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Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day

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Yom HaShoah -

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Shoah (שׁוֹאָה) is the Hebrew word for "destruction" and is another name used to refer to the European Holocaust, when six million Jews - including one and a half million children - were systematically and ruthlessly murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

Yom HaShoah (יוֹם הַשּׁוֹאָה), or Holocaust Remembrance Day, takes place on the 27th of the month of Nisan (Mar/Apr), and was established as a national holiday by the Israeli Knesset on August 19, 1953. During this day, in Israel, a morning siren sounds, all activity stops, and people stand in honor of those who died. Jews around the world hold memorials and vigils, often lighting six candles in honor of the six million Holocaust victims. Many hold name-reading ceremonies to memorialize those who were murdered.

Never Again

Before it was established as a national holiday by the Knesset in 1953, there were many rabbis who objected to its establishment because Tishah B'Av already commemorated the multiple tragedies of the Jewish people. These rabbis reasoned that were it not for the exile caused by the destruction of the Second Temple (as recalled during Tishah B'Av), the European Holocaust itself would not have occurred, and therefore an additional holiday was superfluous. Nevertheless, the emotional pain of the Holocaust was so great that the objection of the rabbis was overruled by the people, and the only question left was when Yom HaShoah should be observed. Many people called for a Nisan 15 date, since that marked the time of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but since Nisan 15 marks the second day of Passover, it was rejected. After various other dates were suggested, Nisan 27 was finally adopted -- after Passover Week but still during the time of the Waraw uprising. Note that in modern Israel, Yom HaShoah is more usually called Yom HaZikaron la'Shoah ve-la'Gevurah (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה), "Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day."

Since it is a relatively recent holiday, there are no specific rituals associated with Yom HaShoah, and synagogue observance varies from congregation to congregation. The overwhelming theme that runs through all observances is the importance of remembering-- recalling the victims of this catastrophe, and insuring that such a tragedy never happen again.

Often synagogue services will include a ritual of lighting six candles (for the six million victims), while naming a particular location of atrocity when lighting each one (e.g., Buchenwald). Some ceremonies have people read from the Book of Names for certain lengths of time in an effort to remember those that died and to give an understanding of the huge number of victims. Sometimes these ceremonies are held in a cemetery or near a Holocaust memorial. Kaddish is often recited for them. Individuals who lost family members during the Holocaust will light a yahrzeit (memorial) candle on this day.

Note that some ultra-Orthodox Rabbis still do not observe Yom HaShoah, but commemorate the long history of anti-Semitism during Tisha B'Av, the Ninth of Av. They reason that remembering the European Holocaust recalls a singular event, whereas anti-Semitism has a long and bloody history where thousands and millions have perished over the millennial (for example, recall the two conquests of Israel, the destruction of the two Temples, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Pogroms, the Intifada - etc.).

The Meaning of the Shoah

Although volumes have been written about the meaning of the Holocaust, I see in it the ultimate triumph of the individual Jewish spirit over the oppression of the nation state and its inherent tendency to assimilate the individual as a slave to the collective.

Hitler (YH"SH, Y'Sh) was a child of the (spurious) German philosopher G.W. Hegel (as was F. Nietzsche), who attempted to eradicate truth as unchanging reality and subsume the individual as part of the dynamism (i.e., dialectic) of the State (Volksgemeinschaft). For Hegel and his kind, the free individual and the individual's relationship to God was to be "contradicted" by the historical forces of the nation state, a dialectical interplay that gave expression to "Absolute Spirit" (a codeword for secular humanism).

Propositional truth was no longer considered sacrosanct, but was (cynically) considered to be a pragmatic tool to manipulate people. Propaganda, deconstruction, conspiracy theories, scapegoating, Big Brotherism, and phony terror alerts all were used by the fascists to create "truth" that served the supposed interests of the State. 

Since the Jew represented a devotion to One who transcends the exigencies of historical processes and contingencies, he became the enemy of the fascist State:

    "The fundamental distinction in Hitler's thought was between those willing to surrender their lives, submit to the nation and community, and those not willing to do so. The Aryan or good Nazi represented an individual who was willing to sacrifice unconditionally, while Jews represented persons who were unwilling to sacrifice. Jews symbolized for Hitler the negation of Nazism and its ideology: lack of faith in Germany, the persistence of individuality, and refusal to bow down to the sacred community. The Final Solution was undertaken in order to demonstrate that Jews would not be exempt from the obligation to submit to the nation-state. They too-like the German soldier-would be obligated to sacrifice themselves-to die for the country." - Richard Koenigsberg, The Sacrificial Meaning of the Holocaust

By the Sovereign Hand of God, after the horror of the Holocaust was fully disclosed to the world community at the end of World War II, in 1947 the United Nations voted in favor of the Zionist plan of securing an independent Jewish state in Palestine (today this would be impossible, given the rampant anti-Jewish sentiment consistently evidenced by the UN ever since this historic vote). Thus the horrors of the Holocaust eventually resulted in the great blessing of the regathering of the Jewish people back to their ancient homeland - and the establishment of the modern state of Israel.

Prophetically, the existence of the state of Israel today is one of the greatest miracles of all time, a "super sign" that the God of Israel is Master of the Universe and in control of the fate of nations. God has regathered His original covenant people back to the land of promise, and the second advent of the Mashiach Yeshua is at hand! Though Yom HaShoah is a poignant and sad commemoration, ultimately it heralds the acharit hayamim (the end of days) and foretells the final redemption of the Jewish people.

Overlooked Victims of the Holocaust

Elie Wiesel, a Jewish survivor of the Shoah, has said, "while not all victims were Jews, all Jews were victims," and it is imperative to remember that Jewish people were the primary targets of Nazi murder. However, it is also important to give remembrance to the sixteen to twenty million non-Jewish victims of Nazi hatred as well, including the following groups:


Number Killed


5.5-7 million

Russian POWs

3.3 million +

Russian Civilians

2 million +

Polish Gentiles 

3 million +


1.5 million +


200,000 - 500,000

Mentally/Physically Disabled

70,000- 250,000


Tens of thousands

Spanish Republicans 

Tens of thousands

Others (including Protestant Resistors) 

Tens of thousands

Jehovah's Witnesses 

2,500 - 5,000

Table information assembled from figures quoted by Karen Silverstrim (Overlooked Millions: Non-Jewish Victims of the Holocaust).

Edward Lucaire notes that the best-kept secret in the U.S. about the Holocaust is that Poland lost six million citizens or about one-fifth of its population: three million of the dead were Polish Christians, predominantly Catholic, and the other three million were Polish Jews. The second best-kept secret of the Holocaust is the greatest number of Gentile rescuers of Jews were Poles, despite the fact that only in Poland were people (and their loved ones) immediately executed if caught trying to save Jews (for more information, please see

PostScript: A Warning about our Age

We see terrifying analogues of a fascist worldview in our postmodern world today. The traditional view that "truth" is a correspondence between reality and language has been largely abandoned. Today, as it was in Hitler's Germany, truth is cynically regarded as a "construct" of interpretation driven by the will to power. Literary deconstruction and fascism go hand in hand. Hegel's dialectic (i.e., the devil's syncretistic logic) is still at work in the halls of power to this very day, and therefore the message of Yom HaShoah is a message for all of us to resist tyranny and the political forces that seek to enslave us. As Soren Kierkegaard so ably demonstrated, the faith of the individual and the individual's relationship to God is the power that overcomes the forces of darkness in this world.

Please don't close your eyes...

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(c) Yad VaShem

Additional Information about the Holocaust

Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, was established in 1953 by an act of the Israeli Knesset. Since its inception, Yad Vashem has been entrusted with documenting the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust period, preserving the memory and story of each of the six million victims, and imparting the legacy of the Holocaust for generations to come through its archives, library, school, museums and recognition of the Righteous Among the Nations.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is America's national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history, and serves as this country's memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust.

The Nizkor Project
Dedicated to 12 million Holocaust victims who suffered and died at the hands of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime. Has a good section on refuting Holocaust denial and historical revisionism.

Anne Frank Center USA
Web site for the Anne Frank Center USA, an educational center founded in 1977. Features an online scrapbook titled Anne's Story, and The Diary, a history of Anne Frank's diary with excerpts. Includes information about a traveling exhibition, Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945.

The Shoah Foundation
Founded by Steven Spielberg to videotape and preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. See also this link for Schindler's List.

The Nazi Holocaust
An academic site that looks at various issues connected with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Online exhibit and essay on the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the few German church leaders who stood in opposition to the Nazi state. Written by Victoria Barnett on behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Corrie Ten Boon
An abbreviated version (6500 words) of the true story of Corrie Ten Boon (adapted from her book The Hiding Place, (ISBN 0340208457) which was also made into a film of the same name (by Worldwide Films).

Righteous Gentiles
This website is devoted to those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. The site includes five oral histories, biographies, and photographs of rescuers.

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