As we approach January 27th, the global community prepares to solemnly observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a poignant commemoration established in 2005 to honor the memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. This day holds particular significance as it marks the (accidental) liberation of the last surviving Jews from the Auschwitz-Birkenau death-camp.
For decades, Jewish communities, along with a diverse array of citizens, non-governmental organizations, minority groups, religious leaders, and governmental representatives, united in remembrance and reflection upon the Holocaust. This collective reflection aimed to draw crucial lessons from the unfathomable suffering and loss endured by one-third of the Jewish population.
From Manhattan to Minsk, Santiago to Berlin, those touched by the tragedies of people such as Anne Frank, Ellie Wiesel, Benjamin Fondane or of the millions of unknown to the public names – joined their Jewish brethren in evenings of poetry and song, of watching documentaries or feature-films by Spielberg, Benigni or Mihăileanu.
Numerous tears have been shed in synagogues, community centers, and private residences alike, as hearts ache for the plight of those subjected to unimaginable horrors during the 1940s.
“Never again!” This resounding call was shouted by politicians, murmured to our ears by shaken individuals, told with sincerity by public-society figures. They were all our brothers, at that moment in time. Or so we felt.
And then …October 7 happened.
Many non-Jewish people seem to have thought “yes, our lesson from the Holocaust was “Never Again!”. Now it’s time for us to show empathy with others!”
In a bewildering twist, not only did they opt to divert their empathy away from Jews, but they also directed it towards those accountable for the most recent massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.
For some, this redirection of empathy may have served as a psychologically liberating mechanism: “Our ancestors were capable of perpetrating atrocities against Jews. At best, they remained silent bystanders. We’ve always harbored a sense of unease, if not outright disgust and shame, regarding this history. If only we could see that Jews, under certain circumstances, could commit similar acts of horror, then we are no worse than them. With this realization, we can close this chapter and finally move forward.”
Despite the teachings of Judaism emphasizing individual accountability and rejecting the notion of intergenerational guilt, many sought solace in this redemptive narrative. Driven by a longing to come to terms with a history scarred by anti-Jewish violence, spanning from York to the Pan-York, from Erfurt to Wannsee, from the Russian pogroms to Jews being shot into the Danube, individuals grasped for this narrative as a means of achieving reconciliation with their own past.
On October 7th, as thousands of Palestinians infiltrated the “shtetels” (kibbutzim) of Southern Israel, they perpetrated acts of rape, murder, and kidnapping against thousands of Jews and non-Jewish Israelis and visitors. This brutal assault shattered a cherished dream — the dream of peace that the vast majority of Israelis ardently held, even in the early hours of October 7th, mere moments before the jarring sounds of malevolent laughter, gunfire, and blade strikes from their Palestinian assailants abruptly disrupted their sleep.
Contrary to baseless claims asserting that Jews are “foreign” to the Middle East, the truth is that Jews are foreign in only one regard: they do not instigate wars for the purposes of conquest, destruction, or murder — a stark departure from prevailing norms in the Middle East and beyond. They only act in self-defense, as Israel had to, since early October.
To those who have stood with us in mourning for the Jews of eight decades past, but have simultaneously aligned with those who celebrate or remain silent when contemporary Jews are targeted, the incongruity is stark.
Jewish commitment to fighting for social justice, evident in solidarity with various minority groups, stands in stark contrast to the disconcerting reality of our allies aligning with those who pose a threat to the Jewish community, in Israel or in the Diaspora.
“Never again?” Sadly, it has happened again. The logistical reasons behind it will be investigated.
But the solemn promise of solidarity has been betrayed by many in the ‘Free World’, and the consequences are deeply significant. You see, the crux of the matter is this: we, the Jewish nation… we remember.