It was on this day in 1951 that the Israeli Knesset passed a resolution proclaiming this day as Holocaust Remembrance Day, or in Hebrew, Yom Hashoah. This day commemorates the execution of six million Jews and the attempted extermination of all European Jews by the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s. Others, besides the Jews, were deemed undesirable by the Nazis and were persecuted just as ruthlessly. As we well know, this was a dark time in human history.
The Hebrew word Shoah doesn’t actually mean “holocaust,” but is a word that means, “to make desolate, to destroy.” It’s also translated at times as “whirlwind,” which connects to the idea of destruction that comes very suddenly. Interestingly, the Nazis liked to use the term blitzkrieg (“lightning war”) to describe their military campaigns. The term described tactics that were swift and overpowering, leaving their adversary shocked and helplessly overwhelmed, unable to respond. The same could be said for the Holocaust. It was swift, overwhelming and, obviously, very destructive.
There is a story from this time period that recalls something that happened at Auschwitz. It was December and there were a small group of Jewish prisoners who wanted to celebrate Hanukkah. To do this was dangerous and placed their lives in peril, but they were determined to celebrate the holiday anyway. Another problem with the plan was they didn’t have any candles. Instead, they saved fat from the little bit of butter and meat they might receive until they had collected enough to make one candle. Each night of Hanukkah, secretly, these few men gathered in their barracks, along with a Rabbi, lit this candle, recited prayers and observed Hanukkah.
Their bravery and commitment to observe this holiday in the face of death demonstrates an inner strength and a determination to look beyond the destruction and desolation that surrounded them. They did something that, for them and by them, represented light dispelling darkness; good overcoming evil. It also hints at the fact that God will overcome the adversary, but most often He works though us. In the midst of death and destruction, these brave men exhibited an example of that truth.
It’s important that, as believers, we allow the essence of this story to resonate within us, because the Holocaust in Europe was not the only time that men have determined to destroy God’s people. This is something that goes all the way back to Cain and Abel when, because of jealousy, righteous Abel was slaughtered by Cain. Then there is the story of Haman the Agagite attempting to destroy God’s people in Persia. The point is that God’s people have been and are going to be hated because the world hates God. The Messiah said this in Luke 21:
“You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.” (Luke 21:16-17)
With every passing day, we see the world’s hatred toward God and His people growing and becoming more flagrant. But like those men in Auschwitz, we must be committed to truth and determined that, no matter what the circumstances are around us, we are going to let our light shine. Even if we’re surrounded by chaos and destruction, we must not let that deter us from being witnesses of truth and light. Furthermore, we have the promise that, even as the world is trying to destroy us, the Creator will be with us. The prophet Isaiah wrote:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness … and they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations.” (Isaiah 61:1-4)
Even in the midst of desolation and destruction, we must hold to the promise that, out of the ashes of that destruction, the Creator will restore His people and turn our mourning into joy.