On April 28, 2014, for Holocaust Remembrance Day we commemorate those innocent men, women and children who were murdered in the six killing centers of Auschwitz, Belzec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka. We mourn those who were slaughtered by the Nazis in the numerous slave labor and concentration camps, in the ravines of Babi-Yar in the Soviet Union and in so many other communities in Europe. We honor the memory of those who fought and died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in the partisan units and in other enclaves of heroic resistance to the Nazis and their collaborators.
We shall remember the Abrahams, Jacobs, Rachels, Rebeccas, as well as one and a half million young children including my 10-year-old brother, Hirsh. We grieve for the babies who were ripped from their mothers’ arms and pushed into the Zyklon B gas chambers in the guise of shower installations. There was not a flutter of remorse by the executioners including doctors who had taken the Hippocratic Oath when they graduated from medical schools. We cherish the memory of all those who were victims of Hitler’s ideology of racism, prejudice, bigotry and oppression.
One-third of the Jewish people were murdered during the Holocaust; it would be the equivalent ratio of one hundred million American people.
The Holocaust and episodes of mass murder should not be seen as an aberration that will not recur. The means used during the Holocaust preclude any comparison. Nevertheless, the vast scale of killing in the 20th century, and even in the 21st century, was indeed more common than in any other era in history. We have witnessed that under Hitler’s reign, every Jew was a victim, but not every victim was a Jew.
Here in the United States we were overwhelmed with shock and grief by the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001. For me, the date of that tragedy was reminiscent of our family’s tragedy. On Sept. 11, 1939, German brutes murdered 37 people in our town in Poland and then threw them into a pit. Three months later those corpses were exhumed from that pit. It was very difficult for those present to identify the partially decomposed bodies. My stepmother identified my father’s body by certain items in his clothes. As a 13-year-old boy then, I was present at that gruesome and traumatic sight. It has been etched in my memory ever since; l have nightmares ‘till this very day.
The horrific scenes on 9/11/2001 evoked disastrous images I had to face 62 years earlier. Watching the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, I wondered: “Will all those people consumed in that inferno have a grave?” Apparently over two thousand victims of that vicious terror attack have never been identified; just as hundreds of relatives of my extended family, six million Jews and many WWII victims of other nationalities never had a funeral, they have no graves to be visited by loved ones, and there is no anniversary of their demise.
We Holocaust survivors do remember. As Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize laureate, said: we survivors do not live with the past; the past lives within us. As the ranks of Holocaust survivors rapidly dwindle, it becomes imperative that our children, the second generation and future generations of all peoples assume the holy task of reminding and remembering the legacy of the Holocaust. At the same time we should all strive incessantly to divert the rivers of hatred so that another Holocaust should never, never happen again!
Alter Wiener | Beaverton |