Yom HaShoah, or The Day of Holocaust Remembrance. 27 Nisan. It’s an Israeli holy day (rather than holiday), observed by Jews around the world, to remember the six million Jews who perished during the Shoah – the Holocaust. “Never again” and “Never forget” are common themes of the day. Light candles, say a prayer remembering those whom we lost. Sounds pretty simple, right?
You see, the Shoah did not just kill Jews, although we were certainly the most systematically targeted. It also killed intellectuals, political dissidents, homosexuals, Gypsies, the disabled, Christians who disagreed with Hitler, and other groups that the Nazis considered less than human.
However, Yom HaShoah is specifically focused on the Jews who died. It is a Jewish-centric (and one might even argue Israel-centric) observance. There is an international day that recognizes all Holocaust victims in January every year, approved by some United Nations council or other. And that’s fine.
But as a Jewish man who is also a gay man, a disabled person, and an intellectual, I have some conflict about the way we observe Yom HaShoah, because only part of my personhood is included in that day’s observances. I cannot remember the Shoah without remembering all of the people who died in it. I cannot remember the Jews who died without remembering the gay men, both Jewish and Gentile, who died in the Shoah as well. I cannot remember the Jews who died without also remembering the disabled who were murdered just as systematically. And I cannot ignore the purging of intellectuals, because they were also part of the millions who were sacrificed on the altar of Hitler’s insanity.
When we partition out our grief, we risk losing empathy for those who are not like us. When we say “Today we’re only grieving for this group, the one that shared our peoplehood, even though lots of other groups died too,” we are drawing the boundaries of our peoplehood a little too closely for my comfort.
Remember the verses about welcoming the stranger?
Let’s do better with that.
Today I remember not just the six million Jews who died in the Shoah, but the five million gays, intellectuals, disabled, Gypsies, political dissidents (those brave people) and Christians who also died because a madman took over a nation and led them into calculated, planned insanity.