INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY

Practically 75 years ago to the day, a glimmer of light came into this world that would have ramifications decades later. On January 27, 1945, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz – Birkenau, arguably the most infamous of all Concentration/Extermination Camps of the Third Reich. On the 60th anniversary of the liberation, a special session was held at the United Nations which culminated in designating January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Gevald! I was raised on Yom HaShoah. Each year on the 27th of Nissan, Yom HaShoah commemorations were held in Jewish communities throughout the world. When I learned of International Holocaust Memorial Day, I was indignant, to say the least. How dare the United Nations and then the 42nd president of the United States proclaims another date to memorialize Man’s Inhumanity Towards Man! By what right and under whose authority could they do such a thing? Yom HaShoah is a collective yahrzeit for the Jewish people. I don’t recall any Jewish leader suggesting that another date be chosen so that the yahrzeit of the six million be shared.

When a cooler head prevailed, I realized that while intending to pay homage to the same dark chapter in the history of mankind, International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom HaShoah couldn’t have been more different.

International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates a twentieth-century version of the Exodus from Egypt. It was the Soviet Union ironically, that led the pack of allied armies, playing the role of the biblical Moses, while those miraculously still alive in a hellhole in southern Poland, the very descendants of the Israelite slaves freed from the diabolical Pharaoh were the first of their people to be redeemed from unspeakable enslavement and unfathomable treatment. Military prowess aside, International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the first step of allied armies being able to reassure the victims, “Don’t worry. We’re here to save you. We’re here to free you. We’re here for you to reaffirm your faith (whatever faith you may have left) that the forces of good have ultimately triumphed over the forces of evil.”

Not so, Yom HaShoah. Although chosen to coincide with the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, where a handful of Jews armed chiefly with chutzpah, managed to stave off the Third Reich for weeks, Yom HaShoah commemorates a twentieth-century version of the biblical Lot and a handful of others managing to survive the destruction of his society. Even though the Sodomites were in no way blameless or faultless like the Jews of Eastern Europe, there are still parallels to be made. The pillars of fire and the stench of death of Sodom and Gomorrah served as prototypes for the pillars of fire and the stench of death of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Both Lot, as well as the survivors of Nazism, set about building a new future for themselves. Both were cautioned of the dangers of looking back. Looking back was only helpful in that it ensured that those who succumbed not be forgotten, as well as it served as a reminder that we do not forget.

International Holocaust Memorial Day is a day for the outside world to justifiably remind itself of its success is thwarting evil and rescuing the few that remained; Yom HaShoah is a day for the Jewish world to remind itself, that the remnant that survived will serve as living proof that it refuses to wallow in self-pity and victimhood and that Jews must never inflict upon others what others inflicted upon them.

We commemorate an event that took place seventy-five years ago that gave the free world reason to be optimistic and those still alive at Auschwitz – Birkenau reason to dare to hope, that humanity did not go up in the chimneys of the Nazi crematoria after all. For me personally, International Holocaust Memorial Day is beyond my expectations. As for Yom HaShoah, I would have expected nothing less.
  
 


YOM HAZIKARON

Baruch atah … asher kiddshanu b’mitzvotav V’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Yom HaZikaron.” (Blessed…who has sanctified us through His mitzvahs and commanded us to kindle the candles of the Day of Remembrance.) So reads the blessing for the kindling of Rosh Hashana candles in Hassidic homes, as well as others who have adapted that text. “Yom HaZikaron” is another name for Rosh HaShana.

My own personal “Yom HaZikaron,” my own personal “Day of Remembrance” occurred earlier this week, as I witnessed the dismantling of the contents of the house I grew up in. True, I had only lived in that house for 10 years, but those 10 years were years of my childhood; those 10 years were my formative years. As the disposal companies carried away the bed I slept in, the desk that I all too often left hopelessly cluttered and the bookshelf that held the books that defined me as an individual, I watched in silence. Long before I set out for my home town this past Sunday, I knew that in all likelihood, I would not be able to bring myself to drive past 14 Coralberry once it was sold. It would be much too painful.

But the memories will not only remain within the walls of that three-bedroom structure with its “L shaped” living room and dining room. The memories will be shared with siblings and family members; the memories will be passed along to my grandsons, although I find it difficult to believe that they will have any interest to hear about squeezed joint mortar which, short of a major remodeling by the new owners, will remain in place, and the roxatone (white with gold flecks) paint that covered the used dining room set purchased at Cosman Furniture that has long been replaced. Similarly, my grandsons will in all probability roll their eyes, as I tell them about the primitive gas mower with a separate cord for starting purpose, that I all too often would have to coax to start before tending to the front and back lawn during the all too short Winnipeg summers.

Even though I am no psychologist, I cannot help but feel that memories fall into three categories:

Although it borders on an oxymoron, there are memories that, were it not for others to jog your mind, you would never have recalled the event or moment. However, once those memories are brought to mind – provided they are neither embarrassing nor painful – you are most incredulous that you could have suppressed the event or moment but are so very grateful that others reminded you of it. Thanks to their having jogged your mind, you now have yet another memory that you can fondly recall and possibly even embellish a little.

There are shared memories. These are the most common and quite often the funniest to recall. Share memories are substantiated memories. Shared memories are validated memories that reassure you that the event actually did take place and that you are not dreaming it or fabricating it. Shared memories are enriched memories. Others often tweak shared memories by contributing their own version, either real or contrived, in the hope of making the memories more special than you recall them to have been. At the very least shared memories tweaked by others add a level of  entertainment. Even if you are positive that the other person is stretching the truth, let that person remember  things that way he or she believes they actually happened. After all,  does it really matter if it was the hottest day ever or if you never said what they claim you said?

Perhaps most important of all, there are memories that are personal. Not because there is anything embarrassing, secretive or untoward about these memories. It’s simply because these memories  involve only you. And even if others were in fact part of these memories, it matters little if anything to them. Personal memories are the most special, because they are uniquely yours. And whether they bring a smile to your face or a tear to your eye, it is your smile and your tear and no one else’s. Personal memories are uniquely yours without being cast as selfish. Personal memories are the glue that holds your past, your unique past together. Now that the contents of 14 Coralberry have been disposed of and once the house is sold, it will be these personal memories that I will cherish the most.