Very few of us really want to think about Yom Hashoah. Yes, there are the intrepid educators and idealists among us, who do such things as enroll in the graduate program at Yeshiva University’s Emil and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, or learn about the Holocaust at the Gross Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Ramapo College or the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Project at Montclair State. That is extremely important work.
But for many of us, the nightmare stories are overwhelming. If studying the worst horrors of the Holocaust could stop even one person from being tortured or murdered, then we’d do it in a heartbeat, but history doesn’t work that way.
The people who are doing the work of making the rest of us remember are doing extraordinarily good, important, hard-to-do things. I can’t do it, but I am exceedingly grateful to the people who both can and do.
One of the themes that has struck me as I’ve assembled this week’s paper, in preparation for Yom Hashoah, is that there is a great deal of active good in the world.
Take the story of Chiune Sugihara, who risked his career, and even his life, and his family’s, to defy his emperor’s order as he kept writing visas, visa after visa after visa, because he felt it was his duty to save as many people as possible. He didn’t have to do that.
How did he have the strength and courage to do it anyway?
Take the story of Raoul Wallenberg — we’ll write about him soon — who not only risked but lost his life as he saved Jews. He didn’t have to do that. How did he have the strength and courage to do it anyway?
Take the story of Abe Foxman, who we wrote about last week. His nanny saved his life, endangering her own, as she pretended that he was her own little Catholic son. She didn’t have to do that. How did she have the strength and courage to do it anyway?
Those are stories we already know, but it’s also true that although the Holocaust seems to have brought out reserves of strength and courage they never knew they had in many people — certainly not in everybody, but in unpredictable people — we see signs of goodness all around us. Because we do not live in a dire situation, they require less courage than the Holocaust demanded of good people, but they take time, energy, devotion, and love nonetheless.
Take, for example, the story of the burn camp in this week’s paper. Sam Davis didn’t have to start that camp, a yearly refuge for children who have been burned, an Israeli place for children of any background who qualify for it. He’s working with a niche population; had he not started the camp, there just would have been more pain and less joy in their lives. He’s doing something to help people, out of sheer goodness.
There are many such organizations, started by people who feel impelled to help other people, just because they can and they believe that they should.
The world is starting to feel dangerous. The political meltdown in Israel; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, just because Putin wanted what he saw as the glory that comes with it; the nasty, seemingly reflexive growing political tensions here; the rise of gun violence that leads to the deaths of children who are blown apart by assault rifles.
None of this is good.
There is so much good in the world, though. Even if we can’t do active good ourselves, at least we can see it, recognize it, value it, and work toward it. Even that would help make the world a better place.