Yom HaShoah in 2012 is April 19.
Yom HaShoah is a day of remembrance. We remember those who died in the Holocaust. We remember those who resisted. We remember those who helped people survive. We remember that genocide did not stop with the end of the Shoah. We remember, because we owe a spiritual debt to those who died, those who resisted, those who saved lives. We remember, so that when our resistance is needed, when hatred whirls round and makes it seem not just okay but the morally right thing to do to hate that we might be the resisters and the life savers, even as our own lives might also be threatened.
Those who saved others in the Shoah and in genocides since share certain characteristics. They were willing to take great risks for friends and for strangers; they had to live with a bigger identity than the one hate claimed. And, often, they had to endure social isolation and ostracism not just during the war, but after it. One’s former friends and colleagues who go along, whether wrapped up in hate or fear or some other reason, tend to not want to be with those who remind them of their actions.
The stories of resisters and rescuers that emerge in Gay Block and Malka Drucker’s Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust and in EyalPress’ Beautiful Souls: Saying No,Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times are important stories. The fact of resisters and rescuers speak to the reality of choices, very, very, very difficult choices, with lasting consequences.
The rescuers remember those they helped, and those they lost. They crossed the lines hate and fear drew and insisted on love’s great courage and wider circle. But they all came face-to-face with hate-filled violence and said no to hate. It is terribly hard to protect the stranger, neighbor, or friend when we do not know them, when we have chosen to live inside the spiritual and emotional walls of hate and fear.
When we remember those who died, let us not be driven into our own walls of hate and fear from the shock and grief. The Holocaust was terribly neither the first nor the last genocide, but it was the first to industrialize genocide, and had many, many states turn away refugees and refuse to intercede until it was too late, and after which we first created laws of human rights to bring an end to genocides. But the dedication of survivors, resisters, rescuers, and those of us who keep faithful memory continues to teach us that we can choose life, that there are no walls hate can build that we cannot cross under, over, or through, and that love is a tremendously strong force of moral courage.
Remember with us, Beloved, the many millions gone, lost to hatred and lost to fear. Remember with us, Beloved: keep us from forgetting how easy it is to become so afraid that we turn aside from strangers, family, neighbors, and friends in their hours of greatest need. Surely their hours of greatest need are also our hours of greatest need. Let us tend the memories and the stories of those lost, and let us be ready to do what was not done for them, to create refuge and hope and a world where we may live with all our differences in peace and with joy. Remember with us, Beloved: keep us from forgetting those who resisted and rescued, those who refused to let fear and hate define them and who, when the hours of testing came, were ready and answered with mercy, with love, with justice. Remember with us, Beloved: help us pass the responsibility for justice and for care of stranger, neighbor, family, and friend from one generation to the next and to live courageously in compassion. Let us remember, mourn, and find our hearts to live with love and bring an end to hate. Amen.