Among the many questions that the current shelter-in-place situation has posed, here is one more: How can the Jewish community properly and respectfully observe Yom HaShoah when the COVID-19 shutdown has made large gatherings impossible?
Yom HaShoah, which took place this week, is the commemoration of the Holocaust, the systematic mass murder of six million Jews from 1939 to 1945, the greatest calamity to befall the Jewish people in our 4,000-year history. It is also an occasion to honor the survivors and the heroes who fought back against the Nazis in efforts such as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and at death camps at Sobibor and Treblinka.
Most survivors are in their mid-80s or older, and their numbers are dwindling daily.
To keep alive the memory of their ordeal, we fortunately have the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center (hmlc.org), which is about to undergo a major renovation and expansion to help us honor the fallen and teach the lessons of the Shoah. Each year, 35,000 students and others visit the museum, where they can take guided tours by highly trained docents and attend talks by survivors and scholars.
Though the museum is closed, you can take an online tour (visit http://bit.ly/HMLC-tour) and learn about the various components that are available, including one that explores how prejudice can lead to genocide. And despite the health-related ban on large gatherings, the museum is offering virtual communal opportunities to observe Yom HaShoah.
In one, Jacob Poremba shares his family’s story of survival, focusing on an autograph album that was made and given to his mother, Friedl Gutman Poremba, by her fellow prisoners when she was in the Gross Sarne concentration camp. She and the album miraculously survived the Holocaust. Her survival is symbolic of the small but significant triumphs over tyranny and the importance of sharing and preserving the stories of survivors and their families.
Survival and hardship and the importance of family are on the minds of many these days. Though no challenge can truly be compared with the Holocaust, remembering those dark days may help us cope with our current troubles. Just as we did not let the COVID-19 plague prevent us from celebrating Passover with online seders and other virtual gatherings, we cannot – and we will not – let the vicious virus keep us from marking Yom HaShoah, to help assure that “Never Again” does not become an empty slogan.