Sunday, April 15, 2007

Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today, all across the state of CT, as well as the rest of the country and the world, there will be memorial services and gatherings to remember the Holocaust and the six million Jews who perished. It is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Shoah is the Hebrew word for "whirlwind." It is the term used to described the conflagration that swept up six million Jewish souls between 1938 and 1945. Countless others (Gypsies, "enemies of the state", handicapped and other "undesirables") were also persecuted and murdered. A war was waged against the Jews and unspeakable atrocities were perpetrated against a defenseless people. Men and women, young and old alike, were butchered at the hands of the Nazis. Fully one third of the World's Jewry at the time, including one and a half million children, were murdered. Some of those souls belonged to my family as well as my husband's family. We are family of Holocaust survivors. With every birth and Bar and Bat Mitzvah that we have celebrated, we affirm that Hitler's plan failed, yet we can only dream as to what the possibilities could have been for the souls whose lives were snuffed out.

Every year, on Yom HaShoah, we remember the souls who perished in the ghettos, and in the gas chambers. We also celebrate those who survived and the families that live after them.

And yet, the murderers were not a People who would normally be called "barbaric." On the contrary, the majority of the officers of the so-called Concentration "Camps" were medical doctors (!), or doctors of philosophy, or respected professionals. The German culture was rich with music and art and education. How then, one may ask, could such a degree of evil be exhibited which perhaps has never been exceeded in all of human history?

We must also remember that the murderers' evil was not unopposed. Tremendous bravery was exhibited by relatively small numbers of Jews and Gentiles, such as at the Warsaw Ghetto, where the Jewish Community acted in concert, and by hundreds of individuals whose efforts resulted in the saving of tens, even hundreds of thousands of lives. I sometimes muse, in my circle of friends which one of them might risk their lives, and the lives of their family, to save mine. You might think that odd to even imagine, yet it does occur to me.

My cousin, Judith Altmann, of Stamford, will be speaking at the CT State Capitol next week. My maternal grandmother and her mother were sisters. Cousin Judith was 14 when her home country of Czechoslovakia was occupied by Germany. She was transported with her family first to a ghetto and later in cattle cars to Auschwitz, the infamous death camp where as many as a million people were estimated killed. Anne Frank was detained at the camp before being transferred to another camp, Bergen-Belson, where she died.

The day they arrived in Auschwitz, Cousin Judith's parents were killed. That was a part of my family that were murdered on that day. The prisoners' heads were shaved and food was almost nowhere to be found; during the day they were forced to work as slave laborers. Every week they would be allowed to shower, but these showers were a source of tremendous fear because they never knew whether "the gas will come out or the water," she recounts.

By the time the war ended, almost all of Cousin Judith's immediate family had been killed; of her immediate and extended family only herself, her brother and a niece survived. My grandmother was already in the US, as she came here in 1920, and later her sister and brother and mother came here as well, as did other members of the family. Those that stayed behind were caught up in the war, and the hatred in Hitler's Germany, as were my husband's family who were German Jews.

My cousin Judith regularly speaks at area schools and has spoken at WestConn. She says that it is important that she share her story and teach people what hate can create, so that something like the Holocaust does not happen again. However, she warned that if people are not on their guard, a similar event could occur.

"It could happen again in any country because people follow the mob," she says because even back then no one believed it would happen then.

I suppose that is why I am so mindful of what our government does via legislation, and my concern for the lack of transmission of history to our children. We must not follow leaders blindly as sheep. We must remain vigilant of our freedom to speak, to write, to assemble and enjoy all of the other rights that our Founders believed we should have.

With the growing Anti-Semitism in Europe, and the rhetoric coming from Iran's leader Amadinejad, we would do well to remember the past, so that it is never repeated.

Other Holocaust Websites - Here
A Timeline of what happened - Here