Ron Jager
Ron Jager Courtesy

The United Nations General Assembly designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this annual day of commemoration, the UN urges every member state to honor the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides.

Yet as we commemorate the most pivotal event in the history of the world during the last millennium — the Holocaust, one cannot escape the sense of déjà vu as we witness Jews being shot in synagogues or being bullied and physically attacked as they walk the streets of major American and European cities. The demarcation and desecration of Jewish stores, cemeteries, and institutions have become daily events. This “new normal” is familiar, if not eerily identical, to events that took place during the years of the Holocaust and is reminiscent of how the world largely stood silently by as Jews were singled out, as has been the case throughout the generations.

Today, 77 years after the Holocaust, for most American Jews, remembering and commemorating the Holocaust is a fundamental component of what being Jewish means In a Pew Research Poll “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” in response to the question “What’s Essential to Being Jewish?” the No. 1 “essential” was “remembering the Holocaust.” Seventy-three percent of respondents listed the Holocaust as the primary essential of Jewish identity as opposed to, for example, “Leading an Ethical and Moral Life” (69 percent), “Caring about Israel” (43 percent), and “Observing Jewish law” (19 percent).

What makes these research results significant in terms of how American Jews define their Jewish identity in regard to the Holocaust is that America is a tolerant, open, and accepting society for Jews. American Jews are free to practice their faith as they wish and yet they still regard the Holocaust central to their Jewish identity despite the Holocaust occurring on a different continent, many years ago, and not in the country that they live in.

Yet despite this overwhelming admission by American Jews and despite the daily anti-Semitic events occurring throughout America on a personal and communal level, more and more voices can be heard stating that it’s time for Jews to get over the Holocaust and suggest that now is the time for Jews to move on and refrain from making the Holocaust the most pivotal event in Jewish history.

For many liberal and progressive Jewish academicians, mankind has been perpetrating horrible atrocities on other human beings for centuries. They seem genuinely puzzled as to why Holocaust denial is even considered a crime in over a dozen countries. As far as they are concerned; why should denial of a historical event even be considered a crime, something detrimental to society?

Historical events, as earth-shattering and history-ending as they seem at the time, eventually fade from the forefront of public consciousness and become memory. When Holocaust survivors will no longer be around and when there is no more opportunity to let children and educators hear firsthand testimony of the Holocaust, will the Holocaust be just another event studied in world history classes? Will all of the effort that has gone into recording testimonies of the Holocaust be enough to preserve historical memory in terms of the magnitude and uniqueness of the Holocaust?

There are few historical events that have undergone greater scrutiny and preservation. Perhaps we can even acknowledge that we’ve done enough to ensure that the Holocaust can never be forgotten. In a moral world, in a world that differentiates between good and evil, right and wrong, this kind of preservation of historical memory would probably suffice. However, today in the age of cultural relativism and “woke” values, in which so much of what is broadcasted or sent over the internet is viewed through the prism of progressive ideology; facts and evidence are not enough. The enemies of the Jews falsely claim that the Jews exaggerate and that the Holocaust was made up so as to justify the establishment of the State of Israel, but they take this one step further and maliciously claim that Israel itself is implementing a Holocaust on the Palestinian Arabs living in the 'West Bank'.

Sadly, ...many Jews in America as well as here in Israel such as our Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, are not immune from the politically correct trivialization of the Holocaust and acceptance of universalism as the intellectual context of interpreting the significance of the Holocaust.
Sadly yet not surprising, many Jews in America as well as here in Israel such as our Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, are not immune from the politically correct trivialization of the Holocaust and acceptance of universalism as the intellectual context of interpreting the significance of the Holocaust. The Jewish people made a conscious effort to rebuild and redeem themselves out of the ashes of the Holocaust. Those that regard the Holocaust as just another unfortunate historical event cannot be depended on to understand that for Jews throughout the world and for the State of Israel, we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that “never again” will not remain an empty slogan.

Those who depict the Holocaust as just another historical event should be reminded of what the Holocaust was all about. In Daniel Mendelsohn’s book, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, he describes in detail the core horror of Nazi action in collaboration with locals in Bolechow, Poland, in September 1942:

“The story of Mrs. Grynberg was a horrible episode. The Ukrainians and Germans, who had broken into her house, found her giving birth. The weeping entreaties of bystanders didn’t help and she was taken from her home in a nightshirt and dragged into the square in front of the town hall. There, she was dragged onto a dumpster in the yard of the town hall with a crowd of Ukrainians present, who cracked jokes and jeered and watched the pain of childbirth as she gave birth to a child. The child was immediately torn from her arms along with its umbilical cord and thrown. It was trampled by the crowd and she was stood on her feet as blood poured out of her. She stood that way for a few hours by the wall of the town hall, afterwards she went with all the others to the train station where they loaded her into a carriage in a train to Belzec.”

The enormity of the Holocaust, with the majority of European Jewry being systematically murdered, is a singular event that defies comparison. In retrospect, the Holocaust compels Jews to confront their own Jewishness. After such unspeakable events such as the one described above, every Jew must look inside themselves and consider: Hitler tried to exterminate my people and the world stood by in silence. Will I, through apathy, indifference and the universalization of the Holocaust, become a partner to Hitler? Or will my life convey a testimony to the glory of the Jewish people and its resurrection from the ashes?

That is the real reason that it’s not the time for Jews to “get over and move beyond” the Holocaust nor to agree to rebrand the Holocaust as just another sad episode in world history.

Ron Jager grew up in the South Bronx of New York City, making Aliyah in 1980. Served for 25 years in the IDF as a Mental Health Field Officer in operational units. Prior to retiring was Commander of the Central Psychiatric Clinic for Reserve Solders at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring has been involved in strategic consultancy to NGO's and communities in the Gaza Envelope on resiliency projects to assist first responders and communities. Ron has written numerous articles for outlets in Israel and abroad focusing on Israel and the Jewish world. Contact: medconf@gmail.com Website: www.ronjager.com