Fanning the Flame for Justice

8 Apr

It’s Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) — a day when we are supposed to stop and take a moment to remember the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. This morning, I took that “moment” and posted a photo, quote, and brief reflection on Facebook. Immediately after doing so, I felt like a giant asshat.

A Facebook post reduces the brutality of the Holocaust to a mere meme. The “#neverforget” hashtag is woefully inadequate, as are the viral pictures of shadows, children, Jewish stars, and barbed wire.

Memorial candles, ceremonies, wreath layings, moments of silence — none of these are enough, right?


There is a fundamental dissonance in designating a single day to commemorate the largest genocide in human history — an event that unfolded over a dozen years and whose implications still challenge us.

The Holocaust was a constellation of events, not a historical monolith. It began with the establishment of the first Nuremberg laws in 1933 and officially ended with the closure of the last concentration camps in May 1945. In between, other events and horrors sparked their own memorial activities: Kristallnacht, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the Babi Yar massacre, among others.

Ask a typical American to reflect on the Holocaust and their response likely will be informed by the popular conception Holocaust => death camps.

If you ask them what happened during the Holocaust, a typical response might be: “Millions of Jews were killed.” If you ask them where or how the Jews were killed, they’d likely say something like: “In the gas chambers at Auschwitz.”

Some people might mention Birkenau (which actually was just a subset of Auschwitz) or Treblinka. Holocaust historians could identify the other major death camps — all built in Poland for political and logistical reasons (i.e., that’s where the intended victims lived: Poland had the largest European Jewish populace, and Poland-based sites could be kept secret from Germany’s civilian population).

The 6 “major” extermination camps were purpose-built for genocide. Each camp operated differently, yet each was designed for quick and efficient industrialized killing.

Of course, the officially designated death camps weren’t the only places where Jews (and other prisoners) were killed. More than 42,000 camps and ghettos have been formally catalogued. And there are countless uncatalogued sites where individual Jews or entire families or communities were killed ruthlessly and indiscriminately (or, more accurately, with very precise discriminatory intent).

* Babies were thrown against walls so that Nazi soldiers could watch their heads explode

* Women were shot in the street after being made to dance in “celebration” of their rape

* Men were strapped into water-filled vats and placed outside in sub-freezing weather

There’s more. And it gets worse.

The stories my former pro bono clients shared with me reliably turned my stomach and broke my heart.

I did what no lawyer is “supposed” to do with her clients: I wept with them. I still weep for them.


As if.

But that’s not enough.

It won’t ever be enough.

I command myself to be a source of light aimed at defeating the darkness of evil wherever I encounter it.

I command myself to shine with the brilliance of all the souls of those whom the Nazis extinguished less than a century ago.

Yes, I will light a memorial candle today and reflect on this epoch of history, but to pay truly meaningful respect to the tragedy I must try be that light every day.

Perhaps you will be a light as well?

Parting Thought: Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light. ~ Albert Schweitzer

One Response to “Fanning the Flame for Justice”


  1. Re-membering | JustAdventures - January 27, 2017

    […] (Don’t worry, ‘mericans, our troops get their own Rememberence day in April in recognition of the liberations of Buchenwald and Dachau as reflected in this prior blog post.) […]

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