This year Yom HaShoah falls out on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Let us not forget them either, and let us also think about the LGBT community of Chechnya.
I’d also like to remind everyone that while yes, the Nazis did target a lot of groups, Jews and Rromani were their primary targets and the only ones who they seeked to completely wipe out, whose cultures were irreparably shattered.
Here’s to the memory of the victims of HaShoah and the Nazi regime.
on this day, I would like to commemorate the extensive Jewish resistance that existed in almost every Nazi-occupied nation. from the streets of Warsaw, where Jewish resistance perplexed and bewildered the Nazis so much that a top German general lost his job because of it (and where we inadvertently inspired the Warsaw Uprising) to Sobibor, where Jews killed SS guards and burned a death camp to the ground, enraging the Nazis so much that they ordered the camp’s remains bulldozed into the ground, to Treblinka, where Jews escaped through the barbed wire into freedom and managed to survive to meet the Red Army the next year.
Jews did not go passively into the gas chambers. Abba Kovner, Mordechai Anielewicz, the Bielski brothers, and many others ensured that.
the image will always live in my mind: during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a Jewish man armed with a pistol approached General Jurgen Stroop’s command group and opened fire. Stroop’s bodyguard filled him with bullets, but he continued shooting until he collapsed. as Stroop walked over to gloat, he spat on Stroop’s shoes.
When my grandmother was in Auschwitz, she used to sneak out of the barracks at night to forage in the garbage for potato skins to eat, because the Nazis barely fed the prisoners enough not to starve.
One night, as she was sneaking back, she came across a Nazi soldier. She looked at him. He looked at her. She figured that was the end; he was about to shoot her.
But he didn’t. She kept walking. He let her go.
I don’t know why. It’s not what he was supposed to do, trained to do, brainwashed to do. He’d be punished if it were to be found out he didn’t. He had no particular reason to discover some humanity in that moment, but he did.
And because of that choice – I’m here. I’m alive. I exist.
I’m here posting loon pictures and spicy goblin discourse and Jewish holiday stuff and cat pictures and lik-the-bred-memes and headcanons and the Fantastic Beasts version of My Immortal. I’m here posting about resistance and social justice and trying to figure out how to make the world a better place.
I don’t know where he is now, or even if he’s still alive. But I know I’m alive, because one person made one choice in one moment to do what was right.
So it’s Yom HaShoah today (that’s Holocaust Remembrance Day for the goy in the room) and I’ve been trying to think of something meaningful or insightful to say for most of yesterday. I’m sure most of the people who follow me aren’t Jewish and that’s fine, but because you’re not you will never understand the mental space the Holocaust takes up for us. I think about it all the time, it’s place in a wider Jewish story. In 2015 the world Jewish population finally reached the same level as it was in 1939. Think about that for a moment, it took us over 70 years to recover. When my Grandfather the son of European immigrants was born in 1924 there were about 9,500,000 Jews living in Europe, today 93 years later there are 1.4 million, in the countries of Eastern Europe there were 4.7 million Jews before the war, 867,000 in 1945 and only 70,000 today. Poland was 10% Jewish over 3 million Jews, speaking their own language, Yiddish. 90% of Polands Jews died, today only about 80,000 Jews live in Poland after 800 years as the beating heart of European Jewry. Yiddish went from 10 million native speakers to an all but dead language. The world of my great-grandparents is gone, I can never go back to where they came from because it’s gone, in the blink of an eye. However in some ways their world is alive and well, tonight, the night of Yom HaShoah over 7 million French people voted for a party founded by an anti-semitic fascist Holocaust denier. His Daughter that party’s candidate for President, the person over 7 million French voters wanted as their President, just this week denied any French responsibility for the deportation of France’s Jews to death camps. She gets to be in the run off election in two weeks and polls say 40% of French people will vote for her, she wants to BAN the wearing of Yarmulkes in public. And today of all days France choose not to reject her but move her forward. Never Again means Never Forget.
In honour of the six million, in honour of their memory.
We will honour them by being proud to be Jewish, by continuing the rich legacy we share with the generations to come. Many have tried to destroy the family of Israel, and all have failed. They always will.
The fact that I am even able to have this blog, the fact that I am able to be in the process of conversion and reconnecting to my Jewish heritage, starting a new generation in my family, is testament to that. It is the light that never goes out, and it’s inside all of us.
In honor of Yom HaShoah, I wanted to share links to the songs my synagogue performed at our memorial tonight. links are in the titles - just a warning, if you watch the videos on YouTube, some of them do contain Holocaust/Nazi imagery.
El Maleh Rachamim - a prayer traditionally sung at funerals and remembrance days for the dead. it’s a very beautiful melody.
Dos Elnte Kind (The Lonely Child) - a Yiddish song dedicated to Sarah, the daughter of Rachel Pupko-Krinski. they were separated during the war, but both survived and immigrated to America. the woman who sang this at my synagogue this evening was a close friend of Sarah’s daughter, and she was wearing a necklace left to her by Sarah.
Yisrolik - a Yiddish song about orphaned children of the Vilna ghetto
Flying - an English song by folk artist Laura Wetzler, who performed it for us tonight. she and her partner are both the daughters of Holocaust survivors, and she wrote this for her mother-in-law, a partisan whose sister Hannah (ZK”L) was murdered by the Nazis after they were discovered smuggling resistance newspapers
Minutn Fun Bitokhn (Moment of Confidence) - a Yiddish partisan song from Krakow. my favorite line, which isn’t translated exactly the same in the lyrics I found online, is “Revel, dance, you hangman! It won’t be long, I hope. Once there was a Haman–then there was a rope.”
Zog Nit Kein Mol (Never Say) - also known as Partisaner Lid, the Partisan Song, this is one of the most famous songs to come out of the war. it was written by Hirsch Glick (ZK”L) in the Vilna Ghetto after he learned of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Hatikvah (The Hope) - a Hebrew song associated with the Zionist cause, which was often sung in concentration camps after their liberation and in Displaced Person camps (if you look online you can find a recording of the inmates of Bergen-Belsen singing this song in 1945). it is now the national anthem of Israel.
Gertruda Zelenková with her son, Martin, and Martin’s puppets.
Gertruda Zelenková and her son were recognized in a photograph at the Museum of Jewish Art and History at the end of 2008. Soon the museum was contacted by one of Gertruda’s friends who had several photos of her family from the war, as well as correspondence cards that Gertruda sent her from Terezín, and a set of puppets that Gertruda’s son, Martin, played with.
Gertruda, her husband František, and Martin were deported to Terezín in July 1943 and then to Auschwitz in October 1944, where all three perished. The Zelenka family were supposed to leave Czechoslovakia for Britain, but delayed their departure by a few days on account of Martin’s illness. This account is confirmed by a British visa application for Martin in December 1938, which is kept in the National Archives, Prague.
my grandmother was born somewhere between romania and transylvania
i do not know much else about her
but i know
she had one older brother
she had bright blue eyes
(like my brother)
and her father died when she was too young
(just like mine did)
my grandmother was sent to auschwitz.
she watched her mother get sent to her death.
her life was saved by a nurse
whose name she never knew.
she met the love of her life in a dp camp
and she moved to canada not speaking english
and just five years later
she had a son
(and then three more)
and she was happy.
i do not know much about my grandmother
i don’t know her birthday or her hometown
or what she sounded like when she laughed
i don’t even know the number that was tattooed on her arm,
her reminder that she made it out of hell alive.
but i do know that only two things
truly separate me from my grandmother,
and they are
time and circumstance
and nothing in this world scares me more than that.
I wrote this as part of a poetry suite for my writing lab, and i thought that today, yom hashoah, would be a good time to share it with you all. my grandmother lived a good life after the holocaust. at the time of her death, she had four sons and thirteen grandchildren. now, her legacy is two sons, fifteen grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren; her great-granddaughter bears her name. my zeida, he’s still alive, though his dementia is so bad he can no longer communicate at all. he and my grandmother were so incredibly in love, so incredibly happy, and they lived with daily reminders of the atrocities they survived. we can never forget, because we cannot allow the same horrors to be relived. i can never forget because it is a horror that flows through my blood and makes up my atoms.
I sometimes think that they were super-beings– demons or Amazons… Nerves like steel and the dexterity of circus performers. They often fired two pistols simultaneously, one in each hand. They were fighters to the end and extremely dangerous at close quarters. I remember Haluzzenmädeln [female members of the HeHalutz movement] we cornered who blinked at us like frightened rabbits. But when our men began to move in, they’d pull grenades from their skirts or trousers and hurl them at us, shrieking curses that made our hair stand on end!
Polizeigeneral Jürgen Stroop, liquidator of the Warsaw Ghetto, speaks to Kazimierz Moczarski about the unbelievable bravery and fortitude of the Jewish female fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. May their memories forever be blessings, as surely as Stroop’s memory be blotted out. Conversations With an Executioner, p. 132.
Our synagogue provides yarzeit candles on Yom HaShoah for different victims of the Holocaust. This is the one glowing in our home tonight. I’ll be sitting and thinking of him, if my family members who were murdered, and those who survived and gave me and my son the chance to live. Never forget. Never forgive. Never again.