This was written by our friend Chas Newkey-Burden, and originally posted at his blog, OyVaGoy
It is Holocaust Memorial Day [today]. You can read more about this year’s theme here.
On days such as this I am reminded of the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel who wrote the following:
‘What cannot help but astound us is that the Hasidim remained the Hasidim inside the ghetto walls, inside the death camps. In the shadow of the executioner, they celebrated life. Startled Germans whispered to each other of Jews dancing in the cattle cars rolling towards Birkenau; Hasidim ushering in Simchat Torah. And there were those who in Block 57 at Auschwitz tried to make me join in their fervent singing. Were these miracles?’
What a passage: it is haunting and inspiring, harrowing and uplifting all at once. Similar emotions are provoked by a recording made at Bergen-Belsen shortly after it was liberated in April 1945. It includes weary Jewish survivors singing Hativkah (The Hope), the song that became the national anthem of the state of Israel. You can find a link to the recording on the right-hand side of this page. (Or, see YouTube clip below)
‘Never despair! Never! It is forbidden to give up hope,’ wrote Rabbi Nachman, a century before any of these events took place. These are wise words, yet not always easy to live up to.
Yet consider the Hasidim who celebrated life in the death camps, and the survivors who sang of hope at Bergen-Belsen. Stories such as these remind me how even in the darkest moments it is possible, and essential, to maintain hope.