Remembering the Holocaust: Doing Justice to its Memory

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I used to think about the Holocaust all the time. It didn’t happen so long ago. Six million Jewish people were murdered not so long ago. Millions of other people were also targeted and murdered, including those from the Roma and LGBTQ communities and those who were disabled, as well as communists and other political activists, and many others.
As a young woman, I worked for the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and heard stories of survivors from across the globe. I had their stories etched in my heart and deeply in my soul.  I learned that Never Again meant that we had to fight with courage and dignity so that it would never again happen to Jews or to anyone, anywhere.
Several days ago, I saw Paula Vogel’s play, “Indecent,” about the Yiddish play, “The God of Vengeance,” written in 1907 by Sholem Asch. “Indecent” is so deeply moving and multi-layered that I felt compelled to see it a second time. The central character, who tells the story of the play’s performances, is the stage manager and former tailor, Lemml.  Lemml traveled with the play from Europe to the US (where it was shut down for “indecency”) and back to Europe.
There is a scene towards the end that continues to haunt me. The scene has Lemml and the actors wearing Jewish stars and performing the play—the God of Vengeance”in an attic in the Lodz Ghetto right before they are exterminated by the Nazis.
I was not only haunted by seeing the Jewish stars prominently displayed on the actors as they performed with such soul and passion in the attic. I was also haunted because I realized that, in recent years, I had pushed out of my heart, the stories, the experiences of those Jews who lived their lives and then were destroyed by the brutality of the Holocaust. My heart sank as I watched the scene, feeling overwhelmed with emotion, realizing I had allowed my feelings and memories to shut down. I knew I had done this, unintentionally, in reaction to the way the Holocaust has been so abused and mis-used by the Israeli government and its supporters to justify Israel’s behavior, and, in effect, the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and land before and during Israel’s creation.
I won’t let that happen anymore.
The Holocaust (and pogroms before that) brought about the destruction of thriving Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, from where my family comes. The lives–and deaths–of the Jews who lived within these communities and others is a story that has influenced who I am today. I grew up in a home that was lit up by the Yiddish songs my father sang and played on the piano. The story of Jews and the lives they lived in Eastern Europe and of the Holocaust is a history I have always known, have wanted to know in detail, and which has shaped who I am in the world. It has shaped my commitment to valuing and honoring people’s cultures and histories; my commitment to challenging anti-Semitism; my commitment to challenging all forms of injustice; my commitment to hearing the voices of the six million Jews who were murdered call to me, never again, for anybody—not in the U.S., not in Palestine, not anywhere; and my commitment to movements dedicated to insuring that nobody is robbed of their homes, their dignity, their lives.
Through the process of remembering, I want to live a life that does justice to those memories. I won’t allow Israel’s abuse of the memory of the Holocaust to take away that remembering of the lives lived and lost, or the responsibility that comes with it, from my being and from how I live my life.
Donna Nevela community psychologist and educator, is a founding member of the Network Against Islamophobia; Facing the Nakba; and Jews Say No!, and was a co-founder of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ).