Beyond ‘Never Again’: Embracing the Future

Yom HaShoah is tomorrow, and the most common lesson from the Holocaust is  “Never Again!” — sometimes illustrated with a raised, clenched fist, or solemnly intoned by speakers behind podiums, or written sagaciously in editorial pages and blog posts.

It is a lesson that should have been learned from the 6 million dead, including 1.5 million murdered children. Both Europeans and Middle Easterners, who frequently aided and abetted the Nazis, should have learned it. US university students should have learned it.

Roughly 80 years after Auschwitz’s oven turned cold, however, antisemitism raises its ugly head. October 7 and its aftermath clarified that “Never Again!” is now. And those screaming “From the River to the Sea…” or worse are essentially howling “Again, Again, and Again!”

Lip-service isn’t the same as knowledge. Tragically the world has not learned “Never Again!”

Another Holocaust message, however, has universal importance and eternal relevance, and the survivors of the Holocaust – not the murdered victims and not the vicious murderers – teach it. Despite persecution, trauma, loss, pain, terror, and deprivation, those who rebuilt their lives after the Shoah refuse to be victims, despite having been brutally victimized.

They became survivors.

How did they do so? They created families. They established businesses and careers. The younger ones resumed their interrupted educations. They helped to establish and grow the State of Israel. They contributed to society wherever they settled.  A few examples:

  • Andrew Grove, Intel’s third CEO, transformed Intel into the world’s largest semiconductor company.
  • Victor Frankl survived four concentration camps, came to the United States, developed the school of psychology known as logotherapy, and wrote over 30 books, including Man’s Search for Meaning, which as of 2022 had sold over 16 million copies and been printed in 52 languages.
  • Elie Wiesel won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau rose to become the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel.
  • Robert Clary became a popular television actor.

And these are just a few cases found with a quick google search. There are many, many more. While some who lived through the camps were irreparably broken, after liberation many picked up the pieces of their mangled lives and looked forward, without forgetting the past.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ZT”L articulated this point magnificently in “Thoughts for Ellul”

To mend the past, first you have to secure the future.

I learned this from the Holocaust survivors I came to know. They were among the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met, and I wanted to understand how they were able to survive, knowing what they knew, seeing what they saw.

What I came to realize was that many of them did not speak about those years, even to their spouses or their children, sometimes for as long as forty or fifty years. Only when they had secured the future did they allow themselves to look back at the past. Only when they had built a life did they permit themselves to remember death

My parents exemplified this approach. After the war, my parents came to the US, met, married, and had children, grandchildren, and ultimately great-grandchildren. My Hungarian father, who lost most of his family, only really opened up about his wartime experiences in his 80’s, and then with ambivalence. My Polish mother, who was not quite 10 when the war broke out, lost her childhood as well as most of her family. When 17, she came to the US learned English, went to night school, and became a bookkeeper. At 88 she began speaking at the Museum of Tolerance (until COVID hit) about her wartime experiences. Despite the horrors they suffered during World War II, my parents built a family and a life for themselves during their almost 55 years of marriage.

Since Oct. 7, all Jews whether in Israel or outside of it are going through a painful, trying time. We are suffering the loss of either family, freedom, or a sense of (perhaps false) security. Then there are of course the individual challenges that life hands everyone whether financial, health, family or …. The survivors taught that during challenging times one must deal with the immediate situation and then turn to the future, as they did and as many Israelis are doing today. We must build and contribute.

I fervently pray that no one ever endures what Holocaust survivors did. However, I also hope that when facing the difficulties and loss that sadly are a part of life, we learn from the survivors who responded to trauma, torment, and tragedy by focusing on and building the future. Their resilience should inspire us and the rest of humanity to pick ourselves up after mourning loss or experiencing pain and anguish.

That’s a lesson we can all learn — and implement again, and again, and again.

About the Author
Linda Abraham founded and ran Accepted, the premier admissions consultancy. She currently hosts the Admissions Straight Talk podcast. She also co-founded and served as the first president of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants. With Judy Gruen, she co-authored MBA Admission for Smarties. She lives with her husband in California.
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