Personal Holocaust, personal responsibility

I am named for my late grandfather Yehoshua Gross, who was murdered at Bergen-Belsen a month before the camp was liberated by the Allied Forces. Each year on Yom HaShoah, I ask myself, What is my mission, in that I bear the name of one of the six million Jewish murdered simply for being Jewish? What is the significance of the deaths of six more million Jews for us, the third generation since the Holocaust? How is our personal family history intertwined with the national history of the founding and sustaining of the State of Israel?

The answer — both simple but also heavy and complex — is personal responsibility.

The Holocaust is a Jewish, nationalist and personal event that somehow impacts or relates to every other tragedy we have experienced in human history. The extent of the Holocaust — and its roots in satanic, anti-Semitic ideology — is something we must remember forever, so as to prevent another, similar event. However, for those like me, whose families perished in the Shoah, it is a personal and family story, too. It has a face and names of grandfathers and grandmothers who died in death camps, and of others who survived and continue to tell their stories, in the first-person, here and now.

The personal story is interwoven with the Jewish nationalist story. For people like me, the Holocaust is more than a piece in the mosaic of Jewish history, it is a feeling and an experience. It is something that is recalled not only on Yom HaShoah when the siren blasts or when we visit Poland or read a history book, but all the time. It is always on the outskirts of our consciousness. And we feel deeply the power it took for our ancestors who survived to rise out of the ashes and come to the land of Israel and build a new life and a new country. We understand the miracle of the Jews being in the State of Israel — integrated, involved and contributing, everyone in his own way.

The weight of the responsibility of memory is national. But for us, it is personal. We, together with our parents and our children and grandchildren, must personally bear the memory of the Shoah. Museums, ceremonies, movies, books, they all tell the story of a nation of survivors. We tell a story that is personal and touching. Our story, the story of second, third and fourth generation survivors, was passed on to us by our grandmothers — who passed through Auschwitz and survived, or passed on in our names — names of those who did not survive.

They are the stories of those whose pictures are hanging at home or are placed on the mantel at grandmother’s house and of those whose names appear in family trees.

Beyond the responsibility of building our own lives and the state, there is also a personal responsibility to be among those who warn people at the gates, those for whom the lessons of the Holocaust and the dangers of hatred, twisted racist ideology, murderous nationalism, become a lesson we share with our children, friends and colleagues.

My grandfather, for whom I am named, and my grandmother, a survivor, have cast on me the personal responsibility not only to remember until my last days, but to pass on remembrance and its importance to the next generation.

Dr. Yehoshua “Shuki” Friedman is the Director of the Center for Religion, Nation and State at the Israel Democracy Institute.

About the Author
Dr. Shuki Friedman is director of the Center for Religion, Nation and State at the Israel Democracy Institute and a lecturer in law at the Peres Academic Center.
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