Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Tenth of Tevet
To dedicate this lesson

Why Is Remembering the Holocaust Important?

At first glance, the question regarding the purpose of remembering the Holocaust appears strange. Is it not obvious that we must remember what the modern-day Amalek did to us just as we must remember what the original Amalek did to us?


Various Rabbis

Nissan 5768
Once, on Seder Night, I entered a synagogue and found a slip of paper on which it was written, "Even when you are happy, remember the Holocaust."

On another occasion – the night of the Tenth of Tevet – I was preparing my school ceremony for the Yom HaKadish HaKlali (a Yartzeit day for victims of the Holocaust whose date of death is unknown). I had decided to have a passage read from a speech given by a government minister regarding the lesson of the Holocaust. The idea expressed was that Israel needs an army of our own to protect itself. While preparing, I turned on the radio and happened to hear the very same minister announcing, "Shall we live by the sword forever? We must take a calculated risk and let Fatah fight Hamas for us."

This being the case, what importance does remembering the Holocaust really hold?

"Know where you come from"
Rabbi Aryeh Hendler
When recalling painful events, especially those bound up with the Holocaust, the anguish is sometimes more than one can bear. Because the Holocaust was a national tragedy, the pain looms even larger. The passages read, the music, the testimonials – together they weave a fabric of utter distress.

The question we must ask ourselves is this: Where does the pain lead us? It appears that the deceased are being duly honored. Through our pain we say that we remember them. Yet, is this what they would want of us? To remember, to show honor – nothing more?

It would appear that this matter extends beyond the question of Holocaust remembrance. The question is, what is the importance of historical recollection in general. The answer to this should lead us to a different and more penetrating approach to historical memory in general and Holocaust memory in particular.

The Sages say, "Know where you come from and where you are going." There are commentators who explain: "Know where you come from" so that you will be able to "know where you are going." The study of history in general, especially Holocaust recollection, ought to be a cornerstone, a landmark in our personal and national lives.

Knowledge of our past teaches us our virtues and shortcomings, and, hence, the great mission that rests on our shoulders to change that which calls for change and to carry on that which must be carried on.

Precisely the Holocaust, one of the most extreme events experienced by our people, has caused many issues to rise to the surface, values that we, who recall the Holocaust, must address: on a personal level, issues such as the human spirit, mutual responsibility, humanism, confrontation with crises, the family unit, faith, etc.; on a national level, issues such as exile and redemption, the Land of Israel, the Nation of Israel, etc.

This is where the importance of Holocaust remembrance comes in. "Know…where you are going." We must ask ourselves what we have learned. How do we advance as a result of this painful remembrance? Are we ready to take responsibility? Are we ready to accept the great task with which our martyred brethren have entrusted us?

Such remembrance will become a building block in our personal and national future. And a mound of such building blocks, blocks of remembrance, will become a "hand and name" to their remembrance, honor, and testament…

Remember in Order to Act
Rabbi Avraham Wasserman
At first glance, the question regarding the purpose of remembering the Holocaust appears strange. Is it not obvious that we must remember what the modern-day Amalek did to us just as we must remember what the original Amalek did?

Yet, at second glance, there is room to question the purpose of recalling the deeds of the original Amalek as well.

The Rambam explains (Sefer HaMitzvot, Aseh 189) that "remembering the actions of Amalek serves to ignite our hatred of him, and as a result we will remember that there is an obligation to wipe him out, and therefore we will wage war against him."

We find, then, that the purpose of remembrance is to bring practical results. Bearing this in mind, what is the purpose of remembering the modern-day Amalek?

We are not commanded in the Torah to wipe out the German people and their accomplices. Neither do we find any such tendency in Jewish legal writings after the Holocaust. Therefore, in appears that our remembrance should be directed toward a number of important matters that are bound up with our national existence:

First, we must not underestimate the danger of anti-Semitic statements. Such words formed the breeding ground upon which the Holocaust sprouted.

Second, we cannot depend upon others to save us from our enemies. After all, such foreign powers did not save us then; they even turned away our survivors and sent them back to their deaths.

Third, when there is an opportunity to move toward the return of the Jewish people to its land, it must be seized upon. We cannot allow such an opportunity to pass as it did in the years preceding the Holocaust when Jews could immigrate to Israel or flee from places of danger.

In addition, it would appear that Rambam’s words can be applied to anti-Semitic elements in our own time. We must ignite hatred against them and not fail as King Saul did when he had mercy on Agag the Amalekite king. Failure of this sort lays the ground for the next calamity. If such elements are set free they will rise up and attack us with even greater force. This was the case with Haman who descended from Agag, and we too have witnessed such things this in recent generations.

We must, then, hate and call for war against those who rise up against us to destroy us. True, it does not sound good and it does not appear to suit us, but in truth there is nothing that suits us more, as Scripture testifies, "I will hate those, O Lord, who hate You" (Psalms 139), and "Happy shall he be who repays you for what you have done to us" (ibid. 137).

Inappropriate mercy constitutes a serious threat to our existence. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. We must hate the modern successors of the Nazis and take all measures necessary to destroy them.
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