I don’t remember the first time I learned about the Holocaust. I went to a Jewish preschool and Hebrew school. I knew about the holidays and culture. But I didn’t know the dark history lurking beneath the celebratory hum of prayers, spinning dreidels, tasty hamantaschen and crunchy matzah.
I didn’t know those were things people were targeted for — simply for being Jewish.
As I made my way through the youth section of my temple’s library, I started piecing things together. My mom told me I asked why a lot of the Jewish books were so sad.
I distinctly remember reading “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit,” based on the experiences of author Judith Kerr and her family. It’s a tale of fleeing Nazi Germany, told through a child’s perspective. Anna, the little girl in the story, has to leave her pink rabbit.
I couldn’t imagine leaving behind my own pink doll at that age.
Now, I realize it is a story of how Hitler not only killed, but also stole childhoods. The book has a happy ending: The family escapes. But the same isn’t true for the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis regime or the millions more, like Anna, bearing the memories of trauma.
That book was my first peek into a past some people try to forget or deny, while some people perpetuate the hatred that allowed it to happen.
As Yom HaShoah reminds us, it is something we can never forget and never let happen again. “Never forget” and “never again” are two slogans the world uses about the Holocaust.
In my first year at the University of Florida, I took a class called “Beyond the Memory of the Holocaust.” We analyzed historical and artistic presentations of the Shoah. No matter how much I learned, how much I read or how much I analyzed, piecing together the destruction of lives and the spite with which it was done was nearly impossible.
It is a time when it feels as if evil won, though stories of heroes in some of the worst moments of humanity twinkle on.
People recall Anne Frank, whose diary lives on, showing the humanity and strength of Jews trying to survive the unthinkable and live with a semblance of normalcy. I also think often of Petr Ginz, whose art and writing show a young boy using his talents to grapple with what he saw as his certain end.
We cannot let the lights of the Holocaust fade out. Our generation must carry on the story and keep saying, “Never forget” and “Never again.”
Relieving the Shoah is a crushing experience. It’s unfathomable. How could it happen? Why are Jews still targeted today?
Recent events in Parkland, Fla., started a new movement. The slogan for Marjory Stoneman Douglas students’ March for Our Lives was “never again.” This phrase threads together two tragedies and highlights the power and responsibility of young people to say, “We will not let this happen again.”
In this age of social media and a whirring news cycle, hate happens. The story gets covered and fades out of mind as the next big event happens. But heroes today use the tactic of past heroes to overcome hatred.
The faces of the March for Our Lives refuse to let their story fade. It is up to our generation to change things. The power is in our hands.
Just as the Parkland students relive the terror of Feb. 14 to make a difference, survivors of the Holocaust share their stories to say, “Never again” and “Never forget.” Their truths illustrate the worst and best of humanity.
As society grapples with anti-Semitism, we lead the way as the generation activating against hatred. Though it is hard, we must remember and reflect.
A few years ago I visited Yad Vashem. I remember standing in the Hall of Names, a circular room enveloping me in the faces of an event often remembered in numbers and dates. The subtle drips in the pool below were all I heard as I spun around the room.
As I left the museum, I overlooked the landscape of Israel. The expanse reminded me of the future and the responsibility we hold to remember the stories that room holds. Time moves on, but we cannot forget.
Unless you’re reminded, the Shoah is not something in your thoughts. Your attention is pulled to everyday life, not the Holocaust. Yom HaShoah reminds everyone to stop and think.
The sad truth is that few survivors are left to tell their stories. It is on us to carry on their message and honor them. Think of those we lost and those who survived. Amplify your voice to tell their stories, inspire those around you and activate against people trying to deny history. It’s our turn to write history.
Sophie Feinberg of Miami, a sophomore in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, is an intern at UF Hillel.