Once Pesach passes every year, inevitably, Yom Hashoah, the day on which we remember the victims of the Holoacaust, and pay tribute to the survivors, arrives. The ceremonies take place, the sirens wail as the masses stand in silent reflection, prayer and remembrance, the numbers continue to boggle our minds- how many were murdered? How many still live and how long until no one can bare first witness?
But this year my Yom Hashoah began differently. It didn’t take the ceremonies or the sirens, the numbers or the intimidating questions for me to physically stop in my tracks in the middle of my day. It took, instead, a trip to the grocery store and a visit to the vegetable aisle to remember the survival story of Sarah:
“Next to us lay a girl, completely covered in lice… and in her hands was a small beet. I couldn’t take my eyes off that beet… I thought she was probably too sick to eat it… so I removed the beet from her grip. It saved us… That’s haunted me ever since…”
It was not the unfathomable number of people murdered, nor the revulsion at what the Nazis did throughout WWII that I saw before me. It was, instead, the image of a starving girl, desperate to survive, and a life and death decision that she was forced to make- take the vegetable and the girl may die, or you may not see tomorrow. And here I was, a world away and just 70 years later, among the seemingly endless selection and abundance, swiping a credit card and driving home to put my purchases in a refrigerator.
But maybe it is not surprising that Sarah’s story touched me so profoundly.
Our minds struggle to fully comprehend what six million really is. But one part of one story that touches our most basic instincts and feelings such as hunger and survival are hardwired into us all. As Pesach teaches us to relive the story of Egypt, and to appreciate our freedom, so Sarah’s story is an example of one of Yom Hashoah’s most fundamental and significant messages. I took from Sarah a moment which renewed my appreciation for what I have personally, and what we have collectively as a Jewish nation. And maybe that is how we should mark days such as these- by finding a story that touches our core, even for a brief moment in the middle of a grocery store.
This Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron (Israel Memorial Day- April 22), find the story to read, the interview to listen to, and the person to talk to, who can give you that moment.
May the memories of the victims of the Holocaust and WWII be a blessing, and engraved in the memory of Am Yisrael for eternity.
Sarah and her sister Hanna share their story in the movie “Numbered” (kNow Productions), along with other survivors of the Nazi’s horrors at Auschwitz. The movie will be screened on April 16th at JCC Midwestchester.