Feelings are not enough. We are getting an overdose of feelings today, on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). We are getting saturated with stories, memories, and tears but, in my opinion, we must not neglect cold, hard, dry facts. Here is a list of them courtesy of Professor Yosef Ben-Shlomo; six historical facts that we need to internalize in order to understand why the Holocaust was such an extraordinary event:
- For the first time in history (other than Haman’s plot against the Jews in ancient Persia), one nation sought the complete elimination of another, despite the fact that the vast majority of the nation targeted for extermination lived outside the territory of the aggressor nation. The goal was not to just put the other nation into exile but to erase it from the face of the earth. In Nazi documents on the number of Jews destined for death, the tiny Albanian Jewish community of 200 souls was noted.
- Absence of opposition. In the Wannsee Conference of January, 1942, the “final solution” was unanimously approved by the fifteen attendees, all of whom held high-ranking ministerial positions in the German government, and eight of whom were holders of doctorate degrees.
- The Germans worked against their own interests in World War II. Even as Germany was losing the war, it behaved irrationally. Instead of investing in just fighting enemy forces, the Germans continued “to waste” energy on their Jewish extermination project.
- They were not crazy. Among the murderers were family men and women, professionals, and intellectuals. They were perfectly sane. Millions of ordinary, regular folks did not see any problem with taking part in this giant extermination project.
- The concentration camps were not bombed. The death factories continued to operate without interference by the Western allied nations or their armies, even while the allies regularly bombed Nazi munitions factories.
- There was no way out. Unlike their ability to cope with other horrendous decrees and persecutions throughout history, the Jews of Europe had no way out. There was no possibility of saving themselves through cooperation with the enemy, or by being exiled or by conversion to another faith. Death was their only option.
Today we face Holocaust denial, ignorance, and forgetfulness, as well as claims that the Holocaust was not a unique or particularly anti-Jewish event .It is therefore more important than ever not only to remember what happened, but to make a commitment never to forget.