Holocaust Overview

Six Million Jewish Souls Cry Out, ‘Never Again, Never Again!’

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of children, whose bodies I saw turned to 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.”
Elie Wiesel, Night, (New York: Hill & Wang, 1960), 43–44.

Historical Overview

It has been over sixty years since the Holocaust. For some, the events remain real and ever-present. For others, sixty years make the Holocaust seem like ancient history. But, since those horrific events, the Jewish people have adopted a motto: Never Again!
Never again will they allow such a catastrophe to occur. From the ashes of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau, Belzek, and other Nazi death camps, the Jewish people have vowed to live. As Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein wrote in his book, How Firm a Foundation, “Like the psalmist long ago, Jews today collectively declare, ‘I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done’” (Psalm 118:17, n i v).
Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah, was inaugurated in 1951 as a day set aside to memorialize the six million Jews murdered during the Nazi reign of terror. The original proposal called for Yom HaShoah to be held on the fourteenth day of Nissan on the Jewish calendar, the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising (April 19, 1943).
This was problematic because this is the day immediately before Passover, one of the most important holidays of the Jewish year. After much debate, the date was moved to the 27th of Nissan, which is eight days before Israel Independence Day.
As befits the event it commemorates, Yom HaShoah is a solemn day. Some Jewish people light six candles to represent the six million Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust. Survivors of the Holocaust are encouraged to share their stories. Public ceremonies may feature people reading the names of some of those murdered in the Holocaust in an effort to remember those who died and help others understand the immensity of this horrible event.

In 1961, a law was passed in Israel that requires all public entertainment venues to be closed on Yom HaShoah to maintain the solemnity of the day. At 10:00 a.m., sirens are sounded throughout the nation and everyone in Israel stops what they are doing for two minutes to stand in silent remembrance.

How should we respond to the Holocaust?

As Rabbi Eckstein wrote in How Firm a Foundation, “All Jews alive today regard themselves as Holocaust survivors since Hitler’s plan was genocidal—to eradicate the entire Jewish nation. All bear the awesome responsibility of telling the story of those excruciating years” (p.170).

But how does one address something so devastating: something that is at once unfathomable, yet real; something unspeakable that we nonetheless must discuss in order to prevent it from ever happening again?

The Rabbi wrote, “The appropriate way to confront the Holocaust is first through silence and then through well-considered words. only after mourning the terrible loss dare we speak of that tragedy; only after reverential silence may we risk talking about it” (Ask the Rabbi, p. 152).

Of the many Jewish responses to the Holocaust, support for Israel is perhaps the most widely accepted and deeply felt. “Israel is the symbol of the contemporary Jewish resolve to live after having been tormented and persecuted for centuries. She epitomizes the Jewish rebirth as a dynamic, living people. . . . The existence of Israel goes to the very core of Jewish identity today,” states Rabbi Eckstein in How Firm a Foundation (pages 196–97).

In the same manner, supporting the beleaguered State of Israel after the Holocaust is one of the most profound acts of friendship christians can extend toward Jews.

Noted christian historian Franklin Littell wrote, “It is not possible to love a ‘Spiritual Israel’ and hate the earthly Israel. It is not possible to honor and obey the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and wish evil to the Jewish people. To lay it on the line:

it is not possible to side with those who seek Jerusalem’s destruction and be numbered a faithful christian. It was not possible in the Germany of the Third Reich, and it is not possible today in America.” [Franklin Littell, christians concerned for Israel, Notebook (April 1971): 1.]

The reality of the Holocaust challenges christian and Jew alike to grapple with difficult and soul-searching questions that plumb the depths of faith. Rabbi Eckstein says, “Is it possible for christian and Jew to still believe in a God who is omniscient and omnipotent

after His deafening silence when we needed Him most? can we speak as we did earlier of God’s abundant love and concern for mankind? can we talk of a good God guiding the course of history, while knowing that some events seem to reflect the utter absence of His love and guidance?”

Nevertheless, Rabbi Eckstein maintains that the individual of faith is compelled to confront such questions, trusting that both God and his or her own faith in God can withstand the challenge.

Through his chapter entitled “Facing the Challenges of the Holocaust” in How Firm A Foundation,Rabbi Eckstein concludes, “The primary imperative Jews have elicited from the Holocaust is to live, and never allow a similar Holocaust to occur again.” And likewise for the Christian.

Again, the Rabbi writes, “The primary imperative to be elicited by christians from the Holocaust is equally as compelling as is that of the Jews—to expunge any and all traces of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism from their midst. . . . They, too, are divinely obligated to ensure Jewish survival and to prevent a future Holocaust.

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