By: Michael Leibson, Volunteer Docent –
January 27, 2021 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date was chosen because it was the date in 1945 that Auschwitz was liberated. However, the Germans stopped gassing operations in November 1944 and thousands of prisoners had been evacuated before the Russians arrived. By January 27 all that remained of the over one million who had passed through Auschwitz were approximately 7,000 sick or dying people. Worse, the Holocaust did not end on that date. The death marches, mass shootings, forced labor camps, concentration camps and other aspects of the mass murder continued until May, ending only with the German surrender. Nonetheless, this is the date of remembrance.
Some of my personal acts of remembrance, apart from my service as a docent, relate to trips I took to Central and Eastern Europe in 2011 and 2019. By necessity, a large portion of each trip was devoted to seeing remnants of that which once was – but is no more. I’ve seen numerous synagogues, now restored as museums because the congregations were murdered. In nearly every city and town I saw plaques and monuments noting that Jews once lived there. I also stood on the killing grounds where millions died. At times the silence at these sites was unbearable. Paul Simon was right. There really is a sound of silence. After all, this was the goal of the Nazis – to silence the Jewish voice.
Nowhere was the silence more profound to me than in 2015 when, in Tel Aviv, I stood for two minutes in that silence with the entire state of Israel. The Nazis required that the Jewish voice be silenced because they believed that the Jews were the enemy of the Nazi state and they were right – although not for the reasons stated in their antisemitic delusions.
The Nazis believed in the inherent inequality of human beings, anointing themselves as the master race with the right to enslave or kill any of the lesser races. Jewish theology as developed over the millennia, believes in the inherent equality of all human beings – there is no master race – but there is a transcendent G-d who demands that we choose good over evil, life over death (Deuteronomy 30:19-20) and there are the prophets, such as Isaiah who commands us in the name of G-d to care for the weak, the poor and the oppressed. (Isaiah 58:6-7). These are the 4 voices and the message that the Nazis wanted to silence and while they may have succeeded in far too many places, they ultimately failed.
In May of 2011, I went to Shabbat services in Prague and Warsaw and also celebrated Israeli independence day at the Jewish Community Center in Krakow. In all these places the Jewish voice was heard in the prayers and in the singing of Hatikvah. That voice is far weaker than it once was but it is gaining strength. Today in every active synagogue throughout the world the distinct voice of the Jews and their prophetic message continues to be heard.
The Jewish voice of the dead also lives through all of the documents and diaries written and hidden by those who knew that they were doomed but wanted the world to know the truth. They prayed that someone would find their writings, read them and remember that they once existed. It is a mitzvah to read those materials and become the answer to those prayers. When we conduct tours at the HMC we become the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves.
We are the voice that was not destroyed. We are the voice that breaks the silence. We are the voice that remembers.
Read more by Michael Leibson: Face-To-Face: Rudolf Kasztner’s Controversial Negotiations with Adolf Eichmann