Shoah U’gevurah – Holocaust and Heroism

Posted on April 21, 2020 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck

Today is Yom HaShoah, the day established by the Knesset in April 1951 to be the official day of Holocaust remembrance for Israel and the Jewish people. In 1953 the Knesset appropriately renamed this day yom hashoah v’hag’vura, the Day of Holocaust and Heroism. The date, the 27th of Nisan, was chosen for its proximity to the date of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which occurred on the first day of Passover. It is also appropriately just nine days before Yom HaAtzma’ut, Israel Independence Day.

The Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum explains the significance of the proximity of Yom HaShoah to Passover. At first, he notes, the survivors were reluctant to tell the stories of their trials and sufferings because they wanted to focus on the future, not on the past. Only later did they begin to offer testimony out of loyalty to those who were murdered, and especially to guard against the dangers of forgetfulness.

Pesach, too, reflects on the past not to generate pity for the victims of slavery, nor to glorify the moment of liberation, but with an eye to the future, to foster hope for redemption yet to come. It is no coincidence that the Ghetto Fighters chose to rise up on the eve of Passover and that Yom HaShoah is linked to their heroic struggle and the day of redemption past and future.

Seen in this light, Yom HaShoah takes on deeper meaning. Remembrance is critical, of course, for many reasons. But the deeper meaning of Yom HaShoah is to be found in its focus on life and hope-on the future. This is the legacy of the martyrs and of the survivors – tenacity, resilience, and the will to live. As Elie Wiesel has written, heroism was not limited to the fighters. Merely to live as a Jew during the Holocaust was an act of defiance and resistance.

“The Jew who refused death, who refused to believe in death, who chose to marry in the ghetto, to circumcise his son, to teach him the sacred language, to bind him to the threatened and weakened lineage of Israel-that Jew was resisting,” wrote Wiesel. (A Jew Today, p. 10)

It is important to recall that the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah – the Hope – was written in 1878, long before the founding of the State of Israel, and nearly twenty years before the birth of the Zionist movement. We know from the testimony of a Jewish prisoner that it was sung by Jews as they were marched to the gas chamber in Auschwitz in 1944, continuing to sing as they were beaten by Waffen-SS guards. “Our hope is not lost, to be a free people in our own land.”

This heroic clinging to life and hope is the legacy of those who died in the Shoah, and the primary ethos of the survivors. It is their ethical will that they have bequeathed to us. It is our inheritance to cherished, to be taken into our hearts, to be taught to our children and passed from one generation to the next. We never give up hope. We do not despair. We look to the future and choose life, again and again. This is what it means to be a Jew. This is the meaning of our journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, from Auschwitz to Israel, and from now to eternity.

L’chaim u’l’shalom,

Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck


This message is dedicated to the memory of Margit Feldman, z”l.

This link is to Margit’s personal testimony of the Shoah: