Rabbi Shlame Landa Never forget, but teach, too
As parents we are faced with a dilemma: we want our children to learn about the Holocaust and remember its tragic lesson, but we don’t want to destroy the innocence of a child living in a time and place where such atrocities seem unfathomable.
The result: fewer and fewer Americans are educated about the Holocaust. A survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany earlier this year found that nearly half of all Americans could not name a single concentration camp. Shockingly, 66 percent do not know of a Holocaust survivor.
If we change the way we educate our children about the Holocaust, we can ensure that it will be remembered for generations to come — not as an abstract historic event, but as one with lessons to teach us today.
My grandmother survived Auschwitz.
On the morning of her liberation, she learned that her cousin had recently been taken to the infirmary, a place people were sent to die.
“Don’t bother looking for her,” she was told, “There’s no one left to find. You’ll only risk catching typhus yourself.”
Undeterred by the risk to her own well-being, she searched among the bodies, calling her cousin’s name, over and over. A pair of eyes opened. Her cousin was grasping onto life by a thread. My grandmother spent weeks nursing her cousin to health, feeding her a spoonful of milk at a time.
Today, that cousin has over 50 living descendants. They owe their lives to a woman who would not give up hope.
This is the story I’ve been telling my children.
Not just stories of tragedy, of cruelty, of the horrific results of a society where hatred is normalized.
I tell them the stories of hope, of determination, of the triumph of human spirit in the most impossible conditions.
We must not — indeed we cannot — forget. But we can teach our children a positive message too.
In the years following the horrendous loss of one third of world Jewry in the Holocaust, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, taught that remembering is crucial, but it’s only one part of the task given to we, who remain.
Our first duty must be to live: to establish homes and families. We must be the very people our oppressors tried to snuff out: proudly, vibrantly Jewish.
Above all, he taught, we must never fall into despair — we must remain optimistic and forward-thinking.
Confronted by hatred and destruction on an unprecedented scale, we promise to do what it takes to ensure humanity never again descends to such horrific brutality.
We must not suffice with this, however. We must search beneath the surface for the positive messages: the sparks of humanity; the tales of the survivors.
The stories of people who rebuilt: people who went on to teach others tolerance, though they experienced the opposite; people who extol the virtues of love, though they were sought after in hate.
The absence of atrocity is not enough. We must create a world of good.
Rabbi Shlame Landa co-directs Chabad of Fairfield, a local Jewish organization. As part of their educational efforts, Chabad of Fairfield is hosting Anne Frank’s stepsister — Eva Schloss — on Oct. 28. Mrs. Schloss will share her message of hope with the Fairfield County community. For more information, visit ChabadFF.com.