|5 years ago :: Apr 20, 2012 - 10:45AM #1|
I've waited a day before writing this because I wanted to think about it for a while. Beginning on Wednesday evening we in Israel observed Holocaust Remembrance Day. In our village it is the tradition of have some sort of ceremony on the evening when Remembrance Day begins. Since it is not a religious holiday there is no religious ceremony as there is on other holidays though the Rabbis have written or adapted some prayers. As a consequence we are left pretty much to our own devices to come up with a meaningful expression for the occasion.
A number of years ago we hit on the idea of having a different theme for each year. One year we emphasized the resistance groups and the uprisings in the Warsaw Ghetto, Sobibor and elsewhere. Another year we emphasized Holocaust denial and on another commemoration we emphasized the Righteous Among the Nations. This year I was told that the main theme would be the experiences of one of the families in our village who are the descendants of the sole survivor of a Jewish family who lived in Germany.
The ceremony began with the Jewish prayer for the dead and a special prayer for the dead of the Holocaust. Then there was a presentation about the history of the Jews of Germany and their modernization and assimilation into German society followed by the rise of Hitler and all of the subsequent events. Then the woman whose family had perished in the Holocaust took the microphone to tell her story. She began by noting that like many other children of holocaust survivors she had no grandparents and in her case no aunts or uncles. Her parents, both survivors from Germany, never talked about their experiences in World War Two.
Then a representative from the German town, who was visiting our village especially for the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day was invited to speak. She told us how the students in the local high school became interested in the events of World War Two, when the graves of about 40 infants were discovered. An investigation revealed that these were the children of slave laborers, mostly Russians, who were working in terrible conditions at nearby locations. The German high school students began to research the whole issue and discovered that there had been only two Jewish families in the town when the Nazis came to power and they were all shipped off for "resettlement" to the death camps. It was at about this time that a letter from Israel arrived inquiring about one of those families. Since then a warm relationship has developed between the people of the town and the family in our village.
For me personally, and for most of those in attendance, the ceremony on this Holocaust Remembrance Day was particularly moving and meaningful. It seems to me that real reconciliation between the German and the Jewish people will not be made at the level of political leaders or even important cultural figures but rather by average individuals who do not forget nor deny the past but rather recognize their mutual humanity despite the past. Perhaps it takes a generation or two to pass before this healing process can begin.