Today is Yom HaShoah. The Holocaust Memorial Day.
There are so many – Jews and non-Jews alike – who say that we need to bury the Holocaust in the past and move on. They say that what happened during World War II could never happen again. There even are those who venture to say that the Holocaust never happened. Well, I say, how dare they.
I am not one to play the paranoid victim, but I know what I know. The Nazis hunted down and corralled Jews with the sole purpose of eliminating us from all corners of the earth. They murdered over a million innocent children with the cold callousness that comes with stomping on a roach. They were part of yet another bloodthirsty chapter in the history book about Jew-haters.
With my own eyes, I saw evidence of the Nazis handiwork when I was in Poland in 2008. I wrote about the experience a few years later…
“Standing with my daughter [and son’s girlfriend] in a gas chamber in Auschwitz, we heard the anguished cries of the people whose claw marks are still visible on the stone walls. Walking through barracks in Birkenau, we felt the terror of the tortured twins on whom experiments were performed. Going through the crematorium at Majdanek, we smelled the remnants of burnt flesh that permeated the wooden walls. Then, staring at the enormous, remaining mound of human ash and bones, we sobbed over the innocent millions who disappeared because of ethnic, cultural, and religious differences that gave rise to hate.”
Some people actually need to see things to believe them. And, even though I always knew the Holocaust to be true, I fundamentally was changed when I myself stood at the scenes of the crimes seven years ago. Once you are there, looking at the piles of shoes, eyeglasses, hair, and other personal effects that people were robbed of over seventy years ago, you cannot deny it happened. When you realize that you might not have even been born, but for an uncanny twist of fate that enabled your family to escape, you can never forget.
In Poland today, thousands of people marched from the Auschwitz concentration camp to the Birkenau extermination camp. For one-and-a-quarter miles, this annual “March of the Living” signals to the world that the “Death March” of the Holocaust did not achieve its ultimate objective. Mir zeinen doh…we are still here. In Israel, on Yom HaShoah a siren is sounded. Everyone and everything stops for two minutes of silence, reflection, and respect. I’ve been privileged to experience both.
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There are many lessons to be learned from the Holocaust. Here are a few of my takeaways. Evil exists in the world. (It always has and it always will.) Anti-Semitism, hand-in-hand with anti-Zionism, exists and is as real today as it was then. I believe that once ISIS, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, or any other terrorist regime successfully annihilates the Jews, all Christians and atheists and others better run and hide because they are next on the hit list. Another Holocaust CAN happen again.
I also have learned Good exists in the world. But sadly, most good people are either afraid to combat evil, don’t know how, or refuse to believe that it exists. Some good people only worry about their own safety and security; and not about others’. Many people fear – and even hate – others they do not know or understand. But I am hopeful too. I learned that some good people actually can take action and become unwitting heroes. If need be, I will dare to be one of them.
May the memories of those who perished be for a blessing. May the survivors continue to go from strength to strength. May we vow “Never Again” and resolve to find our own superhero from within.