Genocide’s lessons cannot be forgotten
Rabbi Linda K. Steigman, Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Drive:
Given the number of public figures who deny the Holocaust, the bottom line is to make sure that this terrible era in the history of mankind is remembered. Since a recent Google search for “Holocaust Deniers” turned up 535,000 entries, I would say we have our work cut out for us. And when I say, “we,” I truly mean “we.” For if only the Jewish community perpetuates the memory of the Holocaust (also known as the “Shoah”), and the rest of the world forgets, history will repeat itself.
While the Holocaust was far and above the most appalling example of man’s inhumanity to others, genocide and massacres of other minorities have been part and parcel of the history of our world. Crusaders in the 11th century massacred thousands of Jews in the Rhineland, while Cossacks in Russia in the 17th century attacked Jews with impunity. The Armenian genocide, shortly after the end of World War I, with 1 million to 1.5 million victims, was the first genocide of modern times. Yet the Holocaust, in sheer numbers, and in countries affected, was the most horrific of crimes. Six million Jews (including 1.5 million children) and 5 million other “non-Aryans” were deliberately slaughtered or worked to death. The shocking fact that Nazism arose out of an educated and cultured country should remind us that we have to be ever-vigilant of the potential for “civilized” people to act in uncivilized ways.
Yet it is important to find a balance between remembering the Holocaust and letting it define who we Jews are as a people. We should not make the mistake of ever forgetting what happened, especially now that the last survivors are coming to the ends of their lives. Yet only looking back — at the Holocaust — and not forward to what we have become and will continue to become as Jews, seems to me to reduce Judaism to suffering. Judaism is a beautiful faith and tradition, full of life, rejoicing in today and looking into the future. Each year we set aside one day — Yom HaShoah — to remember the past and to honor and mourn for the lives of those who perished under the Nazis. And then we move forward into life.
— Send e-mail to Linda Steigman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Poet said it best
David Berkowitz, president of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Drive:
Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah, is a modern addition to the Jewish calendar. Indeed, some Orthodox groups do not recognize it. It is a day for reflecting upon the murder of 6 million Jews, as well as millions of others, by the Nazis during World War II. It may be observed in many ways. In Kansas there is a statewide commemorative service on April 28 which, for some reason, is being held approximately a week after the actual date of April 21. On Yom HaShoah itself, many synagogues will have a special service, and in other synagogues special prayers may be said on the Sabbath prior to the date. There are forums, discussion groups and even book clubs dedicated to remembering the Holocaust.
However, it seems to me that the most important way of remembering the Holocaust is to make every effort to ensure it does not happen again because, in the long run, the Holocaust was not just about the attempted destruction of the Jews but the attempted destruction of all peoples or institutions which did or might have opposed totalitarianism. This idea is best summed up by a poem of a German Protestant pastor, Martin Niemöler, who said, “They came first for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
— Send e-mail to David Berkowitz at email@example.com