The Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews is one of the greatest atrocities in world history. The number represents two-thirds of Europe’s Jews and includes one-and-a-half million children and babies. And it occurred in the midst of “civilized” (and “Christian”!) nations.
Yet it is not only out of respect for the victims that we commemorate the Holocaust every year with Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is because the Jewish people continue to be the object of murderous hostility and because the nation of Israel faces an ongoing existential threat.
There are numerous maps depicting Israel’s precarious situation, despite its formidable military arsenal and defense forces. The Jewish state looks like a tiny sliver in the midst of the surrounding Islamic nations, quite a few of which still want to see Israel wiped off the map.
And Israel’s enemies are quick to predict the utter destruction of the nation. In the words of an Iranian army chief last year, “We will destroy the Zionist entity at lightning speed, and thus shorten the 25 years it still has left.”
All threats aside, at any given moment, there are tens of thousands of rockets pointed at Israel. (In 2015, Israel estimated that Hezbollah alone had 150,000 rockets.)
Israel’s enemies are also quick to use Holocaust language when threatening the Jewish people, to the point that, in 2009, pro-Hamas demonstrators in Fort Lauderdale, Florida called for “bigger ovens” for the Jews.
On a regular basis, our pro-Israel YouTube videos are greeted with the most profane, hateful, even murderous comments imaginable. (We delete or report them, but not until we take screenshots.) These comments share common themes, including: the Holocaust never happened; or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, we need to finish what Hitler started; or, today’s Jews are not really Jews, but they are responsible for all the world’s problems.
The most recent post I spotted referred to the Jews as “disgusting evil lying people”; claimed the Holocaust was a Jewish myth, branding it the “holohoax” and “the lie of the century”; suggested that Jews today need to repay Germany for Holocaust reparations; and ended with this incoherent line: “if you scream Hamas in a Tel Aviv street they start hiding under tables but they wouldn't hide from the Nazis.”
As for Hamas, despite its relative weakness when compared to the IDF, it is noteworthy that protesters in the recent Gaza uprising displayed a swastika sandwiched between two Palestinian flags.
As for life under the more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, three children’s schools are named after Nazi collaborators. This is along with more than two dozen schools that are named after contemporary Palestinian terrorists. In that sense, the memory of the Holocaust is hardly distant.
On a more personal level, last month, Jews around the world were shocked to learn of the brutal slaying of an 85-year-old, female Holocaust survivor in France. And her murder comes just “a year after an Orthodox Jewish woman in her sixties was beaten and thrown out of the window of her Paris flat by a neighbor shouting ‘Allahu Akhbar’ (God is greatest).”
I’m aware, of course, that some of our people overuse the Holocaust, depicting us as little better than helpless and hapless victims. To the contrary, we are hardly defenseless today. And, to the Palestinians, the Israelis are perceived as the powerful occupying presence.
But the reality is that the modern state of Israel was born out of the ashes of the Holocaust. And it was born with the mantra of, “Never again.”
And if you’ve ever studied the Torah, or if you’re familiar with Judaism, you know there’s a strong emphasis on “remembering,” both the good and the bad. So, we do well to continue to remember the Holocaust, especially as it is rapidly fading from the memory of others.
In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Much of what the Bible demands can be comprised in one imperative: Remember!”