Tonight, as the sun sets, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Day, begins.
Here in Israel and around the world, the Jewish People face the memory and pain of the Holocaust and say, “Never again.”
And for many of us here at the ministry, it is very personal as we lost grandparents, aunts and uncles, who were gassed and then put in the ovens in Auschwitz. And the family members who were not put to death right away were in slave labor camps becoming living skeletons.
A somber mood covers the Land of Israel, and tomorrow morning a 10 AM, the nation will come to a complete standstill as citizens stand at attention when sirens blast for two minutes. Even those driving will pull to the side and exit their vehicles to stand in honor of those who perished.
This annual remembrance of their sacrifice called the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah, dedicated to those who suffered and resisted, is held under the auspices of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.
Yom HaShoah is a day set aside to remember the dark deeds done during the Holocaust and the heroic response of many to those deeds.
It is a day to share the burden of traumatic memory and encourage those who suffered to tell their stories and not spare us from their painful recollections. This is a day to bear witness.
Documentaries covering the Holocaust and movies with a Holocaust theme are shown on television throughout the day.
At Yad Vashem, a special ceremony is held for the entire nation and it is televised throughout the country.
Communities throughout Israel come together in remembrance of those who survived or were destroyed in the Holocaust. Young people perform skits. There are musical presentations and local Holocaust survivors provide firsthand accounts of this shameful period.
Today, only an estimated 193,000 Holocaust survivors remain in Israel. As the years pass, their numbers dwindle; therefore, their firsthand accounts must continue to be passed on generation to generation.
A Holocaust survivor shows the number that the Nazis tattooed her with.
From the very beginnings of the establishment of Germany’s Nazi government, the Nazis had been working to dehumanize the Jewish population in any way possible.
As early as 1933, they began to implement a policy of oppression and legalized terror against their Jewish citizens, isolating them and cutting them off from any means of survival.
As bad as it was in Germany, it was even worse in such occupied countries as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, etc. These policies of deprivation eventually led to one of outright extermination resulting in the destruction of over two thirds of European Jewry. (Yad Vashem)
Wherever the Nazis invaded they rounded up Jews, placing them in ghettos where they attempted to destroy the very fabric of Jewish family and communal life.
Immediate attempts were made to destroy Jews spiritually, demolishing synagogues and outlawing prayer of any kind. The Jews struggled to maintain a communal framework in order to allow for a continued physical and spiritual existence.
Although for many this meant simply struggling to maintain the survival of themselves and their family members, for some it was an opportunity to rise above the death crouching around them. As such, regardless of their circumstances, they struggled to maintain moral values and a modicum of culture.
In the midst of hunger and deprivation, attempts were made to establish organizations for mutual aid and support, medical care, and cultural events.
When education was prohibited, study groups were formed where children met covertly with their teachers and studied.
Jews continued to exercise their creativity, to pray, and to secretly observe the holidays. An example of this is given in The Diary of Anne Frank. Members of the Frank family and their neighbors in the Secret Annex celebrate the Hanukkah festival while in hiding during December of 1944, as well as the Dutch Festival of Saint Nicholas Day.
Despite their circumstances, the Jewish People performed plays, gave lectures, and held literary evenings and poetry readings. (Yad Vashem)
Homelessness: The Aftermath of the Holocaust
“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto Thee. Hide not Thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline Thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily. For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth.” (Psalm 102:1–3)
In Psalm 102:1–3, David’s lament seems to foresee this horrible time in the history of the Jewish People.
Starting with the rise to power of the German dictator in 1933 up until the end of World War II in 1945, the Jews of Europe were persecuted and almost entirely destroyed by the insane efforts of a nation gone mad with power and hatred — that was the German people during the government of Nazism.
It has been estimated that at least six million Jewish men, women, and children lost their lives during this period of maniacal, systematic hatred and human destruction.
Rising from the ashes of European Jewry was the independent State of Israel. But that didn't happen immediately, even though a Jewish state had been promised early in the 20th century before WWII.
Mass grave in Bergen-Belson concentration camp
In the spring of 1945, after almost six years of war, Allied and Soviet troops began to enter the death camps of eastern and central Europe where they were met with piles of corpses and the human remains of the many innocents that had been murdered there. Also discovered were the huddled starving Jewish and non-Jewish survivors.
Having been set free from the camps, some Jews became afraid to return to their homes — with good reason. Pogroms and violent attacks against Jews did not end with the war.
Some had survived the Holocaust only to be murdered by former neighbors who had appropriated their property. For instance, in 1946, rioters in the Polish town of Kielce killed at least 42 Jews and severely beat many others.
Though the Nazi Holocaust was over officially, many a person were unrepentant and refused to give up what they had achieved or gained at the expense of the Jewish People. Of course, this only compounded the devastation.
With few choices open to them, tens of thousands of homeless Holocaust survivors migrated to western European territories where they were housed in displaced persons (DP) camps.
The camps were administered by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the occupying armies of the United States, Great Britain, and France.
Many Jewish agencies worked to assist the refugees, chief among them being the American Joint Distribution Committee providing survivors with food and clothing, while the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT) offered vocational training.
The Nazis deport Jews from Poland's Siedlce Ghetto to the
Treblinka Extermination Camp.