“Everything is Forbidden to Us, and Yet We Do Everything” – The Struggle to Maintain the Human Spirit during the Holocaust
Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah in Hebrew) is a national day of commemoration in Israel, on which the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust are memorialized.
Yom Hashoah is a solemn day, beginning at sunset on the 27th of the month of Nisan (April 4, 2016) and ending the following evening, according to the traditional Jewish custom. Places of entertainment are closed and memorial ceremonies are held throughout the country.
The central ceremonies, in the evening and the following morning, are held at Yad Vashem and are broadcast on the television. Marking the start of the day-in the presence of the President of the State of Israel and the Prime Minister, dignitaries, survivors, children of survivors and their families, gather together with the general public to take part in the memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem in which six torches, representing the six million murdered Jews, are lit.
The following morning, the ceremony at Yad Vashem begins with the sounding of a siren for two minutes throughout the entire country. For the duration of the sounding, work is halted, people walking in the streets stop, cars pull off to the side of the road and everybody stands at silent attention in reverence to the victims of the Holocaust. Afterward, the focus of the ceremony at Yad Vashem is the laying of wreaths at the foot of the six torches, by dignitaries and the representatives of survivor groups and institutions.
Other sites of remembrance in Israel, such as the Ghetto Fighters’ Kibbutz and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, also host memorial ceremonies, as do schools, military bases, municipalities and places of work. Throughout the day, both the television and radio broadcast programs about the Holocaust. In recent years, other countries and Jewish communities have adopted Yom Hashoah, the 27th of Nisan, to mark their own day of memorial for the victims of the Holocaust.
The central theme for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 2016 is “Everything is Forbidden to Us, and Yet We Do Everything” – The Struggle to Maintain the Human Spirit during the Holocaust.
From their rise to power, the Nazis strove to exclude all Jews from the human race. They did not recoil from any means to accomplish that goal, and implemented a policy of racist oppression and legalized terror against the Jews. The Jews were isolated, cut off, singled out and starved. The Nazi process of dehumanization eventually became a systematic campaign of extermination, wherein approximately six million Jews were murdered.
Everywhere the Nazi regime reached, it acted to rupture the very structures of Jewish life, both communal and familial. Among other steps, they attempted to annihilate the Jewish spirit and culture. Therefore, one of the Nazis’ first acts was the destruction of synagogues, and the outlawing of Jewish prayer and public assembly. Confronting this reality, the Jewish community found itself moving anxiously between self-preservation and disintegration, between dire crisis and persistent efforts to create communal frameworks that might facilitate continued physical and spiritual existence.
Even today, the atrocities perpetrated by and in the name of Nazi Germany throughout Europe elicit challenging questions regarding the abyss to which humanity can descend. At the same time, the horrors of the period also illustrate how high the human spirit can soar, as evidenced in the actions and sacrifice of the persecuted, as Jews and as human beings. Even today, over 70 years after the Holocaust, we are inspired by the spiritual fortitude of those who upheld their ethics and values in a world in which these had collapsed around them.
Many of those who struggled to maintain and preserve the human spirit did not survive the horrors of the Holocaust, but their deeds and actions are a reminder to future generations of the stamina and the nobility of the human spirit.