The Irony of International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Did you know that Israel commemorates the Holocaust on a different date than the International Holocaust Remembrance Day?

The world would have preferred to forget. In 2005, Israel finally succeeded to attain UN recognition of an internationally recognized Holocaust Remembrance Day. January 27th was chosen as this was the date of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945.

Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day is determined by the Jewish calendar, not the international (Christian) calendar. The date chosen does not mark a specific occurrence- it signifies the place of the Holocaust within the framework of the Jewish experience.

Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated one week after the end of the Passover holiday which celebrates God liberating the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt, the Exodus, receiving the Torah and returning as the Nation of Israel to the promised land, Israel.

One week after Holocaust Memorial Day, Israel marks the Memorial Day for IDF soldiers and victims of terrorism. The attempt to exterminate the Jewish people did not end with the Holocaust. To this day, we must fight to survive, free in our own land – not like the slaves our ancestors once were, not at the mercy of the “civilized” of the world as our grandparents were… Today we have the power to fight our own battles and sadly, fight we must. Terrorism is proof that the hate against us has not abated, only morphed in to a different form with different excuses used as justification.

Caught outside with no protection, an Israeli mother shields her child from Hamas missile bombardment

Even in our own land, the Jewish people are still being victimized.

The night of Memorial Day for our soldiers is the beginning of our Independence Day celebrations. This gut-wrenching juxtaposition is our reality. One does not exist without the other.

For the rest of the world the Holocaust is an event that occurred during a war that effected most of the globe. For Israel, the Holocaust is a concentrated example of the Jewish experience – the hate directed at us simply because we exist, the horrors civilized people are capable of, the sacrifice of silent heroes, the resilience of a people determined not only to survive, but to thrive and make the world better than it was before. The miracle of our existence, a miracle renewed throughout our history as described in the Passover story, part of what we must repeat each year so that our children remember: “In every generation people rise up against us, to exterminate us and every time God saves us from their hands.”

Not once. Every time.

The Holocaust was a defining moment in history but it is not what has defined our people. Our legacy is more ancient and our experiences more complex even than the unspeakable horror that was the Holocaust.

Our suffering, inverted and appropriated

An International Day for Holocaust Remembrance in today’s world is bizarre and almost laughable.

Today Jews are denied the right to live safely in our own land while the world denies that a problem even exists.

“Never again” has become a commonly used slogan but there is no action behind the words. When people are being persecuted and slaughtered on the basis of their religion little to know action is taken to save them. Few give them refuge. Instead the slogan is bandied around in anti-Trump rallies, used to protest nonexistent persecution of Muslim while Christians and Yazidis are left to the tender mercies of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq or Boko Haram in Nigeria.

While there continue to be Holocaust deniers, others claim the Holocaust for themselves, saying that Jews are today committing the horrors of the Holocaust against defenseless Arabs. In this twisted imaginary reality, the victim becomes the perpetrator, making it logical, even honorable to attack the ex-victim.

The Jew hatred that almost exterminated our people is today being used to justify modern Jew hatred.

Once it was the “scientifically proven” inferiority of Jewish genetics that made it reasonable to round up Jews. Today it is the “proof” of social media, UN resolutions and campus demonstrations that defines Israel as an immoral oppressor that must be “resisted” (read = terrorized / boycotted / divested etc.).

The Jews of Europe were told they should “go back to Palestine” because Palestine was Zion, homeland of the Jewish people. Now the Jewish people are being told that Israel is Palestine which they are occupying illegally.

From slavery in Egypt, the rise and fall of hostile empires, exile, the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms, the Holocaust, the wars against Israel and terrorism. Nations that witnessed and said nothing. Nations that blamed us while they were attacking us or allowing others to do so, hoping their collaboration against us would be their salvation from the violence of others.

What is different today?

What is the point of an international Holocaust Remembrance Day in a world desperate to forget? Around the world, the “civilized” remain silent. Or gleefully join in the “fun,” perverting the memory of our suffering, using it as a weapon against us…

Remembering Heroism

The Nation of Israel is a people commanded to remember. The idea is less to remember the suffering (though that too is important) and more to remember the lessons that are learned from the experiences.

What you do not remember, you are doomed to repeat.

In Israel, a single, critical word was added to the name of Holocaust Memorial Day: Heroism.

On the “Memorial Day for the Holocaust and Heroism” we remember what truly defines us as a nation. It is not the horrors perpetrated against us that shape who we are. It is heroism, the indomitable spirit of Israel that ensures our survival, against all odds. Ground in to ashes, we rise like the phoenix, reborn, stronger and more beautiful than ever before.

This is our miracle.

The Jewish resistance during WW2 was obviously heroic as was the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. We honor this heroism but also another, more quiet and profound:

The parents who hid their children, allowing themselves to be taken by the Nazi soldiers, hoping that their children would somehow survive. The parents that gave their children parting instructions: “Grow up to be a good person.”

The people who gave their food to those who needed it more.

The people who picked up their friends during the Death March and helped them continue walking so they could live another

The people that sang, created poetry and theater in the ghetto. The people that, even when they had nothing left, kept their prayer shawls and phylacteries. The people that celebrated the Sabbath and the holidays of Israel in the concentration camps.

The survivors who walked in to the unknown to create a new future for themselves. They got married, had children, pretending they were normal in hopes that their children could grow up to be truly normal.

The people who did not talk about the humiliation, starvation, torture and psyche twisting experiences they experienced because they felt that if they began talking everything would pour out and their children would drown in the horror.

The people that did talk about their experiences, in hope that their children would cherish those that did not survive, in hope that their children would be able to recognize new danger when it comes.

The people that had every reason in the world to give up but didn’t.

That is heroism.

What is different today?

The players have changed as have the locations but the story is still the same: Horror. Apathy. Memory. Heroism.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a nice idea. If only it meant something…

It is up to the Nation of Israel to remember the lessons of the Holocaust; it’s place within the framework of the Jewish experience and the spirit that has enabled our survival throughout the centuries.

“In every generation people rise up against us, to exterminate us and every time God saves us from their hands.”

It happens every time. We must never ever forget that.

Originally Published on Inspiration from Zion.