The Wood River Jewish Community joined thousands of other synagogues around the world on Jan. 27 to recognize International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The date was set in 2005 by the United Nations General Assembly to commemorate the tragedy of the Holocaust during the World War II that resulted in the deaths of 6 million Jews.
Rabbi Robbi Sherwin shared her thoughts on the commemoration with the Mountain Express.
How widespread is this commemoration taking place around the world?
It is a worldwide commemoration in most all countries, except those whose governments implicitly deny the Holocaust, including Syria and Iran. Holocaust denial is considered such a serious problem that it is explicitly or implicitly illegal in 17 countries—Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Switzerland.
Holocaust denial is not illegal in the U.S. Most nations commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day by solemn ceremonies, prayer, poetry and art of those who were in concentration camps, as well as visits to many of the death camps. A delegation that included world leaders and leaders of many faiths gathered in Auschwitz on Jan. 27, which was the 75th anniversary of the Red Army’s discovery and liberation of the most notorious of all the death camps. More than 1 million people were murdered there.
Why does the Holocaust matter to us today in Sun Valley, Idaho?
Humanity has been very cruel to Jews and others throughout history, but the state-sponsored lies, manipulation and scapegoating were unprecedented with Hitler and the Nazi Party. Over 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children, perished at the hands of Germans, Romanians, Russians, Polish and more. While the 6 million murdered by Germans and their collaborators throughout Europe is beyond human comprehension, we ought to always remember that the Nazis were duly elected in a democratic society in a nation where Jews had lived and flourished for many centuries. Our message and the lessons that we teach our children from the Holocaust must be more than “never again.”
It is a frightening time to be Jewish. The surge of anti-Semitism across Europe and the United States together with the endemic anti-Semitism of nations that do not believe in the state of Israel’s right to exist ought to warn us to be vigilant lest another Shoah (the Hebrew word for Holocaust, which means “conflagration”) arise. The percentage of hate crimes in the U.S. in the last year that have been perpetrated against Jews is 60 percent, and we’re only 2 percent of the U.S. population, and these are just those that have been reported.
Here in Idaho, the Road to Power, a Sandpoint organization, sends racist and anti-Semitic robo calls, some of which include clips of Hitler inciting hatred. A well-known white supremacist who espouses anti-Semitic tropes is running for a City Council seat in Garden City, and Aryan Nations was headquartered in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Hatred of Jews is still very much alive.
Is there anyone in the valley who has been directly affected by the Holocaust?
Ask any of the approximately 1,000 Jews in the Wood River Valley—everyone was affected. The vast majority of Jews in the U.S. immigrated here because they were fleeing the Holocaust. Some members of our community are children and grandchildren of survivors. When the United States closed our borders to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the ’40s, thousands of people were sent back to their slaughter. My own family had to immigrate to Mexico when denied entry to the U.S. because they were Eastern European Jews.