Yom HaShoah, the day declared by the Knesset six decades ago to serve as the Jewish people’s period of memorial and mourning for the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, takes on a more vital aspect of a Day of Remembrance as the years pass. As the survivors of and witnesses to the horrors of the Third Reich’s near-annihilation of the Jewish people pass on, memory serves an increasingly important role.
If the people who lived through the death camps and ghettos, who liberated the venues of organized inhumanity, who risked their lives in Nazi-occupied Europe to rescue their neighbors — and sometimes total strangers — are no longer around to share their testimony, who will refute the Holocaust deniers?
That is why it has become increasingly important in recent decades for aging survivors to write, and often self-publish, their memoirs, or record their memories. To publicly share their wartime experiences, as several did in last week’s issue of The Jewish Week. To honor those Righteous Gentiles who prevented the monstrous total of victims from growing even larger. To establish bonds with other communities who suffered their own genocidal losses in the last century.
In their annual programs, more and more Jewish communities, synagogues and organizations are reaching out to victims of other genocidal tragedies — like the Armenians and the Rwandans — who are still counting their losses. An increasing number of Holocaust museums are providing space to share the stories of these other communities.
These acts of outreach are appropriate for both practical and ethical reasons; other faiths and ethnic groups are more disposed to make common cause with the Jewish community when the particular lessons of the Holocaust are broadened into universal concerns. This does not diminish the pain that our community feels when remembering the Six Million, but builds a wider community of fellow mourners.
The Holocaust, says one Florida rabbi whose Yom HaShoah program this week recalled other genocides, “is not just a Jewish tragedy, but a tragedy for all humankind. The lessons that the Jewish people learned need to be taught to the entire world.”
Yom HaShoah was observed in communities around the world this week. Such commemorations help us remember our own losses and recognize the pain felt by our neighbors in suffering.