Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) begins tonight, in the evening of Wednesday, April 18, 2012, and ends in the evening of Thursday, April 19, 2012.
I lost members of my family in the Holocaust; the same is equally true for countless thousands of people in Los Angeles. Others came here who escaped with their lives and still others, people from Los Angeles or living here now, risked their lives or otherwise labored to stop the genocide and tyranny that was Hitler and his Holocaust. So Los Angeles, like most places around the world, still feels the stamp of those most terrifying and despicable of events.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is our time for contemplation about ourselves and humanity, concerning what happened and what must never be allowed to happen again.
There are many ways of memorializing, of remembering. At this time, across this city, throughout the nation and all over the globe, people condemn the horrors of the Holocaust and honor those who were sacrificed. Individually and collectively, we promise never to forget and never again to allow such monstrosities to happen.
That's why, earlier today in City Hall, we held a special presentation in remembrance. I was honored to invite and introduce the two special guests. One was Jean Greenstein. He is a living testimony to survival for he embodies, remarkably, what a human being can do in the face of the grimmest and most formidable odds. Jean Greenstein fought in the resistance against the Nazi regime, infiltrated the German Army and was even able to infiltrate that most malignant of entities, the SS. In so doing, he was able to save lives, during the course of his near-miraculous journey of survival and triumph. Now living happily in Los Angeles, Jean Greenstein speaks as often as twice a month at the Museum of Tolerance. I encourage you to go and meet and hear him, because he and his amazing story are quite moving and inspiring.
The other guest in City Hall today was Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky from B’nai David. He is from the Pico Robertson area of the Fifth District and is greatly respected and treasured for his insight and leadership. I asked him to help put in perspective what maybe never can be truly measured, and that is the obscenity that was the Holocaust and what it wrought and what might be learned. So I would like to close this letter by wishing you the best at this important time, and by sharing the comments of Rabbi Kanefsky.
Los Angeles City Councilmember, 5th District
Left to right: Councilmember Paul Koretz, Jean Greenstein, Rabbi
Why is it important to recall this event, to retell this story?
The Jewish people has a primal responsibility to do so for its own sake. This is the story of what happened to us, to our families and communities. Between 1939 and 1945 Nazi Germany and others whom they enlisted systematically stripped 9,000,000 of our people of their humanity, forcing them out of their homes and into ghettos and concentration camps - sometimes they just marched them into forests on the edge of town - and by the time the war was over, they managed to kill 2/3 of them, 6,000,000 in all. Of Poland’s pre-war Jewish population of 3.3 million, only 300,000 remained alive at the war’s end. To paraphrase the Passover seder… if we were alive there and then, it would have happened to us, our husbands/wives, our parents, children, brothers and sisters and cousins… It is our story, and if Jewish peoplehood is to mean anything, we have to make sure that our children and their children know our story
But we don’t tell the story just for our own sake. The story is much bigger than us. And we tell it for everybody’s sake. It’s a story about:
How irrationally one group can hate another group. A group that is different in religion, nationality, sexual orientation. All of these groups were victims of the Nazis. It’s a story about how people can dehumanize and even demonize the “other”. It’s a story that compels us all to acknowledge that there’s a dark side to human nature, including yours and mine, whose arousal we have to guard ourselves against.
It’s a story about the way in which terrible things happen when we are indifferent to a threat that is facing others. Our son, who recently visited Poland, was most shocked by his visit to a forest just outside a Polish village, where all of the Jewish residents had been taken, and shot to death. There was no way of getting to the forest without walking through the middle of the village. Everyone saw. Everyone knew. We tell the story of the Holocaust to remember the lethal price of indifference.
It’s also a story about the greatness of the human spirit:
Luba, a camp nurse in Bergen Belsen who risked her life daily to keep 54 orphans alive until the war was over.
Fritz the Wanderer, a Dutch Calvinist preacher who went from town to town, one step ahead of the Nazis, inspiring people to hide Jews in their homes, saving hundreds and hundreds of lives.
Raul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat in Budapest Hungary who jeopardized his life, placing a hundred thousand Jews under the protection of the Swedish government, literally pulling off the trains that were about to deport them to their deaths in Auschwitz.
We tell the story in order to preserve Anne Frank’s crushed vision:
I still believe in spite of everything
that people really are good at heart.
And the skies will be bright,
and it will all come right,
and a springtime of peace will start.
-- Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, B’nai David-Judea