Sanford Heisler Sharp Statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 27, 2024

This weekend, Sanford Heisler Sharp pauses to observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a network of concentration and death camps and a site of unprecedented mass murder.

In a December 2023 poll of 207 U.S. citizens aged 18-29, 20% of respondents agreed with the statement that “the Holocaust is a myth.”1 Another 30% were unsure and neither agreed nor disagreed with that statement. How is this possible? Even the Commandant of Auschwitz admitted that the murders were no myth: while other estimates differ, he testified that “at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated [at Auschwitz] by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease.”2 With the clarity and extensiveness of the evidence, the recent poll results are puzzling and alarming. As Nazi Germany’s murder of the Jews recedes into the past and as denialism, ignorance, and antisemitism spread today like weeds,
studying and teaching the Holocaust has never been more important. But why? As the survivor Elie Wiesel asked, “why remember at all?”3 Why not free future generations “of Auschwitz and its shadows?” We reflect on just two of the reasons. First, as Wiesel noted, to remember the Holocaust and its victims is to “fulfill their last wish”: that someone bear witness to the murders committed in darkness that were designed to erase any memory of the victims. This was the plea of Zalmen Gradowski, who buried his secret diaries underground by the ovens at Auschwitz and prayed they would be found and “unfold the secret I carry deep in my heart to the world.”4 The German authorities had assigned Gradowski to the
Sonderkommando(Special Squad): the thousands of unlucky men forced to move and load the gassed bodies of children, women, and men into ovens. We remember the Holocaust to grant Gradowski’s wish: that we see what he saw. How “trucks arrived with fresh victims” who were “women, all in their prime and full of vitality”; how “the murderous beasts” made these women strip naked and walk single-file to their death; how the women’s “faces, white and pink, would turn red, blue and black from the gas”; how their “eyes would fill with blood.”5 Second, to remember the Holocaust is also to learn from its lessons. How were these crimes of unparalleled magnitude, evil, and pain allowed to take place? How did nobody stop the persecution

  1. The Economist / YouGov, Poll at 103, Question No. 45A (Dec. 2–5, 2023), https://d3nkl3psvxxpe9.cloudfront.net/documents/econTabReport_tT4jyzG.pdf.
  2. U.S. v. Goering, Testimony of R. Hoess, Tr. Day 108 at 414 (Int’l Mil. Trib., Apr. 15, 1946),https://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/04-15-46.asp; Nuremberg Trial, R. Hoess Testimony (Audio) at 1:19–1:22, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvO7ufgrOf8; U.S. v. Goering, 6 F.R.D. 69, 129 (Int’l Mil. Trib. 1946).
  3. Elie Wiesel, Letter to Jimmy Carter (Sept. 27, 1979) www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20050707-presidentscommission-holocaust.pdf.
  4. Zalmen Gradowski, The Czech Transport: A Chronicle of the Auschwitz Sonderkommando, in Roskies, ed.,The Literature of Destruction 548 (1988) www.brandeis.edu/tauber/publications/pdfs/roskies/gradowski.pdf.
  5. Id. at 554-57. The squads were sequentially replaced after just a few months to erase them as witnesses and prevent their resistance: “[A]s its initiation the next squad burnt the corpses of its predecessors.” Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved 34 (1988) https://archive.org/details/drownedsaved0000levi.

and theft before it led to the enslavement and killing? How were the German scientists able to conduct their sick human experiments in perfect peace and quiet? The Holocaust would not have been possible but for the silence and inaction of bystanders and ordinary people. Accordingly, in Wiesel’s words: the Holocaust teaches us to “never be silent” and “always take sides.”

We reflect on one last question: why do we commemorate the Jewish genocide specifically, when millions of non-Jews were also murdered? We turn to Wiesel again: the other victims must also be remembered. “However, there exists a moral imperative for special emphasis on the six million Jews. While not all victims were Jews, all Jews were victims . . . sentenced to death collectively
and individually as part of an official and ‘legal’ plan unprecedented in the annals of history . . . Because they were the principal target of Hitler’s Final Solution, we must remember the six million Jews and, through them and beyond them, but never without them, rescue from oblivion all the men, women, and children, Jewish and non-Jewish, who perished in those years in the
forests and camps of the kingdom of night.” Accordingly, we also remember today the Roma and Sinti, the Poles, Slavs, and Greeks, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Freemasons, and Communists, the disabled, people of color, and LGBT, and Nazi Germany’s many other victims.

In this spirit, we observe Holocaust Remembrance Day by shining a small light on the victims, Jews as well as non-Jews, and by praying together for global justice and tikkun olamem—that we never be silent and always take sides so the world can finally be repaired and forever be at peace.

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