Holocaust memory: A daunting imperative

Tomorrow, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we will march once again, this time with a procession of more than 12,000 youths from 41 countries, including students from Poland and Germany.

April 10, 2018 22:02
3 minute read.
Holocaust memory: A daunting imperative

HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS visit the site of the Auschwitz death camp, during ceremonies marking the 73rd anniversary of the camp’s liberation and International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day, in Poland in January 2018... (photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL / REUTERS)


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The safeguarding of collective memory is a universal pursuit. Every nation, religion and culture clings steadfastly to the moments and milestones that define them.

While episodes of resilience and courage are remembered to restore hope and instill pride, more painful chapters, those marked by suffering and sorrow, are memorialized to promote healing and give pause, as well as to ensure that the heartache and horrors of the tragic events in question never again come to pass.

Holocaust memory encompasses both categories, as it is equal parts triumph of spirit and cautionary tale. In this darkest of periods in human history, countless heroes – brave men, women and children – faced evil in its purest form and emerged victorious. These timeless icons of faith and fortitude are still capable of restoring our faith in humanity so many years later.

In diametric opposition stand those who perpetrated one of the most heinous genocides in history, vicious hate-mongers who wielded intolerance and bigotry to bring the world to its knees. Their legacy is a pervasive and undying hatred fueled by ignorance and fear, a supremely destructive force with the potential to once again unravel basic human decency and endanger the lives of millions.

It is, therefore, our responsibility to educate the younger generation, to foster awareness and promote unity. In a world that is tech-heavy and empathy-light, we must provide the younger generation with immersive educational opportunities capable of drowning out the competing noise and breaking down the biases, prompting action and fostering critical thinking.

To be successful, this mission must be shared by all mankind, begin with the recognition that our present is equally as dark as our past, and commit to doing whatever necessary to disperse that darkness with the light of education.

That light is contained within the torch of memory that is carried by the few remaining survivors of the Holocaust, who stand proudly among the aforementioned heroes. When they share their testimonies with the next generation, they also pass the torch, which contains the great power to teach the universal values of solidarity, humanitarianism, tolerance and acceptance.

Every year, the March of the Living serves as a platform for Holocaust survivors to pass the torch to hundreds of young men and women from around the world, Jews and non-Jews alike. Recent statistics show that more than 90% of participants felt that the project helped them understand the need to battle antisemitism, and 54% said that the March of the Living experience alone made them more tolerant of other groups in their daily lives. Indeed, our past can help us heal our present and lay the groundwork for a brighter and more tolerant future.

Tomorrow, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we will march once again, this time with a procession of more than 12,000 youths from 41 countries, including students from Poland and Germany. Led by President Reuven Rivlin and the entire top echelon of Israel’s security forces, including the IDF Chief of Staff, the Chief of Israeli Police, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the head of the Mossad, our international troop will accompany an honorary delegation of 70 Holocaust survivors along the 3-km. path leading from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust.

As we mark the 30th anniversary of the March of the Living, and 70 years since the establishment of the State of Israel, milestones of great significance, we, as educators, must acknowledge that time – by its very nature rapid and unrelenting – is not our friend. The number of Holocaust survivors, the victims of and witnesses to the systematic, state-sponsored genocide, dwindle with each passing year, thus the preservation of Holocaust memory and the transference of its lessons to the next generation is becoming increasingly difficult. As such, doing so is more important than ever.

Preserving Holocaust memory is the only way to restore hope in humanity, instill Jewish pride in an uninitiated and disconnected generation, and ensure that the horrifying events that took the lives of tens of millions of victims of the Holocaust, Jews and non-Jews alike, never again comes to pass. To quote Ethics of our Fathers, “The day is short and the task is great.” It is a daunting imperative and there is so much work yet ahead of us. We can only reach this loftiest of goals together.

The author is the co-founder and chairman of the International March of the Living, an immersive Holocaust education experience that brings individuals from around the world to Poland to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hatred.

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