Phyllis Greenberg Heideman
Phyllis Greenberg Heideman

This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is more relevant than ever

As Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day — is upon us, Jewish communities around the world are once again standing together in solidarity to remember our six million ancestors who perished in the Holocaust.

Since its inception in 1988, close to 300,000 individuals — Jews and non-Jews alike — from over 150 communities around the world have participated on the International March of the Living and walked along the same 3.2-kilometer route from Auschwitz to Birkenau on this solemn day of remembrance. Once again this year, the current world health pandemic precludes us from making our annual physical journey to Poland.

While we are saddened to commemorate this day away from the final resting sites of so many of our ancestors, our commitment to passing on the torch of Holocaust memory to future generations remains unshaken. Our dedication to honor the legacy of and pay tribute to the survivor community has inspired us to new methods of preserving and protecting memory. For without memory, we have no foundation upon which to build our future. Without memory, we have no history upon which we can reflect and from which we can learn. Without memory, we cannot understand where we have been in the past to fully appreciate where and what we want to strive for or stray from in the future.

Through innovative cutting-edge technology, the International March of the Living will again enable viewers to participate in a virtual 2021 March of the Living and witness some of the meaningful moments that have historically become an annual tradition of memory for so many over the last three decades.

Ensuring that our message is heard is seemingly more important now than ever, as throughout history, we have witnessed that times of instability and upheaval provide an ideal breeding ground for bigotry, prejudice and hatred. Uncertainty has often led to frequently simplistic and often misguided interpretations of historical truths and present-day realities. And these misunderstandings and searches for blame too often find a friendly home in the form of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism as well as Holocaust denial or distortion.

In the global wave of intolerance currently directed toward minority groups, our communal duty to remember is becoming more critical each day. The horrors of the Holocaust — humanity’s darkest hour — must serve as a reminder to all societies around the world of the reality of what can and what may very well may happen when hatred and bigotry are permitted to flourish, unchecked and unbridled.

And yet, even in our saddened recollections of a dark period in history we must never forget, we must look for and find the light of hope.

History has provided clear guidance which, if wisdom is allowed to prevail, will lead us to embrace tolerance, understanding and good faith with full engagement. It is our only path towards peaceful coexistence among communities.

The 2021 International March of the Living, in addition to our annual recognition of the miraculous survivor community, is proud to highlight the heroism of medical professionals who during the Holocaust put their own lives at risk to save the lives of others. Through their personal courage and unwavering perseverance, not only did they save individual lives and ease the suffering of others, but they moreover served as rays of light to all those in peril.

It is precisely during this age of the global coronavirus pandemic that we feel compelled to remember these outstanding examples of human compassion and personal courage. They displayed dedication, devotion and commitment to life even under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Placing themselves in harm’s way to deliver medical care to their fellow members of the human race, surely demonstrates the very essence of the true human spirit.

The courageous heroism of today’s global medical community mirrors that deep regard for our common humanity, irrespective of notable differences.  This commitment — alive during the Shoah and alive today — to selflessly treat all humanity equally is the only way that we will face the future with more respect, deeper tolerance and a greater chance for a brighter future and more peaceful environment among our may diverse communities. It is a path we must take so that all may flourish.

We find light in the dedication and the promise of the global medical community and their selfless commitment to humanity during this world pandemic. For as it is written in Sanhedrin 4:5: “Whoever saves one life, saves an entire world.”

This year the dark forces of prejudice cast a dangerous shadow over our world. It is up to each of us to shine a light of hope over these forces and work toward a better future for all. Let us each take the heroism found in the depths of the Holocaust as our inspiration and shine a path towards a brighter tomorrow.

About the Author
Phyllis Greenberg Heideman is president of International March of the Living, the annual international Holocaust education program.
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