How Can We Forget?
by Rabbi Danielle Upbin
My niece attends a large Mid-Western public high school. Just yesterday, she discovered that the boy next to her in biology class had drawn a Swastika on his hand. When all 5’1 of her got up the gumption to ask him to remove it, not surprisingly, he told her to “Get lost” (in a less polite manner). Now, as an engaged parent, my brother is on a campaign to fight the rising sentiment of anti-Semitism in his daughter’s school. Yes, it has been over 70 years since the end of World War II, but reading the paper and hearing about these kinds of stories makes one think otherwise. In a letter to the principle, by brother wrote: “I have to believe for my own sanity that the boy did not realize that the swastika represents the torture and deaths of 6 million Jews, 250,000 disabled persons, 220,000 Gypsies, along with thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Homosexuals and Serbs. Are any of us surprised that the boy did not think to write “KKK” on his hand or “White Supremacy”?? – or maybe we’re not surprised?”
Around the country, Anti-Semitism is popping up on hands, on sidewalks, on college campuses, and in public discourse. Having been previously pushed to the dark side of the internet, senseless hate is now out and about – seemingly more than usual. A colleague of mine moved from the spot light of a large East Coast Conservative synagogue, only to find herself embroiled in the national spot light in Whitefish, Montana. There is no rest for the weary.
Judaism has a response to hate. We say: Zachor. Remember! It is more than a word. It is a prayer. A plea. Remember! because the world is rapidly forgetting, or willfully not knowing, I am not sure which one is worse. Zachor is the paradigm of Jewish peoplehood. Through memory we become stakeholders for the future, affirming our journey, passing along our narratives along with our rites.
We have been remembering for a long time.
Long before the Holocaust, we held the injunction to Remember the gruesome surprise attack that Amalek launched upon Israel after their escape from Egypt (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Amalek’s crime was exceedingly audacious in that they victimized the weaker population – the stragglers in the rear. The Torah records many unpleasantries along our wondering way, but this particular occasion struck a nerve. So the Torah warns us – “Remember: Don’t Forget”.
We continue to remember this event and the many atrocities committed against the Jews since. The Inquisition, pogroms, and exiles dot our history books and have become a common litany on our yearly Tisha B’Av observance.
But our collective memory is scorched by the events of a closer hate-history: The Holocaust.
It was recently mis-stated in the public forum: “Not even Hitler gassed his own people”, or something like that.
Well, actually, he did. With Zyclon B. The “showers” are still on view today in Concentration Camp museums in Poland. You can see them with your own eyes. You can travel to Europe right now to see defunct ovens and piles of ashes and bone. You can walk on areas paved with Jewish tombstones. And where the vestiges of war have been covered and re-developed, you can still take in the visual testimony, art as witness, and memorial plaques. You can do these things.
But, to actively Remember, you don’t even have to leave your room. You, too, can (and should) bear witness to the memory of the Holocaust through thousands of personal accounts, books, documentaries, and survivor interviews. You can visit education centers and museums around the country.
As much as I would like to “forget” the kid next to my niece in biology class, and the rest of the – at best, un-enlightened or at worst, hate-mongers, I realize that my job is to continue to Remember and to remind others to Remember with me.
This year, let’s cry out Zachor in all the ways we can. Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is observed on Monday, April 24th. Remember by lighting a candle for those who perished in the Shoah. Bear witness by reading or watching a survivor account, speak to a WWII Vet, teach someone who has no clue. Let’s make it a priority to wipe out hate.
Zachor – Don’t forget.
Further Educational Resources:
Florida Holocaust Museum https://www.flholocaustmuseum.org/
Yad Vashem www.yadvashem.org/
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ttps://www.ushmm.org/information/visit-the-museum/admission-tickets
USC Shoah Foundation https://sfi.usc.edu
Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs Yellow Candles: https://www.fjmc.org/content/yellow-candles-home