This week is the national Days of Remembrance, which commemorates Holocaust victims and survivors. I remember learning about the Holocaust in school, primarily with two main books. The first was Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, which my class read in third or fourth grade. I knew about WWII in general, but this was the first time I remembered hearing about the significant threat to Jewish people during that time. The book provided a safe way to learn about a very scary part of history; the threat to Ellen’s family is very real but Lowry is careful not to go into too much detail about what could have faced the Rosens if they’d been caught.
Night by Elie Wiesel was another significant book in my learning about the Holocaust. By the time I read it, I was in eighth grade and knew millions of innocent people had been tortured and killed. I didn’t expect Night to affect me so, but I read it in one evening and spent the entire time crying. For me, it was an opportunity to understand the Holocaust in a very personal way. Somehow it’s easy to gloss over statistics about how many people died; it’s far harder to ignore real stories about the horrors that individual people experienced.
Which is why the Days of Remembrance and honoring all the specific victims and survivors are essential. We need to hear their stories and remember that these were/are specific people with specific lives. They were mothers and singers and readers and kids who liked silly jokes and lawyers and on and on. All of their stories are valuable and need to be shared.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has resources for taking part in the Days of Remembrance, including a webcast of the national ceremony on Thursday, April 11 at 11:00am. In case you can’t take part in an organized event, you can also share the stories of victims and listen to the stories of survivors, as documented on the museum website. Make sure their voices are heard.