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MEDITATION

Rabbi Norman Patz, President Emeritus SHCJ

71st Memorial Service

Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews

March 19, 2017

 

How do we remember our murdered brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins…. Personally, to start with. The deep wounds never heal, even as the years pass. The cruelty of the enemy, the indifference of so many neighbors, the failure of governments to protect their citizens, the collapse of Western civilization's basic human values all weigh on us. And the lost, unlived lives….

But there's another way we need to remember: publicly. The principal aim of the enemy was the mass murder of every Jew in the world. No other group was so condemned. Yes, other groups were targeted, and we do not denigrate or dismiss their sufferings, their loss. Some people, trying to be inclusive, say there were eleven million victims, but this well-meant inclusivity blurs, even obscures, the reality of our enemy's goal – vernichtung – extermination, obliteration, annihilation of Jews, the death of the Jewish people.

So the lesson of the Holocaust must be both particular – it's about our people – and universal – it's a factual historical warning about the human capacity for evil. Both are necessary. For a universal truth to be valid it must be rooted in particular reality, in this case our Jewish tragedy. And this particular reality is rooted in our painful memories and in our aching hearts. We cannot, do not, and will not forget.

Around the time that Hitler and his Brown Shirts had begun to frighten Jews in Germany, the Soncino Gesellschaft, a great Jewish publishing house and society of Jewish bibliophiles, completed a four-year project (1929-1933), the publication of a magnificently designed Hebrew Pentateuch. As a prophetic hope and prescient warning in the face of the malignant developments they saw happening in their country, Soncino decided on a very unusual step: to print two verses of Deuteronomy, the last of the Five Books of Moses, in bright red letters. These verses are in the blessing with which Moses blessed the children of Israel just before his death: “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Eternal God who is the shield of your help and the sword of your triumph. Your enemies shall dwindle away from you and you shall tread on their high places” (Deuteronomy 33:1, 29).

This promise of ultimate salvation did not help the six million of our people who could not escape the Holocaust. But perhaps its message, a cry of the heart from a doomed community and an expression of faith of an eternal people, can be a source of renewed courage for us in our lives today.

AMEN