Today (probably yesterday by the time of posting) is Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which means that it's time for my annual Holocaust post.
The fact that I'm posting the day after is accidental (I had a bit of A Day) but meaningful nevertheless. This afternoon when I went by the plaza, a central place on campus where volunteers spend nine hours reading the names of people who died in the Holocaust, to listen to the reading and to light a candle and think for a moment, and this evening when I went back for the ceremony of candlelighting and kaddish, I noticed how small the crowd was. I suppose it was big enough for a Monday evening with a chilly breeze close to the end of the semester at an event with no free products or food to entice busy college students, but what really bothered me was the fact that even on the day when people are supposed to take a minute to remember, so many people didn't seem to have the time. And I wondered how this attitude was going to transform as I have children and grandchildren. Because I've been hearing it since I was a kid: the survivors are dying, and these next few years are probably going to be the last ones where people can meet and speak in person to people who experienced the Holocaust. One of the best ways to engage people is through personal stories, for them to look into the eyes of a person who tells them something that they don't want to believe or think about, and to be forced to say, "I will remember after you are gone." Knowing survivors and hearing about the things that they lost and the things that they will never forget has an impact like no other. I don't remember ever learning about my grandfather's past; every memory I have of him is with the knowledge that something terrible had happened to him, and that it had shaped him and his entire life. The Holocaust is an event of tremendous, indisputable importance, for persecuted and murdered individuals (Jews, Romani, Soviets, gay men, people who were disabled, among many other groups) and those who remained behind, and even for international history and politics. But it is also as a lesson for us and the future, and I am so afraid that that sense of gravity is being lost with the people who suffered such grave losses.
The only thing I can think of to help this is to pass on the story, to remember the Holocaust not just on one day a year, but on every day. To let the significance of the Holocaust not be forgotten, to let the signs of slow-creeping, ever-growing oppression be apparent to us when we see them in our own world. To commit ourselves to the memory and to bear the truth and the weight of what happened forward as living history.
But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children's children,