I often think about the Shoah, because at times it seems so surreal that it could happen. It seems insane how evil could so easily and effortlessly overcome good.
And it did.
And every time, when I see those old pictures of my fellow Jews, their eyes filled with hopelessness, staring into a camera lens frozen in time and in fear, hoping and praying that someone would save them, it sickens me.
Because it’s not just that no one saved them – it’s that so many ordinary people participated in their murder.
And for all the pictures of the victims we do see, there are millions more we don’t. We don’t see crying kids too young to understand why they are ripped from their mothers’ arms. We don’t see the fear of parents screaming in fear and desperation for their children as they are forced into gas chambers. We don’t see ordinary men, women, and children ripped out of their homes – their sanctuaries – and marched to ravines where they were stripped naked and shot dead, while locals played music and cooked food.
Across small towns and big cities across Europe, too many people were only too eager and too happy to steal their possessions, once the Jews were ‘evacuated,’ preferring to keep their heads down and ignore the desperate screams and tears of their Jewish neighbours who would suddenly vanish in the night.
But contrary to what is often presented, this wasn’t a secret, and when I read about how many in the world say they had no idea of what was happening to the Jews, I know it’s a lie.
The treatment of Jews was very well known. It’s just that… well… the world didn’t really care…
Due to the mounting plight of Jewish refugees trying to escape the Nazis a conference was convened in 1938, known as the Evian Conference. It brought together 32 different countries in an effort to deal with the Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe. It was convened by President Roosevelt in a bid to divert attention from his own country’s severe restrictive policies that prevented Jews from entering. But, other than expressions of “sympathy,” and the exception of the Dominican Republic who were willing to take in Jews, no country lifted a finger, sealing the fate of the Jews of Europe.
In 1939, a ship called the St Louis, sailed from Hamburg towards America, containing over 900 German Jews. The US government could have accepted them, but chose not to, sending them back to the hell they had escaped from and where many of them were then murdered.
A little after that, a bill to bring 20000 Jewish refugee children to America was rejected due to a lack of political will or interest. Although there were ordinary people willing to take in the Jews, polls at the time showed the public were largely against it too.
A senior Canadian immigration official, when asked at the time how many Jews would eventually be considered for entry into Canada, responded: “None is too many.”
Canada also accepted fewer refugees than any other western country.
The world could have helped, but they chose not to…
And with nowhere left to go, hell was unleashed upon the Jewish people.
Now, perhaps, it’s easier to believe that it was just the Nazis who carried out this evil, but the truth is far worse. The Holocaust happened, not just because Hitler wanted it, but because the lack of empathy and lack of care and lack of interest of much of the world allowed it to occur. In some places, people didn’t simply do nothing. They embraced it. They took part in it. In Paris, the French police rounded up the Jews themselves. In the Ukraine, they beat them up in the streets and shot them in pits. In Poland, they chased them with pitchforks, locking them in barns and setting fire to it. And when they tried desperately to escape this hell that surrounded them, the world said no.
The Jews were truly alone.
Sometimes people today say things like why did the Jews not fight back or why did they march into gas chambers.
The people who say those things are ignorant.
Men, women and children – ordinary people – fought against the military might of Nazi Germany, but they also fought against a world that was cold and uncaring who chose not to help them – to help us in our most desperate hour of need.
Jews fought until the last breath in ways we cannot ever begin to understand. Sometimes they fought with guns or sticks or stones and sometimes they fought with their heart. Sometimes they fought with their spirits and with their souls. They fought with everything they could against odds that were insurmountable.
They fought until the very end in life and even in death, so that we could all bear witness to what had occurred and never forget what happened.
Today Jews say Never Again, because we understand that civilisation and humanity often stand on a fragile precipice, and when it comes to Jews, we know it can easily be tipped.
Yom HaShoah is not only about the past.
It’s about the present.
And it’s about the future.
We only need to look around at the Jew hatred today, sometimes disguised as antizionism, to understand that the gap between humanity and brutality is not that big.
Far too many countries are quick to judge the Jewish people and our Jewish country of Israel by standards of morality they don’t have or have ever kept, trying to force us to make deals with people who would murder us, but the truth is that there is no one on this earth that can ever dictate to Jews about morality.
They don’t have that right.
So on this day, we remember all our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, children and grandparents who were murdered, simply for being Jews in a world in which Jews are often not welcome.
We remember them, because memory is the superpower of the Jewish people, and we will never forget these beautiful souls.