“The LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?'” (Genesis/B’reishit 4:9)
“For Judaism, the answer to Cain’s question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Is an unequivocal yes! Survivors of the Sho-ah painfully remember not only the cruelty of the Nazis but the cold indifference of their neighbors who looked on and did nothing; or they recall the exceptional courage of the righteous gentiles who sought to help them.” (Etz Hayim)
“…the challenge of the Sho-ah is not, ‘Where was God? How could God have let this happen?” The challenge is, ‘Where was Man? How could people have been so cruel to other human beings?'” (Etz Hayim)
Today, 2 May 2011 is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Holocaust, also called the Sho-ah
(Hebrew: השואה, HaShoah, “calamity”), was the sytematic genocide of 6,000,000 European Jews during World War II.
This number, ghastly as it is, does not include the extermination during this same time of approximately 10,000,000 Gypsies, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Polish and Soviet citizens, Catholics and other religious and/or political opponents to Nazism.
The German term for the extermination of the Jews during the Nazi reign of terror from 1933 to 1945 was the phrase “Endlösung der Judenfrage”: the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.”
Bottom line, the “Final Solution” was the plan to exterminate every single Jewish man, woman and child living in Europe. Before the imprisoned Jews were finally released from the Concentration Camps at the end of WWII, the Nazis had managed to wipe-out 2/3 of the 9,000,000 Jewish European population.
In Poland alone, approximately 3,000,000 Jews were slaughtered. And, as of 2006, the Jewish population in Poland is only 50,000.
So why do we remember the Holocaust? What’s the big deal about something that happened more than 70 years ago?
Primarily, we remember the Holocaust to commemorate the loss of 6,000,000 innocent souls. We remember the 6,000,000 people who were persecuted, tortured, experimented upon and murdered simply for the “crime” of being Jewish.
And we remember the Holocaust so that we can hopefully prevent such a thing from ever happening again.
In 1986, I visited the site of the Concentration Camp in Dachau in Germany. There is a memorial there now with the inscription “Never Again” in English, German, French and Russian.
I have never forgotten that ghostly place, even after 25 years. If I had been born in a different year and a different place, I could have been one of the women stuffed into a cattle car and schlepped to that awful place.
It was, ironically, so eerily quiet there in May of 1986. But the reminders of the pain, suffering, screams and tears permeated the buildings and the grounds.
Walking outside, one could imagine how miserably cold it must’ve been in Winter, especially for men, women and children dressed only in skimpy, lightweight clothing.
In the barracks, there were the hard, wooden rows of “beds” where people slept, cried, suffered from illness and lived in constant discomfort and fear until they died.
And also left behind was one of those wretched monuments to Nazi ingenuity and sick inventiveness, the brick oven. This was the crematorium where body after body after dead body was burned. The smoke permeated the air for miles around the camp with the stench of death, but civilians willfully and callously ignored it.
And that is where the question from the Etz Hayim comes in — “How could people have been so cruel to other human beings?” How could people turn away and not try to help?
So we remember the Holocaust in the hopes that in the face of cruelty and injustice, regular folks like you and me will notice and take a stand to stop it.
The Jews were led away from their neighborhoods and homes as sheep are led to slaughter.
Do we see anything like this happening in our neighborhoods, cities, states or government?
©2 May 2011 by Phyllis J. Hanniver