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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,070
April 14, 2021
Holocaust Remembered
By Mike McManus

On Sunday, April 11, the Museum of Jewish Heritage held its annual Gathering of Remembrance to honor those lost in the Holocaust. It was the first day of the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims fast during the day. The event, which has been conducted for 40 years, featured our first-ever Second Gentleman, Doug Emhoff, the Jewish spouse of the first female Vice President, Kamala Harris.

The first speaker was sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a survivor of the Holocaust and a former sniper for the Israeli army, who answered a thoughtful question from a boy named Ethan, a fourth generation survivor who asked how younger generations can best honor those lost in the Holocaust.

Westheimer replied, "I congratulate you for this question...Here's my advice. Every year, in addition to a yahrzeit candle, to the candle of memory, give some money to a charity of your choice."

Later, following a moving classical suite of Holocaust-era Jewish music, Emhoff delivered moving remarks. First he shared his reverence for those lost in the Holocaust, and connected their legacies from generation to generation - and resilience: "This most sacred day is also about resilience, the resilience passed down from great grandparent to grandparent, to parent to child."

Emhoff then called Jewish people to action, borrowing from the widely known words of Anne Frank: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world," she said. "Her words ring with resilience: the same unbreakable spirit that defines us now. So, let us reflect and remember today. Let us start to improve the world tomorrow. May that be our tribute; may that be our legacy."

On the first night of Hanukkah, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is Jewish, announced Senate passage of a bipartisan bill to help Holocaust victims and families achieve some justice to advance efforts at restitution of assets stolen by the Nazi regime from victims of the Holocaust. He called on the House to pass similar legislation.

The scale of German concentration camps and extermination camps was vast. The first concentration camp, Dachau, was established for political prisoners in 1933, soon after Hitler's appointment as chancellor. The camps are often inaccurately compared to a prison. They incarcerated people Nazis saw as a security threat. They were also designed to kill individuals and to exploit forced labor.

The camps were used for SS construction projects, extractive industrial sites such as stone quarries and coal mines and by 1942, the production of armaments and weapons. A thousand camps were created - some of which were simply extermination camps that killed 6 million Jews and millions more who were gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war and political dissidents.

Extermination camps were built near railway lines to make transportation easier. Stationary gas chambers, labelled as showers, were built to murder people with carbon monoxide poisoning created by using diesel engines.

The majority of those selected for any kind of work would die within weeks or months due to lack of food, disease or overwork. Those that survived were often killed after a short period and replaced with new arrivals.

Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the camps who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, wrote in his book, "Night" haunting words, "Never shall I forget that first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never."

Wiesel wrote 60 books - novels, books of essays and reportage, two plays and even two cantatas. While many of his books were nominally about topics such as Soviet Jews or Hasidic master, they all dealt with profound questions resonating out of the Holocaust: What is the sense of living in a universe that tolerates unimaginable cruelty. How could the world have been mute? How can one go on believing?"

"If I survived, it must be for some reasons," he told The New York Times in a 1981 interview. "I must do something with my life." He certainly did so.

Let us - people of faith and no faith - remember those lost in the Holocaust and work to prevent future persecutions.

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Copyright (c)2021 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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