Holocaust Remembrance Day: Why I Remember

When I was a kid I read I lot about World War II.

I went through stages when I was in middle school through high school. I would pick a part of history and obsessively read about it. When I as in 7th grade it was Elizabeth I and Henry VIII. In 8th grade it was Japanese mythology. In 9th grade we read Night by Elie Wiesel and I started back into World War II and the Holocaust.

When I was 11 or 12 I remember someone at my church talking about the book The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. I had recently read “Behind the Bedroom Wall”, a fictional story of a German teenager whose family is hiding Jews in their home, so I ended up reading that book as well. I think when I was 11 those books felt more like adventure novels than they did anything real or horrifying. They represented knowledge of something so evil that, at that age, I don’t think I could even comprehend it being real.

Reading Night and The Hiding Place again at age 15 was a different story. I could comprehend the reality of the evil that was done and it made me angry. It still makes me angry, mostly because I can either feel angry or horribly horribly sad.

I’m not Jewish, but that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, cut me off from feeling the anger and horror at what happened. It’s just as important for me to remember, even though it didn’t directly effect me or anyone in my family, because it should never just be the Jews who say “Never Again” when talking about the Holocaust.  It doesn’t cut me off from feeling the anger and horror at what is going on in the world today, where Jews are once again being attacked for no reason other than the fact that they exist.

It’s like a sick cosmic joke. How many times can history repeat itself?

Of course these days it’s coming from multiple sides. There’s the anti-semites, who hate the Jews and anyone who doesn’t hate Jews. There’s the Islamic terrorists who hate Jews…and Christians…and gay people…and the Yazidi…and on and on and on. It’s not like this irrational and murderous hatred has vanished from the world.

I read somewhere the other day that the majority of Germans just want to put the Holocaust behind them. I can understand that, because I’m sure it’s a horrible thing to think of what your forefathers did, but while I don’t hold modern Germans as responsible for the actions of the Nazis and I would hope no one else does (people should be responsible for their own actions, not those of their ancestors)…we don’t just get to put the murder of millions of Jews (not to mention the non-Jews that were also slaughtered) behind us like it was some sort of freak accident or act of nature.

60+ years can allow you to put a lot of things behind you. The Holocaust is not one of them.

These deaths weren’t caused by bad weather or a factory accident. This was wholesale, legalized slaughter.

You don’t just forget about something like that, no matter how many years go by or whether or not you or your family were directly affected by it.

To say that we can just put something of this magnitude behind us is to say that we no longer need to worry about it happening again. The memory of the Holocaust keeps us sharp, keeps us saying “Never Again” when we could grow complacent and pretend nothing like that could ever happen again in this day and age, even as current events around the world tell us that idea is very wrong.

So I’m not Jewish, I don’t have the same emotional or familial attachment to this event in history, but I remember it all the same. Not only because the victims deserve to be remembered, but because, as another American once said, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

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5 Comments

  1. Hi Meredith
    When in business in Montreal on many occasions I visited the homes of elderly Jews.
    As was often my wont, I would engage them in conversation about their families’ history. More often than not, they had photos of loved ones prominently displayed on bookcases and tables in various rooms in the house. They would point to one picture after another, saying, “This was my aunt. She died at Auschwitz. This was my uncle. He died at Sobibor. Over here are my brother and two sisters – they were also gassed by the Nazis,” and so on.
    Again, more often than not, reaching toward a photo would reveal a 7 or 8-digit number in black ink tattooed on their forearm. It was a stark reminder of the hellish nightmare these people lived through and from which they were lucky to escape.
    It seems almost inconceivable that anti-Semitism is on the ascendance once again. The Holocaust denier is no less a savage than the barbarians of ISIS.
    Barry Jackson
    St. Lazare, Quebec

  2. As a Jewish person I appreciate your integrity and acknowledgement of the Holocaust. It is especially profound to read your article when some people just shelve the Holocaust as “another side effect” of war or go so far as to scoff and deny it never happened. As you said, this was slaughter on a full-scale and it took me years of reading and listening to learn that this road to hell was paved gradually through delusions of restoring Germany to greatness, through public lies of “scientific proof” that Jews were inferior, and through cowardliness of the everyday men and women who went about their business and did nothing while their neighbors were being slaughtered, only to respond years later with “What could we do?”

    The Holocaust was humanity’s failure. Not just the failure of the German people but people everywhere who knew what was going on and turned away–or worse, had hands in this massive execution (e.g. Swiss banks holding the funds of Jewish people.) The “Never Again” chant is a weakening slogan in the 21st century when countries like Iran openly state the desire to destroy not just the State of Israel but Jews everywhere.

    Dennis Prager’s book “Why the Jews?” offered some insight into why Jewish people were singled out for persecution, and not just because they looked different or were the recipients of jealousy. Rather, Mr. Prager suggests it was Jewish values that defied tyranny in every generation that created such opposition. On Passover we acknowledge defiance against Pharaoh who didn’t care how many people were crushed beneath his buildings by celebrating together. On Hanukkah we celebrate religious freedom in defiance of the Greeks who forced the Jews to worship pagan gods. In later years students in universities rallied against Communist Russia for sending Jews to the Gulag because they were secretly studying the Bible or observing Sabbath. These things we embrace, the sanctity of life, the dignity of the individual, the harmony of the home, compassion for those less fortunate, the ability to read and write and ask questions….these are all things I identify with the freedom that you conclude with in your article. A freedom to be cherished, protected, and fought for at all costs.

    • It’s so nice to get a comment that is agreeing with me from time to time so thanks for that.

      I agree, I think in many ways it had far more to do with culture rather than just jealousy (though the history of semitism is in many ways tied to greed of others because Jews were the bankers during much of the middle ages). I hadn’t actually thought about it in the context of the Jewish tradition of standing up to tyranny though…that’s a new take and I think I agree.

      • You’re very welcome. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your analysis of the values upheld in “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Man of Steel”. I’ve printed the articles out to re-read for later.

        You make a good point about jealousy and I’m relieved that you know about the origins of Jewish banking in the Middle Ages. Some people have no idea where it came from (Jews forbidden to own land so their occupations were limited) and just presumed “Jews = money”. I honestly had no idea that this accusation existed until we had a crash course of anti-antisemitism in school. And even then I was inwardly scoffing and thinking of all the non-banking Jewish people I knew: doctors, scientists, secretaries, musicians, teachers, and the latest careers…physical therapy and social work!

        Jewish people didn’t always stand up to tyrants, though. Sometimes they put up with ghettos and taxes because it beat being annihilated. And I’m sure many Jews thought Communism was a good idea at first because if you’ve seen “Fiddler on the Roof”, things weren’t any better under the czar so an ideal society where everyone was “equal” sounds tempting. But a society that declares parents to be fellow “citizens”/”comrades” cannot coexist with the value of the commandment to “Honor thy parents”. The Jewish home stresses a relationship of reverence and respect between child and parent. We learned this in school: you don’t sit in your parent’s chair, you don’t use slang or talk to your parents the same way you speak to your friends, and you ask your parents for permission. Your parents, not state laws, are the ones who help you to cross the bridge from child to adult.

        I have other examples but that’s one that instantly came to mind.

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