to Parents, Teachers and Adults.
The Holocaust is an
important but very sensitive subject. It has the ability to draw
out strength and faith from within. But it carries with it an underlying
fear of the unimaginable happening again. We have prepared this
section with much sensitivity. Under the right circumstances it
can be an introduction to a lifelong commitment to "Never Forget."
It is up to each individual
to read this and decide which and how much of this material to relate
to children and at what ages. It is not easy to start, but we have
a duty to ourselves, to them and to the next generations - NEVER
HASHOAH AND THE HOLOCAUST
WE MUST NEVER FORGET
For two thousand years,
since the destruction of Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) by the
Romans in 70 C.E., when the Jews lost their homes and homeland Eretz
Yisroel (Israel), Jews have wandered from country to country,
throughout the world. Wherever Jews settled, in whatever nation
that would give a safe haven to this exiled people, Jews contributed
knowledge and wealth. What Jews got in return was Anti-Semitism.
This is what happens
when you have a home, but you can't go back. This is the legacy
of every Jew, rich or poor, religious or secular… even those who
try to hide their identity, eventually learn that in the world's
eye, a Jew is always a Jew. And part of that lesson is the meaning
Anti-Semitism is a word Jews have become very familiar with. Literally,
it means opposed to Semites (which would include Arabic and other
Semitic peoples as well), but unfortunately, today's common usage
applies specifically to Jews (anti-Judaism). It is a special and
peculiar breed of hatred that is exhibited exclusively towards Jews.
It means a hatred of Jewish people, their religion, and their culture.
It is caused by fear and a lack of understanding. Its symptoms are
- name-calling, progressing to unfair treatment and discrimination,
and in its starkest form - violence.
The word "Anti-Semitism"
is a fairly new word, coined in 1879, but the disease of "Anti-Semitism"
has been around for as long as Jews have wandered from country to
country. As strangers wherever they lived, Jews were easy targets
to blame for almost anything: Disease, hunger, war, and unemployment
- all these problems were blamed on the Jews.
Even when Anti-Semitism
seems to be cured, a Jew knows that at any time the symptoms of
this disease can rear their ugly head once more: sometimes in the
form of graffiti on a synagogue, or name-calling as a car passes
by. The burning of Jewish books, the pogroms of Eastern Europe that
wiped out whole villages of Jews, the Crusades and the Inquisition…
these are all the symptoms of Anti-Semitism.
In the 1920's, many
German Jews thought that Anti-Semitism was a thing of the past.
They thought they were safe. This was the "enlightened"
age. The Jews of Germany were citizens of the "Fatherland".
They spoke the language, dressed in the current styles, and paid
taxes, like any other German. They were part of the secular German
society. They were the doctors, lawyers, teachers and even soldiers.
They voted as German citizens. But they ignored the telltale signs
of Anti-Semitism that lurked in the shadows of their assimilation
into German society.
In 1933, when Adolf
Hitler came to power, Germany was suffering economic hardship. Hitler's
plan was to use the Jews as scapegoats to rally the pride of all
German citizens. With the aid of his Nazi Party, and under the slogan
"Jews Are Our Misfortune," Hitler made plans to end "The
were no longer citizens of Germany. Their businesses were boycotted
and insurance was cancelled. Jewish children could no longer attend
German public schools and professionals were forbidden to practice
their trades. Most humiliating of all was the symbolic six-pointed
yellow star they were forced to wear in public. Even as anti-Jewish
laws took hold, most Jews didn't want to realize the true danger
that lurked about. Relatively few fled Germany when they had the
chance. There had always been some degree of anti-Jewish sentiment
in Germany. Most Jews expected this wave to fall back in place with
time. The early days of Nazi Germany showed all the signs. But by
the time the mortal danger took hold, it was too late to escape.
escalated to violence as Anti-Semitism took hold. It was November
of 1938 when two-days of terror swept throughout Germany. Synagogues,
Jewish institutions and Jewish businesses were destroyed. Over 30,000
Jews were arrested. This pogrom is remembered as "Kristallnacht"
or "crystal night" because of all the broken glass left
on the streets of Germany. This was only the beginning of a pattern
of organized destruction that would repeat throughout Europe, wherever
Nazi Anti-Semitism spread.
violence were only the beginning. It was to get worse… much worse.
And for those who did not or could not flee Europe, ghettos and
concentration camps were the "final solution."
Nazis forced Jews
out of their homes to large towns and small cities surrounded by
barbed-wire fences and armed soldiers. These cities were called
ghettos. The conditions were crowded and unsanitary as thousands
of Jews were forced to resettle. Life was desperate, but dignity
found its place in the day-to-day survival of people who refused
to give in to the hopelessness of ghetto life. There was school
for children, organized food distribution and volunteer hospitals
to take care of the sick.
But in the end, those
who did not die of starvation in the ghetto, met death in the concentration
camps. These prison towns were the last stop for "enemies of
the state." Just being Jewish was enough to qualify. As prisoners
arrived, the weak were immediately weeded out from those healthy
and strong. The latter were assigned work detail. Some groups were
sent into town to work in factories as slave labor. Others were
assigned jobs in the camp itself. Food was scarce and meals were
minimal. Disease was rampant. Those who were too weak were never
heard from again.
It didn't matter what
type of Jew you were: rich or poor; religious or secular, child
or adult… the Nazis went back three generations to seek out Jewish
ancestry. Even a Jew who denied his heritage or who married outside
the faith, was weeded out by the Nazis and forced to face what generations
of Jews in exile had faced time after time: a Jew is always a Jew
when facing Anti-Semitism.
It wasn't enough to
force Jews out of Germany or to punish Jews with forced labor. Extermination
was THE Nazis' "final solution." In "death camps"
such as Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Treblinka, poison gas was the
method used in the organized mass murder of "enemies of the
state." In the end, six million Jews and millions of other
innocent people were dead.
When the camps were
liberated in 1945, the world was shocked by the horror and intensity
of what had occurred. The organized execution of millions of people.
A systemized, savage death sentence that had never been witnessed
in the history of the world. Two thirds of European Jewry lay dead.
This unimaginable, horrible and unbelievable tragedy -- a Holocaust.
Jewish history is
filled with many sorrowful tragedies. Some believe that the pain
and sorrow of these terrible events dull with the passing of time.
But the Jewish people have never allowed time to heal these wounds,
for these wounds are the lessons of exile. They are the reminders
that the Jewish people have a homeland and a destiny.
Out of the ashes of
the Holocaust the State of Israel was born in 1948. After two thousand
years the Jewish people had their own land again. Many of those
who came to Eretz Yisroel were survivors of the Holocaust.
It is important for
us to seek out the memories of this tragic time. Many survivors
find it too painful to remember and too hard to express their innermost
feelings about this time. Some hope to spare their loved ones the
pain, fear and sorrow. But as time passes and witnesses to the Holocaust
fade with the years, the written word is no replacement for the
story told first person by an actual survivor.
We must keep the memory
of the Holocaust alive in order to prevent such a catastrophe from
happening again. During the past decade, the subject of the Holocaust
has been introduced in schools and universities. Films and television
programs have been produced, books and magazine articles have been
written, which portray many people's experiences of the Holocaust.
The stories of survivors are being recorded in their own words,
as part of a worldwide program.
In 1953, YAD VASHEM,
the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, was established
by an act of the Israeli Knesset in order to commemorate the six
million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, the
Jewish communities which were destroyed in an attempt to eradicate
the name and culture of the Jewish People, as well as the heroism
and fortitude of the Jews and the Righteous Among the Nations.
The major task of
Yad Vashem is to document all the events of the Holocaust, especially
the brave fight for life demonstrated by Jews all over Europe. The
archives and library of Yad Vashem contain the actual records of
the futile struggle for life waged by millions of Jewish men, women
and children. Outside, a lovely tree-lined path honors those non-Jews
of Europe who risked their own lives to save their Jewish neighbors.
Opened to the public
in 1957, Yad Vashem's task is to perpetuate the legacy of the Holocaust
to future generations so that the world NEVER forgets the horrors
and cruelty of the Holocaust. Its principal missions are commemoration
and documentation of the events of the Holocaust, collection, examination
and publication of testimonies to the Holocaust, the collection
and memorialization of the names of Holocaust victims, research
In 1959 the Israeli
Knesset passed another special law creating YOM HASHOAH, Holocaust
Remembrance Day, to be observed each year on the 27th day of the
month of Nissan, according to the Jewish calendar. This date coincides
with the beginning of the heroic revolt against the Nazis by Jews
in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. It usually occurs in April.
[Other Rabbis prefer
to commemorate 'Churban (destruction of) Europa' on
Tisha B'Av along
with the other catastrophes which have befallen the Jewish people.]
In Israel, YOM HASHOAH
is a solemn day, beginning at sunset on the 26th of the month of
Nissan and ending the following evening, according to the traditional
Jewish custom of marking a day. Places of entertainment are closed
and memorial ceremonies are held throughout the country. The central
ceremonies, in the evening and the following morning, are held at
Yad Vashem and are broadcast on the television. Marking the start
of the day-in the presence of the President of the State of Israel
and the Prime Minister-dignitaries, survivors, children of survivors
and their families, gather together with the general public to take
part in the memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem in which six torches,
representing the six million murdered Jews, are lit.
The following morning,
the ceremony at Yad Vashem begins with the sounding of a siren for
two minutes throughout the entire country. For the duration of the
sounding, work is halted, people walking in the streets stop, cars
pull off to the side of the road and everybody stands at silent
attention in reverence to the victims of the Holocaust. Afterward,
the focus of the ceremony at Yad Vashem is the laying of wreaths
at the foot of the six torches, by dignitaries and the representatives
of survivor groups and institutions.
Other sites of remembrance
in Israel, such as the Ghetto Fighters' Kibbutz and Kibbutz Yad
Mordechai, also host memorial ceremonies, as do schools, military
bases, municipalities and places of work. Throughout the day, both
the television and radio broadcast programs about the Holocaust.
In recent years, other
countries and Jewish communities have adopted YOM HASHOAH, the 27th
of Nissan, to mark their own day of memorial for the six million
Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Observances vary from one community
to another. Holocaust survivors are often featured participants.
As the years pass,
however, those who were actual survivors of the Nazi brutality grow
older and die. Soon there will be no one left alive who personally
lived through the Holocaust. So, it becomes even more important
to remember those terrible years and how they began, and to remember
how cruelty, hatred and discrimination led to violence, death and
On YOM HASHOAH Jews
around the world will pause each year to remember . . . to remember
NEVER TO FORGET.