Today, in Israel, we are marking Holocaust Remembrance Day – or, to give it its full title, Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day. And I stress the word Heroism. Because while many people think Jews went like lambs to the slaughter in Nazi-occupied Europe, we are learning more and more about Jewish resistance, whether physical resistance, as typified by Jewish partisans such as the Bielski brothers, (whose story you may know from the film Defiance) or spiritual resistance, as expressed in the valiant efforts to preserve Jewish values, education and culture in the face of the Nazis’ and their helpers’ determination to suppress these.
The Nazis attempted to dehumanise their victims before killing them, by denying them education, medical care, even food. Jews fought to retain their humanity by organising schools, welfare services, an underground educational network, both religious and secular, as well as cultural activities.
Spiritual resistance took many forms. I have written before about a concert “in blue” held in the Kovno Ghetto in July 1943, in which the participants expressed their defiance by means of their choice of programme – a Zionist programme through and through. And what about the opera Brundibar, performed by children in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) Ghetto?
Other forms of spiritual resistance included the keeping of diaries. The Nazis wanted to extinguish all trace of the Jewish people. Diaries ensured that the memory of those murdered remained alive. The Diary of Anne Frank is well-known. But what of the Lodz Ghetto diaries of David Sierakowiak, or the Vilna Ghetto diary of Yitzchak Rudashevski, who describes the establishment of a library in the Ghetto to preserve Jewish culture and learning?
Every year when Holocaust Remembrance Day comes round, I tell myself I am not going to watch any more of the films and documentaries which replace the usual television schedule, that I can’t take any more of it. But I can’t help myself. More than thirty years ago, I bought a six-volume Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust, in Hebrew, published by Yad Vashem. There is also a four-volume English version. Each year, I discover there is still more to learn. Each year, I am appalled to discover how ignorant so many people are about the Holocaust. People like the covert antisemite Whoopi Goldberg, who chose the name Goldberg as her professional name because she believed it would be useful to her in what she believed to be a Jewish – controlled Hollywood, and who still insists that the Holocaust wasn’t about racism “because it was whites doing it to other whites”.
I am angered too, by those who ignorantly compare mask mandates with the Nuremberg laws! Whether or not you agree with mask mandates, such a comparison trivialises the Holocaust!
And each year, I am enraged by those who tell us to forgive and forget. Because how can a people that still commemorates the destruction of our Temple, two thousand years after the event, be expected to forgive the destruction of six million of our brothers and sisters a mere 80 years ago, when there are still men and women alive today who suffered under the Nazis and their helpers?
And when I hear of some Nazi, who has managed to escape punishment for 77 years, finally being brought before a court to answer for his crimes, and I hear people say: “He’s 95 years old, why can’t you let him live out his remaining years in peace?”, I think of my own father, nearly 95 years old, weeping silently for his murdered parents, and apologising to me for losing control – and I remember King David’s instructions to his son, Solomon, regarding one who had injured him and committed murder: “Do not let his grey head go down to the grave in peace”.
I swear I never shall.
Beautiful blog. Echoes my sentiments, word for word.
People, sadly, do forget and it is incumbent upon all of us to remind the world that antisemitism is an evil like no other which has been a plague since Genesis times. A very thoughtful and poignant blog post, Shimona.
You’re a hundred percent right. And we also need to go after the holocaust deniers.
This made me cry.
the sentence you wrote about your dad made me cry ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Whenever I see it – and it’s been happening a lot lately – I struggle to hold back the tears. For that alone – for making my father cry – I hope those Nazi swine burn in hell for all eternity.
This so profoundly moving. I don’t feel qualified to comment.