“6 Million Memories” was the headline on today’s paper. Today was Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. It started last night at 8 p.m. and ended tonight same time, as do most Jewish religious occurrences. The newspapers are filled with pictures and stories of the survivors and those who honor them. The radio stations and television channels trade their 24-hour news cycles and programming to story after story after story, each one sadder and more heart-rending than the one that preceded it. How can one listen to more than three or four or five stories? Yet how can you change the station or channel or turn it off?
6 million memories: they can’t be the memories of the dead. Their memories are dead with them. Besides, each of the dead had many more memories than just the last one before he or she died. There were also the memories of the infinite cruelty of the guards, the soldiers, the police, the officials, the neighbors, and those who turned a cold shoulder. That would be 6 billion memories at least. No, 6 million memories are the memories of the survivors, living people who remember their murdered parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and children, people who knew someone who shared a crust of bread or a blanket or a smile, someone who knew a name or a number. These memories are also dying because the numbers of survivors is dwindling, but also because the people who didn’t know someone are running out of interest or compassion.
Some professor was being interviewed on the radio last night while I was driving home from work. He spoke Hebrew in a high shaky voice in a heavy European accent, slowly, haltingly. I don’t remember his name. He told of a rabbi who had said there were non-Jewish people who envied us our holocaust. They wanted to take it from us. The rabbi said, “You know what? They are right … I’d much rather be killed than be a killer.” Maybe that explains why so many Jews walked inexplicably like lambs into the gas chambers without putting up a fight.
Another thing the professor said about the impact of the holocaust on Jewish belief in God: there were those who believed in God before the holocaust but stopped believing in Him after it, there were those who did not believe in God before the holocaust and started believing in Him after it, and there were those who believed before and after the holocaust. I don’t believe God had anything at all to do with the holocaust. He couldn’t have prevented the death of a single infant from the hands of evil. There is no weaker force in nature or physics than the Will of God.
At 10 a.m. the sirens sounded for two minutes around the country. Everybody stopped what he or she was doing, stopped talking, and stood up, heads bowed, arms by their sides. The siren goes through you, resonates in you, until you become this wailing, this music.
I know I would not have survived one day of the holocaust, or maybe I would have.