The UN designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This was the day, in 1945, when the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi German death camp that has come to symbolize the demonic depths to which the Third Reich descended in the “industrialization” of genocide.
In the Jewish tradition, we are commanded to remember (zachor) and not to forget (lo tishkach).
Let us remember...
...the six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, who were exterminated in the Holocaust (in Hebrew, Shoah).
...the entirely new alphabet created by the Nazis for the Final Solution – from the letter “A” for Auschwitz to the letter “Z” for Zyklon-B.
...not only the tragic deaths of the six million Jews, but also their vibrant lives – as shopkeepers and craftsmen, scientists and authors, teachers and students, parents and children, husbands and wives.
...the richly hued and ancient Jewish civilizations that were destroyed – from Salonika to Vilna, from Amsterdam to Prague.
...the slippery slope that began with the rantings of an obscure Austrian-born anti-Semite named Adolf Hitler and led, in the course of less than 15 years, to his absolute control over Germany.
...those who failed to grasp the emerging threat of the Hitler regime, who minimized his maniacal ravings in the 1930s, and who thought a policy of appeasement might satisfy his unquenchable lust for power and conquest.
...the fertile soil of European anti-Semitism – cultivated over centuries by cultural, political, and religious voices – that created an all-too-receptive climate for the Nazi objective of eliminating the Jewish people.
...the courage of Denmark, as well as Albania, Bulgaria, and Finland, for their extraordinary efforts to protect their own Jewish communities.
...the example of thousands of Righteous Persons – who are called, in Hebrew, Hasidei Umot Ha’olam. They risked their own lives – and, in some cases, gave their lives – so that others might live.
...the millions of non-Jews – Poles and Russians, Roma and the disabled, political opponents and homosexuals – murdered under the relentless Nazi onslaught.
...the determination and sacrifice of the Allied nations, which, through “blood, toil, tears and sweat,” as the indomitable Winston Churchill said, vanquished the Third Reich.
...the survivors of the death camps, who endured such unimaginable suffering and who have inspired us all with their indomitable courage, spirit, and will to live.
...the absence of an Israel in those war-time years – an Israel that, had it existed, would have provided a haven when so shamefully few countries were willing to accept Jewish refugees.
We must never forget...
...those who perished at the hands of the Third Reich and its collaborators.
...those who saved even a single life. As it is written in the Talmud: “He who saves one life has saved the world.”
...the ancient Jewish teaching that we are all created “in the image of God.”
...the importance of speaking out, forcefully and unambiguously, and taking action against intolerance and bigotry, whenever and wherever they occur.
...the inextricable link among democracy, the rule of law, and protection of human rights.
...the age-old prophetic vision of a world of justice, harmony, and peace.
...that each of us, in ways large and small, can help bring us closer to the realization of that prophetic vision.