As we approach the yearly Holocaust Memorial Day, this year on May 2nd, we remind ourselves of the importance of designating this special Memorial Day not only for the sake of future generations but to also listen to the stories of as many survivors as possible. They are the ones who witnessed the horrors first hand and somehow survived to remind a forgetful world what they saw and experienced. Their message is invaluable to us especially with the rise of Antisemitism in Europe and on campuses all over the US.
Seventy-five years after the horror it is frightening to realize that except for very few basic facts, most Americans know very little about the Holocaust and especially its lesson to mankind. Indeed, it seems that the world did not learn from the horror of Nazi Germany. There are still horrible mass killings as well as gross human rights violations all over the world.
In the near future the severity of the Holocaust will be diminished even further. The generation of survivors who were adults in the 40's has for the most part died off.
As a child growing up in Israel in the 60's, I remember that the Memorial Day for the Holocaust was a day of listening to many survivors who witnessed the Holocaust as adults. It was the realization of what people are capable of doing to other human beings that horrified us even as children. My generation and my parents' generation in Israel know the lessons of the Holocaust very well. We get its horror and the modern time danger of ignoring it. We never forget because we were educated to never forget.
However, this generation of witnesses have died. Their stories, their constant pain, their stories passed away along with them. What remains from their precious stories are videos pictures, books, some poems. But will that be enough to educate future generations about the Holocaust?
And yet we now have other kinds of survivors. The ones who witnessed the horror as children. We are introduced to a slightly different perspective. The perspective of the children of the Holocaust bearing the same never ending pain. Now we hear the children's stories of the horror. While they are older adults now, the memories of their childhood which was snatched away from them in the most brutal, unimaginable ways is very much alive.
In February Cantor Lee was asked to sing during an annual program for the organization, Children Survivors/Hidden Children of the Holocaust of Palm Beach County. I joined her as a guest. Attending the ceremony was a real privilege for me. The never ending pain of these survivors from 75 years ago along with their powerful desire to celebrate and appreciate life stuck me like thunder. They were singing about hope, about living for the sake of all who perished, about their love for Israel, Jerusalem and about their pride in being Jewish.
It was the hope and the strong positive energy that startled me so profoundly. It brought to mind the famous poem by a young man named Pavel Friedmann found in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, "I never saw another Butterfly." A poem longing for hope and for better days against the darkness of the time.
What was taken away from the children of the Holocaust has been brought back so powerfully by these amazing people. I guess they are the butterflies who came back to the world in the name of all the victims.
But as it is said in Pavel's poem, these survivors are the last, the very last ones. When these men and women now in their 80's and 90's leave our world, the Butterflies of the Holocaust, the symbol of hope will be gone with them.
Who will tell the story? Who will stand as witness?
Whenever our Hebrew School children have the privilege of listening to a Survivor speak to them not only about their experiences but also about the lessons which must be learned, I always pray that the children will listen and remember these conversations. Each time I tell the children that their responsibility for generations to come is enormous. I tell them that they are the absolute last generation to have the privilege to see and talk to a Holocaust Survivor.
And even when truth prevails over Holocaust deniers spewing their lies, it will be up to our children to tell their grandchildren and great grandchildren that they were the last generation who saw, listened to and talked with actual Holocaust survivors. They will be the ones to tell the stories in the name of the survivors, in the name of all of us. They must now be the butterflies.
May we all have the fortitude to remember and never to forget.
The Last Butterfly by Pavel Friedmann
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing
against a white stone...
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it wished
to kiss the world goodbye
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here,
In the ghetto.
Please share our blog posts: Rabbi & Cantor's Messages