by Melissa Uchiyama
Today (28 April) marks Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day.
If this were Israel at 10 am (4 pm, Japan time), flags would be lowered at half-mast and people would stop and even stop their cars at the wail of sirens.
In Japan, we have to dig a little more and remember with intention. It isn’t hard to find books and information, but we have to seek it out if we care.
Yom HaShoah honors and mourns the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. It is for educating and telling stories of sorrow and heroism.
The word, “shoah” means “catastrophe”, whereas “holocaust” means “a burnt sacrificial offering to a god.”
(Also, International Holocaust Rememberence Day is for the world, while today is centered around Jews and Israel more specifically).
Many will light special memorial, Yahrzeit candles and recite the Mourner’s Kaddish.
In my letter to you today about Yom Hashoah, I’m giving you many links–too many, you might feel. But it is for us to sit with–to cry over, and to grieve.
There are not enough memoirs or essays or recordings to encapsulate the fact that 6 MILLION grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, teachers, cousins, babies, young children, were systematically tortured because the enemy wanted our people dead. They taught that we were a subhuman race. They called us “Juden-rat”.
They experimented on young women and children. This is brutality. But hearing the words and seeing the images has always mattered. In the statement, “Never Again”, we must see the horror and also the hope. We must look on this people, my people, with eyes of love and understanding.
For me, I read and watch videos of survivors. There are audio recordings, too, many catalogued through Yad Vashem and here, at The United States Holocaust Museum. I even have a cookbook created by malnourished, gaunt women while they were in Terezin, a Czechoslovakian concentration camp.
I recommend books written by Gerda Weissman Klein, a Holocaust survivor who wrote about her life in enduring, profound ways. She was living in the same Arizona community as my grandmother until her passing. Ms. Klein died this month at age 97.
You can read about her here, in The New York Times. Her memorial was even published in The Mainichi.
I wrote about a particular survivor named Judith Kerr, and her semi-autobiographical novels here. In researching the piece, I learned a great deal about Holocaust Education and the lack of Holocaust Education in many places.
Another book, Hana’s suitcase, is sold in various languages, including Japanese and English. The memoir/story is perfectly positioned for Japan. In fact, it was co-written by the director of Kokoro, Tokyo Holocause Education Resource Center. After receiving a mysterious suitcase from Asuschwitz in 1988, they began hosting Japanese students and even taking the suitcase to educate children and teens all over Japan. They are hosting a Yom Hashoah memorial on May 3rd, from 4-6 pm. You can register here in English for the bilingual event.
It is my aim to voice the stories of survivors and the realities of the Shoah–these people are dying, of course. It is a race to care for them and speak with them about their life. Many survivors live in poverty. In terms of helping survivors who are in need, there are ministries devoted to this in Israel and around the world. One organization is Kavod. There are other ministries and organizations specific to survivors living in Israel.
There are also survivors who are now living a nightmare again in Ukraine. Here is a video about them.
Pray about continuing ways that we, as a community, can help.
I encourage you to take time to watch, read, or listen to historical and/or personal accounts. Cry and take your sadness to the God of Heaven and earth.
Continue to be an ally for the Jewish People. Pray and intercede for fullness, healing, health, and salvation.