In today’s Upper School Chapel, Abby Brand shared a powerful reflection about Yom Ha Shoah, the Holocaust Day of Remembrance, that we observe each year. Below are her words.
We forget a lot of things in our day to day lives. We forget our locker combos. We forget to wear formal on Wednesday, to do an assignment, or to wish a friend happy birthday. With all of these little things that we forget that will not have long-term significance, it is time to ask ourselves… what do we remember, and why?
The details and occurrences that remain in our memory are the ones that made us feel something–the ones that continue to MAKE us feel something. I would argue that, for the past 72 years, the Holocaust has continuously caused feelings of sadness and remorse but also gratefulness and hope for the present and future. This thursday is Holocaust Remembrance Day, in hebrew known as Yom Hashoah. It is a day set aside to remember the genocide that killed millions of Jews, Gypsies, disabled people, homosexuals, and other innocent citizens. Elie Wiesel wrote in his book, Night, “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” Millions suffered and now it has become our responsibility to teach and learn about the matter in order to prevent it from ever happening again.
Two summers ago while coaching at a summer camp at the Jewish Community Center , all of the campers and staff went outside to view a memorial dedicated to the Hashoah. It sparked curiosity in one of my campers and she looked up at me and asked: “what is the holocaust?” My brain rushed for answers that I could tell this wide-eyed seven year old jewish girl. In the end, I chose to explain with very little details. I said to her, “a while back there was a bad ruler who had a lot of people killed because he really did not like them. Feeling content with my improvised response I looked down again to see hear her asking me “Why did he do that? Why did he not like them?” The why questions were a whole lot more difficult, and really I did not have a response for her, and I never will.
More recently, I was at an event sponsored by the Holocaust Museum when I was approached by Max Glauben, a survivor of the Holocaust. He had just finished singing a few songs and came up to ask me a question because I am young and most likely familiar with technology. While I was in fact unable to answer his question about the way his phone numbers were displayed on his screen, his question reminded me of how human he is, how much like you and me he is. Yet simultaneously this HUMAN BEING still remembers seeing one bullet strategically used to kill two people and still remembers being forced to hit another prisoner because if he did not, he, himself, would be shot. He remembers the five camps he endured and the day he was liberated. He remembers, so why shouldn’t we?
During the Holocaust, innocent men, women, and children became numbers…we remember to give their true identities back. During this time, people lost their families for absolutely no reason… we remember so they are not alone. During Kristallnacht and the other tragic events to follow, fear spiraled in people’s hearts… we remember to put them at ease. During these horrors, upstanders emerged… we remember so they know what they did was right. During the genocide, the world witnessed some of the most shameful treatment of human beings in history…we remember so that it never happens again.
How millions and millions of people were forced to live during the Holocaust was not fair, and it would not be fair for us leave them in the past. We are the lucky ones, all of us. We are the ones living here with freedom to believe what we want to believe and do what we want to do. We are privileged to have neither experienced nor witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust, but we are only deserving of all of this if we can Remember and Never forget.