In his proclamation on the Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust, 2021 President Joe Biden stated that Yom HaShoah points to the urgency to speak out whenever they witness anti-Semitism or any form of ethnic and religious hatred, racism, homophobia, or xenophobia. “The legacy of the Holocaust must always remind us that silence in the face of such bigotry is complicity.”
On Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day — we stand in solidarity with the Jewish people in America, Israel, and around the world to remember and reflect on the horrors of the Holocaust. An estimated six million Jews perished alongside millions of other innocent victims — Roma and Sinti, Slavs, disabled persons, LGBTQ+ individuals, and others — systematically murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in one of the cruelest and most heinous campaigns in human history.
We honor the memories of precious lives lost, contemplate the incomprehensible wound to our humanity, mourn for the communities broken and scattered, and embrace those who survived the Holocaust — some of whom are still with us today, continuing to embody extraordinary resilience after all these years. Having borne witness to the depths of evil, these survivors remind us of the vital refrain: “never again.” The history of the Holocaust is forever seared into the history of humankind, and it is the shared responsibility of all people to ensure that the horrors of the Shoah can never be erased from our collective memory.
It is painful to remember. It is human nature to want to leave the past behind. But in order to prevent a tragedy like the Holocaust from happening again, we must share the truth of this dark period with each new generation. All of us must understand the depravity that is possible when governments back policies fueled by hatred, when we dehumanize groups of people, and when ordinary people decide that it is easier to look away or go along than to speak out. Our children and grandchildren must learn where those roads lead, so that the commitment of “never again” lives strongly in their hearts.
I remember learning about the horrors of the Holocaust from my father when I was growing up, and I have sought to impart that history to my own children and grandchildren in turn. I have taken them on separate visits to Dachau, so that they could see for themselves what happened there, and to impress on them the urgency to speak out whenever they witness anti-Semitism or any form of ethnic and religious hatred, racism, homophobia, or xenophobia. The legacy of the Holocaust must always remind us that silence in the face of such bigotry is complicity — remembering, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, that there are moments when “indifference to evil is worse than evil itself.”
Those who survived the Holocaust are an inspiration to every single one of us. Yet they continue to live with the unique mental and physical scars from the unconscionable trauma of the Holocaust, with many survivors in the United States living in poverty. When I served as Vice President, I helped secure Federal funding for grants to support Holocaust survivors — but we must do more to pursue justice and dignity for survivors and their heirs. We have a moral imperative to recognize the pain survivors carry, support them, and ensure that their memories and experiences of the Holocaust are neither denied nor distorted, and that the lessons for all humanity are never forgotten.
Holocaust survivors and their descendants — and each child, grandchild, and great-grandchild of those who lost their lives — are living proof that love and hope will always triumph over murder and destruction. Every child and grandchild of a survivor is a testament to resilience, and a living rebuke to those who sought to extinguish the future of the Jewish people and others who were targeted.
Yom HaShoah reminds us not only of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but also reinforces our ongoing duty to counter all forms of dehumanizing bigotry directed against the LGBTQ+, disability, and other marginalized communities. While hate may never be permanently defeated, it must always be confronted and condemned. When we recognize the fundamental human dignity of all people, we help to build a more just and peaceful world. In the memory of all those who were lost, and in honor of all those who survived, we must continue to work toward a better, freer, and more just future for all humankind.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 4 through April 11, 2021, as a week of observance of the Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust, and call upon the people of the United States to observe this week and pause to remember victims and survivors of the Holocaust.
What is most remarkable about the HBO short film, “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm,” is how effectively and clearly it presents the Holocaust to young people – 8 and 9 year olds, the fourth generation, and how urgent it is to have such a teaching tool with the last of the survivors, now in their 80s and 90s, passing away into eternal silence.
The short film, created with live action, photos and videos and most remarkably, watercolor paintings that animate the still photos, strikes just the right tone.
You are privy to the astute questions and storytelling by 10-year old Elliott and his 90-year old great-grandfather, Jack, about the number tattooed on his arm, and fall into his memories – of a happy childhood in Poland, not quite carefree but with no existential fear, until everything changed.
The HBO film, which aired on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, was presented for its Long Island premiere at the Gold Coast Arts Center, in a free program (a second showing had to be organized to accommodate the number of people who wanted to attend), in commemoration of Yom Hashoahin Partnership with the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County and Great Neck Sh’ai, and featured a conversation with Irving Roth, a Holocaust survivor with a similar story to Jack’s, the great-grandfather in the film. Indeed, Roth came with his own granddaughter and great-grandchild, a touching display of the miracle of survival.
“The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm,” executive produced by Sheila Nevins and directed and produced by Amy Schatz, with the evocative animation art of Jeff Scher, was inspired by David A. Adler’s 1987 book; Adler is well known to children for his popular Cam Jansen series.
In this moving film, 10-year-old Elliott asks his 90-year-old great-grandfather, Jack, about the number tattooed on his arm, sparking an intimate conversation about Jack’s life that spans happy memories of childhood in Poland, the loss of his family, surviving Auschwitz, and finding a new life in America. Their tender exchange is woven with historical footage and hand-painted animation to tell a heartbreaking story of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before and during the Holocaust.
You are first introduced to Jack who mentions how much he loves hats, and can’t resist buying them. A little later, you learn that his father was a hat maker and had a shop in Poland. The last time he saw his parents was when he was 14, taken away by Nazis and sent to a labor camp where inmates were worked to death. “We were slaves, forced to dig holes just to make work.” He receives a cap his father has managed to send and finds some money hidden in it, which he uses to bribe the guard for extra food. “That extra food was how I survived.”
“I always hoped to see my parents again. Always think about them.” But Jack never saw his parents again.
Jack was sent to Auschwitz, and then, when the Germans realized they were losing the war, put on a death march to Buchenwald, forced to march without food or shoes. “Thousands and thousands died,” Elliott relates. “If they stopped, they were shot and thrown into a hole.”
His great-grandfather was finally liberated in August 1945 by the Russians, and then by the Americans. He went back to his hometown, but no one he knew was left. He married and ultimately took a boat to start a new life in America, where he opened a fish market.
His worker says, “This is the only place a man can get food for no money.”
Elliott says, ”We need to know the story to stop it from happening. In a year or two, no survivors will be left. We want to get the stories before they pass away.”
At the Great Neck screening, Irving Roth, a survivor of Auschwitz and the Death March to Buchenwald, related his experience which so eerily mirrored that of Jack.
Irving Roth was born in Czechoslovakia in 1929. He grew up going to school and playing soccer. But by 1938, as the Nazis took power, his life, step by step, became more constricted, bleaker. Jews were not allowed to attend school, play soccer, or go to the park. His family lost their lumber business and they forced into hiding in Hungary.
In 1944, at the age of 14, he was loaded into a cattle car and transported to Auschwitz, a three-day journey with many dying along the route Once there, he was immediately separated from his grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and 10-year-old cousin. He never seen them again – they were sent to the gas chambers.
Of the 4000 on the train, only 300 survived, he said.
Roth and his brother survived Auschwitz but in January 1945, with the Germans realizing they were losing the war, the concentration camp victims were forced on the infamous death march to Buchenwald. Roth was separated from his brother who was sent to Bergen Belsen where he later died. Buchenwald was liberated on April 11, 1945. Roth returned home to find his parents, the only other surviving family members.
But when he arrived back in his town, the reaction was hardly welcoming. “The comment was ‘So many Jews survived, more came back than left.’ It made it easy to leave,” he said.
Roth is the director of Temple Judea of Manhasset Holocaust Resource Center’s Adopt A Survivor Program which brings together children in the greater New York Region with Holocaust Survivors, where he feels a duty to relate the horror of the Holocaust.
“We tell a story of horrific proportion. It’s an important job. 6 million Jews were exterminated because of the lie that Jews were responsible for all the problems of the world. The world needs to know what happened – Shoah did not happen all at once. It began with a simple statement: I hate you.
“I call that the first signpost along the road. A few steps beyond, ‘I don’t like you because of what you are.’ And then, ‘You are not human.’ The next step, ‘I don’t want you to live in my town, my country, I don’t want you to live at all.’ Those are the signposts along the road.
“People need to understand, as you look at the world today, every day, I see the signposts along the road.”
“When I see a missile being paraded in Tehran with words, ‘To be delivered to Tel Aviv’, those are identical ideas perpetrated and spoken of in the 1920s, 1930s – resulting in total devastation.
“I see in my mind that weapon lifting off the ground and murdering tens of thousands – that’s why it’s important to understand, to watch the signposts along the road. I ask you to understand the Shoah – study the Shoah – see the step by step process so you recognize the words, the signposts – to insure that anything of that nature never happens again.
“There are always evil people in the world – it is the choice that God gave you. I am glad have a video of this nature to show to young people so can begin to understand evil an good.”
830,000 were murdered in Treblinka, alone.”It’s hard to imagine that many murdered. I ask you to take one, let them be part of you – if we don’t remember them, it is as if they never existed.”
Just a week ago, Roth made a trip to Poland, where the leadership has made discussing the Holocaust a crime, where they have replaced the signs at Auschwitz to shield the Polish people from any culpability, and where they have shut down Schindler’s factory which had been kept as a museum.
One of the places we visited last week was the Warsaw Zoo in Warsaw, where Antonina and her husband, Jan Żabiński, the zoo director, saved the lives of 300 Jews who had been imprisoned in the Warsaw.
“There were 3.5 million Jews before the war; now if you look hard, you might find 35,000. Poland would like to say that 6 million Poles were murdered – 3 million Jews and 3 million Catholics. Poland wants to be recognized as a Western country, wants to bury its history of persecution of Jews as soon as possible so the world will not know. In Auschwitz last week, going through the exhibits, they are selling propaganda, that no Pole was responsible…. Now, if you say ‘Auschwitz was a Polish death camp,’ you go to jail.”
“Two extremes of humanity existed in Shoah –there were too few Chasidim (righteous), too many on the other side. Our job is to make sure our neighbors, our friends in our country, in every country understand the sacred nature of every human being – through understanding Shoah, we can understand how evil comes to be. We must not let evil triumph again.”
Roth raises concern about a rise of anti-Semitism.
“Anti-Semitism has been replaced in an acceptable form to many people – that’s why we need to understand. It is no longer ‘anti-Semitism’ it is called ‘anti-Israel’. This is a new form of anti-Semitism, repackaged so brilliantly, Goebbels would be proud. All of a sudden, Jews are aggressors.”
He noted that a United Nations conference held to review treatment of rights declared only one country an oppressor of women – not Saudi Arabia or Sudan, but Israel.
Roth has spoken at hundreds of schools. “On college campuses around the country, Israel is cast as an oppressor of Palestinians, even committing genocide.
“Our children and grandchildren must know because they have to stand up to the lies on college campuses. What is on campus today will be policy tomorrow. Make sure your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren understand, the lies, the history. Unless we really know it, we can’t argue. 99% of evil people have no idea what history is – one student at university said the reason problem exists in Mideast is because of Jews, that it is because when Israel was formed in May 1948., Israel attacked 5 Arab countries. Do you think a country just born, with no army navy, air force would attack five countries. Is that possible? ‘Oh,’ he said.
“We need to be prepared to fight this evil, every day of the week.”
On the other hand, unabashed Holocaust deniers have gained prominence. Arthur Jones, 70, of Lyons, Illinois, a former head of the American Nazi Party and self-described white racialist and Holocaust denier, is the Republican candidate for Congress in Illinois’ 3rd district which includes parts of Chicago.
Glickman noted the importance of bringing Holocaust study into communities, particularly communities where there are not a lot of Jews or Holocaust survivors and why a curriculum is being developed by the museum, supported by the City and State’s Department of Education for middle school and high school children for ELA and social studies- some 400,000 students, the vast majority of which are not Jewish.
It is for this reason of making the Holocaust relevant to non-Jews that it has become a common practice among Holocaust museums (such as in St. Petersburg, Dallas, Houston), to keep a running clock of the numbers killed in genocides since the Holocaust, such as Rwanda.
But Roth expressed concern “that the Holocaust is being de-Judeized. There is nothing wrong in discussing Rwanda genocide, but you have to understand the difference between Holocaust and mass murders that have taken place. The death of 5 million Ukrainians during Stalin – but the objective was not the destruction of Ukrainians, the objective was collectivization of Russia; the objective of Rwanda was control. The Holocaust objective was destruction of the Jews. That’s not the same. Death is death you might say, but the cause of it.” He argues against lumping individual genocides together. “We need to understand the differences and similarities. This is what I do every time I speak. In churches, I have spoken to 500,000 Christians all over the United States. I talk about Shoah and what is happening today, how the propaganda of today is a replica of the 1930s. They understand. That’s what we need to do.”
The film is part of a new curriculum in conjunction with Scholastic being rolled out to some 1,500 schools, and organizations can make arrangements for a screening, Michael Glickman, who is president and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage as well as president of the Gold Coast Arts Center, said.
“The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” was aired on HBO in January and is streaming for free at hbo.com. It was screened at Gold Coast Arts Center as part of the Gold Coast Cinema series, goldcoastfilmfestival.org.
An accompanying installation on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage features the art of acclaimed artist Jeff Scher, whose rotoscope animation brings the film’s archival footage and photos to life. Visitors of all ages are invited to explore this incredible work, view the film, and experience the transformative power of survivors’ stories. (For more info on the exhibit visit www.mjhnyc.org).
After neglecting to mention the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis in his statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, speechwriters werecareful to include Jews in Donald Trump’s remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance event that took place at the U.S. Capitol, April 25.
Here is the pool report by Philip Rucker, White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post:
Trump delivered a 15-minute speech from teleprompters between roughly 11:15 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. in the Capitol Rotunda before an audience of several hundred people.
Trump talked about anti-Semitism on university campuses and in the public square.
“This is my pledge to you: We will confront anti-Semitism,” Trump said, receiving applause from the audience. “We will stamp out prejudice, we will condemn hatred, we will bear witness and we will act. As president of the United States, I will always stand with the Jewish people, and I will always stand with our great friend and partner, the state of Israel.”
Trump [whose daughter, Ivanka converted to Judaism after marrying Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew] spoke extensively about what he called the “Nazi genocide of the Jewish people.”
“You saw the organized attempt at the extermination of an entire people – a great people, I must say,” he said. “You survived the ghettos, the concentration camps and the death camps, and you persevered to tell the stories.”
Trump said millions of “innocent people were imprisoned and executed by the Nazis without mercy – without even a sign of mercy. Yet even today, there are those who want to forget the past, and there are even those filled with such hate – total hate – that they want to erase the Holocaust from history. Those who deny the Holocaust are an accomplice to this horrible evil and we will never be silent. We just won’t. We will never, ever be silent in the face of evil again.”
Trump said today was a “very, very solemn occasion.” He said, “I’m deeply moved to stand here with those who survived history’s darkest hour.”
The president spoke at length about the legacy of Elie Wiesel, noting that this is the first Day of Remembrance since his passing.
“His absence leaves an empty space in our hearts, but his spirit fills this room,” Trump said. He said Wiesel had a “gentle spirit” and said he “lived through hell” and that his “courage still lights the path from darkness.”
Trump also said, “The Jewish people have endured oppression, persecution and those who have sought and planned their destruction, yet through the suffering they have persevered, they have thrived and they have enlightened the world.”
At the conclusion of his speech, Trump said, “We must never, ever shrink away from telling the truth about evil in our time. Evil is always seeking to wage war about the innocent and to destroy all that is good and beautiful about our common humanity, but evil can only thrive in darkness.”
Vice President Pence, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn were among the guests sitting in the front row for the president’s remarks.
Several speakers delivered remarks before Trump. Ron Dermer, the ambassador of Israel to the United States, remembered the Holocaust, which he said “laid bare unimaginable hatred” and was defined by “horrors” and “cruelty.”
Dermer celebrated Trump’s strike on Syria in retaliation for Assad’s chemical weapons attack on his own people.
“That decision was a defiance of indifference,” Dermer said. “And if evil triumphs when good men do nothing, we should all seek to live in a world that defies indifference.”
Dermer went on to say that the civilized world should be “prepared to use military might to confront barbarism.”
Trump returned the praise, saying of Dermer, “He’s done a great job and said some wonderful words.”