On the Eve of Yom Hashoa

Two years ago I wrote this about Yom Hashoa, an article that was also published in the Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh.  This is history: it does not change from year to year.  But I would like to add something this year that I did not say at that time.

I would like to say that the fate of women was worse.  But how does one say “worse” about something that is so unimaginably horrible? Let me tell you a few stories.

Under German occupation, young girls in Poland were forced to become companions of German officers. My friend Sonia was called to the local Kommandant and never returned.  She remained his concubine until she died in the final liquadation of the town of Krasny, not far from my home town of Hordok.  But in that position she was able to pass on information about the plans of the Germans, and to cover for Jews who left the holding pen that was the ghetto by marking them “present” in the nightly roll call.

When selections were made of able-bodied people, mothers were supposed to part from their children because the woman were able-bodied and the children were not. My neighbor Mrs. Zuckerman  refused to part from her children and went with them to their deaths.

Mothers were also forced to silence their infants when hiding out, and some of those children suffocated.  Many women were the subjects of medical experiments for various purposes.

My recent experiences speaking about the Holocaust have made me realize that the piece I wrote in 2013 would not be complete without mentioning the special suffering of women. There have been many atrocities in history. But the victims of the Holocaust were singled out in a massive, intentional, industrial process of extermination as government policy.  They were concentrated, isolated, humiliated, starved, exploited, tortured, and finally killed in a way that has no parallel in modern history.

When the war was over, I dared to dream that this would be the last war.  In my wildest dreams I never could have imagined the levels of viciousness and violence, the deliberate destruction and obscuration of history that we are witnessing today. This makes me hesitant and cautious to use the words “Never again.”

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