A story is told of a rabbi watching a group of Germans digging in the garden of a wealthy Jew dispatched to Auschwitz. They dug in search of gold and jewels. “These Gentiles,” the rabbi scoffed, “are so foolish searching for our gold and not what we have, which is more valuable.”
The rabbi’s neighbor was surprised: “What do we have more valuable than our gold?”
Reply: “Our stories.”
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, a commemoration of countless stories of courage and faith in the face of unrelenting evil. Jan. 27th was chosen by the United Nations because that’s the day the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated. As a German-American, I feel this day is as vital as ever to remember what some deny. Sadly, many more don’t know basic facts of the Holocaust.
A February 2018 survey suggests 41 percent of all Americans — including two-thirds of Millennials — know nothing about Auschwitz. While some 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, 31 percent of Americans surveyed guessed only 2 million Jews were killed. Such numbers, of course, speak of generalities. Each and every person who died was the victim of murder. Yet only 45 percent of Americans surveyed could name even one of the 40,000 concentration camps and ghettoes across Europe. And 81 percent of us have never visited a Holocaust museum.
Texas is fortunate to have a number of compelling Holocaust museums in Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. Sadly, last year a placard reading “Fake News!” defaced the San Antonio Holocaust Museum. On a brighter note, the Houston Holocaust Museum is reopening this June after a $34 million expansion.
Closer to home, the Dallas Holocaust Museum for Education and Tolerance showcases an actual boxcar that delivered Jews to their deaths at the camps as well as the compelling stories of the more than 125 Jewish survivors who lived in Texas after the Holocaust. Check out its website and schedule featuring many films and speakers. A special exhibit, in place till July, focuses on teenage victim and diarist Ann Frank.
Every year the Greater Waco Interfaith Council holds a Holocaust Remembrance Service. I hope you take time to attend this year’s event. Waco is also the home of the Baylor Oral History Project which has a wonderful resource available online called “19 Texas Liberators.” It tells the stories of Texas soldiers in World War II involved in liberating extermination camps across Europe. In 2017, Robinson Junior High School teacher Cheryl Holland won an award from the Texas Holocaust & Genocide Commission for her efforts to teach local students about the Holocaust.
Why remember the Holocaust? Consider what has happened in the Congo, Cambodia, Rwanda, the Sudan, Bosnia and beyond. These tragedies are not only historical but contemporary. What has happened can happen again. Countless slurs and attacks unchecked pave the road for genocide.
Today, xenophobic and anti-Semitic hatred is on the rise. It must be confronted at every turn. Speaking of children sent to the gas chambers and ovens of Auschwitz, camp survivor Elie Wiesel wrote: “Never shall I forget the little faces of those children whose bodies turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky…. to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” Indeed.