Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) *UPDATED*

As a Jew, the Holocaust is always with me.  When I whine about something (which I often do), I’m instantly stricken with guilt because I know that, 70 years ago, across Europe, women with lives similar to mine (middle-aged, middle-class) were suddenly pitched into a nightmarish maelstrom from which there was no escape.

Am I shlepping heavy groceries from the car?  At least I have food.  Do those new shoes I bought pinch my feet?  Not only am I shod, but my shoes haven’t been stripped from my body as a preliminary to herding me into a gas chamber.  Am I feeling a bit ill or suffering a migraine?  I could be laboring in the quarry at Mauthausen, starved, diseased, abused, and alone.

I don’t have survivor’s guilt.  I have second-generation survivor’s guilt.  On the one hand, I know how lucky I am and how blessed my life is.  On the other hand, I can never, ever escape the mental images of those who thought they had my luck, only to see it vanish as if it had never happened.

We only think we’re not on the volcano’s edge.  We all are.  It’s just that some of us have lives that allow us to pretend the sulfurous fumes aren’t actually rising up around us.  I may not live a Hobbesian life at this moment, but there is actually very little between me and a moral entropy that threatens violence and horrible death.

One day a year, we take the inchoate guilt and anxiety that plague most Jews (and many non-Jews?) and declare it an official remembrance day.  That day is Yom Hashoah.  With every passing year, there are fewer people alive who have first hand memories of the Holocaust.  It is therefore up to us to carry the torch and try, through the act of memory, to beat back the darkness surrounding us.

Here is my post on the Holocaust, one that looks at those who lived through it, those who escape from it, and those who were pitched into a Pacific, rather than European, Holocaust.

Here is Bruce Kesler’s post about the village that saw his family’s end.

Here is The Political Commentator’s post.

And here is a link to a book that Bruce recommended: Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. The book isn’t actually about Europe as a whole.  It’s about a specific geographic area bounded by Germany and the Soviet Union, but one that tellingly did not include Germany itself or the core Soviet States.  It was in this territory, Belarus, Poland, the Ukraine, etc., that the Nazis and the Soviets put into effect the greatest killing effort in human history, something that would not be seen again until Mao visited his Great Leap Forward on his own hapless Chinese people.

In this geographic area — the Bloodlands of the title — the Soviets and the Nazis systematically starved, shot, gassed, and creatively killed millions of fellow Europeans, many of whom the Nazis shipped in from far-flung geographic points.  The victims’ crime?  They were enemies of the state, whether because they were Jews, gypsies, farmers, POWs from the opposing side’s armies, political dissidents, political ignoramuses, or anything or anyone else the state feared.

The book’s lesson is clear from the first page:  While one can easily find individuals with no conscience, an individual’s reach is limited.  That’s not the case when it comes to a start whose citizens allow it to seize unfettered power.  A state that has no conscience (and when does a state collective ever have a soul?) can too easily become a killing machine.

When savvy people figure out that I’m a conservative, they often ask why.  I think they are surprised when I don’t launch into a long discourse about policies and goals.  I say only one thing:  “I fear anything that consolidates too much power.  The bigger an entity, the more mischief it can do.  I like to keep political power reasonable diffused.  A government should be big enough to be useful, but not so big that it becomes both unstoppable and very dangerous.”

UPDATEBenjamin Netanyahu’s Yom Hashoah speech.

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  • Alix

    Book — I completely agree with what you are saying in this post. But maybe you can help me with a question I’ve pondered for years. Sometimes, when I am depressed or upset, I will also think about someone less fortunate, or people who have to go through life with disabilities or have had terrible crimes done to them or their families, fatal car accidents, etc. — and then I feel better because my life has none of those tragedies.  But then — I feel guilty for making myself feel better using their misfortunes to do it!  Am I happy others are worse off so I can feel better?  I hope not but I am not sure…

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    I know precisely what you mean, Alix.  It’s so easy to shade from counting your own blessings as compared to the sufferings of others, to fearing that you’re committing schadenfreude which is, I think, one of the great emotional sins.

    I think, though, that there is a huge difference between gratitude and either schadenfreude or just using others as a stepping stone to your own emotional happiness.  We should be grateful for the blessings of our lives — and do what we reasonable can to extend those same blessings to the greatest number of people.

    As for me, I happen to think that freedom, as the Founder’s envisioned, is the best way to benefit the greatest number of people, and so I work for that with my writing and my vote.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    “freedom from evil” would be the only affirmative right I would support.

     But not “freedom from stupidity”.


  • Wolf Howling

    Some years ago, I visited Buchenwald, site of one of the infamous Nazi concentration camps, but by no means the worst.  There were hundreds of pictures on the walls documenting life in that little piece of hell on earth, one worse than the other, but none have stuck in my mind.  What did overwhelm me, and what leaves me with chills to this day, is strolling into the camp grounds.  It was dotted with the small slightly raised plots of land, each approximately 10 feet by 15 to 25 feet,  Each of these were a mass grave.  A plaque at each of the plots gave the number of people buried in the small grave, with the numbers ranging from a low of 1,500 to a high of close to 10,000.  Estimates are that 55,000 living, breathing people had come to the camp, then either been tortured and executed, died as a result of medical experimentation, or, for the vast majority, been worked and starved to death – all on an industrial scale.  The crime of these victims was simply their religion or nationality.  Looking at those small plots was truly overwhelming.  It was to stand in the midst of evil of such magnitude as to strain comprehension.         


  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    One of the most frightening things is that if you’d looked at Europe circa 1920…and tried to guess which country was most likely to engage in an insane and murderous level of anti-Semitism…you probably would not have picked Germany. Indeed, I’ve read that up through the early 1930s, Jews from Eastern Europe were moving *to* Germany, which they saw as a refuge from the pograms.

    It seems that a society can go mad pretty quickly.

  • Beth

    Hello Bookworm–so glad you posted your thoughts.  While my husband was in the military, we were fortunate enough to be stationed in Germany–seven years total.  I cannot tell you how many times I think about or have thought about the equivalent non-Jewish German housewife to me in 1930’s-40’s Germany just trying to make her home a heart-felt place for her husband and children…and to have to face THAT.  Did they know?  How could they not?  I have struggled with the thoughts for such a long time, many times sadly (ignorantly) thinking that the average German knew what was going on and they just let it happen.  And then, not but a month ago, I turned to my husband one evening and said, Yes, now I am understanding what they were faced with–propaganda.  They were told lie after lie after lie.  I still have many questions and as with the Wolf posted above, the scenes from the camps just haunt me.  How could people have let that happen—I don’t even want to think about the ones who actually did the horrific deeds.  That fear is palpable.
    So when I get together with my friends, I speak up about what is truly going on in our own country.  There may be some things we cannot change or stop but we can at least try.  We MUST talk about the truth of what is happening here.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    The best book I have read about the social dynamics in Germany between the wars, which led to the rise and (temporary) triumph of Naziism, is Sebastian Haffner’s memoir, which I reviewed at length here.

    Recently I read The Approaching Storm by Nora Waln, which covers basically the same period–she was an American woman who lived in Germany from 1933-1938. She was of Quaker background, and I really had expected that by the end of the book she would have renounced her pacifism utterly, but she never quite got there, and even in 1938 retained a hope that the German people would get rid of Naziism in some unspecified way.

    Trying to find out more about the author, I googled her and found this original TIME magazine review of the book, from 1939. I could only read the first part since I’m not a subscriber, but thought it pretty horrifying that TIME was still, in 1939, seeming to think that the greatest danger was that the Western powers would judge Germany too harshly and “start a war” with it.

  • Alix

    Book –
    Thanks for your heartfelt reply — I feel much better now — I am sure I feel gratitude.

  • Beth

    Thanks, David, for the reading recommendations–adding them to my summer list.

  • gpc31

    Moving because not moving, everyone at attention:

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Wolf Howling:  Visiting the camps is an overwhelming experience, isn’t it?  I haven’t been to the major camps, but I’ve been to Mauthausen.  What stays with me is the stone quarry, with it’s hundreds of steps.  I can only too vividly imagine starving, abused people hauling rocks up those steps and then, despairing, hurling themselves from those same steps into the deep water at the base of the quarry.

    David Foster:  I find my own country unrecognizable from what it was twenty or thirty years ago — and I don’t mean the new buildings, I mean the new ethos, one shaped way too much by political correctness and related Leftist intellectual takeovers.  Thanks for the reading list, by the way.  I’m struggling with Bloodlands, not because it’s badly written, but because it’s so terrifying.

    Beth:  In the same way going to a camp changes your perspective, so does being “in country.”  I’ve visited Germany a couple of times and found it delightful.  That makes it all the more unreal, and terribly frightening, that ordinary German housewives could so quickly morph into killers or their victims.

    Alix:  Glad to be of service.  😉

    gpc31:  You’re right — for kinetic Israel to be so still is incredibly moving.  I shared this one on my “real me” Facebook account.


  • Beth

    If you are still on this thread, I want to thank you again, David Foster, for recommending Defying Hitler: A memoir by Sebastian Haffner.  I just finished it.  If I could afford it, I would buy 100 copies and start passing them around.  Truly astounding.  My one copy will pass through many hands.  Would that everyone in the US read first-hand about losing self to the collective, dismissing personal responsibility.  Remembering your comments regarding it’s difficulty in digesting, I will begin Bloodlands later today.
    Thank you for your blog, Bookworm.  I’m just a simple, not all that educated (a bachelors degree but hey, what’s THAT these days?), stay-at-home mom raising 8 children.  I began homeschooling the five youngest three years ago using a classical curriculum, and it has made a huge difference in the life of our family.  We are off the hamster-wheel so to speak.  Our days are filled with history, poetry, music and math; science centered on what is true and literature that leads us to beauty.  We are becoming individuals again.  I am learning oh so much as I teach our children.  Your blog truly helps me keep things in perspective with the rest of the world; not only your posts but the comments as well–thanks everyone!
    God Bless you and yours,

  • Mike Devx

    A truly wonderful post, Beth.  It is fantastic to know there are people like you and yours out there, fighting the good fight.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Beth: There is nothing simple about raising eight (!) children.  My two exhaust me.  You must be an extraordinary woman, and I’m quite honored you make time for my blog.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    If 90% of the human species dies off in a totalitarian economic control plan, we’re going to need those children to repopulate the Earth.