Sunday, 7 April 2013


A baby born in the Warsaw Ghetto at the moment the uprising began, turns 70 today. He will have no real memory of those moments, of those desperate times, of the fear that beheld that damned corner of the so-called enlightened earth.

Neither will he remember the bravery, the sheer audacity that it took to start that doomed revolution. But all of these things are etched in his skin, both physically and mentally.

That same 70-year-old, a survivor against all the odds, is today a grandfather. Possibly even a great-grandfather. The children who branch out of his family tree are now three, perhaps even four generations removed from the horrors of Warsaw, of its Ghetto, of the Second World War, of the Holocaust. To these children it is a story, perhaps a horror story, but it is, nevertheless, too removed from reality to drill home its significance.

Each year, as the anniversary is marked by Yom Hashoah, the number of years increase, while the number of those who retain the memories within their souls decreases.

It is a strange time in the Jewish calendar. We celebrate Pesach, not only marking the Exodus itself, but also it most significant side-effect: the creation of the Jewish People as a nation. The State of Israel's Declaration of Independence may state in its opening line that "In the Land of Israel, the Jewish People arose!" However, the reality is that we became a people far earlier, in the desert, on the route from slavery to freedom.

Only a few days after the end of Pesach, we mark one of the darkest periods in our history - the Holocaust - on Yom Hashoah.

A week later, the starkly contrasting, yet perfectly matched days of Yom Hazikaron followed by Yom Haatzmaut, Remembrance Day for all fallen soldiers and victims of terror and then Israel Independence Day, complete a bizarre, jarring cycle that tells the story of the history of the Jewish people in one fell swoop.

We sing on Pesach about how, in every generation, there is an existential threat to the Jewish people, and how, over and over again, against all the odds, we seem to survive.

Never was this seen more clearly in what is still living memory than during the Holocaust, and never is it felt more keenly than on Yom Hashoah and the days around it.

The State of Israel, that miraculously came into being so soon after a third of the world's Jews was murdered, came to be not because of the Holocaust, but in order to prevent the possibility of it ever happening again.

A baby born in the Warsaw Ghetto at the moment the uprising began, turns 70 today.

They are duty-bound to tell their story, and we are duty-bound to listen. We are privileged to still have survivors of the horrors who can recount their time in hell. Theirs are lessons that we must learn, not only for ourselves, but in order to teach others. In less than a generation, we will have no more first-hand memories, no more great-grandfathers who remember the barbed wire, the starvation, the divided families who would never see each other again.

Unlike the word history, the Hebrew word Zikaron evokes more than just a narrative. It is the collective memory. It is our past and our present, and it is our future.

We do not live in shadows, although there have been dark periods of Jewish life.

We do not live in fear, even though the threat is ever-present.

We do not live in denial, even though it would ease our lives and memories to do so.

We live on, we live proud lives, we look at the past and see the unlikely victories throughout our ancient and modern history, and know that we stand on the shoulders of our forebears.

We mourn their sacrifices, we mourn the loss of so many of our people, we mourn over a million children who will never grow up, yet we know that we will never allow it to happen again.

Yehi Zichram Baruch.

May the memories of those who died be for a blessing, and may we learn the lessons of the living.

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