This April 25 we observe Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date chosen for this observance is 27 Nissan in the Jewish calendar, associated with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 in which 13,000 Jews perished in resisting Nazi extermination.
Of all the unspeakable and senseless tragedies that took place during this darkest hour of human history, why was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising singled out as the date on which to commemorate Yom ha-Shoah? The reason is that in its earliest years, Israel sought to deemphasize the victimization of Jews, of those who went “helplessly like sheep to the slaughter,” and instead wished to celebrate the courage of those who resisted valiantly even when hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned.
Strange to say, but Ben Gurion and other leaders of the new Jewish state were ashamed at the “weakness” of those who went quietly to meet their fate; as Israel began its life surrounded by hostile neighbors, strength and heroism were the watchwords of the moment, and so the Holocaust commemoration came to be associated with the uprising.
With the perspective of history, it is easy to see that there was no shame at all in meeting with quiet dignity the inevitable fate that awaited millions of Jews and other victims of Nazi atrocities, nor the slightest shame in scrambling to survive at any costs in the darkest of circumstances that one group of people could inflict on another. The shame does not lie with the victims; the shame lies with those who stood by and watched and let it happen.
Today, another genocide is unfolding before our eyes, in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Since 2003, the Janjaweed militia has systematically murdered 400,000 men women and children and driven another two million into refugee camps where they cannot be protected by the vastly insufficient number of African Union troops in place on the ground. Ninety percent of African villages in the Darfur region have been destroyed in this racially motivated abomination perpetrated with the complicity of the Arab-based government in Khartoum.
This Yom HaShoah, we have the opportunity and responsibility to stand up to genocide, to show that strength comes in standing with the victims, to casting aside the shame of inaction. We can begin by visiting the American Jewish World Service website to send a message to President Bush urging American involvement in this deepening crisis, and then join the rally planned for April 30 in Washington D.C. to end genocide in Darfur. We can call our representatives in Congress to express our concern, send donations to either of the organizations mentioned above, and write letters to local papers, and add our prayers on behalf of those who suffering. And we can commit ourselves to saying “Never Again” will the world know the shame of standing by while its children bleed.