3 thoughts on Holocaust Remembrance
Today we remember the painful and destructive genocide inflicted upon the Jewish people, commemorated starting the evening of April 15 until the evening of April 16. We also remember the grave losses faced by the Armenian people in their genocide, commemorated on April 24. We honor the millions killed and the cutting off of future generations by recalling that these evils happened, by affirming that they matter, and by remembering the empty, terrible loss. May this never happen again.
Once again Holocaust Remembrance Day is upon us. For those of us who live in Israel, whether or not we have personal family associations with this day, this day and this issue is an inescapable part of our corporate ethos as Jewish people. Modern Israel, born out of the pain and ashes of the Holocaust, has determined never to forget the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during this time. As such, we live in its long, dark shadow. It never goes away and rarely recedes from a central place in our corporate consciousness.
Our children begin Holocaust studies at age five. Each year the television channels broadcast nonstop Holocaust programs during the days leading up to Holocaust Remembrance Day and on the day itself, all the entertainment channels and places of entertainment are closed. We are not allowed to forget, nor are we allowed to forgive.
Although we cannot and should not forget, how we remember is crucial. After decades of distance from the events, we still have survivors in our midst and they remember and often relive the pain of those terrible years. Their children and grandchildren bear the legacy of suffering and the cost of survival.
Its hard for my Palestinian brothers and sisters to grasp that we as Jews live in this long shadow. Some years ago, I attended a conference of Messianic Jewish and Palestinian Christian women during which we had lectures about the Holocaust and the Nakba. After the lectures, we met in small mixed groups to discuss what we had heard. I was shocked to discover that my Israeli Palestinian sister, who had worked as a nurse for twenty years in an Israeli Jewish hospital, had no idea that Israeli Jewish children are taught every year about the Holocaust or that the Holocaust is a constant undercurrent of our lives as Jews.
My own story is not one of Holocaust but one of escape from the pogroms of Russia from which my grandparents fled. It is impossible to underestimate the power of the narrative of persecution, destruction and suffering that we Jewish people carry. As women of God in this context, and for the sake of the next generations, we need to move our focus from continual recounting and remembering our stories of pain and suffering to seek a new way forward together. We acknowledge the past with all its brokenness and our eyes are open to the daily ongoing pain of our brothers and sisters under occupation. Holocaust’s shadow remains but the shadow of the cross has covered it for those of us who walk in the light of God’s kingdom.
Holocaust Remembrance Day will again come, and year by year we will be faced with the reality of the evil that man can do to his fellow man. Our task is to overcome that evil with good. We remember not only suffering; we remember costly redemption. In that remembering, we can forgive.
Today Israel remembers the victims of the Holocaust.
As a Palestinian looking back at this history, I am saddened that so many Jews and others were killed based on hatred. I can’t fathom walking into a room with others about to share our last moments of life. I assume it must have been an unbearable sense of sorrow and hopelessness. I can only imagine what their last thoughts were, what they thought as their lives were about to pass them by. Did they think of what they had in life or what they had not yet had the chance to experience?
Part of learning about history is also learning from it. We learn that we are human beings more than we are a race, ethnicity or a label. We learn that we must value life and live it in appreciation for what we have. We learn that we need to seek relationships with our perceived enemies so that history does not repeat itself.
We also learn that we too can be manipulated and convinced to dehumanize others to the point where we no longer see them as worthy. Worthy to live with or tolerate them. As Palestinians and Israelis we have reached a point where we stopped learning from history, but rather are using it to justify our own inability to love.
Hatred has become the air we breathe, and if we are not careful, we too can become agents of evil. We can allow our society to feed us with fear -- fear of annihilation, fear of insecurity, fear of exclusion. And this fear is used to make us do the unthinkable. It is not equivalent to the Holocaust but it is complicity in evil that leads us to deeper evil. If we stay quiet in the face of the injustices that are done in the name of our nation, we allow history to repeat itself.
In learning about the Holocaust, I’ve also learned about those who sacrificed and risked their lives to hide Jews, and others, in their homes in Nazi Germany. These heroes paid a high price by protecting others.
Palestinians: In today’s world, what would you do if ISIS were looking for Jews in your neighborhood? Would you be willing to hide an Israeli Jew in your home? Would you be willing to risk your life, and those of your household, for the sake of a perceived enemy?
Israelis: If radical Jews were looking for Palestinians in your neighborhood, would you be willing to hide Palestinians in your home? Would you be willing to risk your life, and that of your household, for the sake of a perceived enemy?
I hope your answer is yes, because we remember.
“Never again” and “We will not forget.” These are phrases that are tossed around, sometimes lightly and sometimes passionately, on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Living in Israel, I cannot escape the impact that the Holocaust has had on society here and even on how we approach the conflict.
While I have always been drawn to the stories of courage and sacrifice that emerged from one of the darkest hours in human history, I am compelled to ask: Would I have been one of those willing to risk my life to save “the other?” And before even arriving at that pivotal decision, would I have been one of those who stood up to systematic injustice that slowly deprived people of their rights, eventually eroding society and robbing minorities of their very humanity?
The people involved in such dramatic examples of courage did not suddenly become that way, though. In remembering the Holocaust, I believe I have a responsibility to not only say “Never again,” but to act it out each day. I do not use this phrase in the way that it is so often used, as a defense against the world or an excuse to adopt an “us versus them” mentality, believing that surely everyone is out to get “us,” whoever “us” may be.
When I say “Never again,” I mean that I must walk with my eyes wide open, choosing to see the ways that we dehumanize each other, choosing to not turn the other way when I see institutionalized injustice. The Holocaust did not happen overnight but developed from a society that allowed its foundations to be laid.
If I am not willing to open my eyes now, then why do I think I would suddenly do so when someone would need a hiding place from genocide? If I make justifications now, then would I not justify turning away then too, saying that perhaps they deserve to be on the run, perhaps they and their families are traitors or even terrorists? This would likely be how the media and the government would label them.
The capacity to dull our sympathy, to not empathize with the other’s suffering because of our own desire for acceptance or our presuppositions, allows us to accept a society that is deteriorating and makes us comfortable with injustice.
When I see a family’s home being razed because they are related to a terrorist, when I see Muslims being attacked simply for their religion, or when I see people losing their rights for “security” reasons, I cannot turn a blind eye. To do so is already placing me on the road to being part of the problem and not the road towards courageously putting my life on the line to save them.
I will end with a quote by Martin Niemoller, a Protestant pastor who became an outspoken critic of Hitler:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.