Interfaith Understandings
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April, 2013 YomHaShoah

What is YomHaShoah?  Why should all Christians know about it?  Observe it?
In Hebrew, YomHaShoah is the Day of the Shoah, or the Day of Remembrance of the Shoah.  The word, Shoah, is the Jewish preferred word one should use when describing the Holocaust.   Most of us know what the Holocaust is and was, and the word Holocaust, for better or worse, is what academia and history have used to describe the event, but the meaning of the word, Holocaust, means “whole burnt offering”.   And there was nothing voluntary about the genocide that describes this event about which we usually think, nor was it an offering of any type on the part of the Jewish people.  The term, Shoah, on the other hand, means “total annihilation” and is a much better fitting word to describe what the Nazi regime was trying to do to the Jewish people from 1933-45.  Millions lost their lives during this catastrophe, both Jews and others, in a state sponsored regime of terror.  We will never know where millions of our human family members breathed their last breath, or lie buried, if they were even buried.   Many were cremated, and at Auschwitz, one of the killing centers that has come to symbolize the entire event, there are places in the ground where the human bone meal is ten feet deep.   Many may ask, “Why are we still studying that event?”  “Why are we still bringing it up?”  “That was over 60 years ago.”  Yehuda Bauer, a scholar who has written extensively about the Shoah, wrote a history of the event in the 1980s.  Twenty years later, in 2001, he went back and wrote another text, Rethinking the Holocaust, asking the same questions, “Why are we still reflecting on this?”  “Why are we still making movies about this event?”  “Why are there Holocaust memorials in countries that never even had a role in the event, like in Japan, or even the United States?”  His conclusion was that this one event has so gripped the minds of rational human beings, that it has become a paradigm of evil that we cannot help but continue to revisit it to try to understand how such evil could be unleashed in a civilized era.  
Perhaps Freud was right when he wrote his Civilization and Its Discontents in the early 30s before he even witnessed the Holocaust.  Freud saw the human race not as peace loving creatures who were interested in building bridges of understanding with one another, but as extremely aggressive and sexual creatures who were frustrated by all the laws and rules society had imposed on them, causing them severe neuroses.  He predicted that in trying to deal with all our neuroses of being restrained from our aggressive and highly charged sexual natures, the human race was about to lash out even more aggressively that even was our nature, to the point where we could destroy civilization.  If we look at the Holocaust, and the nuclear weapons that were dropped at the end of WW II, and the various genocides since then (Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Bosnian ethnic cleansing, Darfur, etc) he wasn’t far off.  We continue to study the Holocaust today because we have to.  We have to try to understand how we, as a civilized people in the 20th century, came to be mass murderers.  If we are to have a future on this planet, we need to better understand our fallen nature and to see if there is any hope for the future.  Freud, however, was an atheist.  He did not let God into the picture.   He had not room for the Hebrew Scriptures even though his parents were devout Jews.  And he certainly had no room for Christians, who were trying to “love one another”.  Perhaps if he had listened more closely to the messages of faith, he would have seen hope for the future.  If he understood we cannot do this alone, that the human race needs its creator in order to bring about the peaceable kingdom, he might have written a bit differently.
Each April, however, the Jewish world and many believers alongside them, focus on that hope.  We remember all those who died such tragic deaths, and we hold them in our hearts.  Recalling someone’s life keeps that person with us in the present.  We pray for one another today, that we may never again go back to such barbarity and such hatred.   All around the world, there will be prayers of mourning and prayers of hope in remembrances in cities, on college campuses, in synagogues and in some churches that call us to remember that some laid down their lives, quite unwillingly to ugly persecutors and haters, but that a loving God gathered them home.  May we pause sometime this month to attend a remembrance service or to sit and pause and reflect ourselves on all the wonderful people whose lives were cut short by this hatred.  May we vow once more: “Never again, Never again!”