Yom Hashoah & the Need for Remembrance

Seventy years after the Allies liberated the camps, we still read about the Holocaust and the other Nazi crimes in part because we are afraid…: We fear that we will start to think of monstrous actions as just the way of the world.
– David Mikics, “Why We Still Read about the Shoah
Today, on Yom Hashoah, we commit to remembering the Holocaust. This day of remembrance has been amplified this week as we also honor the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Bergen Belsen.

These commemorations take many forms: candles will be lit, survivors will address large crowds, and names will be read. But, 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, in a world where anti-Semitism remains a persistent (if surprising) threat, we must also take time to consider WHY we remember the Holocaust. What do these Days of Remembrance offer for understanding this history and the legacy of so much destruction?

The USHMM put together a compelling video to document some different reflections on Holocaust memory. In the video, survivors, staff members, historians, and others account for why Holocaust memory is meaningful for them. These thought leaders remind us of why we study the events of theShoah and why the voices of survivors remain powerful markers of a past we must face and account for. As Raye Farr (Film Curator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) states in the film:

We remember because it is an unthinkable scar on humanity. We need to understand what human beings are capable of.

The film encourages us to honor the memory of the victims, remember the courage of the liberators, and the strength of the survivors.

But, more, as we contemplate the Days of Remembrance and the act of remembering in the context of our own confounding historical moment, I am compelled by Sara Bloomfield’s remark that commemorating the Holocaust is more than an act of memory:

It’s really a moral challenge to us to do more in our own lives when we confront injustice or hatred or genocide.

This idea: that we remember not to dwell in the past, but to confront the present is a motivator for me. And, this year, this sentiment has been powerfully stated by David Mikics in his review of Nikolaus Wachsmann’s new book KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps, “Why We Keep Reading about the Shoah” (published today on Tablet). Mikics argues that we continue to explore, study, and remember the Holocaust not because it is our duty to honor the victims or remember their helplessness (or their strength and resilience), but because we fear that we are each capable of ignoring the violence, injustice, and terror of the world around us. That we are each capable of become not just complacent, but guilty. He writes:

Decades later, we more than ever before recognize ourselves in the dark mirror of that terrible time. There is no other way to explain the flood of books and movies about the Nazi era, which stems not from an appetite for cheap sensational evil, but from the sneaking suspicion that, if we had been placed under such inhuman pressures, such unheard-of temptations, we would have learned something deeply unfortunate about ourselves. We strongly suspect that, had we been put in a concentration camp—let’s say as a kapo, a victim forced to play the role of perpetrator—we would have failed any moral test you could think of.

Today, on this Yom Hashoah, it is Mikics provocation that I will meditate on. Have I allowed the ongoing tragedies of the world to become ordinary? Have I failed the moral test of speaking out and acting out in horror and outrage? And, if I commit myself to remembering the Holocaust by speaking out against contemporary acts of hate and terror, what will that look like?


Originally posted on http://memoriesmotifs.tumblr.com >