Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lest We Forget

When I was much younger I used to be puzzled by the statement so often applied to the events of the Holocaust: "Lest We Forget." How, I wondered, could anyone, anywhere, ever forget this dark period of our history? How could any Jew fail to be affected by the horror that was the Holocaust?

Time has brought me wisdom and a different perspective. For me, with a birth certificate that reads "Loheiden Home Kampf, Bergen Belsen, Germany" the Holocaust can never be forgotten. The Holocaust shaped my parents and it shaped my life as well. It gave me voids where there should have been people, where there should have been grandparents and aunts and uncles. It gave me a younger childhood that was a conflict and contrast between what was and what could have/should have been, had there only not been the Holocaust. It gave me looks of pain on the faces of my parents that no mere weapon could have produced. It gave me a yearning for what I knew I could never have, and a determination as I grew older that my children would never suffer this loss as I had.

When I was younger there was no formal Yom HaShoah. It would have been redundant, surely so for those of us that were the children of the survivors. Was there ever a day, a week, a month that was not a day of remembrance? Was there ever any occasion which would have been shared with a full family that was not a day to remember those who were absent? We lived a life of remembrance.

And then time brought along another generation to follow mine. And this generation was fiercely loved and fiercely protected. This generation would not live in the shadow of the horrors of the Holocaust. This generation would bring some solace at last to their grandparents. This generation would prove the truth of the saying "The best revenge is living and living well." My children's generation would be a fist in the face of the European beasts who set out to slaughter and annihilate the Jewish people. But in the midst of this celebration of life came the realization that the same passing of time that could ease, if only a little bit, the pain inflicted on my parents and, by extension, on me could also erase the remembrance of those who were the victims of the Holocaust. And thus was born "Lest We Forget" and thus was born Yom HaShoah.

I will smile on Yom HaShoah, even if that smile is bittersweet. My great grandmother Gittel bas Hershel a"h may have been butchered by the European sub-humans, but there isn't a one of her great great grandchildren who does not know who she was and who cannot tell a Baba Gittel story. My siblings and I, my first cousins, and all of our children carry the names of our grandparents and aunts and uncles whose lives were so tragically cut short. And while there are certainly stories of the here and now they are woven together with the stories of there and then. The tapestry that is our lives is our answer to "Lest We Forget."

So on this day of remembrance I will make it my business to tell my children some bit of information passed on to me by my parents about their parents and grandparents and siblings. I will weave another thread into our family tapestry, knotted tightly. I will see to it that the children phone and speak to their grandmother, a gift far beyond the price of rubies. And I will tell my children what I say to you now: Today is only one tiny fraction of not a day of remembrance but of days of remembrance. That remembrance of the Holocaust is something we must do kol yomai chayechoh.And we must pass on this obligation to remember those who died in the Holocaust to our children and our children's children down through the generations "so that their names shall not perish from the earth.'

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