Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah, or “Remembrance of the Holocaust and Heroism Day,” begins at sundown on Monday. In Israel, when sirens sound, drivers will immediately stop their cars in order to observe a moment of silence. As a result, several stations have shifted their programming to include more Holocaust-related literature, documentaries, and testimonies.
Yom Hashoah, however, is celebrated by Jews all over the world a few months after the United Nations’ International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Whence comes this discord?
In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 60/7, designating January 27 as the yearly day to remember the victims of the Nazi atrocities. The date was selected with the support of Israel’s UN representative to coincide with the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, by the Allied and Red Army in 1945.
A national day of grief and memory, Yom Hashoah, was created in Israel in 1951, just three years after the modern state was founded. This week is especially significant since it marks the 80th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which was commemorated by choosing that Hebrew date (it does not follow the Gregorian calendar). It was the largest act of Jewish resistance throughout the war, led by the unparalleled Mordechai Anielewicz. It’s true that hundreds of young Jews took up guns against Nazis aiming to eliminate the ghetto, and they successfully resisted for nearly a month.
The date chosen by the young Israeli state reflects the prevailing tension of the time: survivors of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe were often mocked by ordinary Jews in Palestine as cowards for failing to fight back against the Nazis.
How Did Nisan 27 Become Holocaust Memorial Day? The Origins Of Yom HaShoah
Yom HaShoah was originally observed in 1951, nearly sixty years before the first observance of IHRD. It was contentious from the start because it suggested a middle ground for the Israeli government in a decades-long argument about how we should remember the Holocaust.
The Israeli rabbinate and many other Orthodox Jews shared the view that there were already sufficient memorial dates for Holocaust victims. One such day of sorrow is the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av.
Its official purpose is to grieve the destruction of the two temples, but it has a long tradition of being appropriated to lament other tragedies as well. The tenth of the Hebrew month of Tevet is also traditionally observed as a day of fasting and sorrow for individuals whose dates of death are unknown.
Many other Jews find these dates to be inadequate. The Holocaust is too vast and too recent. Its unprecedented scale renders previous Jewish tragedies almost ludicrous in comparison. The severity of the Holocaust necessitates a new date for its commemoration, as it cannot be simply grafted onto an existing anniversary. If so, when?
Rather than just “Holocaust Remembrance Day,” the entire name of this event was Yom Hazikaron LaShoah Velagevurah, or the Day of Remembrance for the Holocaust and the Resistance. The organizers of this event wanted it to take place on the same day as the most well-known armed rebellion in history, the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
What Is The Significance Of The Annual Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration?
On the other hand, IHRD is unrestricted in its pursuits. The United Nations established this day in 2008, and its significance is that it marks the date that Soviet troops entered and liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Since Auschwitz has come to symbolize the entire concentration camp system and the Holocaust in the collective consciousness, the anniversary of its liberation is a time for somber observance and introspection. Of course, this is also divisive.
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Few people who survived the Holocaust actually saw Auschwitz-Birkenau. Many people managed to stay alive by avoiding deportation and, as a result, never entering the camp system. They suffered from dread, persecution, and lack of resources as they were forced to flee and hide. Although their experiences in the camps were unimaginably horrific, many Holocaust survivors did not identify as such after the war.
Unlike previous days of mourning in the Hebrew calendar, Yom HaShoah is not just a day to sit and think. On Yom HaShoah, we pause to remember the victims of the Holocaust, to reflect on what was lost, and to give ourselves permission to dwell on the horrors of the Holocaust.