The Holocaust, Memory and Ethical Loneliness


Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  This day was designated by the United States General Assembly in 2005; January 27th is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I encourage you to learn more about the history of this commemoration here:  International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  In addition, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a fabulous resource for all kinds of information; if you haven’t been on their website, you should really check it out–in addition to visiting in person, of course!

On this day–particularly in the climate of rising antisemitism, both locally and abroad–two things are necessary.  First, we are called to remember the millions of Jews and others who died in the Holocaust, the scope of that genocide, and all those still grieving the loss of loved ones. We hold them in our thoughts and hearts such that they will never be forgotten. Second, we must commit ourselves to learning the lessons history has to teach us, so that such atrocities may never be repeated, and so that love and peace may triumph over hatred and prejudice.

It is critical that we stand in solidarity with the Jewish people as a whole and Jewish communities all around their world, and support their flourishing.  We all are invited into the work of building more inclusive and welcoming environments in all the places and spaces where we find ourselves, taking what we learn from history and using it to make a difference now.

I just have one more thing to say that I think relates to this commemoration.  In a book that I am currently reviewing, one of the authors mentioned a concept coined by Jill Stauffer called “ethical loneliness,” which is defined as follows: it describes “a type of abandonment by humanity where the survivors of injustice are not allowed to tell their stories on their own terms, because the rest of us fail to hear what they really experienced or how they feel about the experiences.”

This is such a good reminder to us that we must both be good listeners ourselves and foster a climate in which true listening across differences can happen.  This ensures that no one feels “abandoned,” and everyone’s voice can be heard and included in the larger narratives that our communities tell about themselves.

The survivors of the Holocaust are dying, and soon there will be no one left with first-hand experience to tell the story.  We must continue to find ways to listen to their testimonies, and honor their memory by saying “never again,” with a promise that their deaths might not be in vain.


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