Yom HaShoah and the World Conscience

Hello friends, I wanted to write a few lines about a day of national observance that just passed here in Israel, Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Observance Day.  The day is marked on Israeli calendars soon after the Passover holidays, and immediately preceding the holidays marked to commemorate and memorialize the fallen soldiers who fought for Israel's existence (Yom HaZicharon) and Israel's Independence Day (Yom HaAtzmaut).

The ceremony of Yom HaShoah is broadcast across Israel and the world from Yad VaShem in Jerusalem, where the Prime Minister and the President of Israel, along with Holocaust survivors and their families, light six lamps in honor of the six million Jews killed by the Third Reich.  At sunset, sirens are sounded in every populated area in Israel for a whole minute and life stops in the streets and schools of Israel.  The same sirens are sounded the next morning and I saw pictures in Haaretz and other Israeli publications of people stopping their cars in the middle of the street and standing beside them while the sirens went off.

Professor Frosh, who teaches my Mass Communication in Israel class, said that the Yom HaShoah ceremony is marked by a "national mood shift" in all available media.  National radio and television stations broadcast programming that reflects the somber nature of the days surrounding Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZicharon.  Music, movies and shows focus on the era of World War II and the loss suffered by the Jews and others at the hands of the Nazi regime.

He also explained that the date was selected for Yom HaShoah because of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising which was occurring at this time in 1943.  I would recommend the film The Pianist which details the resistance from within the ghetto and the crushing counterassault leveled by the SS.  It is also something for me to live in French Hill on Lohamei HaGeta'ot Street, which means Fighters of the Ghettos.

I was impressed with a sense of sobriety and reflection on the day when the sirens sounded at exactly 10AM.  I am reading a fantastic book by Israeli author Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness.  I cannot recommend this book enough, it is thoughtful and brilliant and harrowing and delightful.  He is writing about his family who all came from Russian and Polish towns before going to Palestine.  They were all very reluctant to come to the Middle East and would have preferred to stay in Europe where they were more culturally comfortable.  Oz describes his father's brother, David, who stayed behind while the family went to Palestine to flee persecution in Polish Vilna.  This passage is taken from page 106 of the book:

Uncle David saw himself as a child of his time: a distinguished, multicultural, multilingual, fluent, enlightened European and a decidedly modern man.  He despised prejudices and ethnic hatreds, and he was resolved never to give in to lowbrow racists, chauvinists, demagogues, and benighted, prejudice-ridden anti-Semites, whose raucous voices promised "death to the Jews" and barked at him from the walls: "Go to Palestine!"
To Palestine?  Definitely not: a man of his stamp would not take his young bride and infant son, defect from the front line and run away to hide from the violence of a noisy rabble in some drought-stricken Levantine province, where a few desperate Jews tried their hand at establishing a segregationist armed nationhood that, ironically, they had apparently learned from the worst of their foes.
No, he would definitely stay here in Vilna, at his post, in one of the most vital forward trenches of that rational, broad-minded, tolerant, and liberal European enlightenment that was now fighting for its existences against the waves of barbarism that were threatening to engulf it.  Here he would stand, for he could do no other.
To the end. 
I think the most important idea I came away with from my undergrad class on the Holocaust was the sense of how many Jews in Europe were either dedicated to that continent and were confident in its modern, egalitarian character and those who were trapped where they were and would have had nowhere to run even with the means to do so.  There were many who sensed the danger about them and attempted to flee, only to be repulsed by other nations (including the UK, Canada and United States) and sometimes sent back into the waiting arms of the Nazis.  Others, like David Klausner described above, refused to leave their countries due to their faith in European ideals and were killed for it, along with millions of others.

A few days ago, I finished reading a book by the UN Force Commander who was present during the genocide in Rwanda.  This book made the point that the world's conscience should have been seared by the memory of the Holocaust sufficient to prevent any similar, subsequent targeting of groups for wholesale extermination.  Romeo Dallaire, the author, laid bare his personal feelings of failure and uselessness while the slaughter occurred around him and I have to wonder: does the world have a conscience?  Does it have a memory?  Can it be trusted to learn from these horrific killings and prevent future genocides?


  1. I remember that day and the sirens...really sobering. I just added Amos Oz' book to my to-read list!

  2. It's Friday, and that means that the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up - and you're on it!

    Here is the link:


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