Memories lost, memories remembered—Holocaust Remembrance

Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.

Funny thing about memory, we tend to forget the bad and concentrate on the good. By good, I refer to the common ones, childhood, school, sweethearts; the list goes on and on. These memories we remember because they represented pleasant times.

The lost memories contain hate and anger. The frustrations of youth and the disappointments of adolescence get pushed back further into our subconscious only to surface in times of despair.

To me, the most tragic memory of the past still haunts us today – the Holocaust. The truth is that none of us will ever comprehend this horrific chapter in the history of the human experience. I would imagine those who lived it couldn’t understand its enormity. How is it possible to be brought to such a level of monstrous proportions?

Each year we commemorate history’s most horrific nightmare. Each year we are asked to bear witness to the systematic degradation, dehumanization, and physical destruction, to remind us of the depths to which we can sink.

There are no monuments erected that will suffice in our attempt to salve our conscience. There are no records that explain the sacrifice of so many for the sake of hatred. There are no explanations effective enough to analyze such madness. The unmarked graves in the wilderness only add to the disgrace that is the legacy of man’s darkest hour. These ceremonies, last moments, but the memories are eternal.

I am reminded of a poem written by a boy named Frantisek Bass, born in 1930, deported to the death camp known as Terezin in 1942, murdered in Auschwitz on the holiday of Passover, 1944, when he spoke of the children, the innocents of our youth who were murdered before their flowers could bloom.

One and a half million little boys and girls, and over five million men and women, more than six million victims of the whim of monsters are no more.

Another German poet, A.M. Klein wrote, “That little boy, my cousin, whose cry might have been my cry in that dark land, where shall I seek you? On what wind shall I reach out to touch the ash that was your hand?”

Each of us, Jew and Gentile, are left to remind the world that this heinousness should not ever be repeated again. More than 60 million people from all walks of life, all corners of the globe, were also sacrificed on the altar of indifference. This is why this memory should never be lost. The blood soaked earth contains the remnants of civilization’s soul; the stench of human flesh burning in the ovens of mass destruction, are the only monuments.

We are obligated to contemplate those who have no one to remember, no destinies yet to be fulfilled. If we are to try to make sense of death and destruction whether yesterday or today, then we surely must never waiver in our resolve to “NEVER FORGET.” Perhaps memories that were bad can become memories that are good.