There are many reasons to remember and commemorate the Holocaust, which we will do this coming week around Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 25. Here are six reasons, each an important lesson we can learn from the Holocaust, lessons we cannot afford to forget. (They are presented in no particular order.)
One: One person can made a difference: Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial and Research Museum, has honored more than 21,310 Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Thousands of individuals survived because of their intercession. The contributions to society by these survivors, their children, and their children’s children are a direct result of such righteous intervention, reminding us of the rabbinic teaching, “If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world.”
Two: Not doing anything is an act of complicity: The Holocaust would never have happened without the millions of bystanders who stood by, or went along, when their neighbors, co-workers and classmates were first ostracized and socially and politically isolated. That is why I am sending postcards and arranging for my congregation to attend the Save Dafur Rally to Stop Genocide April 30 in Washington, D.C. What are you doing?
Three: Believe what you read in the news from reliable sources: The most chilling gallery for me in the U. S. Holocaust Museum is the one that shows the front pages of major American newspapers featuring articles recording Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Such articles prove that people knew what was happening and that the Holocaust was not inevitable, if the nations of the world had intervened by accepting refugees and seriously protesting Hitler’s plans. This leads us to the next lesson:
Four: Believe the threats of tyrants: Hitler was not shy about warning the West of his plans to destroy the Jews. This is a chilling reminder in the face of Iran’s reiteration this week to destroy Israel. Why is there any international ambivalence about serious sanctions to stop nuclear aide to Iran?
Five: The fate of all Jews is intertwined: It didn’t matter if you were right-wing or left, religious or secular, affiliated or assimilated. Every Jew was equal grist for the Nazi death machine. The Holocaust doesn’t only remind us that when Jews are threatened anywhere, Jews are endangered everywhere. It also reminds us that Jews are responsible for each other, i.e. for intervening to rescue those in need, distress or danger.
Six: The human spirit can triumph over evil: In the face of incomprehensible horror, individuals traded bread for a Passover haggadah or saved a potato to make a Hanukkah menorah. They shared their blankets and helped a bunkmate. After the war, most survivors found love, rebuilt families, and embraced life again. They gave of their time and resources to build communal and religious institutions and educate the next generation so such horror would not happen again. As their stories pass on to us, may we be inspired to take our place carrying their stories and their lessons to the generations to come.