The Shoah (“catastrophe”) was not a plague or pandemic. It was caused by human beings and intentionally targeted specific groups of people. In the space of six years, 1/3 of all Jews living were murdered, starved or tortured to death, or died of disease. An unknown number took their own lives. Along with Jews, Romany, people with disabilities, queer people, and others were specifically targeted; and millions of other people, soldiers and civilians, suffered and died as well.
Jews in particular were systematically humiliated and degraded as well as murdered. While we were not the only ones who suffered, we occupied a central and horrible place in Nazi ideology.
Now, especially, we are reminded that what we thought was safely in the past may return. As with Amalek, an ancient Biblical enemy to whom the Nazis are sometimes compared, we are commanded never to forget. For if “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it,” then remembering what happened and honoring our dead is part of our survival — as Jews and as human beings.
This is the poem I read during the service:
With the assent of my eyes which saw parents bereaved
And piled shrieks upon my overburdened heart
With the assent of my compassion which schooled me to pardon
Until there came days too terrible to forgive
I have sworn this vow: To remember it all,
To remember — and not to forget one thing.
Not to forget one thing — to the last generation
Until my humiliations subside, till they are over, till they’re gone,
Until all my painful lessons are completed for good.
Lest for naught shall pass the night of wrath
Lest in the morning I return to my fleshpot
Having learned nothing this time, either.
— written in the 1940s by Israeli poet Avraham Shlonsky,
translated by Rabbi Debora S. Gordon
A recording by Israeli singer Izhar Cohen: With Yom HaShoah iconography (candles, yellow star, barbed wire, Israeli flag, yellow Yizkor “remember” in Hebrew) or with a static view of the record album.
Zachor זָכוֹר Remember.