Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. – George Santayana
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel (aka Yom HaShoah). Officially, Yom HaShoah starts the evening before (Erev Yom HaShoah) when everything is closed early for the night by law. No restaurants, no stores, no bars. Also, they shut down the TV broadcast during this time too. The next morning, everything is back to business as usual with the exception of a 2 minute air-raid siren that sounds in remembrance at 10AM.
There is a post on facebook with regards to Yom HaShoah that seems to be picking up speed. I’m not going to repost it here because I don’t want to be part of spreading it’s popularity. But, I need to make my opinion about it known.
The post in question is a link to a blog-post that claims to help people “rethink” or “adjust” how people view the Holocaust. It’s a post by a religious Jewish man so it’s not meant to be an antisemitic or Holocaust-doubting (I think). The post is 20 pictures with short blurbs that are related to the Holocaust; but instead of seeing pictures of suffering, death, and turmoil, the pictures are mostly post-liberation, reuniting families, and happy events with survivors many years later. The writer goes as far as to claim that these pictures tell a “more true story” of the Holocaust than the pictures depicting piles of bodies and strife. While I can understand that this blog writer may think he is “taking back the power” of the enormous tragedy of the Holocaust by choosing to focus on the tremendous joy of liberation instead of the pain and tragedy prior to being set free, I think he actually inadvertently gives fuel to the Holocaust-doubters and the antisemites who think (and thought) that the Jews were/are making much ado about nothing regarding the Holocaust.
Some of the pictures depict Jews in a concentration camp immediately post-liberation, still in their striped uniforms, bald, deathly thin, with rotting teeth, but smiling and drinking champagne and smoking cigarettes. This is, in fact, the cover picture at the top of the post. Happy, celebrating, knocking-on-death’s-door Jews in a concentration camp. What could be more “true” than that? There is another picture that shows a Shabbat religious service with a big meeting hall filled with Jews (again, still in their striped uniforms, still deathly ill looking, still in the camp post-liberation) holding a religious service for Friday night led by a Rabbi with Shabbat candles lit on the make-shift altar. It is not until you read the short sentences in small print under each picture that you learn that these are all taken after the Allies liberated the camps.
I consider myself to be very well educated on this subject having learned about it from the time I was small and then formally studying it as part of my Master’s degree. When I saw the pictures, I thought to myself, “How strange! I didn’t know there was a camp where the Jews were allowed to hold Shabbat services,” and “Wow those prisoners look so happy…” and “How did this man get away with performing a show for the other Jews inside the camp?” The answers, of course, is that (again) all of the pictures were taken post-liberation. While they celebrate the joy of freedom and the fact that some survived, they are not appropriate for Yom HaShoah.
How many people do we all know who just skim through the internet looking at things but never really reading about what they see? On the surface, someone who is already a Holocaust-doubter could and will see these pictures and use them as proof that “the Holocaust wasn’t as bad as those Jews would have you believe,” demonstrating the happy looks on people’s faces, their warm clothes in some pictures, and the champagne, cigarettes, and freedom to practice their religion within the gates. And worse than those people who already believe that the Holocaust didn’t happen, are those who don’t know what to believe. Pictures like these being circulated on Yom HaShoah might just give someone the tangible “evidence” they are looking for to push them in one direction. G-d forbid.
The person who posted the blog in question claims that the narrative of the Jews for the last 70 years is that of “helplessness” and that by showing the other side of the Holocaust, we Jews can start to reclaim our personal history to make it that of celebration of life and survival. This “author” has completely missed the point of Yom HaShoah. While we are certainly grateful the war ended when it did, and we know from history that Jews are certainly a resilient people, 6 Million Jews died in camps. The Holocaust was an event so evil, so meticulously planned with the goal of wiping out the Jewish population completely. Today, on Yom HaShoah, we remember not only the lives that were lost but we remember that as a people, we are strong and need to continue to be strong. And most importantly, we remember that if the world does not remember history, history will be repeated. So, today, we actively remember.