Progressively Speaking: What’s the meaning of Yom HaShoah today?
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Progressively Speaking: What’s the meaning of Yom HaShoah today?

Senior Reform rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner reflects on the annual day of Holocaust commemoration

Laura Janner-Klausner

Laura Janner-Klausner is a senior rabbi at the Movement for Reform Judaism

Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp. (Photo credit: The Church of Scotland/PA Wire)
Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp. (Photo credit: The Church of Scotland/PA Wire)

This week we mark Yom HaShoah, our Holocaust memorial day. In my life, the legacy of the Shoah has been unavoidable. While my grandfather escaped Lithuania aged three, the rest of my family was rounded up with their community and locked inside their synagogue by the Nazis and their collaborators, before the building was burnt to the ground with them inside. Two thousand people died.

With the legacy of the Shoah echoing so loudly in my past, it is perhaps unsurprising I, like many in my generation, tried to distance myself from the trauma. It is easier to try to separate oneself from the nightmare that ripped our families and our communities in half. I only visited Poland for the first time last year with March of the Living UK to confront this scarring memory.

I was blessed to participate in one of our greatest actions of defiance – the same number of Jews as were killed every two days in Auschwitz now celebrating our survival in the very same place.

We don’t have the luxury of hiding from the terrors of the Shoah. We implore one another to ‘never forget’ because there will always be the temptation to unburden ourselves from carrying the weight of our people’s suffering. It is our duty to carry the memories of the six million with us and to stand in defiance of those who spread hate – against us, or any other community.

The date of Yom HaShoah is vitally important. While the UK Holocaust Memorial Day was chosen to coincide with the liberation of Auschwitz, Yom HaShoah was chosen in connection to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when thousands of Jews chose to take a stand against oppression and against insurmountable odds. This is a date that doesn’t call for passive memory – it calls us to act.

At no time in the 70 years since has it seemed as possible that those who weaponise fear and hate could once again gain power. Around the world, we already see what happens when division is sown: violence, whether against Jews in Pittsburgh or San Diego, Muslims in New Zealand or Christians in Sri Lanka. We say the horrors of the Shoah should never happen again. Yom HaShoah demands we go beyond a slogan and make “never again” a reality for all people.

  •  Laura Janner-Klausner is the Senior Rabbi of Reform Judaism
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