This week marks Yom HaShoah, the day set aside for remembering the victims of the Holocaust. It is around this time every year that I receive an email from some well-meaning friend or acquaintance that goes something along the lines of, “keep forwarding this email remembering the six million until it has reached six million Jews and we’ll have had our revenge on Hitler.” I may be getting the details wrong, it may be the goal to send it not to six million Jews but to sixty million people. It may not say anything about having “our revenge on Hitler,” it may be a tad less dramatic, something about, “keeping memory eternally alive.”
I don’t forward these emails. Hitting forward may fulfill a desire for active memory for some, but not for me. No thanks. Then again, I can’t quite bring myself to hit delete either. Who am I to tell people how they should remember? Is it worse that they should remember through chain emails than not remember at all? Is deleting one of these emails, over-wrought though I find them, akin to aiding and abetting a creeping complacency in historical amnesia?
We’re showing a film tonight, The Last Fighters about the living remnant of a moment in history at once tragic and heroic. It won’t grant us some sort of revenge on the many evil and many more complicit people who conspired to make a place like the Warsaw Ghetto a reality. It certainly will not lessen the burden of finding ways to remember the genocide of the Holocaust without becoming enslaved to that memory. And in the years since Warsaw, we’ve witnessed Cambodia, Darfur and Bosnia, so we know that our memory alone cannot prevent future genocides from taking place.
What we can do is draw on the memory of those who were lost, those who fought and those who survived in the unending work of repairing a badly broken world. An email can’t do that alone. Neither can a film. But it’s a start. As long as it’s not the end.