Beyond Fantasy: The Meaning of the Holocaust

Beyond Fantasy: The Meaning of the Holocaust

I finally had the opportunity to watch the movie Inglorious Basterds.   It is a fictional story about an American unit of Jewish soldiers who terrorized the Nazis behind enemy lines during World War II.    The movie culminates in the burning down of a movie house filled with Nazi leaders including Hitler (Yimach Shmo).   The movie ends with the humiliation of the a dreaded Gestapo officer who had been  a cunning butcher of Jews .  

The film indulges us with a fantasy of revenge against the horrific brutality of the Nazis.  The film depicts  the righteousness of Jewish terrorists who resort to their own brutal tactics to spread fear among the Nazis.     There is satisfaction in this.  It is comforting to the imagination to see the really bad guys get what they so richly deserve.   But there is a strange and even more unsatisfying  reliance on revenge fantasies when indulging in this movie.  It left the movie with a knot in my stomach.   

The movie Defiance , which came out earlier in the year,  depicts a true heroic story  Jewish resistance  to the Nazis during World War II in a much more powerful way.  The Jews are believable and their courage and endurance as depicted by the film is deeply moving.  

On Yom Hashoah, which is almost upon us,  we confront the reality of the holocaust and mourn  the catastrophe that befell our people.    It is not a time to engage in fantasy. 

 In our congregation we are fortunate to have beloved  members who survived the terrors of those years.  The Kanes, the Schlesingers, and Jenny Zavatsky testify to a different sort of courage.  

They remind us of the remarkable ability to renew after terrible trauma.    This week the Kanes are in Germany to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald.   We are proud of their courage to return to the site of their hard memories.  Their presence at this ceremony reminds of the ultimate defeat of our oppressors and the victory of freedom. It also reminds us of their courage and preciousness.

Our members who are survivors are representative of a whole generation that survived the chaos of those years to contribute to the rebirth of the Jewish people in Israel and in many Western countries including the Jewish community in the United States.  Rabbi David Hartman  points out that the greatest response of the surviving generation was to produce children in record numbers.    This is the real courage we should note on Yom Hashoah.  This reaffirmation of life, of hope, and faith in the continuity of the Jewish people  should inspire us in our own lives.   Let us think of them when we mark Yom Hashoah this year. 

In honor of Yom Hashoah I end with a moving reading composed by the poet, Michael Gurian

We Are a People

(Responsive Reading, For Yom HaShoa Remembrance)

“And they shall never be forgotten.”

We are a people of gardens and storms,

of prayers and history and holiness.

We are a people known to have survived

the excesses of G-d’s masterpiece.

We saw the worst that could happen;

now we know for sure: there is nothing

more worth living for than the road of joy

we can each find just off our road of sorrows.

We are a people grateful for everyday things:

to complain about one another is self-pity;

we must fight to imitate G-d in all our actions,

and we are a people who know how to fight.

We are a people who seek justice for all in need;

our personal actions breathe with G-d’s love.

We are a people who challenge the universe;

thus, quite often, we eat a feast of losses.

How shall we manage our human appetite for power?

What shall we do with this wild absurdity, this life?

Make a safe home for our children and trust

a vast, wandering light we cannot understand.

Live with courage and purpose, so that when we fall,

we fall into the arms of an infinitely greater Being.

Please join us for a moving presentation connected to the holocaust by John Williams on Shabbat morning.  Please join me for the community Yom Hashoah observance on Sunday, April 11 at the AJCC.

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