Holocaust Remembrance Day 2018
Many people take time tomorrow to recall Holocaust Remembrance Day. The internationally recognized date corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. Nisan is the first month of the Jewish calendar (according to the Torah) and coincides with March – April on the civil calendar. The Torah calls it chodesh ha-aviv, the month of spring as it marks the beginning of the spring months.
The Hebrew calendar commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day this year on Thursday, April 12. In Hebrew, the day is called Yom Hashoah. When the actual date of Yom Hashoah falls on a Friday, the state of Israel observes it on the preceding Thursday (and on the following Monday when it falls on a Sunday).
This particular Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the 1943 act of Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland during World War II, and which opposed Nazi Germany’s final effort to transport the remaining Ghetto population to Treblinka (an extermination camp located just north-east of Warsaw).
The Nazis intentionally burned the Ghetto, block by block from April 19 to May 16. A total of 13,000 Jews died, about half of them burnt alive or suffocated. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II. April 19 was the eve of Passover.
The police and SS auxiliary forces were planning to complete the deportation action within three days. They were delayed because Jewish insurgents firing and tossing Molotov cocktails and hand grenades ambushed them from alleyways, sewers, and windows.
A few days before the uprising ended, a member of the Polish government in exile committed suicide in London to protest the lack of reaction from the Allied Governments. In his farewell note, he wrote:
“I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave. By my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people.”
This is a day for Jews and the rest of us to pause to remember the millions of people who have been murdered or whose lives have been changed beyond recognition during the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution.
They are not commemorated on this day, but our minds and hearts no doubt wander to the victims of genocides in places such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. We honour the survivors of the regimes and challenge ourselves to use the lessons of their experience to inform our lives today.
I once read a statement from the child of Holocaust survivors. “I grew up in Brooklyn and my parents were Holocaust survivors, so they never taught me anything about nature, but they taught me a lot about gratitude.” Let’s never forget to give thanks for who we are and what we have.
Genocide does not take place on its own. It is a steady process that can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. There isn’t a person alive who can separate self from hatred. Each of us is intimate with the heart of darkness.
It was Ronald Reagan who reminded us, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same”
Jonathan Sacks offers a good companion piece. “Jews survived all the defeats, expulsions, persecutions and pogroms, the centuries in which they were regarded as a pariah people, even the Holocaust itself, because they never gave up the faith that one day they would be free to live as Jews without fear.”