This past Sunday, the 27th day of Nisan, was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day which takes place each year on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In Hebrew, this is the Day of Catastrophe, while holocaust comes from the Greek for “whole” and “burnt”, a terrible reminder of the true meaning of the word.
How best to mark such a catastrophe? Three years ago, while living in Haifa, at precisely 10 a.m. on an ordinary workday, the sirens went off. Inescapable, piercing sirens. Traffic stopped. People stopped. We got out of the car in the middle of a main street, stood silently for 2 minutes while the sirens blocked out everything else. And then, as suddenly as it started, the sound ended. People got back in their cars, resumed their conversations, continued on with the day. No other Holocaust memorial has touched me as deeply as the searing noise of that morning.
How to describe such destruction? Israeli poet Dan Pagis (may he rest in peace), himself a Holocaust survivor, wrote what is – to my mind – a few lines that capture the horror precisely. I reproduce his poem here in its entirety:
written in pencil in the sealed railway car
here in this carload
I am eve
with abel my son
if you see my older son
cain son of adam
tell him that I
I would have included a link to Irena Klepfisz’ poem Bashert (“meant to be”) as well, but I can’t seem to find it in its totality on-line.
How to remember the Holocaust? Two years ago, Israeli physicist Ron Folman walked into a tattoo parlor in Tel Aviv and requested “B1367” on his arm: a replica of the tattoo his father received in Auschwitz decades earlier. He did it as a private act, so that his daughters might ask questions of him. Folman’s father went with him to the tattoo parlor, though he didn’t want to burden his children and future generations with his own scars. If you’re interested in the full story, the article from Ha’aretz is here. I’d love to hear what you think, because I’m not sure myself.