Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Tonight marks that start of Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah, Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes' Remembrance Day, in Israel and across the world. The annual date for commemoration of the Holocaust coincides closely with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 69 years ago.
As people across the world, Jews and non-Jews alike, try to come to grips with the enormity of evil, the murder of six million Jews and millions of non-Jews, Israel is holding commemorative ceremonies across the country.
According to Yedioth Ahronot, one of Israel's major daily newspapers, there are approximately 198,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel today. Last year, some 11,700 died and the remaining survivors are not getting any younger. Many of these survivors are still able to tell their stories and we hope that we will have the privilege and opportunity to listen and to hear their words.
In many of the ceremonies, detailed accounts about specific Holocaust victims or survivors are recited. One of the recurrent themes of Israel's Holocaust Memorial Center, Yad VaShem, has been the idea of individual dignity. "L'kol Ish Yesh Shem" - Each person has a name. Despite the fact that six million people were murdered, we remember that each person had a name, a life, dreams, hopes and a family. Each person had a story. By recounting these individual stories, of victims and of survivors, we remember the individual humanity of the millions of victims and survivors.
For some, Holocaust commemoration is accompanied by a universalist message; that people everywhere must fight prejudice and hatred and that we must be vigilant in ensuring that the world takes steps to actively prevent and stop genocide from occurring. This is the message that is powerfully imparted at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Washington, D.C.
While many in Israel share this view and reflect on this universalist message, there is another message that is of equal if not greater importance. For Israelis and for many Jews across the world, the Holocaust demonstrated that the Jewish people could not rely on anyone other than themselves for their survival as a people. That message resonates at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Center, which has a less universalist focus than its newer Washington counterpart. For many Israelis, only a strong and powerful Israel can protect the Jewish people against the many worldwide threats.
At this evening's Yom Hashoah V'Hagvurah commemoration in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu cited the Iranian threat, an existential threat to Israel and the Jewish people that focuses on the latter of these lessons. Yet in a world in which a Norwegian Nazi-inspired mass murderer is trying to use a trial to promote a message of hatred, and the Syrian dictatorship continues to massacre Syrians, we cannot help but also consider the other lessons of the Holocaust as well.
Aside from the importance of Israeli strength and Jewish resolve, and of the importance of the universalist fight against evil and intolerance, tonight and tomorrow, above all else, we remember the millions of victims who perished during the Holocaust, their lives and their stories, and the lives and stories of the survivors who were scarred for life.