Jedwabne. A small town in Poland. On July 10th 1941, Jedwabne’s Jews were brutally murdered; beaten, beheaded, drowned, with the remaining forced into a barn that was set on fire. Until 2001, the mass murder was chalked up as one more notch in the belt of Nazi atrocity. But then historian and scholar Jan Gross published The Neighbors, revealing the truth: these acts were not perpetrated by Nazis at all – the Jews of Jedwabne were murdered by their Polish neighbors.
Today, on the eve of Yom HaShoah v’HaGevurah, Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, I am struck, left reeling by the incredible deeds human beings are capable of. What is evil? How to comprehend such evil? What kind of person is able to do such evil?
This morning I walked the streets of Los Angeles as part of Jewish World Watch’s 10th Walk to End Genocide. It’s the tenth because genocide hasn’t ended. But it’s also the tenth because each year the money raised by the walk keeps more people safe, and because when a bunch of folks in bright blue shirts walk down 3rd Street in Los Angeles on Sunday at noon, people pay attention.
Tonight, I remember the murder of millions and millions of Europe’s Jews, and Roma, and mentally and physically disabled, and GLBT populations. And as I remember, I try also not to forget – that every person is a person, and that our collective humanity calls upon us to do better, to be better.
Israel’s narrative is tied inextricably to the Shoah, as past and current March of the Living participants can surely tell you. Each year on this day, thousands of Jewish teens from all over the world march at Auschwitz. It is a march of those who live, in memory of those who cannot. A week later, these teens join the Israeli community in commemoration of Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, and then, 24 hours later, dance through the streets of Jerusalem in celebration of Yom Haatzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.
We would have no fallen soldiers to memorialize and no independence to celebrate were it not for the acts of horror and heroism that came before them.
What an unfathomable price for an inestimable prize.
Zichronam L’vracha – may their lives and deaths be remembered, and be for blessing.
Dusty Klass is still not satisfied with this blog post, and her brain and heart are all tied up in knots. She thanks Rabbi Dr. Jan Katzew, without whose editing this entry would be a complete disaster.