I went to a Jewish preschool and Hebrew school. I knew about the holidays and culture. But, I didn’t know the dark history lurking beneath the celebratory hum of prayers, spinning dreidels, tasty hamantaschen or the crunch of matzah.
I didn’t know my traditions were things people were targeted for—simply being Jewish.
As I made my way through the youth section of my temple’s library, I started piecing things together. My mom told me I asked why a lot of the Jewish books were so sad. I distinctly remember reading a book titled “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.” The story is based on the experience of author Judith Kerr and her family fleeing Nazi Germany told through a child’s eyes.
I knew the book was sad, but I didn’t grasp the true magnitude. Anna, the little girl in the story, had to leave behind her beloved pink rabbit as her family escaped Germany taking with them nothing but their lives.
Now, I realize it is a story of how Hitler not only killed lives, but stole childhoods. This book had a happy ending, the family escaped. But the same isn’t true for the over six million Jews who lost their lives during the Nazi regime and the millions more, like Anna, bearing the memories of trauma.
That book was my first peek into a past some people try to forget. Some people try to deny and some people continue to perpetuate the same hatred that allowed it to happen.
But, as the holiday of Yom HaShoah reminds us, we as a Jewish people must never forget and never let happen again. Never forget and never again are two slogans the world uses when looking back on the plight of millions in the Holocaust.
In my first year at UF, I took a class called Beyond the Memory of the Holocaust. We analyzed historical and artistic presentations of the Shoah. The Shoah is the Hebrew word for the Holocaust. It means destruction. No matter how much I learned, how much I read, or how much I analyzed, piecing together the destruction of lives and the intention and spite with which it was done is nearly impossible to comprehend.
I also learned that where there is darkness and evil, there is also light; stories of heroes in some of the worst moments of humanity shine on.
There’s Elie Wiesel, who told his story and advocated against staying silent in the face of wrong. I learned about Kashariyot, Jewish female spies in Germany who smuggled essential information to sequestered Jews. I also think often of Petr Ginz, whose art and writing show a young boy using his talents to grapple with what he saw as his certain end.
It never gets any easier to relive this. But, we cannot let the lights of the Holocaust dim out. It is up to our generation to carry on the story and to say never forget and never again.
Recent events in Parkland, Florida, have started a new movement. The slogan for Marjory Stoneman Douglas students’ March for Our Lives is never again. This phrase threads together two tragedies and highlights the power and responsibility of young people to say “We will not let this happen again.”
In this age of social media and a whirring news cycle, hate happens. The story gets covered and fades out of mind as the next big event happens. However, heroes today use the tactic of heroes of the past to overcome hatred. The faces of the March for Our Lives movement refuse to let their story slip out of people’s minds. They show it is up to our generation to change things. The power is in our hands.
A few years ago I had the chance to visit Yad Vashem. I remember distinctly standing in the Hall of Names—the circular room enveloping me in the faces of an event often remembered in numbers and dates. The subtle drips in the pool below were the only sound I heard as I spun around the room filled with binders of stories that need to be told and treasured. As I exited the museum, I overlooked the landscape of Israel. The expanse reminded me of the future and the responsibility we hold to remember the stories that room holds. Time moves on, but we cannot forget.
Unless you’re reminded, the Shoah is not something in your thoughts. Your attention is pulled to everyday life, not the Holocaust. However, Yom HaShoah is a time reminding everyone to stop and think.
So on April 11 and 12, take a pause and connect with what’s around you. Talk to grandparents, friends, family or professors. Visit your temple, UF Hillel or the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica. Or, if you can’t get out, visit the websites of Yad Vashem or the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum.
At this point, the sad truth is that there are few Holocaust survivors left to tell their story. It is on us to carry on their message and honor them. Think of those we lost and those who survived.
As our society today grapples with anti-Semitic movements, we must lead the way as the new generation to activate against hatred. Amplify your voice to tell their stories, inspire those around you and activate against people trying to deny history.
It’s our turn to write history.