Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017, a few thoughts

Even was I not aware that Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 24 this year), was upon us, I would be made aware by the TV specials on PBS and elsewhere. Stories about the tragedy and the heroics pop up on the channels known for documentaries. I don’t remember seeing so much about heroics when I was a child, just the horrible living nightmare of the Holocaust.

To this day, I still don’t get it. Yes, I know the world has been full of Jew haters since the beginning of the Jews, but how could it happen? And how could it have continued to the point of such genocide and annihilation?

We know today that world leaders knew what was happening. There was a war on and yes, the Allied powers did not want to divert resources to stop the systematic murder, but why not? I have heard the reasons and none are righteous. The Nazis of course diverted resources to ensure every last Jew was turned into ashes.

Were the same things happening today, would the same result occur? I would hope not, and one would think not, at least with the Jews, but look at Syria right this very minute. Look at what happened in Rwanda in the 1990s. Look at the breakup of Yugoslavia also in the 1990s.

It seems as with most everything and everyone, in order to matter, you need to be a powerful constituency. Or have one that has your back. The Jews were not then what they are now, and so no one really cared. In fact, so many people, and not just in Eastern Europe, and in Ukraine and Russia, were so anti-Semitic in the 20th century, that the pogroms and murders perpetrated by the Nazis and their willing collaborators became oh well, matter of fact, what can you do, when they became known.

When you have no power, you become disposable. The Jews were disposable. They weren’t even considered collateral damage. They were refuse, trash to be incinerated, and so they were.

Certainly, had leaders in the United States and other places cared even a little, there would have been murders of Jews, but not six million of them. And it is so hard to fathom, with so many lost. The Gypsies did not have any importance either. They were butchered as well. Others too. With every occupied town and country, the Nazis kept murdering and they knew no one would lift a finger to help.

Apathy was a most willing and welcome accomplice. “See, they don’t care about the Jews either. No one does.”

It is important that the expected television programs come back year after year, but I have never been comfortable with them. I tend not to watch the nightmare aspect of it – shying away from documentaries and movies. This hits too close to home. As I have written before, my mother was in Auschwitz and my father, after escaping from a labor camp, was a partisan. Most of their families were murdered by the Nazis.

If the killing on a screen needs to be shown as part of any good that came about, I can deal with it. To a degree. But I always wonder about others. What can they handle? Do they even care?

Time races on and the further we are from the horror, the less important it gets. This is natural. It is said, “Time heals all wounds,” but it can also be said, “Time covers up all wounds.” Sure, those on whom an unforgiveable crime has been committed will never forget, but for the most part, the further away we are in distance of time, the less the crime matters. Add distance in oceans and countries and well, who cares? We become detached. “That was so long ago.” “But it’s way over there, not here.”

And yes, it is cliché to note how interest and caution can wane as time goes by. Would the Allied powers have recklessly brokered a feeble nuclear agreement with the world’s foremost terrorist state, one that denies the Holocaust, just after World War II?

And it is cliché to say larger numbers only add to the numbness we feel about atrocities. Six million is a lot. More than a lot. But it is generally written as “six million,” and not as “6,000,000.” How about 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1….. ad infinitum? Would that help?

But what can we do? We can scream to the top of our lungs, “Never again!” but we still turn away. It’s over there. And they are who? Syrians? Yazidis? So what.

And perhaps we just need to better understand those who commit terror on the streets of Paris or San Bernardino or Jerusalem. Rather than see evil for what it is, we search for grievance excuses.

No search is required. Evil is evil on any level, large or small. Period. Appeasement and psychoanalysis does not end it, it proliferates it.

Thinking of the preventable tragedies, or at least those that could have been mitigated, from generation to generation is exhausting. It is as overwhelming to me as the number of my people starved and beaten and raped and tortured and shot and gassed. Six million, including one and a half million children. It is way too easy to say. Way too easy to write. The words do no justice. None.

And of course, the anti-Semitism of old is still here. It could be argued that those who hated the Jews, who aided in their massacre, were the ignorant, the uneducated. But what explains what has been happening today? The new anti-Semites, for example, the boycott Israel proponents, are the well-informed, the educated. “I don’t hate Jews, just Israel.” “I don’t want to hurt the Jews, just the Zionists.” Nonsense!

Sadly, as with every group, we have our own who harm us, whose self-hatred or guilt or misguided compassion make them only too quick to be the anti-Semites’ useful idiots, unable or unwilling to comprehend the damage they cause to Israel and their people, ultimately to themselves.

As quickly as a strong Israel became a haven for the Jews and a guarantee against another Holocaust, the Jewish state became the license for acceptable Jew hatred. The far right in the 1900s got a pass from the world, the far left in our day gets a pass from the world, and many in the middle are too confused or just don’t care one way or the other.

Besides, the way “Nazi” and “Hitler” are now bandied about here and around the world for political reasons, the way false comparisons are made, all of this contributing to the cheapening and degradation of the genocide against the Jewish people, it is no wonder onlookers become disinterested.

Is there hope for this world? There is always hope, the hope that all peoples will civilize. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It is way too long, and I fear there will always be those too blinded by power or radical ideologies who will slow the bend.

At this Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I recognize I am fortunate to live in the greatest nation on earth, not just for the obvious reasons, but because it is the only country uniquely qualified to help accelerate toward justice the arc of the moral universe.

Finally, in the face of global mayhem, we must have hope that history stops repeating itself, that the wicked, and not the innocent, perish from the earth, and that the triumph of good over evil happens sooner rather than later, and for all time.

About the Author
Shia Altman who hails from Baltimore, MD, now lives in Los Angeles. His Jewish studies, aerospace, and business and marketing background includes a BA from the University of Maryland and an MBA from the University of Baltimore. When not dabbling in Internet Marketing, Shia tutors Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and Judaic and Biblical Studies to both young and old.
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