The Hebrew calendar consecrates today as Yom Hashoa Ve Hagbura, which can be loosely translated as Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day.
Till today we remember it because it was the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. And this choice is not whimsical. It is a Declaration of Principles.
As soon as the war began and after the fall of the Polish capital to the Nazis, in October 1940 their entire Jewish population was confined to a closed area called Ghetto, as part of the systematic annihilation plan of european Jews.
Let’s stop for a minute and reflect together: Warsaw had a huge Jewish presence so it was not at all possible to ignore it. Let’s imagine that in the city were we live, we have to choose randomly ten people; inevitably three of these people are Jews who live their belonging in different ways. We will find Yiddish journalism, theater and literature; Orthodox Jews; secular Jews and also Jewish political activists. Each of them practising their Judaism in its free own particular way.
And then the day comes when the 450,000 Jews of Warsaw were all pushed into an 8 square kilometers area. This meant that 30% of the population were crowded into less than 2.5% of the surface. And this also meant that whole families with several children and unique traditions had to live together with other whole families in a single room, without proper sanitary system, no running water, no food, no privacy, no heating or any other comfort.
Let’s keep reflecting: the daily diet was downsized to 184 calories. The only daily intake had less caloric value than a pair of sweet cookies.
For two and a half years that distressing, tremendous and traumatic enclosure that was replicated in other parts of Europe, became the first Nazi extermination attempt. Hunger, disease, extreme cold and human miseries began to kill the population and significantly reduced it.
This was the scenario in which every human being undervalued in his dignity, had to face their days. No hope, no future.
Do you know then what we commemorate today?
Today we remember those who fell because of lacking physical or psychic condition to keep going; and we honor those who survived. But the chosen date for Yom Hashoah is related to how some ordinary people behaved in non-ordinary ways vis-a-vis completely out of the ordinary circumstances.
We have not choose the photo for the stated Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust on January 27, the International Community did. On that day of the year 1945, the Red Army came across the subhuman survivors of Auschwitz by chance on his way to Berlin, introducing that fact as a purposed liberation.
We prefer the role models of those who faced this abhorrent situation and made the honorable decision to deal with it.
People like the doctor and pedagogue Janusz Korczak, who was in charge of an orphanage inside the Ghetto. Being recognized for his educational contribution to Poland, he was more than once offered to escape safe and sake. Korczak decided orphans could not be abandoned again and he followed them and their luck to Treblinka, their last destination where he was also murdered.
We choose to reflect on Mordechai Anielewicz and the members of his Jewish Struggle Organization, all of them young, almost teenagers. Nevertheless they faced the accomplished fact of knowing that death and total annihilation was their final destiny. Nevertheless they were determined to rise up with the few elements at their disposal, leading for more than a month a brave Resistance against the Nazi machinery of destruction.
We acknowledge the contribution of Emanuel Ringenblum and his group members, who produced the “Oneg Shabes”, or “Joy on Saturday” archive, by gathering and hiding all the documentation that even today allows us to know the true story, not the fake one told by the Nazis.
We honored the attitude of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, owners of the Warsaw Zoo, who hid and helped to escape Jews from the Ghetto, as well as that of all non-Jews considered “Righteous among Nations” for having choose Humanity and not Barbarism.
That is the concept of Heroism. Ordinary people like you, like me, who faced to extraordinary circumstances acted against the indifference, complicity and cowardice, putting the necessary values to build a world of coexistence in diversity without infringing the rights of others.
Do you know then which is the best tribute you can pay to them?
Ask yourself how you would act in similar situations.
Not in hypothetical circumstances but face to current matters.
What do you do when somebody does not recognize the same rights because of having different origins?
And when somebody justifies the destruction of a whole country or a whole population?
What reaction do you have -if any-, to those who deny or try to twist History with the only goal of aiming at the repetition of it?
Unfortunately these situations still occur today on dayly basis. Letting them pass through without reporting or keeping silence about them, is not having learned anything.
Days like today are meant for you an ordinary and common person to understand that the true meaning of heroism does not relies in having superpowers but in our behavior towards our fellow men.