We cannot forget the Holocaust

As the Jewish people and the world now face another challenge of frightening proportions, we will need every ounce of this inspiration to persevere.

Yad Vashem Security guard stnds at the empty Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum (photo credit: FLASH90)
Yad Vashem Security guard stnds at the empty Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum
(photo credit: FLASH90)
Every Holocaust Remembrance Day we are left with fewer eyewitnesses to history’s worst atrocity. Every year fewer survivors travel to Poland to stand shoulder-to-shoulder for the three-kilometer “March of the Living” from Auschwitz to Birkenau.
Just last year President Trump sent the first presidential delegation from the United States to lead the march. This year, tragically, because of the coronavirus, there will be none. Some 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, this year's March of the Living will be a virtual march.
As the pandemic rages and we are confined at home, isolating, quarantining, trying to stay safe and healthy, every death from the virus starkly reminds us that there will come a day when there are no more survivors to help us remember. Soon the day will come when younger generations must completely shoulder the duty to “never forget, never again.”
But what elevates the stakes of this Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, one marked by the coronavirus, is not just the fact that Holocaust survivors are among those most at risk. They also have the most to teach us about how to get through this trying time.
People around the world have been called upon to be resilient, to be tough, to be united in our cause of defeating this invisible enemy. If there is one group of people on Earth who know about resilience, about toughness about unity of purpose, it is our honored Holocaust survivors.
The Jews who survived the Holocaust didn't stand for resilience and unity; they became the very embodiment of those ideas. Persecution triggered an instinct, an imperative to survive, causing Jews to lock arms and band together.
In the ghettos, Jews took up arms against the Nazis to fight for their brothers and sisters. In the concentration camps, Jews assembled makeshift synagogues and secretly gathered to celebrate Shabbat and holidays. And in the wake of the war, Jews who left the Holocaust, broken, worked together to rebuild their lives, their communities and to to build the State of Israel.
As Israel’s Declaration of Independence reads, Holocaust survivors were “undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.”
As the Jewish people and the world now face another challenge of frightening proportions, we will need every ounce of this inspiration to persevere. We need to exercise the same compassion, dedication, ambition and, most of all, togetherness that Holocaust survivors personify.
THE JEWISH community is enduring yet another wave of vicious antisemitism. White supremacist groups have spread propaganda that Jews created the virus; hateful memes, caricatures and catchphrases have flooded social media; and physical threats have targeted Jewish communities around the country.
At the same time the pernicious, progressive, militant political Left has blamed Israel and the Jews for the disease’s spread, this lie has been echoed and promoted most heinously by the Palestinian Authority. The coronavirus is new, but the hatred it has spurred is not, and we must stand united in opposition.
Beyond the Jewish people, we also have an obligation to be a light unto the nations. If one thing is clear about COVID-19, it’s that we all must work together to defeat the virus, and that to win, every one of our actions matter. If one person defects, the losses can be exponential.
We all need to wear masks and gloves and keep our distance. We all need to stay home to the extent possible. We all need to care for those who fall ill. Everyone needs to play their part to bring the greatest country in the world back to where it was a mere eight weeks ago.
The United States has led the fight against this deadly disease, not only on our Homefront but through assistance throughout the world.
This Holocaust Remembrance Day, in which we once again commemorate America's heroic involvement in ending WW2 and liberating the survivors, we must take special care to once again ensure that those same precious survivors have everything they need at this difficult time. They need shelter, food and someone to talk to, to make them feel they’re not alone. And more than ever, we must give survivors a forum in which to share their stories.
Israel’s first-reported casualty from coronavirus was Aryeh Even, an 88-year-old Hungarian Holocaust survivor. After the war, Even immigrated to Israel with very little, but managed to build a long career as a diplomat, along with establishing a large family with his wife, Yona, including four children, 18 grandchildren and one great-grandson. This Holocaust Remembrance Day, Even will not have the chance to recount his story.
There are still thousands of survivors around our synagogues, schools and community centers who are ready to share, whether by Zoom, Skype or just an old-fashioned phone call. It is our duty to listen to them, ask questions and take inspiration from the seemingly insurmountable conditions they overcame. Because, again, one day we will rely on just the accounts of survivors passed.
Over the course of this fight my commission and I will share stories of perseverance, heroism, unity and struggle. The times we are in require inspiration, but also to channel that inspiration into action. Join me in reaching out to a survivor today, and tomorrow, and the next day, learning their story, cherishing their story and guarding their story.
The writer is the chairman of the US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad.