Six Million  

Posted by inkstainedhands in , , ,

When reading books about the Holocaust or stories from survivors, or watching grainy black and white videos and looking at photographs from which haunted dark eyes stare back at you, there are not enough words to describe the emotions raging inside. Horrified, shocked, confused, mournful, overwhelmed. But words cannot express the depth of those emotions. Words cannot express how I feel as I put a bookmark in the book I am reading because I simply cannot go on. I need a few minutes to internalize it and to allow myself to feel and go through the thoughts whirling in my head. I exhale loudly and close my eyes.

Most of us grew up with an awareness of the Holocaust. Many of us are familiar with the number six million. It is something we know, something we acknowledge. But at the same time, it is a statistic. It is a number. We see the six million as a whole, instead of trying to wrap our minds around the fact that these were six million individuals. For some reason, when we think of a number that big, we fail to grasp the enormity of the tragedy.

This thought particularly struck me as I was reading Dr. Hillel Seidman's The Warsaw Ghetto Diaries, which chronicle his experiences during the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he faithfully wrote in a diary all of what was happening around him. He would often scribble down reports of events even as they were happening, anxious to have everything on paper. In his introduction to the book, Dr. Hillel Seidman recounts how the other Warsaw residents, knowing that he was a talented published writer, encouraged him to “transcribe all Warsaw’s travails and tribulations, a written record for future generations, so that the world should eventually learn the truth” (p. 33). When atrocities are committed, such as those of the Germans against the Jews, it is inevitable that there will later be attempts at denying those happenings. Holocaust deniers are rampant now, despite the fact that not even a century has elapsed since the tragedy. In a world where there are still people with numbers branded on their arms and horrifying stories experienced first-hand, many simply choose to ignore the facts and – out of their hatred for the Jews – spitefully insist that the Holocaust was a hoax. The only way to counter that is by spreading knowledge and teaching facts to as many people as possible, and the accounts of those who witnessed these horrors and lived through them is the perfect conduit. Dr. Seidman’s objective was to show future generations what really happened – that the Holocaust was not just one big horror story but a traumatizing, torturous experience that millions of Jews as real as ourselves had to suffer through. Although it was both difficult and extremely dangerous to keep these diaries, Dr. Seidman persisted, knowing that this was something worth working for, because people had to learn of these things somehow. Leaving a record for the world was especially important considering that the Nazis were careful not to leave written records of the crimes they committed. Although Dr. Seidman did not know whether his diaries would ever be read, a Warsaw businessman named Reb Berel Gefen reminded him of a passage in Avot -- Ethics of the Fathers (2:16) that said, “The work is not up to you to complete. Nor are you free to shirk the responsibility…” (p. 36). And indeed, most of what we know today about the Holocaust is because of the diaries of victims and the stories of survivors. Dr. Seidman knew he had to do whatever he could, both to transcribe what was happening and to leave memories of himself and those around him; the rest was in the hands of G-d. His goal was merely to write the truth and not allow it to be lost, destroyed, or mangled.

It was this particular sentence that struck me: "Every day Warsaw loses another 7000 innocent victims." Think about it.... Seven thousand innocent people were being senselessly slaughtered each day. Seven thousand people who could have done so much with their lives were brutally denied the right to live. It is easier to imagine seven thousand people in your mind than a million, so perhaps that was why this sentence had such an effect on me.

And that is something that encourages me to live my life to the fullest and strive to make a difference, because I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity that millions of Jews were denied.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 29, 2009 at Thursday, October 29, 2009 and is filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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