This year, as we do each year, we memorialize the 6,000,000 of our brothers and sisters who perished in the Shoah. The number obscures the enormity of the tragedy that befell each person individually.
The number alone does not allow you to imagine what happened the moment the Germans invaded our towns and villages, when in effect the fate of our own people was already predetermined.
It does not tell you what happened the moment we were driven from our homes (the homes of our parents and the generations that came before them).
It does not illustrate for you the crowding of many families in one house in the ghetto, without food, water, sanitary facilities, in constant fear, isolation, denigration, everything to make you lose any self-image of yourself as a human being.
It does not convey to you our trembling at the sound of a motorcycle truck or movement of military force; shunned by our former neighbors or worse, delivered to the Germans by them for some real or made-up grievances.
It does not relay to you experience of hearing, over and over again, the reports from escapees from neighboring towns, about the demise of their communities by machine gun and then by fire.
How does the number 6,000,000 portray the agony of the mother who, during the selection before the destruction, refused to be separated from her children during the short ride to hell by fire, even though she was offered a chance to go with the able-bodied?
How, when we remember the 6,000,000, do we remember the horrors of those who were ripped out from their homes and forced to enter box cars which would take them on a ride of many days and nights to their final destinations, to the extermination camps and crematoria?
How can you, in your wildest imagination, picture the daily torment of those who, in the winter of 1944-45, were forced to march westward, starved, with scarce and worn clothing, and of those unable to keep up with the march, who were shot and left by the wayside.
How do we bear witness to the stories of those hiding in bunkers, caves, forests, and swamps, often betrayed by their neighbors, stories that words do not suffice to describe?
Need I remind you that all these atrocities occurred in the heart of Europe, in the most so-called “civilized” and “cultured” country, the result of masses manipulated by a so-called “fuhrer” driven by wild ambition to rule the world?
I am reluctant to describe the present state of the world. If you are informed you know it all too well.
When you attend your Yom Hashoah Commemoration, and when you hear the reference to the 6,000,000 that were murdered, remember this: Murder in the first days of the war would have been a merciful means of execution for all those whose journeys to death I described to you above, and for all those whose stories defy description.
6,000,000 murdered only begins to tell the story. We, the survivors, and you who hear us, we are the ones that have to tell the stories of the tormented journeys that preceded the murder so many of our brothers and sisters.