Today is Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
I know many of us prefer not to focus on the Holocaust lest world Judaism become some kind of “death cult;” all the horrible pictures and survivors’ stories can ruin your day, right? And there’s just too much to remember; it’s understandable that we’ve reduced the Holocaust to concentration camp images of piles of eyeglasses and standing skeletons and then subsequently reject it.
But today I want to be able to handle it, to hold a place open for this catastrophe that still affects every Jew whether he or she is conscious of it or not. To let the day pass without something a prayer, a candle is to give power to those who deny it ever happened.
So bless those who work tirelessly so that Jews like me have to be reminded of those killed in Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, of those who were rounded up, separated from their loved ones, tortured, raped and starved by the Nazis. Thank you for preserving the faces, the facts so that we can know that so many did not passively walk into Hitler’s ovens like sheep but fought like hell in fact, this date was chosen because it commemorates the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943.
We know we’re supposed to remember, but really, we’ve already forgotten so much. It’s not like it’s ancient history only two generations ago. My grandmother, who was born in Poland and came here as a child thanks to the prescience of her father in the the mid-’1930s, never talks about the huge family left behind. There are other people who saw, suffered and kept living and keep marching, but not for long. (Sadly, as David Kelsey at Jewschool points out, some of these survivors are living in poverty. Who doesn’t agree that we can live with one less museum if it means financing some luxuries for them for the rest of their lives?)
By the time my children are adults, there will be no survivors left. I’ve talked with my son, who is 6, about the “the bad very bad thing that happened to the Jews when Bubbie was a little girl,” but it’s a little early for a trip to Yad Vashem. He is a curious boy, though, and I want to know what being a good Jewish mother means here: Do I invite him over to my computer to look and listen and watch, or should I wait until he’s older?
I remember seeing number tattoos on arms around my grandparents’ Miami Beach apartment complex pool when I was little, but I was supposed to pretend not to notice. I heard things, my mother explained a bit, but it wasn’t until I visited Auschwitz as a young adult that I realized so much of my own personal nervousness was collective that the Holocaust exists in my Jewish DNA, my psyche, no matter how consciously I try to make Judaism about ritual, spirituality and family.
I’ve been surfing sites all day, trying to catch up on the guilt, the sadness, the overwhelming horror because I’m afraid tomorrow I won’t think about it anymore. Trying to get my mind around “six million,” a third of the entire Jewish population of the planet at the time. To quote Chavaleh, “six million is a lot.” Someone pointed out to her that if we had a moment of silence for each of the six million, we’d be standing for two and half years.
But spending that much time mourning the dead is a travesty to the living. So it will be a few minutes of silence today. Another vanilla version of Hitler for the kids. A lit yahrzeit candle. A murmured Mourner’s Kaddish.
And perhaps soon I can make time to seek out a survivor who is willing to share, so my son can ask about the numbers on an arm and get at least one story straight from the source before it’s too late.