In Israel it is almost impossible to not remember and reflect upon the horrors and tragedy of the Holocaust. Especially on this day of remembrance, the Holocaust permeates every aspect of Israel’s existence.
But for those living outside of Israel, it takes effort to remember. Even if you try, the sheer numbers — 6 million — are simply overwhelming. How can anyone possible even begin to try to understand the suffering, brutality and horror inflicted upon millions of Jewish men, women and children in homes, schools, hospitals, on streets, in forests and in ghettos and concentration and death camps? It’s impossible.
The only way to attempt this awesome task of remembrance is to start with individuals. The Holocaust destroyed individuals — the kind of people you see in your own family and community.
Imagine the accomplished woman dressed in her finest business suit (is it you or someone you love?) being marched to her gassing. Imagine the accountant, professor, musician, storekeeper, carpenter or plumber being suddenly torn from his daily routine, herded into a forest and gunned down into a mass grave.
The sun shone, the birds sang and the local gentile population looked on (for the most part) as the Jewish populations of entire towns (like Teaneck, Lakewood, Monsey, Houston, San Diego etc.) were hunted down, collected in a central square and then forced onto trains heading to Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec, etc.
Distinguished rabbinic sages with long white beards and young yeshiva students immersed in Torah study alongside secular university students and communist activists went to their deaths with dignity and shared their final resting places in mass graves or ash piles.
If you’re willing to go one step further into a place that is almost too painful to even consider [if you can’t then please stop reading here]— take a look at your own young children or grandchildren (or nieces and nephews) and imagine those pure and innocent souls marching to their deaths — and imagine yourself helpless to do anything to help other than watch them…
Now you can begin, in the tiniest sense, to fathom the Holocaust, remember the tragedy and strive to ensure that it never happens again.
So on this day of remembering, try to take some time to reflect on the tragedy by identifying with the victims, even if you have no direct connection to any of them. They were people just like you.
As part of remembering the martyrs, try to do a good deed or act of kindness (mitzvah) in their memory.
May the souls of the millions that perished in the Holocaust be elevated and may they finally find some form of rest knowing that the Jewish nation can now live securely in the homeland they prayed and yearned for.
Reading books and watching movies about the Holocaust can help you better remember, understand and identify with the tragedy. In the spirit of Yom Hashoah I’d like to recommend a book that I believe is a must read.
It’s called Defy the Darkness by Joe Rosenblum. This guy went through so much and actually describes it in such great detail — more than I’ve seen anywhere else. It’s really mind blowing.
I actually borrowed it from the library, read it, and then bought it (used) just to have a copy on my bookshelf — it’s that important.
But I warn you, it’s scarier than any horror movie you’ve seen. So if you can handle it, you should read it.
If you’ve never seen the movie Schindler’s List, or if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, I highly recommend watching it. It is, I believe, the greatest non-documentary Holocaust movie ever made.
A poll entitled “National Survey of Holocaust Awareness and Knowledge Among Adults in the United States”, taken by the Claims Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), found that 22% of Americans aged 18-24 said they have never heard of the Holocaust and 11% of 25-34 year olds said they were unfamiliar with it. Fifty-eight percent of the 1,350 people polled said that they believed that another Holocaust could take place again in the future. While 94% of all respondents said that Jews were the victims of the Holocaust, a significant percentage believed that only 2 million or less were murdered.
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