Today, on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel honors the millions of lives lost during the Holocaust, having taken on the sacred responsibility of preserving those memories for eternity.
While the memory of the Holocaust is fading around the world – and, indeed, is even denied by some – that very memory is inextricably linked to the identity of the State of Israel.
Now more than ever, as the number of Holocaust survivors left on this earth dwindles every year, it is crucial to employ whatever methods are at our disposal to preserve their memories.
Finding new ways to preserve the memories of Holocaust survivors
As efforts continue to teach new generations about the Holocaust, the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority revealed that there are 147,199 Holocaust survivors living in Israel today, including 462 who celebrated their 100th birthdays last year. 521 of them are new immigrants who came to Israel fleeing the war in Ukraine.
Combating antisemitism is central to preserving the memory of the Holocaust. Antisemitic incidents are on the rise worldwide and Jews are reporting an increased sense of insecurity. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recorded a sharp increase in the number of antisemitic incidents in the US and other countries in 2022, with 3,697 recorded in the country compared to 2,717 in 2021 – an increase of 37%. Significant increases in antisemitic incidents were also recorded in Belgium, Hungary, Italy and Australia, just to name a few.
According to the 22nd annual Antisemitism Worldwide Report issued Monday by the ADL, in collaboration with the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, visibly identifiable Jews, particularly haredim (ultra-Orthodox), are the main victims of antisemitic assaults in the West, including being beaten, spat on and having objects thrown at them, the report said.
As the number of antisemitic incidents increases and the number of Holocaust survivors decreases, soon enough, we will not be passing survivors in the street; we will not be sitting in their living rooms, hearing their stories. We will have only the memories that have been imparted to us and the lessons they teach future generations.
In recent years, several individuals and groups have developed unique means of ensuring that we do not forget those who have been lost.
Memory in the Living Room (Zikaron Basalon) is a longstanding tradition in which individual Holocaust survivors address up to 50 people – some of whom have never met a Holocaust survivor – in private living rooms or community centers, telling their personal stories from the Holocaust.
The project has been around for several years, and while it continues to draw audiences across Israel and around the world, young people require other approaches.
Hasdei Naomi, an association that gives aid to Holocaust survivors, organized a hackathon that brought intelligence officer cadets and MKs together to develop special technologies that could help preserve Holocaust survivor Tovah Feder’s story. The cadets managed to turn Feder’s story into a WhatsApp conversation that is based on advanced artificial intelligence.
The goal, the organization said, was to develop an educational initiative that would “speak to the younger generation in its language.”
In another initiative, the Israel Police has, in recent years, begun adopting Holocaust survivors. Members of Jerusalem’s Border Police units sit down with survivors at least twice a month throughout the year, pushing toward ongoing communication and building connections.
The diplomatic corps has joined the effort as well. The German embassy in Tel Aviv, for instance, has launched a new photography exhibition titled “Humans of the Holocaust,” which takes a painful and artistic approach to Holocaust remembrance. It tells the extraordinary stories of 40 Holocaust survivors, as well as the second and third generations, engaging viewers with the human stories behind every photo and helping them imagine the millions of untold stories.
This Yom Hashoah, let us memorialize the past while creating frameworks to continue doing so in the future.
May the memories of those lost be for a blessing.