Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and marks 78 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. It is a day to honor the millions of victims and remember one of the darkest moments in Jewish and human history. It is a day to contemplate the horrors of which even ordinary people are capable when bigotry, hate, and violence go unchecked. It is also a testament to the resiliency and indomitable spirit of those who have survived and rebuilt their lives.
However, frightening numbers of people are already forgetting. A recent American Jewish Committee (AJC) survey found that only 53% of Americans over the age of 18 answered correctly that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, while 20% explicitly said they were not sure. As we near the day when there will no longer be living survivors, there is added urgency to reading and hearing their stories. Soon, we will become the next generation of witnesses as their testimonies become our responsibility to tell.
AJC CEO Ted Deutch, the child of a Holocaust survivor, said recently, “Lacking knowledge can open pathways to trivialization and denial of the Holocaust that also contribute to rising antisemitism.” We know that this is already happening, and that Jew hate is increasing at alarming rates.
I grew up as a fourth-generation Bostonian in what felt like a post-antisemitic America, where the horrors that Jews experienced in the Holocaust and have experienced throughout our history could not happen here. But now, we’re seeing it nearly every day on our newsfeeds: vandalism, verbal harassment, physical assault, the vile demonization of Israel, and hostility against Jewish students on college campuses. Jew hate is alive and well in America today and right here in Boston.
This Shabbat, we continue reading the story of the exodus from Egypt, and we are reminded “v’higadta l’bincha”: We have an obligation to transmit our story to our children and to all future generations. We remember the liberation, and we also remember Pharoah. In the words of the Passover Haggadah, b’chol dor v’dor...in every generation there will be those who arise and try to destroy us. Or, to paraphrase Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the battle with Pharoah did not end with Egypt. We retell our story both to remember our past and to remain vigilant in the present and the future.
As we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we also must confront and fight against those who continue to perpetuate hatred and violence against us in whatever forms those take. We cannot do any of this alone, for the Holocaust, like the Exodus story, is a Jewish story and a human story. Together, we must avoid the perilous consequences of forgetting. Together, we must fight against the Pharaohs of this world for the safety, dignity, and liberation of all.
Rabbi Marc Baker