Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day (or Yom HaShoah to Israelis, Shoah meaning “destruction” in the Bible), and while many commemorations are for joyful circumstances, this one is for the terrible and unprecedented murder and torture of over 15 million Jews during the World War II era.
The deaths of over 6 million Jews were caused by the most infamous character in recent history: Adolf Hitler, Nazi leader of the German Third Reich. Hitler’s plan involved so-called “Ethnic Cleansing”, the desire to create a “pure” identity and get rid of “impure” races and beliefs, a group that included Jews, Christians, and the mentally and physically disabled. After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the new Nazi government passed laws to limit Jewish interaction with other Germans, and slowly de-humanized them in the public eye. Jews were deprived of the jobs, education, and privileges given freely to other Germans, and concentration camps were built to contain opponents of the new regime. Those with an alleged genetic disorder were to be “sterilized,” and their offspring were killed. This was only the beginning of genocide.
In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws stripped Jews of their citizenship and forbid the intermarriage of Jews and Germans. By 1939, more than half of the German Jewish population had left, including some of my ancestors. As Germany expanded before and during World War II, the countries annexed abided by the same laws, and Jews from every country occupied were forced to lie in ghettos, forcibly separated from the rest of the world. Around 1941, the concentration camps started to replace the ghettos as Jews were forced into heavy labor. Death was caused by exhaustion, being shot, or being sent into gas chambers intended for mass murder. Countless Literal Death Marches occurred before the liberation of the camps in 1945 with the fall of the Third Reich, but the damage had already been done. Upon the liberation of the camps, many Jews were displaced, and eventually found a home in the new nation of Israel created in 1948, while others remained in the United States.
Last year, I visited the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. and I was shocked by how little I had thought about the Holocaust and it’s significance before that point. I do not usually recommend reading or watching more about something as terrible as this, but I will do that today, because this is an event in history that cannot be overlooked. Though I give it little justice with my sliver of descriptions of its terror, I hope that you learn more from the individual stories told by the soldiers upon liberating the camps. Many have lost family members to this genocide, and we need to continue sharing this story so that this great suffering will not be overlooked.