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What we SHOULD have learned from The Holocaust

April 4, 2010

This morning my aunt, who I love dearly, forwarded to me the following chain message, which she had received from a friend:

At this time of Passover & Easter, please pass this message along:

Holocaust Remembrance Day –  May 2

This message asks you to do one small act to remember the six million (6,000,000) Jewish lives that were lost during the Holocaust.

Send this message to everyone you know who is Jewish. If we reach the goal of reaching six million e-mail names before May 2, we will fulfill and give back to God what He gave to us: 6 million Jews who are alive today who remember those who perished.

Please send this message and ask them to also forward it to others.

Here’s my response:

According to Wikipedia (, estimates of death toll in World War II range from 50 million to over 70 million.

If Judiasm is ever to recover the status it once enjoyed as a religion of moral authority and righteousness from its current tarnished state, one necessary step will be to recognize that our losses were only a small fraction of the total. The reason to remember those who perished at the hands of Nazi aggression is not because they were Jewish (or gay, or Catholic, or gypsies, or victims of the London Blitz, etc. ad nauseum), it’s because the potential for extremism which can spring from the toxic mix of self-pity, economic desperation and tribalism run amok (or racism, to call it by its proper name) is a stain on our entire species. Such evil is much more than an affront to a particular people; it is a crime against all that we strive to be as humans.

The Holocaust was a terrible tragedy. But to call it a Jewish tragedy is to narrow it beyond all good sense. It’s long past time to set aside self-pity; wallowing in it only amplifies the very themes which set it in motion.* We have a higher duty, and if the overall message of renewal and rescue of holidays like Passover and Easter have any value whatsoever, it’s as a reminder that from the ashes of death come new beginnings. This year, let’s begin to remember that our pain is neither exceptional nor is it more sacred than that of any others.

So, if remembrance of the dead is an appropriate theme of Passover, let us remember that the potential for great evil exists wherever people elevate their selfish interests far above their equally-native – or God-given, if you prefer – sense of justice and compassion. Tribal and parochial interests pale to insignificance in the face of our duty to foster the capacity for humane action across our entire species. Hemingway got it wrong — the bell does not toll for thee; it tolls for all of us.

So, yes, let’s remember. But let’s remember that for every one Jew who died in The Holocaust, 10 others also died. And what kind of people have we become if we don’t also honor them?

* Specifically: Hitler came to power by exploiting the rage and desperation created by the economic chaos that resulted from the reparations from WW I.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. David Graves permalink
    April 8, 2010 12:17 pm

    Powerful article Adam.

  2. Liz S-F permalink
    April 14, 2010 12:24 pm

    I had a similar discussion on this topic with my sons yesterday. A true memorial to the Holocaust would be sincere political interventions that eliminate all genocides from our planet.

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