Local people arriving with candles approach stelae at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also called the Holocaust Memorial, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 26, 2024 in Berlin, Germany. Tomorrow will be the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the biggest of the many concentration camps used by the Nazis during World War II to enslave and exterminate millions of Jews, political opponents, Roma and other Nazi-deemed undesirables. Credit - Sean Gallup-Getty Images
Recently, my mother, who escaped Hungary as a young teen in 1943 as the Nazis were closing in, called me from her home in Jerusalem. She was quite agitated, asking why even Israel’s loyal friends seem to be promoting compromise on issues fundamental to its security. She begged me to speak to anyone and everyone I know, from community leaders to elected officials.
As the world marks Saturday, January 27, as the annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is clear that my mother needs no such day. The question the Jewish people must be asking is who will benefit from a day in January, 2024, designated to remember the Holocaust?
The Holocaust deniers, including President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, many Western nations’ preferred steward of Gaza for the day after the war, and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose country funds Hamas and the other armed groups attacking Israel and its allies on multiple fronts, will not benefit from it. They cannot commemorate something they claim never occurred.
The United Nations, which at the initiative of its Israeli delegation designated the day back in 2005 to build Holocaust awareness and prevent further acts of genocide, now deploys the lessons of the Holocaust against the Jewish people. The U.N. has yet to condemn the explicitly and admittedly genocidal acts of Hamas against Israel on October 7 while its International Court of Justice is trying Israel for genocide in Gaza. If this is the result of remembering the Holocaust, we Jews would prefer they forgot about it.
Jews surely don’t need this day. Many of us have been remembering the Holocaust every day since that dark day in October. The Holocaust is why we do not use the word “unprecedented” to describe the monstrous and unspeakable acts of cruelty committed in Be’eri and Kfar Aza, the blind hatred that drives others to destroy us even if it destroys them, and the apathy of the nations of the world who – with the notable exception of the United States and a few others – are either supporting evil or standing silently by.
For my mother, for me, and for many Jews, the Holocaust is the precedent, the comparable, the question that, since the Hamas massacres, bewildered and frightened Jews have been asking themselves and anyone who will listen. The Holocaust is why we have no naivete about the tunnel builders, hang gliders, and missile launchers who, in their unflagging genocidal pursuit of the Jews, continue to dream, plan, rearm, and reorganize. It is why we in the U.S. are so frightened by the violent tone of the ubiquitous pro-Palestinian protests and by the intimidation of Jews on campuses. We have seen this all before and shame on us if we allow ourselves to forget and fall prey once again to the empty promises of those masquerading as peacemakers and to the assumption that in the Western civilized world of course Jews will be safe.
Everyday since Oct. 7, my mother is reminded of and haunted by the delusions of her grandparents and more than a dozen uncles and aunts who naively chose not to join her parents’ escape to Palestine as the Nazi menace spread, only to be turned to ashes in Auschwitz. She often muses aloud about how my father, of blessed memory, a Holocaust survivor, would process October 7th in Israel, October 8th in Harvard, and October 9th in the UN.
But let us not cancel Holocaust Remembrance Day. Let us mark it with those who have traditionally been our friends and supporters in government and the arena of public opinion, those people we have brought year after year to Yad Vashem and other Holocaust memorials, who have wished only good for the Jewish people but who see our situation from the outside.
Although they have done much good for us, and still do mean well, it has now become obvious that they cannot possibly see the current realities as we do. These friends are now wavering, running out of patience, understandably shaken by the devastating images from Gaza and by their desperate desire to bring the hostages home, hoping against hope—as do all good people—for the imminent arrival of the blessings of peace. It is for these reasons they are urging Israel to stop the war short of achieving its critical goal of decisively destroying Hamas and its terror infrastructure.
There is a classic Jewish teaching that warns us against judging others until we stand in their place. Things look different from the sidelines than they do from the battlefield. Holocaust Remembrance Day is an opportunity for American and allied leaders and citizens to stand in our place and see Hamas, the United Nations, the ICJ, certain protestors and university leaders, and a long list of others through the eyes of Jews, the survivors of the Nazis and the Jew-haters of each and every generation, experiencing once again an all-too-familiar existential threat. To see them through the eyes of my mother.
It is also an opportunity for these allies and friends to stand in the places of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and President Franklin D. Roosevelt and of the leaders and press of the free world who failed miserably in the 1930’s and 40’s. It is the current generation’s opportunity, to do it right, to act decisively against evil by living up to the commitment made by Churchill on February 9, 1941: “Give us your faith and your blessing, and, under Providence, all will be well. We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
That would make Holocaust Remembrance Day 2024 meaningful for everyone, even my mother. Maybe she would finally feel like people are listening, learning from the history she lived, and will take the right actions now.
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