Today is International Holocaust Memorial Day when many people around the world will learn about, and reflect upon, the horrors of what was done to our people, and how they were ghettoized, imprisoned, starved, abused, and brutally murdered. And as I learn today’s daf (Moed Katan 15a-b), which lists many of the restrictions of a mourner which, we are told, are also partially observed by those who have been excommunicated, I am reminded that so many of these restrictions were forced upon our people in various ways during the Holocaust.
For example, just as a mourner is unable to do their regular work, most Jews were rejected by their places of employment and were forced to close their businesses.
Just as a mourner does not bathe and wears torn and unlaundered clothes and no shoes, most Jews were forced to live in deprivation and without dignity.
Just as a mourner does not study Torah or wear tefillin, most Jews were unable to continue their Torah study or fulfil many of their beloved mitzvot.
And just as a mourner is prohibited from engaging in marital relations, the family life – and the families – of most Jews was ripped apart.
Yet while the Nazi’s tried to sap out the life of the Jew and make them feel like an excommunicated people in mourning even prior to them brutally murdering so many of our people, and while so many of our people lost their jobs and businesses and were forced to live with ripped and dirty clothes without shoes while being unable to maintain normal family life or traditional Jewish practices, what is truly remarkable is what so many of those Jews subsequently did both during, and especially after, the Holocaust.
True, they had seen death, they had faced death, and their life was forlorn and more akin to being in a permanent state of mourning.
Yet notwithstanding this, so many of those who experienced so much death in so many different ways made the decision to choose life.
They chose not only to live themselves, but also to do what they could to bring more life into the world.
They chose not only to start new businesses, but also to do what they could to help and employ others in need of work.
They chose not only to study Torah and observe mitzvot, but also to do what they could to help more people study Torah and observe mitzvot.
And they chose not only to live with dignity themselves, but also to do what they could to help others live with dignity.
Over a third of our people were murdered in the Holocaust, and those who were left were unable to fulfil some of the most basic mourning rituals for their loved ones. Yet despite their greatest efforts, and despite the Nazi’s not only trying to destroy the life of every Jew but also the love of life of the Jew, they could not stop us from hearing the command of וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים – ‘choose life’.
So today we remember those who were murdered.
And today we remember those whose lives were overturned.
But lastly, today we also remember all those who chose life – because without them doing so, many of us wouldn’t be alive today.
(nb. attached is a photo taken in 2019 of Holocaust survivor Shoshanna Ovitz who, aged 104, asked that all of her children, grandchildren and descendants come together at the Kotel – https://www.timesofisrael.com/holocaust-survivor-marks…/. She died last year, aged 105 – see https://www.jpost.com/…/holocaust-survivor-with-about…)