It is that time of year again. It is the time when, as life bursts forth from the slumber of winter, we recall the lives taken during the Holocaust. Yom Hashoah is a reminder that, as days lengthen and warmth returns, the darkness of the past is still with us. And so we remember.
We honor those who survived the cruelty dealt to them by strangers and neighbors. We commemorate those who were murdered for simply being themselves. We place flowers near graves or memorials. If we are lucky enough, we listen to a survivor share their story and we are moved.
But, do we do what is needed to truly honor the dead and the living? Do we romanticize this day rather than confront the hard lessons it offers to us? Have we lost an understanding of why this day is necessary?
If you are like me, your answers to these questions vary from year to year. That is why we need Yom Hashoah. This day asks us to stop and intentionally remember.
In Israel, at 10:00am, people stop everything they are doing and stand in silence for two minutes. It is two mintutes of national stillness which provides time and space for active remembering. In that act of remembering is the key to the lessons of the Holocaust.
Why? Because remembering is a challenge and a call to change.
Remembering those murdered during the Holocaust requires that we confront the reality of the perpetrators. The ordinary people. The mothers, fathers, teenagers, aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers, school teachers, pastors, lawyers, engineers, doctors, nurses, artists, athletes, shopkeepers, bookkeepers, and so may more who turned in their neighbors, took homes and possessions from those deported, supervised the camps, drove the trucks and trains, kept the records, pulled the trigger . . .
Remembering the survivors of the Holocaust requires that we confront the reality that survivors overcame ridicule, abuse, arrest, inhumane treatment, arbitrary torture, and the horrors of death dealt out by the perpetrators. The ordinary people. People who were their neighbors. People who went to houses of worship one day and spit on them the next day. People who grew up in a society in which hatred of certain groups was OK. People who stood by and watched and did nothing. People just like you and me.
Every one of us, in our own ways, large and small, perpetrate hurt on other people. We live in a society that elevates one group of people over another and allows, or encourages, the higher group to antagonize or ridicule those considered “less than.” We witness acts of hatred and excuse, or support, the aggressor if the victim is not like us. We perpetuate the idea of the “other” by using negative stereotypes as if they were truth. We strengthen systems of oppression when we choose to ignore hurtful behavior in ourselves, our friends, and our family members.
Remembering is a challenge and a call to change. Responding to that call is an act of courage and honor.
At sundown this evening, April 7, 2021, Yom Hashoah begins. We have until sundown on April 8 to respond to the call to change and do the hard work of honoring the dead and the living.