A Force for Life, Not for Anger

Remembering the Holocaust has led to new heights in interfaith relations, Jewish life, and caring for the oppressed.

BY: Rabbi Irving Greenberg


Holocaust remembrance has struck a resonant chord with the American people. More than 15 million people, 80% of them non-Jews, have visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum since its opening. Surveys show that, exposed to the enormity of death unleashed by the Shoah (the Hebrew word for the Holocaust), visitors are emotionally moved to take greater responsibility for society and for potential victims of persecution. Paradoxically, Holocaust remembrance pulls people to the side of increased life, a kind of unexpected testimony to the decency of the human spirit.

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Logically, Holocaust memory should be a force for anger and revenge, for it is the result of a uniquely absolute, government-sponsored plan to kill all Jews. The murder of six million Jews; the systematic degradation, stripping of human rights, deprivation of elemental living needs before the actual genocide began; the gypsies, Poles, and gay people who also were swept into persecution and death in the Nazi mechanisms of the Shoah; the fact that all this was made possible by the relative apathy of the civilized world: These truths should enrage us and lead us to moral despair.

Jews should fault Christianity for creating a ring of hatred and stereotyping around Jewry, which the Nazis perversely exploited. And Christians might well be tempted into blaming secular, pagan Nazis, or even into faulting Jews for their own victimization. Similarly, Americans might avoid the museum as being too painful, too foreign in its evil world.

In fact, the opposite has occurred. Survivors, marked by memory, reaffirmed life and raised a generation of children disproportionately involved in human service professions. Goaded by Shoah remembrance, Jews have embarked on the greatest outburst of Jewish life ever, including the creation of the State of Israel. Diaspora and Israeli Jews worked together to rescue communities in danger and to recreate Jewish life. Rabbinic and Talmudic study has been reestablished on an unprecedented scale after being 80% decimated in the Holocaust. These are the signs of life, not of death.

Lashed by the horrors of the Holocaust and spurred by a sense of self-critical accountability, the leading Christian churches have purified classic teachings, removing demeaning stereotypes of Judaism and confronting hostile elements in their own sacred texts. They now affirm the dignity of Jews and the ongoing validity of Judaism.

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