Yom Hashoah

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Yom Hashoah / Holocaust Remembrance Day


Every day is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. That is so because those of us who have personal recollections of the events summarily called “Holocaust” can never escape the consequences of that unique horror in human history. We think of this all the time unless we are working and thereby get some relief from these thoughts. Some of us hide food in various places around our house even though we have eaten well these fifty years. Others see the nightmares of Nazi persecution in their daydreams and most see these things in their night dreams. We learn that an accident has taken place and that someone has been killed. We compare the grief of the mothers, fathers, wives and children, husbands and friends with those whose entire family was slaughtered. Someone is in mortal danger yet he is saved. We think, "Why didn’t anyone come to save us and our friends and relatives?"  We are insulted by someone and we see the German or Polish haters insult us and spit on us in a European street. We are particularly affected by people like Buford O. Furrow, who stormed into the Jewish Community Center in North Valley, California on August 10, 1999 and shot at random at those then present there. He wounded three boys, a teenage girl and a woman before heading into the San Fernando Valley where he murdered a Filipino-American postal employee who exhibited Oriental features.

All of us can see that the haters are still among us. Indeed, Furrow may well be “crazy”. Yet, we are entitled to ask why he shot at Jews and murdered a Filipino. Why do he and others of his ilk damage synagogues, upset Jewish gravestones and shout anti-Jewish slogans? The answer may well be found on the Sunday Comic page published on April 15. There we find a cartoon by Johnny Hart which depicts how each candle in a seven-branched Menorah is extinguished by one of the “last words” of Mr. Hart’s savior. While Hart has every right to promote his religion, he has no right to incite the Furrows of this world to shoot and kill. The message of the Hart cartoon is plain. Judaism has been or ought to be extinguished. Well, there is only one way Judaism can be extinguished and that is to kill us all. Indeed, few will be so inclined because of one cartoon. However, the lunatics among us will see such cartoons as  legitimizing their hatred and their conduct and therein lies the seed of another holocaust.  Shame on Johnny Hart, whose cartoon appears in 1,300 newspapers in this country.

In view of such anti-Jewish propaganda it is important that some of us speak to schoolchildren about experiences in Naziland. Yet, others cannot speak of them at all.

In recent years, ever since the Holocaust has become popular entertainment in the form of TV shows, movies, plays, novels, history books and annual public meetings, “prominent” citizens who fortunately cannot know anything about that great tragedy have come forward and jostled each other to get on the program, to give speeches, to be photographed, to be “on TV” and to greet and be greeted by politicians in connection with the Holocaust.

It was not always so. Prior to the great victory of Israel over its Arab would-be annihilators on May 5 ­11, 1967 the Holocaust was of little concern to the American Jewish community and was seldom mentioned by Jewish "elites" or other Americans. There were two reasons for this twenty-two year silence about the mass murder of the European Jews. The first was that the poverty of the survivors repelled the American Jewish community. Native born Americans, Jewish or not Jewish, were afraid that it would cost them money or emotional capital to deal with us. The large Jewish organizations, always ready to collect money, were unwilling to help lest their own emoluments were curtailed. Remember that we were not merely poor in the ordinary sense of having a run down apartment or ugly clothes. We were walking skeletons and we were homeless. That was enough to keep us out of sight and out of mind. By 1967, however, enough time had passed so that the Holocaust survivors were no longer in need. It was now possible to approach us without fearing any cost or untoward involvement. By 1967, almost all of us spoke English and some of us had attained some education. It was, by then, no longer as degrading as before to be seen in our company.

The second reason for the commemoration of the Holocaust after 1967 was Israel’s great victory that year. Prior to June 5, 1967 it was widely believed that Israel would be wiped out by the 184 million Arabs surrounding a mere 2 million Jews. Hence, no government wanted to help Israel lest their investment be lost. The world doesn’t like losers. Then, when Israel proved to be a winner, the military and economic aid to Israel became a virtual flood. The world likes winners. Now what does that have to do with the commemoration of the Holocaust? Well, in Israel the Holocaust had been commemorated ever since Independence was attained in 1948. From then, until 1950, no specific date for the Holocaust Remembrance was fixed in Israel. Some wanted to use the Tenth of Teveth, the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans. That, however, has no real connection to the Holocaust. The survivors in Israel wanted to use April 19 because that day marks the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943.  The Orthodox objected to that  date because it coincided with the 15th of Nissan, the beginning of Pesach.  Then, after two years of debate, the 27th of Nissan was chosen. Therefore, on April 12, 1951 the Knesset (Congress) proclaimed Yom Hashoah U’ Mered HaGeaot (Holocaust and Ghetto Revolt Remembrance Day). This year, the 27th of Nissan falls on Friday, April 20, 2001.

Now, Holocaust Memorial Day has become institutionalized so that the gassed and murdered Jews will never be forgottenIt is part of the Jewish calendar. It is a means by which Jews and non-Jews can identify with the greatest crime in history and say together, “Never Again”. May it always be so, Bimhero v’yomenoo.

Shalom u’vracha.


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