Remembering the Holocaust
in the Season of Passover

By Michael Fischer
Capitola, CA


 

Pass•o•ver (pas'-oh-vĕr), n. a Jewish festival commemorating the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.

Hol•o•caust (hol'-ŏ-kawst), n. the murder by the Nazis of over six million Jews

- Oxford English Dictionary


I do not bring forgiveness with me, nor forgetfulness.
The only ones who can forgive are dead;
the living have no right to forget.

-Chaim Herzog, at Bergen-Belsen, April 12, 1987
 



The season of Passover has just concluded and in pondering these days, I have found in this season strong parallels between the Exodus and the Holocaust. By widening the scope of the story of Passover, it can be seen to be not just a story about Egypt, Pharaoh, and our ancestors, but also a story about Berlin, Hitler, and our grandparents.

By adopting Passover themes and applying them to the Holocaust, we can use this parallelism to bridge these two core catastrophic events, although they are separated by over three thousand years. Beside this long bridge, we will walk along a path that begins by remembering the Holocaust, parallels the Passover service, and emerges with an action plan to combat the cycle of prejudice, discrimination, and violence that has occurred throughout history, from Egypt to Auschwitz to New York City.

In the Passover service, there are three obligations, remembering, telling, and identifying. Applying these ideas regarding the Exodus to the Holocaust gives us a road map that hopefully leads to a peaceful world.

The first obligation is to remember our departure from Egypt. The Torah commands us to remember the Exodus every day. But surely this commandment symbolically applies to all oppression in our history and especially so where great adversaries have been encountered. Thus by remembering both the Exodus and the Holocaust, we pay an even greater tribute to our heritage.

The second obligation is to tell and share with others the story of Passover. The goal of this obligation is to maintain involvement and to keep the story alive, as has been done so effectively for over thirty centuries (Dimont 414-421). But this same principle applies to the Holocaust. The best way to never forget is to keep telling and sharing remembrances of the Holocaust with others so that thirty centuries from now, those experiences will be as poignant as they are today. As we learn from the inmates at Dachau, speaking to each other, their most sacred will was given by their dying wish,

If the miracle should happen, that you live to tell the tale, write it down and tell the world what they did to us (Neuhäusler 1).

Moreover, in the face of current Denialists of the Holocaust (Lipstadt 3), the obligation of recounting the Holocaust experience becomes more vital than ever before.

The third obligation is to identify with the victims of the Exodus. My parents and grandparents always taught me that the central theme of Passover comes with the declaration from the Haggadah,

In every generation, every single one of us is obligated to view ourselves as though we ourselves had personally gone forth from Egypt (Levy 60).

This is the turning point, where we step into the story and make it our own. This obligation serves to personalize history so that far from being an historical abstraction, it becomes a part of our personal lives. The goal of this obligation is to identify not only with our ancestors who marched out of Egypt 3300 years ago, but also with all victims of persecution who died with Shema Yisrael on their breath, or with all citizens of Israel striving to better their lives and the lives of their children.

These three obligations are milestones on our path rather than ends in themselves. Each is an objective, the purpose of which is to build on the previous one to take us further along to achieve another goal. As we move from remembering to telling to putting ourselves into the story, there soon appears along our way a means to defeat prejudice, discrimination, and violence.

Firstly, we know from our own historical experience about diversity,

Do not oppress the stranger - for you know the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).

We know that a diverse community is a strength and not a weakness. We know that Hitler was a strong opponent of diversity. His goal was to have a homogeneous society where everyone had the same color eyes, the same color hair, and most importantly of all to him, the same ruler. Anything that was different from the rest was viewed as a threat. Thus, today, one of the first principles that we must uphold is the value of diversity to the world community.

Secondly, we must insist on justice wherever we find oppression and tolerance wherever we find bigotry. We must actively resist racism and all forms of hate. We must follow the dictums of remembering, telling, and identifying, not only about the Holocaust but about all oppression. History is only alive when it is related to individuals. By these three pillars our heritage will relate to individuals and thus be kept alive through the millennia to come.

But words and understanding are not enough. We must act or we fall into the trap recognized nearly two millennia ago, written in words echoing down the centuries,

Let your deeds exceed your learning, else you be like a tree whose branches are many and roots are few, so when the wind comes it is uprooted and turned upside down (Ethics of Our Fathers 3:12).

Thus we must permanently put aside any sentiments that a single person, let alone a high school student, is powerless to effect change for the better. Small acts compounded over time can have momentous effects. By communicating our understanding of history and morality, by fostering tolerance where we find intolerance, by helping to alleviate poverty when we can, by being charitable in thought, word, and action, and by acting righteously and compassionately in everything we do, each of us can help construct a world where prejudice, discrimination, and violence cannot exist.

Lastly, recalling one of the fundamental tenets of Judaism, Tikkun Olam tells us,

You are not required to complete the work, but you are not allowed to desist from it either (Ethics of Our Fathers 2:16).

Thus our moral imperative is clear. To repair the world, to set it free from hatred, intolerance, and violence, we must start something! If it works, let us celebrate and continue. If it doesn't, let us start something else!

 

Works Cited

Dimont, Max. Jews, God, and History. Mentor Books: New York, 1994.

The Hillel Haggadah for the Nights of Passover. Ed. and Trans. Rabbi Richard Levy.

Hoboken, New Jersey: B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundations, 1989.

Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. New York: Plume Press, 1994.

Neuhäusler, Johannes. What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau? Munich, Germany: Trustees for the Monument of Atonement, 1981.

The Pirkei Avos Treasury: Ethics of Our Fathers. Commentary by Moshe Lieber. New York: Mesorah Publishers, 1995. Online at <http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/ethics/> and <http://www.sephardicsages.org/'avot.html>.

 

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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