On The eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the shops closed early in Jerusalem. I ran into a takeout place to get shawarma in pita sandwiches. It was 6 p.m., and ten members of the Israel Police filed in with green uniforms and wide shoulders, guns holstered to their belts, completely filling the place.

This morning, after the siren, a friend called to tell me she had cried. She wishes her parents were still alive; she would like to speak to them. Her father’s first family was killed in the Shoah, and she doesn’t know where or how. He didn’t speak about it. He pressed forward, formed a new family, immigrated to America, and worked his whole life.

“He couldn’t speak about his loss because it was just too painful,” she says. But she’s never told me about her father’s first family. She has kept his silence.

“Memories are painful,” says a survivor on TV, whose mother died in Auschwitz.

Sometimes things are so painful you can’t speak about them. There’s no language to contain them.

Israelis bow their heads in silence as Jerusalem is pierced by the Holocaust Remembrance Day siren, Thursday (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israelis bow their heads in silence as Jerusalem is pierced by the Holocaust Remembrance Day siren, Thursday (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Holocaust Remembrance Day speaks of this pain with the siren and our silence. The two extremes — a searing cry and silence — testify to the inability to articulate the horror of what happened. On TV today in Israel one sees images of emaciated bodies being thrown into pits and ovens in Europe 60 years ago. All day there are films and interviews, as if to prove: yes, this really happened.

My friend would like to speak to her parents to tell them that their grandchildren now serve in elite units in the Israeli army. They would be so proud.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is a statement of strength as we do our best to honor and give voice to those whose power was taken from them.

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