Remembering Heroes Too
This month we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, to honor the six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, who died in the Holocaust at the hands of Nazis and their collaborators. Naturally it is a very solemn day in Israel and among the international Jewish Community. Here, at the Los Angeles Jewish Home, we have many Holocaust Survivors as residents. As you can imagine, our observance does not feel like a historical reflection, but rather like a real and living recall of an unprecedented horror. Our survivors are amazing, strong, inspiring. On their behalf we promise to never forget.
What many people do not realize is that "Holocaust Memorial Day" is not actually the name of the holiday. And its translation, "Yom Hashoah," is not the name of the holiday in Hebrew. The full name of the holiday is Yom Hazikaron laShoah v'la'Gvurah, which means, "Remembrance Day of the Holocaust and of Heroism."
Notice the difference.
By remembering to add the word, "Heroism," we shift the focus to include something positive. This is not a day when we only remember the 6 million who were taken. We also remember the courageous survivors. In addition, we honor those who struggled against the Nazis, like those who fought to the death during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Moreover, we celebrate the many Christian Rescuers and Righteous Gentiles who risked or gave their lives resisting evil and saving Jews.
There are the famous four people who helped to hide Anne Frank's family: Miep Gies, Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler and Bep Voskuijl. And thanks to Steven Spielberg, we know about Oskar Schindler's heroic rescue of 1200 Jews. Israel acknowledges the Righteous Among the Nations with trees planted at Yad Vashem, the memorial in Jerusalem.
But we must also remember the many brave and virtuous who were surely anonymous. A farmer here, a neighbor there, that never received credit for resisting evil and rescuing Jews if they themselves were caught or if those they attempted to protect were eventually captured. Indeed Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, acknowledged that even there he observed Nazis who defied orders and tried to help inmates.
Even amid the darkness there are inspirational lights.
What does this mean for us in 2018? Of course we have an obligation to remember the Holocaust. We must also recall the genocide against the Armenian People perpetrated even before the Holocaust. We need to pay attention to world events and not be silent in the face of evil wherever it may happen. "Never again" is a mandate, not an ideal.
A week or so after Yom Hashoah we celebrate Israel's Independence Day, Yom Haatzmaut. Israel turns 70 years old this year! And while the dream of a return to Zion where Jews would be safe and living peacefully with her neighbors in dignity on all sides has not completely come to fruition yet, this old/new State is growing every day and each year. We can be proud of all of Israel's innovations and accomplishments and be grateful that the Jewish People have a homeland again, a place to which we can always return home.