Healing the past….teaching the future

Published 9:22 am Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yom HaShoah.

Those words may be foreign to you, but they are key to keeping world and American history alive.

Yom HaShoah is the well-known Hebrew phrase for Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is observed worldwide Thursday. “Shoah” is translated to “destruction” and is a term used for the Holocaust.

As most already know, the Holocaust is one of the darkest occurrences in human history; a state-ordered systematic murder of an estimated 11-17 million people, of which 6 million were Jews. The atrocities were committed by Nazi Germany under the ruling of Adolf Hitler.

Gas chambers, forced labor, imprisonment, executions, humiliation, starvation and medical experiments are just a handful of the torture and torment dealt to Holocaust victims.

Stories and testimonies shared by survivors of death camps as well as photographs and films have documented the atrocities.     The words and images are enough to shake you to your very soul.

But even in the most horrifying of times, stories of survival and heroism are prevalent as well. Even in the worst of times, heroes have a way of rising from the darkness.

While Holocaust Remembrance Day is set aside for reflection and commemorating those who died it also recognizes the anniversary of the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland.

In 1940, the Nazis, in their occupation of Poland, began to concentrate the country’s more than three million Jews into small ghettos. From the ghettos, Jews would be deported to concentration camps for imprisonment and execution.

In addition to meeting this demise, disease and starvation were rampant in the ghettos.

After the announcement of the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1942 and the deportation of “able-bodied” occupants to labor camps, the people began to rebel and fight back. Armed with little ammunition, “ghetto fighters” began to organize resistance groups, including the Jewish Combat Organization and the Jewish Military Union.

While there were some victories for the occupants of the Warsaw Ghetto (including staving off some deportations), the Nazis defeated the resistance fighters. Eventually the ghetto was liquidated and the remaining Jews sent to labor camps.

Though it would seem the effort was futile, the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto went on to inspire other uprisings during the Holocaust, including in the Bialustok and Minsk ghettos and the Treblinka and Sobibor death camps.

As horrendous as the Holocaust was it is vital to keep this part of history alive. The emotion of hate is only as potent as we let it be. Remembering is not just about healing, but teaching the future.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: amanda.vanderbroek@r-cnews.com or call (252) 332-7209.