Yom HaShoah (pronounced, YOME HA SHOW AH), Holocaust Remembrance Day is today, Thursday, April 19, 2012. Thank you in advance for reading this longer than usual post.
When I lived in Israel, there were annual ceremonies at school. We wore white shirts and blue pants to show the colors of the Israeli flag. We received little stickers to put on our white shirts that said, “Yizkor” (Remember). We stood in silence, heads down, as the wail of the siren went on for two minutes all across Israel.
If I wasn’t at school, and I was walking, I stopped. If I was in a car, we stopped the car in the middle of the road, got out, and stood. If you’ve ever experienced or witnessed this collective moment of remembering in Israel, you know that it gives goosebumps. Everyone stops. There is no sound but the sound of the siren. When it ends, everyone carries on with their day. There is a heaviness that lingers along with sad music that plays on the radio.
I was taught that we’re supposed to remember, and especially as the survivors die from old age, that the younger generations must be even more responsible to keep the memories alive. With many Holocaust deniers and revisionist historians, it is crucial that we do this. This happened. We cannot let it happen again.
Sometimes the topic of the Holocaust was taboo. One of my friends’ father was a survivor. The family didn’t talk about it, at least never in our presence (that is, us teenagers). It was mysterious, too big. A kind of elephant in the room. That is how some people coped afterwards. They had to not speak about what happened to them. Or maybe they were just protecting us from too much information.
I saw many people with the tattoos on their arms from their days in concentration camps. In high school, I learned about WWII and the Holocaust in depth. And every year, I saw the documentaries on TV, or heard about new information that miraculously was always being discovered. Every year, and every time I learned more aspects about the Holocaust, and to this day, I have a hard time understanding it. When I was 16 years old, I visited the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. I’ve seen countless museum exhibits, films, etc. It is always deeply disturbing, always impossibly sad, part of the background of my life. It is one of those topics I periodically delve into, and then must extricate myself from. The information often leaves me speechless. Writing about it is difficult. I never feel that I can find the right words.
When I first read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, I was around eight years old. It remains one of the most important books I’ve ever read. I still have my original copy. If you’ve never read it, I urge you to please read it. Or read it again if you already have.
There are Holocaust victims and survivors on both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family. Members of my family have lost their lives and their property in the Holocaust. I’m here, in part, because my grandmother’s mother Hannah Feinboim Giko (z”l), got out of Europe in 1920 and came to the United States bringing my grandmother, Esther (Estelle) Giko Snyder (z”l), with her. Esther’s grandmother, Hinda Feinboim (z”l) who was my Great Great Grandmother, stayed behind and died at the hand of the Nazis at the age of 85. This is the story my grandmother Esther told my mother, Carol, and she in turn told me:
The German Nazis invaded the Soviet Union after the Hitler-Stalin pact ended. They were going to the villages, anywhere there were Jews. They rounded them up, shot them, and moved on. Sometimes they rounded them up, made them dig their own big open graves, then shot them en masse. Other times, they went door to door, killing people in their homes.
On one such day, Hinda Feinboim (z'”l), and her family and all the Jews in the village, ran away from the attacking Nazis. It was cold and snowy in Romanovka, Bessarabia, Romania. They ran across a field. They ran for their lives towards a forest to escape and hide. Hinda ran until she couldn’t run anymore, and then she collapsed on the icy ground. Her family, her siblings, they looked back and saw that she had fallen, but they couldn’t go back to her. They kept running. Three out of seven siblings survived. The rest did not. Hinda was one that didn’t survive, she was lost in the forest.
I’d been trying to find more information about all this. And after speaking with my mother again, trying to get the various possible name spellings, locations, etc., I did a search on the Shoah victims’ database of names at Yad Vashem. A few days ago, I found her name: Hinda Feinboim. She was one of 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. There were 1.5 mllion Jewish children who were murdered. Many others were murdered by the Nazis. Among them, homosexuals, gypsies, people with disabilities, members of the Catholic Church, and more.
All those lives lost. Murdered systematically and over a period of years because the world stood by silently. Borders closed. People were left to die in the most barbaric ways that defy all notions of what it means to be a human being. It is important to remember because people matter. And because remembering honors those who were lost; it honors our past and teaches us about the present and the future.
I’ve been hated because I’m Jewish. I’ve been hated because I’m an American. I’ve been hated because I’m an Israeli. I’ve been hated because my skin color is white (more a shade of pink I think). I’ve been called, “Whitey” here in the US. I’ve had rocks thrown at me because I was an Israeli Jew on a bus going through an Arab village. One rock narrowly missed my head as it came through an open window. I’ve been in a car that was stoned because I was an Israeli Jew who took a wrong turn and ended up in an Orthodox religious Jewish neighborhood on a Sabbath and I was in a moving car. I’ve been hated for being who I am. Things I cannot change. The color of my skin. My race. So, I understand that some people will hate me. Anti Semitism and racism exists. Some people are haters, no doubt. The question is then, what does one do about that? Hatred, racism and anti Semitism are taught and learned. So the opposite must also be taught and learned. Love. Acceptance. Empathy.
At the same time, believe it when people say they hate you or wish to diminish your existence because you’re a Jew, or Black, or Asian, or Gay, or a Woman or fill in the ____. When people are being attacked or discriminated against because of who they are, please don’t stand by and do nothing. Take action where you can. It really does make a difference.
We know that the Righteous ones, those who intervened, those who saved Jews at the risk to their own lives, they’re the ones who are to be commended in the highest possible way. There were people who saved lives and did the right thing in the midst of the horror. They gave people in the most unimaginable circumstances, hope that humanity still existed, that life was still worth fighting for. I suggest you read some Primo Levi or Elie Wiesel. There is so much literature about the Holocaust and sometimes it is easier to read individual stories. Through these individual stories it is possible to begin to grasp the enormity of the Holocaust.
“I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence… that there still existed a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole… for which it was worth surviving.”
Primo Levi describes his rescuer, Lorenzo Perrone (If This Is A Man) —from the Yad Vashem website.
You can look at the photographs, the piles of shoes, read the stories, or watch the films. Then turn and search to see if you can find a relative, maybe someone who needs to be remembered. Maybe you know a young girl like Anne Frank. Maybe you know a grandmother who is 85 years old. Imagine the girl in hiding. Imagine the grandmother running for her life. What if this was your daughter or grandmother?
Sometimes, hope is what will keep a person alive for one more day. Hope and the knowledge that we really are in this life together. We all need to be reminded that none of us are members of a superior race. That every person born on this planet is born perfect, is born flawed. That every person born on this planet has rights and deserves dignity. That if we are to ever comprehend what happened in the Holocaust, it must be part of our life’s work to help those who are suffering and are oppressed in the world today.
It may never happen that all people will be free, or safe, or fed, or loved. But, if we don’t at least try to make that a reality, I’m not quite sure what the point of living is. Millions of people died because other people looked the other way. We should know better by now. We shouldn’t look the other way.
Several years ago, I consulted on a small portion of translation of dialogue from Hebrew to English for a documentary film, René and I. It is a remarkable story of survival.
A good friend and great writer (among many other things), Allen Mogol, recommended the documentary, Finding Kalman. I watched it. The link below includes information about this project. It is currently available for viewing online here.
From the Finding Kalman website:
“Shared memories and art help a family reclaim the spirit of a child lost in the Holocaust, reaffirming that no matter what happens in life there must always be room for joy.”
I’ll end here with a link to Save Darfur /United to End Genocide. Please consider ways in which you might be able to contribute to ending genocide, anti Semitism, racism and fascism in all its forms, anywhere it exists.
With love and wishes for peace,
This post is dedicated to Hinda Feinboim, my great great grandmother, and to the memory of the Six Million Jews and all the victims who perished at the hands of the German Nazis, their collaborators and followers. It is also dedicated to the Righteous Ones, peace lovers and humanitarians, and those who continue to work tirelessly and at great risk to their own lives for human and civil rights, justice and freedom worldwide.