

“My work is done,” he said. “I found the mass murderers I was looking for. I survived them all. Those who I didn’t look for are too old and sick today to be pursued legally.”

It may seem like a small event, but Wiesenthal’s retirement is probably symbolic of the turning point that the world finds itself at today. Normally quiet to almost the point of being reclusive, Wiesenthal has spoken out this year about current events, including the riot at Concordia that prevented Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking:

Famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal has urged Concordia to reschedule last month’s speech by Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that anti-Israel protesters have succeeded in restricting freedom of speech for the entire student body.

“I never thought I would live to see the day when there would be more open expression of hate against Jews than in the 1930s,” said Wiesenthal in a letter to Rector Frederick Lowy. “Tragically, that is the situation today around the world.”

Perhaps this is never more relevant as right now. The last generation of Holocaust survivors is ageing, and sadly, there will soon no longer be anyone alive to bear witness. The horrors of the Nazi regime will become just another chapter of history, remembered by Steven Spielberg movies and the hundreds of archives that are frantically being assembled by museums and historians. And the more remote in time it becomes, the easier it will be for the racists and revisionists to twist history. And the easier it will be for history to repeat itself.

At the same time, the world is witnessing an outbreak of antisemitism that – while it would be unfair to all to compare it to the Holocaust – is clearly heightened.

Tomorrow’s challenges are already crystallizing today. It will no longer be sufficient to point to history, because too many people are loudly rewriting history to make it fit their prejudices and perspectives.

I’ve frequently heard criticism that there is too much focus among Jewish organizations on the Holocaust, and that we ought to move forward after so long. That may be, but anyone who moves forward without remembering history is bound to repeat it. We say that so often, it’s become somewhat of a cliché. But it is also an irrefutable truth.

Yes, this is a turning point in history. Something to think about in the coming hours of Yom Hashoah.

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