The Holocaust is front and center in the Jewish world today. In most cities, the week of Kristallnacht is saturated with programs of all sorts - in schools, in universities, in theatres, all over.
Stunningly, every year bring new books, new revelations. We are finding about heroes whom we hardly knew till now. We should be encouraging this.
And because the world is teetering on an anti-semitic brink, we must bring the reality and message of the Holocaust to the non-Jewish world with vigor. If we fail in this, the spectre of another assault on the Jews is not beyond the realm of possibility.
At the same time that we teach about the Holocaust, we must not let that be the raison d'etre for being Jewish. It was not the villains of the 20th century who validated Judaism. Judaism stands on its own as a way of life filled with joy and purpose. The Holocaust attempted to deny us this affirmation.
Education must focus on the joy and purpose of Judaism. The Holocaust is important, but Judaism remains the eternal truth no matter what we have endured.
November 9, 2010, is the anniversary of Krystallnacht. How should we be continuing to remember the Holocaust today?
As the Holocaust recedes from immediate historical memory, the danger of a recrudescent anti-Semitism has grown greater, not smaller. A probable explanation of this sad fact is that the historic, prejudicial hatred of the Jew was thrown on the defensive in western society in the Second World War and the immediately thereafter, when the struggle against Nazism was fresh in memory. But that hatred had never lost its virulence, and has been able to thrive, now that the recollection of the evil of the Nazis is relegated to the historically educated subsection of society.
Adding to the danger is the frequent melding of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. By “anti-Zionism”, it should be understood that criticisms of the state of Israel that aim at delegitimizing it, at ending its existence as a Jewish state, go beyond the constructive role of political criticism and enter the realm of bigotry.
One of the most persistent themes within the presentation of anti-Zionist propaganda is “Holocaust inversion”, i.e. the charge that Israelis/Jews are today’s Nazis, so to speak, and that today’s Nazi victims are the Palestinians.
Another persistent theme is “Holocaust denial”, still prominently disseminated in the Arab world. The most egregious example today, but by no means the only one, is the Iranian leader Ahmadinejad.
Therefore, the goals of Holocaust remembrance today should be 1) confirming for a younger and historically myopic generation that the Holocaust did happen; and 2) alerting all people of good will that the forces that led to the first Holocaust are still a present danger in today’s world.
While Holocaust education is not tantamount to endorsing every particular decision of the changing governments of the state of Israel, it should include a principled defense of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
November 9, 2010, is the anniversary of Kristallnacht. How should we be continuing to remember the Holocaust today?
Oral History, personal stories and/or collective stories linked to artifacts, pictures, and diaries.If you are able, make the journey to Germany, Poland, and other counties that were occupied by the Germans. In addition, remember that there were many countries where survivors were able to escape: China; England (Kinder transport), Australia, (there are many if one does the research).Also remember that each story is unique and to never say, “I have already heard a survivor speak.”
There are many ways to teach the Holocaust with the method above honoring the memory of those that perished and those survivors who are no longer present. Most every community I have lived in or traveled to, large or small, has someone who is connected to the Holocaust – directly, through family, WWII veterans who fought on the western front (many survivors or, some prefer the word refugee, are also WWII vets who were able to pretend they did not know the language; and, were able to share information they heard or translated.Also, you can connect with the Jewish War Veterans group in your community or nationally.Sadly, many of these people are no longer living, are child survivors that may or may not be able to tell their story.
Personal stories may be based on collective history, video, diaries, publications by survivors, their children, or grandchildren.These connections are what touch the heart of others and make what is historical for so many – real and tangible.As a grandchild of survivors, I find it more meaning full to honor the survivors and their descendants during times like Yom HaShoah, Kristallnact, Yom Kippur, (for those more observant) T’shabav, and on other significant dates.
An example, as a grandchild of survivors, what I have done for these observance is not have a speaker who does an academic overview or monuments of today, the most “famous in town” survivor who speaks or a guest who travels and tells their story, but, I like to call all the members of a survivor’s family up to light a tea candle from another larger candle.It is very powerful to see how many have had children that they never thought was possible.Many have even been blessed to see the 4th generation.
Imagine 20+ people, 4 generations and including not only survivors but those in the community who are 2nd generation who are not living in the same city or whose parent is deceased.I share brief bios beginning with what their journey was to America, how the couple met, how long they have lived in the community, where they first settled and from where, what they did when they arrived here…you get the idea.
This communicates what is rare to hear in the 21st century “Look at my arm.How can you say this did not happen?” Or “hear me, listen to me” I tell my grandparents story sharing the telegram that I inherited when my grandpa died.It was sent to my grandma’s mother and sister in Canada.I said that said she and her brother were alive.I have photos of those who perished because of the two that went to Canada in 1938.I have group family photos and I was not afraid to ask questions.I also have a letter that my grandma wrote to me for a school project about her experience.
If this is not a part of your personal history – reach out to a survivor who may not have someone to remember their story or have an interested family member.Learn it and share it.If they have items or photos, preserve them and share them with others.I have spoken at conferences representing the 3rd generation, secular and Jewish school, governmental agencies with diversity sessions, and I have a 17 minute film of grandchildren of Holocaust survivors that grew from my rabbinic thesis which included original research of this generation.
If someone doubts or questions the legitimacy of what you shared, know the history behind what you are sharing.What happened when people were in hiding, what happened in the work and death camps, how people escaped to freedom.With the German and Russian achieves open, it is possible to do research, finding documents that are detailed are incredible resources.
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