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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

What We Remember

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2021. "Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) was founded nearly 20 years ago. Its purpose was to commemorate and educate everyone about the Holocaust and all the victims of Nazi persecution, but also to include and raise awareness of subsequent recognised genocides." (From the Historical Society, a Voice For History)

I don't want this day, this marking of time to go by without making a brief comment on it.

It's been 76 years since the liberation of Auschwitz and thousands upon thousands of headlines and news cycles have occurred since then. As with any calamitous times in history, it is only with time that lessons begin to percolate and become a part of the parlance about the event. I am not a historian, but I want to add my own impressions of what the lessons of the Holocaust might be the enormity of the event continues to settle. This is only based on my own thoughts and is not meant to be scholarly, just my own opinion.

There is a slogan that began years ago and still exists. The slogan is "NEVER FORGET" although "NEVER FORGET" is easier written than done. NEVER FORGET is good for my parent's generation and perhaps my own generation as our lives were directly impacted by the war and its atrocities. Perhaps "NEVER FORGET AND FIND WAYS TO REMEMBER" is a better as the Holocaust fades into history.

We remember the Holocaust through numbers. Six million, 10 million. It is important to remember the numbers but it is also important to remember the names of some of those numbers in order to bring a human dimension to numbers that are far too large for us to comprehend.

The history book reflect upon world leaders and their reactions and actions during the war. Were they complicit? Do other world leaders who were involved with the war hold any responsibility for Europe's tragedy? History remembers leaders differently over time and some of their missteps assume more importance after generations. This is a powerful lesson for our own leadership in the years 2020- 2021.

As a nation, we recall big military events and our own historic involvement and how we as a nation made a difference in the trajectory of the war. As a nation we remember the horror of places such as Auschwitz and we rightly honor the memory of those many soldiers who fought to free Europe from the grip of Nazism.

As families we remember snippets of stories shared with us by our families. What will our children share with their children about this period of time? Which of the stories of bravery will be recalled in our families generations from now? What will be remembered and what will be forgotten? We have the holiday of Passover to recall a time of freedom from year to year. Will Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom Hashoah be enough to have the generations recall important lessons? How will we pass on these stories to future generations?

Historians study and analyze events to learn from the past, and to prepare for the future. They look at the conditions that allowed a country, its army and its citizenry to buy into the ideas of the Nazi party. They ask how people are able to strip others of their humanity and refer to them as "the other" or even going as far as referring to them as insects, so that it is easier to kill, to torture and persecute them. I fear that this is not a lesson well learned. So many of us still see "the other" as an enemy, or less than us or undesirable, or guilty of all manner of crimes. It is simple to speak of how this happens, but how do we learn not to do this? This is happening now all over the world and the red flags of history are there warning us to beware of our own behaviors.

We remember people by their acts of kindness and extraordinary brave acts in the midst of life threatening situations. Perhaps of all of the things that we do, this is the most important, not just because it is important to recall individual stories, instead of numbers, but also to inspire us to do our best now. I will always marvel at the risks ordinary people took and the way that they faced possible death in order to shelter people. These are the heroes of The Shoah, the gentiles who opted to be human, to be humane, to see the humanity of their neighbors, to see their suffering and do something about it. "It" is a small word which contains universes of gratitude and people like me who would never have been here if it wasn't for their "it."

Last, and this is in a category all of its own, we remember those hunted and beaten and starved and ridiculed and tortured who found it within themselves to fight back. These acts of defiance, from the very smallest to the armed revolts, each can teach us about the meaning of a special sort of bravery. We are reminded that our actions have the potential to raise us high to the generations that come long after us.

Thousands of year later we still recall the bravery of the early Maccabees through candles we light for eight nights. It is my hope that generations after the horror of the Holocaust we will remember more than the number six million, but also the individual stories of bravery, the acts of valor, the incredible bravery to fight in the face of the impossible, and the power of not giving up hope in life. Hope is a difficult word to associate with the Holocaust, but it is the stories of righteous gentiles and brave Jews that can bring us hope that there is good humanity even in the face of overwhelming insanity .

From the Holocaust Memorial in Boston. Quote from Pastor Martin Niemöller.



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