YOM HASHOAH

Note 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 TO FORGET.


YOM 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 of "Anti-Semitism."

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 Jewish problem."

They 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.

Humiliation quickly 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.

Discrimination and 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 and education.

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 destruction.

On YOM HASHOAH Jews around the world will pause each year to remember . . . to remember NEVER TO FORGET.



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