Holocaust Memory in the 21st Century: A Way Forward

Six million murdered.

The number is so staggering that it’s hard to comprehend.

The Nazis and their collaborators across Europe wiped out six million men, women, and children.

Millions more were hunted and harassed, and if caught, were either to be killed on sight or turned over to the SS. My father and his mother were in this latter group, hiding and on the run for years. The rest of his immediate family, and most of their entire extended family were among the first group, brutally exterminated.

The only crime of these millions of victims?

Being a Jew, or, sometimes in a perverse genetic twist on classic anti-Semitism, even being but one-quarter of Jewish descent.

Our challenge today is to understand that in some ways the Holocaust was six million uniquely individual murders and countless millions more episodes of violent persecution.

And it is why today, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, is still so powerful.

That is especially so now, in Ohio, as Governor Kasich presides over his final Governor’s Annual Holocaust Memorial.

The Governor has already led in crafting a truly 21st Century memorial. Ohio’s Holocaust & Liberators Memorial is starkly unique among public monuments here in the United States in both it’s location – sited on Statehouse grounds – and in the story it tells – paying tribute to the victims of Hitler and to the brave men and women who fought and defeated him.

But it is the story engraved on the memorial that most humanizes and modernizes memory and commemoration.

Stars is the story of one of the prisoners at Auschwitz. Stamped with an ink star, which he quickly realized would be his passport to another camp, and out of Auschwitz, he grabbed his cousin who was not so luckily marked. Pressing their forehead’s together, he transferred some ink – and the star itself – onto his cousin.

That is, he saved his life.

It was Margaret Thatcher who said “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

The choices of the Holocaust, it’s villains and it’s heroes, were the choices of individuals.

It is perhaps one reason that Governor Kasich chose as the theme for this, his final Yom HaShoah as a sitting governor, The Power of One.

One individual can change the world.

This memorial, it’s story, and this lesson, are relevant today perhaps more than ever.

In the face of incomprehensible evil, in the wake of indescribable tragedy, the Jewish tradition is not to ask why, but what.

What can I do? How can I help?

As the child of a survivor, I am living proof of this each day.

My father was saved by my grandmother. A simple woman from a small shtetl, she persevered over every obstacle and setback, protecting my father and shepherding him to safety and liberation. One of my father’s relatives, already in America, made an uneasy choice, helping them emigrate, and to resettle here. One teacher chose to help him learn English. And eventually, one man gave him a chance and a job.

The power of one is everything.

On each and every Yom HaShoah, it is to the memory of those murdered which we always pay tribute.

On Yom HaShoah 2018, it is to this ideal of the power of every one that we must recommit.

Only then can we truly say Never Again.

About the Author
Howie Beigelman is Executive Director of Ohio Jewish Communities, the statewide public affairs arm of Ohio's eight Jewish Federations. He works at the intersection of nonprofit advocacy, strategic storytelling, and Jewish communal affairs.
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments