If we are going to make the slogan "Never Again" a reality, we must remember the crimes perpetrated by the Nazi regime.
I have the honor of giving the welcome and invocation at the Yom HaShoah service that will take place today at the Capitol Rotunda in Helena at 4 p.m. Here are the remarks I will be presenting:
Welcome … Alechem Shalom.
We come here today in this symbol of our State’s authority to remember the systematic, bureaucratic annihilation of 6 million Jews and 3 to 5 million others; including the gypsies, the mentally or physically disabled, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists and political dissidents, trade unionists and Freemasons, among others; by what was at the time the German authority, the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Nazi’s made the Shoah, or Holocaust, their central act of State during the Second World War. Theirs was a crime unique in the annals of human history, different not only in its quantity of violence but in manner and purpose as a mass criminal enterprise organized by the State against mostly defenseless civilian populations.
The Shoah was not simply a throwback to medieval torture, but a thoroughly modern expression of bureaucratic organization, industrial management, scientific achievement and technological sophistication. The Nazi’s spared no expense in their effort and kept meticulous records of their murders on the most sophisticated computer equipment in the world, ironically using technology developed for the newly formed U.S. Social Security Administration.
However, we are not solely here to mourn the dead. After the war, there was much debate about when, or even if, to set a date to remember this great crime. After all, the Jewish faith, one that was no stranger to sorrow, already had Tisha B'av, a date set to commemorate its griefs.
We are here today to honor those that fought back; those that resisted. Yom HaShoah falls on the Jewish date of Nisan 27, the anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
On this date 63 years ago, Nazi troops and police entered the Warsaw ghetto to deport its 60,000 surviving inhabitants to the camps. 23-year-old Mordecai Anielewicz led 750 resistors who fought back against a full division of 12 thousand heavily armed and well-trained Germans with a few smuggled weapons and whatever else they could scavange.
These outgunned and starving ghetto fighters held its own against the German war machine for almost a month, but on May 16, 1943, the resistance’s was broken by superior Nazi armament. The Ghetto was “liquidated.” We must remember their courage.
You will also hear today of Jews who fought bravely as partisans in resistance groups that operated under cover of the dense forests of Eastern Europe. An estimated 20 to 30 thousand resistors were surrounded by captive populations which frequently collaborated with what should have been the common enemy, and were often betrayed by those who were in essence their fellow victims. It was a resistance by an army without arms, by the old and sick, the frail and the young.
In many areas of Nazi-occupied Europe, resistance took the form of aid and rescue. Bystanders transformed themselves into rescuers, and in the process became outlaws against the Nazi’s. They faced real risk of death and torture themselves, following a code of right and wrong which was simply out of fashion. Rescuers, who before the war were strong backbones of their communities, found themselves isolated since their neighbors viewed people who harbored Jews as selfish and dangerous because they risked the lives of those around them.
A rescuers life was intricate and terrifying. A careless word, a forgotten detail, one wrong move could lead to the death of both themselves and their charges. The home atmosphere was disrupted; husbands and wives gave up their privacy and children found themselves sleeping with strangers they had to learn to call brother, sister, aunt or uncle because if you were raided at night, you couldn’t have the wrong number of beds unmade.
You had to be careful about buying too many groceries at one store, as groceries could become suspicious. You couldn’t talk out loud because neighbors would hear voices. In some cases, neighbors reported you if they thought you had too much garbage for the size of your family. The Nazis offered rewards for information that led to the capture of Jews. Informers were everywhere.
If we are to realize our goal of “Never Again,” we must remember the tragedy of this great crime. We must also rise up against genocide anywhere, as is now occurring in Darfur.
In our faith, we have a prayer that seems appropriate for this occasion. It is the “Shechiyanu” a prayer of thanksgiving:
(Baruch Ata Adonai Elohanu Melech Ha-olam, Shechiyanu v’keyamanu v’hegeyanu lazman hazah)
Blessed are you, our Lord our G-d, Ruler of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us and enabling us to reach this season.