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Jewish men looking at Holocaust exhibit in Yad Vashem 370.(Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Remembering the Shoah
Since its inauguration in 1953, commemoration of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day has changed radically.
Since its inauguration in 1953, commemoration of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day has changed radically. In the first decades after the establishment of the state, Holocaust victims’ experiences of genocide were practically ignored.

Perhaps this was because of the inability to process the enormity of the event so soon after its occurrence. Perhaps this was because Holocaust victims’ experiences simply could not be integrated into the Zionist collective narrative.

In a society that valued courage, self-reliance and the romantic ideal of an indigenous Hebrew man who preferred action over words, there was little room for the Shoah.

The spurious “like sheep to the slaughter” claim was widely accepted, precluding remembrance of nearly anything but isolated incidents of partisan uprisings against the Nazis. (It is no coincidence that the approximate date of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which began on Passover eve, was chosen for Holocaust Remembrance Day.) The Adolf Eichmann trial, which began on April 11, 1961, set in motion currents that enabled Israelis to begin to process the enormity of the Shoah.

For the first time there was a framework for Holocaust victims to voice their nightmarish experiences.

The extremely personal accounts of survivors were broadcast to a captive audience glued to the radio throughout the day, and were avidly read in transcribed form in Israeli dailies.

This “privatization” of Holocaust remembrance came at a time when a new generation of Israelis who took the State of Israel for granted, and lacked the sense of purpose shared by the founding generation, were ready to reject a narrow, parochial Israeli self-identify, enabling them to be more open and less judgmental of the suffering of the Jews who experienced the Shoah.

By the 1980s and 1990s, a sophisticated understanding of the Holocaust was inseparable from the broader phenomenon of “post-Zionism.” Justifiably or not, classic Zionism’s use of the “never again” claim was harshly criticized.

Jewish life in the Diaspora – both before and after the Holocaust – was no longer seen as tainted by an “exilic mentality.”

Today, as Israel approaches its 65th birthday and prepares to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day for the 60th time, the real challenge we face is the “routinization” of Holocaust memory.

Thus, new and different ways of giving voice to remembrance develop from year to year. Joint Arab-Jewish groups of high school students make the trip to Auschwitz to reaffirm every individual’s inalienable humanity; the haredi community has found ways to grapple with the theological questions that arise from the Shoah; the stories of Sephardi Jews murdered in North Africa and Greece have gained prominence.

But as we move further away from the events, Holocaust remembrance has lost its intensity. Perhaps this is part of the healing process.

In recent years, Holocaust Remembrance Day has become primarily a time for reevaluation of the treatment of those victims who are still among the living. Unfortunately, much is still in need of improvement.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s announcement on Sunday, during the weekly cabinet meeting, that over the next four years a total of NIS 465 million will be allocated for survivors was an important step toward righting an historic wrong.

According to the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, with about 1,000 victims dieing every month, this is our last chance. By 2017, costs are projected to begin to drop as fewer and fewer Holocaust victims remain among us.

We must not forget the lessons of the Shoah, at a time when anti-Semitism – particularly of the Islamist variety – has reinvented itself, not just in Iran and Egypt, but in France and the Netherlands, places where the Nazis carried out their Final Solution.

But we must also recognize that with the passing of time the intensity of the Holocaust memories will wane. And this should be welcomed as part of the gradual process of moving from destruction to rebuilding, to a semblance of normalization – and healing.
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