On Tuesday, April 25, while many Yale students are celebrating Spring Fling, Jews around the world will be observing Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day commemorates the approximately six million Jews and five million Poles, Roma, Sinti, disabled people, Freemasons, communists, homosexuals and Gypsies who were murdered in Nazi-dominated Europe during World War II. The date was chosen to commemorate the fall of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Although Nazis herded Jews into the ghetto, many were determined to maintain a civilized way of life there. Even in such cramped quarters, education was a key priority, and so a school was formed in the ghetto. The residents of the Warsaw Ghetto fought back against the oppressive regime when they tried to deport all who remained, and so it remains for many a symbol of those not content to be led like lambs to the slaughter. It was a time when the easiest path was silence, and obeying unethical orders was the norm. People who left the mold — whether they were members of a persecuted group or not — put their lives at risk by so doing. So we also remember those who assisted victims of Nazi oppression at their own peril when it would have been so easy to simply be silent.
Yom HaShoah is a sad day not only for those people who were persecuted, but also for the world that allowed such things to happen. Perhaps the best-known phrase connected with the Holocaust is “Never Again,” and it is an important lesson. But perhaps in today’s world, we need to be ever more vigilant to that message. It is imperative for all to remember what happened, and there is an important lesson that we must heed in order to ensure that such things never happen on this planet again, be it in Europe, the Sudan or anywhere else in the world.
Yom HaShoah reminds us, less than a week after Passover, that freedom is fleeting. Any freedom that we may feel can easily be crushed by the right opponent. We in the United States tend to get complacent with the freedoms that we have here since they have held up for so long. But we must remain forever vigilant of what might happen to those freedoms and protect them wherever they might be threatened. If we do not remember this important lesson from history, we risk losing those same freedoms ourselves. We must never lose sight of what makes this country so great even in trying to defend her.
Yale Hillel will be commemorating Yom Hashoah with an opening ceremony today in Woolsey Rotunda. We will recall the victims and the righteous gentiles, and learn what can happen when good people do nothing. From there, students and community members will read names of the deceased for the entire 24 hours of observance. At the conclusion of the name reading, we will be holding a closing ceremony. We encourage all students to take a moment from amid the celebration on Old Campus to come and reflect with us. The ceremony and the 24-hour reading will help us remember the horrors that were and that, we hope, will never be again.
Daniel Hoffman is a sophomore in Branford College. He is the religious and cultural vice president for Hillel.