November 16, 2018

Remembering is Important, but Now It’s Time to Step Up and Also Remind

Eight years ago, I stood on Auschwitz Birkenau’s railroad, where more than 1 million Jews were led to their death only 65 years beforehand.  It was part of a special 8-day journey offered to 11th graders in Israel, to travel to Poland and learn more, and from up-close, about the horrors of the Holocaust.


It took me a while to decide on whether I want to join this trip or stay home. Up until then, I had tried to avoid seeing and hearing too much about the Holocaust, fearing it would be too much for me to handle. But eventually I decided to join my classmates on what became the most meaningful experience of my life.


It took us a while to soak everything in, and realize what we’re seeing, hearing and touching. It was there, on Auschwitz Birkenau’s railroad, when the haze finally cleared. I remember standing there, waving the Israeli flag, and vowing to always remember and never forget.


On that day, I wrote in my journal:


“This feeling cannot be described on paper. You have to be there to feel this intense, powerful, complicated feeling. We marched, hugged together, in a concentration and death camp that looks as if 60 years never passed by. The only difference is that instead of the smell of scorched bodies, there’s the salty smell of tears. There is blue sky instead of no sky. Other than us, there was a church group, led by a priest, who also came to witness the unbelievable. I can’t describe the joy I felt knowing we are not the only ones who care. One by one, we begin to appreciate what we have. I am very lucky to be here today with my friends.”


Today, we mention Israel’s National Holocaust Remembrance Day, which should be a reminder to everyone, not only Israelis, to guarantee history doesn’t repeat itself.


Anti- Semitism is still alive and well, more bluntly than ever before. What was considered a taboo for decades, is now practically mainstream, as haters step out of the shadows. Behind computer screens, they spread hatred mixed with lies, which gives a shady legitimacy to them bluntly attack innocent civilians on the streets.


About 80 years ago, people in Germany were frustrated. The loss of WWI came with a high cost, and many were stripped of their assets and their pride.  People were looking for someone to blame, and a small political party came up with an answer. Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party blamed all of Germany’s problems on the Jews and the people followed. Some were just happy to hear that their problems are not their fault, others took action and joined the Nazi party’s efforts in “migrating the problem.” The seeds of hatred sawed by Hitler grew to become one of the darkest times in history, which we later swore to “never let happen again.”


Now, decades later, the path to destruction is being built again, and “never again” can no longer only be a saying. This is when it needs to become an action.


Last night, I participated in an event called “A Memory in the Livingroom” (זיכרון בסלון), an alternative to official national ceremonies offered to Israelis on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, where we get to sit and talk to Holocaust survivors.


This is the fourth year I am participating, and every year a discussion begins, on what people will remember after the last survivor will pass away. This year, everyone agreed, unanimously, that the memory of the Holocaust will never die. We promised to not let it die, and it is our promise to keep. But the only way to do so, is by fighting the scary wave of Holocaust denial and all forms of radicalism that can easily give legitimacy to history repeating itself.


There’s always justification to be found and someone else to be blamed. Extremists will always find a way to act, spread false truths and raise their voices and their hands. It is up to us, the sane majority, to prevent radicalism from becoming the new normal.


This day is a reminder, for me and hopefully everyone else, to not only remember the Holocaust, but actively battle ignorance by sharing the truth and telling the stories. We can’t let Holocaust denial become louder than the truth. We must turn up the volume, REMEMBER AND REMIND.