Yom Hashoah, 2012
One of my most vivid memories from Israel was visiting Yad Vashem,* the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Every inch was hard to look at, but two things stand out. The first thing you come to is The Avenue of the Righteous, a tree-lined path with markers inscribed with the names of Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews. It was particularly striking that this part of Yad Vashem was put right up front, not tucked away in a remote corner of the property. A special place of honor…
Inside, the Memorial is arranged in chronological order. As you weave back and forth across the central hallway—no shortcuts—you see the progression: discrimination, limiting civil rights, boycotting Jewish businesses, revocation of citizenship, expulsion, Kristallnacht, destruction of synagogues, work camps, slave labor, extermination camps. I didn’t cry until I reached the last room. There, I saw a baby’s bib from Germany embroidered with “Liebchen” (darling). Exiting that room, there’s a ramp up to a big picture window, looking out onto the land of Israel. After all the unspeakable horror, there was this: we’re here. That’s the second thing from Yad Vashem that I will never forget.
You see, the Holocaust didn’t begin with ovens; it began with discrimination. Once it has been decided by the majority that the minority are not their social equals, cruelty and violence surely follow. When the majority decides that they are being persecuted by the minority, it spells destruction for the minority. We are, at this moment in America, teetering at the top of the same kind of slippery slope that led to the murder of six million Jews and left a stain on Germany that will last a thousand years; Noam Chomsky describes it well.
If you are part of the majority, ask yourself the next time an illegal immigrant is denied medical treatment, or an unarmed black teenager is shot by a vigilante: am I allowing an injustice to happen? If I say nothing, am I also guilty?
*The origin of the name is from a Biblical verse: “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (Yad Vashem) that shall not be cut off.” –Isaiah 56:5
The illustration at the top is a papercut I did right after returning from my first trip to Israel.