Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is the day the Red Army liberated Auschwitz in 1945. Despite having led many groups to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and visited countless former camps and walked through cities and towns which were once filled with Jewish life, and despite the fact that I have heard many first-person accounts and read so much about the Shoah, the more I read the less I understand. I get angry. I get sad. I get frustrated. I get incredulous. It is an emotional roller coaster. How could others murder so many people just because of their religion? How is mankind capable of such cruelty? Whilst there are rays of light, such as the Righteous Gentiles who risked everything, and the Jews who fought back either physically or morally, the whole period for me in one of overwhelming darkness.
I remember one of the times I led a group on the March of the Living, we assembled in front of the blown-up gas chambers at Birkenau after having marched in silence from Auschwitz I to Auschwitz II along the rail line and through the gates. Standing next the IDF guard of honour was the former Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Lau; himself a survivor having being rescued by the American troops as a little boy. He started the address with the following remarks,
Look around, there are 8,000 youth from all over the world. That is half the amount of people who were murdered daily in Auschwitz at its peak killing capacity between June and November of 1944 when Hungary’s Jews (including my grandmother’s entire family) were being murdered.
I don’t really recall much of the rest of his speech as the opening stunned us. The scale of the site and the scale of the murder and the scale of the evil just overwhelmed me. It’s so important to go at least once to Poland to see what we lost and to see the evidence first hand, especially whilst we can still hear it in the first person. I asked a survivor last year if he could show my son his number on his arm just so he will be able to tell to his children that he saw that humans were branded like cattle.
Rabbi Sacks z”l was correct when he lamented on the crisis of Jewish identity in the Diaspora. He said that,
It is the result of a century of bad, if understandable, decisions. One above all. We neglected Jewish education. The result is that we know little about Judaism, and our children know less. They know about the Holocaust – about how Jews died, not how they live. They know about Israel, but that is somewhere else, not here.
Finally I realise just how important it is to have our own Jewish state and a strong IDF. I get very emotional every time I return from Poland home to Israel. I’ve seen people weep with gratitude, myself included.
Dr. Tuvia Book is the author of “For the Sake of Zion, A Curriculum of Israel Education” (Koren, 2017). His forthcoming book on the Second Temple Period, will be published by Koren this year. He also is a Ministry of Tourism licensed Tour Guide, Jewish educator and a Judaica artist. www.tuviabook.com