Today is the Day of Remembrance. The day we remember the Holocaust, the period from 1939-1945 11 million innocent people were systematically murdered by being hanged, shot, malnourished, starved to death, worked to death and poisoned in gas chambers. It is one of the most evil examples of what humans can do, and it happened only sixty years ago. Today is the day we remember the six million Jews and five million non-Jews--Soviets, Poles, homosexuals, Jehovah's witnesses and others--who lost their lives for one reason--they did not fit Hitler's Aryan ideal.
Why, though, do we remember still, sixty years after the fact? We are all familiar with slogans of the day such as "Never Forget," "6,000,000," and "Never Again"--but what do they mean? Does remembering slogans from the Holocaust prevent future Holocausts? Sadly, the reality of the world shows us otherwise. There have been countless more mass murders, wars and genocides after the Holocaust? Last week we remembered Rwanda, which is an example of state sponsored ethnic cleansing a mere eight years ago. How many more genocides continue to occur today? Has the news covered the wars in Chechnya and in Sudan? We vow to Never Forget, but does it truly help?
I find it pertinent that Holocaust Remembrance day falls right after Passover. We Jews have just spent a week eating matzah and gefilte fish in order to remember how we were once slaves in Egypt but were freed to become a nation. It's basically the beginning of Am Israel, aka the Jews. And we've been doing this--having a seder with the family, reading the seder book, reciting the four questions--we've been doing this for 3,000 years. Three thousand years. That's a long time to remember each year how we were once slaves in Egypt in hopes of remaining free and upholding freedom.
But what have we experienced instead during those 3,000 years? One of my dad's (who is also a rabbi) favorite jokes is that "The history of Jews is this: they tried to kill us, we overcame, let's eat!" Why as Jews have we been the victims of hatred for thousands of years? Across the world we have faced oppression, pogroms and persecution, fighting for our own survival.
Don't get me wrong--there have been prosperous times for the Jews, including today's time (at least in America) when we can live freely without fear of persecution. There has been only one instant in which we have been our own rulers. It's called the State of Israel, created in 1948, almost two thousand years after the Jews were exiled from Palestine and living in the diaspora since. Israel became a state, not coincidentally, three years after the world "found out" about the horrors of the Holocaust, created in part as a safe haven for Jews.
Sadly, with the continued Middle East violence, Israel is not this safe haven. Not even in our own country are we safe. Still we are not free. Still we are fighting for survival!
It's a lot to take in. And I am not writing this in order to be depressing or cynical. No, we have lived under 3,000 years of persecution. But we have lived. We not only have survived, we have thrived!
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So what then, does it mean that we have been surviving for 3,000 years on this Holocaust Remembrance Day? Despite all of the hardships that we remember, what is it that we keep on believing? One of the most important themes of Jewish prayers and songs is the passionate hoping for peace. The anthem of the State of Israel--"hatikvah" means "the hope." All Jews know the "Oseh Shalom," our song of peace. We Jews, despite the hardships, have continued to pray for three thousand years, hoping for the future, hoping for peace, hoping for "Next year in Jerusalem!" Hoping for an end to slavery of all peoples.
And so this is part of remembering, of vowing "Never Again." We, who are students in one of the best universities in one of the most, if not the most, powerful nation of the world; we, who are truly the future leaders of America--we are the ones responsible for making sure "Never Again" is more than just a slogan, but is a reality.
We have grown up two generations after the Holocaust, and many of us have grandparents who are survivors and have heard their or other survivors' stories. Sometimes I forget that my children will not have this privilege. Within the next decade or two there will be no more survivors to share their personal stories. They pass it on to us not just so that we hear them, but because it is our duty to tell the next generation. And it is their duty that they tell the next generation and they the next. We have to continue to "Never Forget."
This, for me, is why we must vow on Yom Hashoah, "Never Again." We are vowing as a generation, as future leaders, future parents and grandparents, that we will make sure the Holocaust and all other forms of slavery are not forgotten, and that as we remember that we continue passionate hoping for and pursuing peace.
And I know, I felt during my Passover seder, that we can do it, and that we must. That is who we are, Am Israel Chai.
Maital Guttman is a Trinity junior. He is the organizer of Holocaust Rememberance Day.