By David Isaac
Judaism is the only religion in which “remember” is a positive commandment. This may explain why the ceremonies built up around Holocaust Remembrance Day, which took place last Thursday, are so effective.
Although a secular holiday, it’s carried out like a religious one. Shops and restaurants closed at sundown last Wednesday evening in Israel. The main ceremony began that night at Yad Vashem.
Each year six Holocaust survivors are chosen to light six torches – the central event of the ceremony. As each one stepped forward, a short film was shown in which they described what they had experienced and their life afterwards. One would be forgiven for expecting, in a world where victimhood is prized, that the stories would be an unending parade of misery.
Yet, it was just the opposite. The stories were all about hope, about overcoming the odds. Here were normal men and women who had demonstrated remarkable resilience. Their stories were ones of victory.
Like Bela Eizenman, 92, from Lodz, Poland, who survived Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and a death march. She moved to Israel, gave birth to two children and now has eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Or Sara Shapira, 86, who lived in ghettos in Romania until her entire family died. She was then sent to an orphanage for Jewish children. After World War II, she ended up in a British internment camp in Cyprus for four months. She has three children, 16 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
Possibly Israel’s best known tradition on Holocaust Remembrance Day is the two-minute air raid siren that sounds throughout the country. At 10 a.m. on Thursday the entire country comes to a halt as people stand in silence. The nation turns itself into a kind of living statue to the fallen. It’s a remarkable thing to see, which is why even the international press covers it each year as if it takes place for the first time.
The March of the Living is another memorial event that has proven effective. Over 10,000 youth from 41 countries participated this year. Since it started in 1988, 300,000 have walked the 3-kilometers of train tracks from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belson.
Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of March of the Living, opened the ceremony, saying “A survivor once said: ‘There’s only one thing worse than Auschwitz — if the world forgets there once was an Auschwitz.’ We promise never to let this happen.”
I believe him, particularly given the creative ways Jews remember the Holocaust. The latest, which made quite a bit of news this year, is the father-daughter project to recreate the life of Eva Heyman on Instagram. Filmed in the Ukraine at a cost of $5 million, it depicts the life and eventual death of a teenage victim of the Holocaust as if she had a cell phone.
Over a million people have signed up to follow Eva’s stories.
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Photo Credit: GPO