Starting at 8 pm ET on Wednesday evening until sundown on Thursday, Jews around the world will commemorate Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, in memory of the six million European Jews murdered by Hitler’s Nazis and their supporters.
Throughout Israel, people will stop what they’re doing and stand in silent devotion as a siren blares for two minutes on Thursday morning.
Special ceremonies will be held throughout the country including the main commemoration at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, highlighted by the reading of the names of the Holocaust victims. All places of entertainment will be closed, with television and radio featuring programming appropriate for the somberness of the day.
Being the son of Polish survivors on my father’s side (at the age of 36 I probably fit into a group consisting of some of youngest first generation post-Holocaust survivors today), who succeeded in fleeing the “shtetel” just days before the Nazis liquidated the Jews from my family’s town, I understand the significance of the day – especially since the rest of my extended family, nearly 100 souls, were tortured and murdered by Ukrainian Policemen who gladly sided with the Nazis in carrying out Hitler’s war on the Jews.
In 1992, I traveled back to the area with my family and stood over what was clearly a mass grave, where most likely the bodies of my great uncles, aunts, and cousins were dumped after their brutal slaying. Today, not a trace of Jewish life remains in that area except for the newly constructed “matzevot” or memorials to the Jews murdered there.
While this horror story is similar to an innumerable amount of other Holocaust episodes which are no doubt tragic and should be re-told on Yom Hashoah (and throughout the year) in order to never forget, there is an aspect to the day which I feel sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.
The official name of the day is “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah”— the “Day of Holocaust remembrance and Heroism.” It’s the heroism aspect that I feel that needs more attention.
Yes, the date for Yom Hashoah was chosen by the Israeli Knesset to coincide with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan), but I fear that the narratives of the Jewish and non-Jewish warriors and heroes, who against all odds to put up a fight against the Nazi war machine, remains year after year a secondary and diluted subject.
The ghetto uprisings, fighting in the forests, or missions of exceptional courage such as those undertaken by people like Hannah Senesh, all deserve and need to be discussed more on Yom Hashoah, to draw attention to these acts of defiance.
The reason that bravery and heroism should become part of the centrality of this day is so that when Jews say “never again” in regard to another Holocaust, those words do not become an oft repeated and meaningless cliché.
With Iran on the fast track towards launching its nuclear capabilities, and other Arab terror groups just as eager to see a world without Israel, only that brave Jewish soldier, led by an equally brave Jewish leadership will ensure that we will truly never again witness the loss of Jewish life on such a grand scale.
It is our job as human beings and as Jews do use all the resources given to us by G-d to guarantee the future of our people.
The first step in this process is visualization, using the mind’s eye not only to focus on the Jew in the Holocaust as a victim but as a Jewish warrior. What better day to spend time contemplating this image than on “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah.”
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