By: Meira Weber
April 21, 2020
Growing up in the USA, every year in school, as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day neared, the school would hold an assembly. All the grades would attend this assembly, which was held in the gymnasium or another large multi-purpose room, and we would learn about the Holocaust.
In the earlier years, there was always an elderly Holocaust survivor who came to speak. By the time I reached high school, it was far rarer to find a survivor that was still capable of speaking to a large audience about their experiences, so it was the children of survivors who came to speak. There were presentations and slideshows and grave sessions of questions and answers, and we were encouraged to watch Holocaust documentaries and movies on our own time to mentally prepare ourselves for the day.
The American Holocaust movies that I was exposed to as a child never sat well with me. I found that so many of them seemed to fetishize the victimhood of the Jewish People while portraying non-Jews as the archetypal savior and the only hope for my poor, oppressed People. While there are hundreds of incredible stories of righteous gentiles saving the lives of Jews that deserve to be recognized and remembered, there are just as many stories about the heroic deeds of my own people that go unrecognized, at least as far as the more popular American movies are concerned. Would I ever get to see a Holocaust film that remembered, even for a moment, the strength of the Jewish People?
The Jewish People have a vivid collective memory of the atrocities of the Holocaust. It is astonishingly recent, especially when compared to the events of the Exodus from Egypt which we just recently commemorated on the holiday of Passover. Though the number of Holocaust survivors is dwindling, there are still survivors left, survivors who can speak to us personally about their experiences! It is frighteningly real to those of us who lost family members, and it is insulting and sad to watch the international world treat it with belittling flippancy. International memory fades shockingly quickly.
It has also bothered me that the date (belatedly) chosen by the international community to commemorate the Holocaust was the 27th of January, marking the liberation of the Auschwitz Death camp. To my young self, I felt it was just another way for the world to focus on how they had contributed to the end of the Holocaust, rather than focusing on the Jews who suffered through it, those who were murdered or miraculously survived.
As a young person, I felt powerless. I knew I couldn’t change the world, but I decided that I could at least control the kind of media I consumed, particularly when it came to depictions of the Holocaust. Instead of Schindler’s List and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I watched Defiance, a true story about Jewish resistance fighters who hid in the forests and fought the Nazis themselves. I read memoirs instead of historical fiction and watched documentaries instead of fictionalized movies. This was how I honored the sacrifice of my brothers and sisters who had been murdered by the Nazis, but I always wished I could do more.
And then I came to Israel. And in Israel, Holocaust Remembrance Day has been a holy day of memory since 1951, and preceding that, there were more unofficial remembrance days. Even before the State of Israel was established, the Jewish community in Israel felt keenly the need to remember those who had perished. But the most important difference is the date that was chosen — instead of commemorating the Holocaust on the anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation, Holocaust Remembrance Day takes place during the time of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one week after Passover, when the Uprising began. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the heroic last stand of the Jews of Warsaw, Poland against the Nazi occupiers and SS Guards who had arrived to deport the rest of the Jews out of Warsaw to labor and death camps. 13,000 Jews perished in the Uprising, which lasted almost a month. The Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates this last act of unbelievable heroism and strength.
The Uprising was led by the youth of the Jewish community in Warsaw, and it remains a defining event in modern Jewish history. It was a massacre, there is no doubt about that – but it reflected an agency and a power that is unique to the youth, the ability to affect change and alter the course of history. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was even more impressive because it was led by the young people at a time when Jews as a whole had such difficulties affecting their fate. The youth have always been the future of our people and the leaders of tomorrow.
Israel is a celebration of Jewish strength. And from the beginning, it was the youth who took the lead in the fighting, settling, and sacrifices that were essential to the creation and sustenance of the new State of Israel. Today’s Israeli youth have freedoms that the youth of 1940s Warsaw never had, but they share the same drive and the same dreams, and with God’s help they will accomplish incredible things. And for that reason, it is imperative that we continue to foster our youth, educate them in the past of our long-surviving people, and inspire them to carry the torch of heroism and bravery into the next generation.
In Israel today, and especially in the communities of Judea and Samaria, the local youth centers are essential in carrying out this mission. They encourage the inherent strength of our youth so that those teenagers can go on to become movers and shakers, the leaders of the future. We have been asked by the community of Eshkolot to help them renovate and transform an existing building into a beautiful and functional youth center. With this center, the people of Eshkolot hope that they can raise another generation of Jewish youth who are strong in their convictions and their faith, who with God’s help can move the nation forward to greater heights of courage and strength, devoted to the cause of Israel and firm in the promise of the Restoration of Israel.
Your donation today will help the Youth of Eshkolot be the leaders of tomorrow!