Israel’s Yom Hashoah began at sundown yesterday evening with the annual ceremony at Yad Vashem with torches lit in memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Shoah.
You can watch the entire ceremony here:
Six Holocaust survivors (or rather, five survivors and the son of one the survivors who passed away just two weeks ago) lit torches in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah. If you click on the link, you will be taken to Yad Vashem’s page about torchlighters, and clicking on their photos at the site will take you to their biographies.
In their addresses at the ceremony, besides the usual calls for unity, demands to fight Jew-hatred, and in PM Naftali Bennett’s case, decrying comparisons of any modern day wars or violence to the Shoah, both the Prime Minister and President Isaac Herzog used shattering documents to drive home the uniqueness of the brutality of the war against the Jews during the Holocaust:
In his speech Wednesday, Bennett used a “witness sheet” of an infant girl, an official Yad Vashem document that outlines the basic biographical details of a Jew who was murdered in the Holocaust, to illustrate the depth of the Holocaust horrors.
On the sheet the girl’s first name was left blank, her last name was Reich, and her birthplace and place of death were both listed as Auschwitz, Bennett noted.
“Circumstances of her death: taken immediately from her mother,” the prime minister read. “Age at the time of death: half an hour.”
The sheet was filled out by her mother, Irene Reich.
Herzog used a photo of Nazi soldiers and Ukrainian militia executing a Jewish family at the edge of a pit in Miropol, Ukraine, in 1941 to evoke the horrors of the Nazi genocide during his speech.
In the photo, a mother clasps her young son’s hand, bending toward him, as the men shoot her in the back of the head. The boy is barefoot, looking toward the trees.
Smoke from the gunfire hides the mother’s face in a ghostly plume. Another child is in her lap, barely visible in her polka dot skirt. The killers appear to be enjoying themselves.
“What did the mother whisper in her little boy’s ear? Did she beg him not to cry? And what of the child? Did he cry? Did he stay silent? Did he understand? Was he afraid?” Herzog said. “The photograph is silent, but its voice cries out. It shakes us. It stuns us to silence.”
The photo was the focus of the 2021 book “The Ravine” by historian Wendy Lower. Herzog said he experienced “grief, fury and pain” when he saw the photo in the book.
Meanwhile back in the modern world, while as Bennett says we cannot compare our situation to the Holocaust, antisemitism – or more accurately Jew-hatred – simply rises and rises. The world certainly has not learned any lessons from its behaviour in the past. The ADL published its audit of antisemitism in 2021 and it makes for grim reading:
In 2021, ADL tabulated 2,717 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States. This is a 34% increase from the 2,026 incidents tabulated in 2020 and the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.
- The surge of incidents in May 2021 coincided with the military conflict between Israel and Hamas. For the entire month, 387 antisemitic incidents were tabulated by ADL, 297 of which occurred between May 10 – the official start of military action – and the end of the month, an increase of 141% over the same period in 2020. Of the 297 incidents, there were 211 cases of harassment, 71 cases of vandalism and 15 assaults.
- In 2021, 345 antisemitic incidents involved references to Israel or Zionism, compared to 178 in 2020. Of 2021’s 345 anti-Zionist/anti-Israel- related incidents, 68 took the form of propaganda efforts by white supremacist groups to foment anti-Israel and antisemitic beliefs. Most of the remaining incidents were expressions of anti-Israel animus that incorporated antisemitic imagery or harassment and demonization of Jews for their connection – real or assumed – to Israel.
- Incidents in K-12 schools, colleges and universities increased in 2021 but were flat compared to the five-year average. In 2021, ADL logged 331 incidents at non-Jewish K-12 schools (up 106% from 161 in 2020), and 155 incidents at colleges and universities (up 21% from 128 in 2020).
- In 2021, there were 525 logged incidents at Jewish institutions such as synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Jewish schools, an increase of 61% from 327 in 2020. 413 were incidents of harassment, 101 were incidents of vandalism and 11 were incidents of assault. Of the 413 incidents of harassment, 111 were anti-Zionism/anti-Israel-related, 42 were Zoombombings and 24 were extremist-related. Of the 101 incidents of vandalism, 33 involved a swastika and 10 were related to anti-Zionism/Anti-Israel sentiment.
And all this refers only to the US. Similar statistics appear in every country where there is a Jewish community. Tel Aviv University produced a report documenting a global rise in antisemitism, much of it incited by last May’s war between Israel and Hamas, and also – inexplicably – by Covid:
The report found that the number of antisemitic attacks nearly doubled in the United Kingdom, from 97 assaults in 2020 to 173 last year; that the number rose in France by more than a third in 2021 compared to the year before, from 44 to 60; and that the total number of antisemitic incidents in Germany rose to its highest level in recent years, to 3,028 in 2021, compared to 2,351 in 2020 and 2,032 in 2019.
The annual report, produced by the university’s Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, called for major introspection as decades of efforts to curb antisemitism following the Holocaust appear to have come up short.
“Something just isn’t working. In recent years, the fight against antisemitism has enjoyed extensive resources worldwide, and yet, despite many important programs and initiatives, the number of antisemitic incidents, including violent assaults, is rapidly escalating,” said Uriya Shavit, the head of the center.
The report’s authors were blunter still, writing in a statement: “It’s time to admit: The struggle is failing.”
In slightly more heartening news, and with perfect timing for Yom Hashoah, 9 Holocaust survivors were airlifted to Israel today from war-stricken Ukraine:
A plane carrying nine Holocaust survivor refugees from Ukraine lands in Israel just as the country ushers in Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In total, the special medical rescue flight is carrying 21 refugees immigrating to Israel, according to the Zaka emergency response group, which helped organize the flight alongside the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
The plane is met by ambulances to ferry the elderly and infirm passengers directly to hospitals and care facilities.
Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata meets the refugees personally. Before the plane touched down, she noted the resonance of the flight landing at the start of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“It is symbolic. If in the Holocaust they didn’t have a place to run. Today, there is a strong Jewish home,” she says.
As I have done in the past, I draw your attention to my Family History pages where I have recorded the history of my family during the Shoah, especially the murder of my mother’s three brothers, David, Elchanan and Uri Strauss HY’D, in Sobibor.
This year in particular I am feeling very emotional on Yom Hashoah since it has coincided with the last day that my brothers recited Kaddish for our late mother. The poignancy of the day is twingeing in my heart.
My brother wrote very movingly on Facebook:
Yesterday, we finished saying Kaddish after 11 months for my mother z’l. Today/Tonight we remember her three older brothers who were murdered in Sobibor 1942, David, Uri, and Elchanan. My mother, her parents, and her sisters survived, and today our family and cousins number in the 100s – our way of revenging their spilt blood.On Holocaust memorial day, we say to the world ‘Never Again’ – and with G-ds help, our IDF, and our strong moral – we truly mean it.
Never forgive. Never forget. May the memory of the 6 million be for a blessing.
ה’ יקום דמם. יהי זכרם ברוך