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Samuel H. Asher column: Yom HaShoah: An opportunity to remember and stand together
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Yom HaShoah

Samuel H. Asher column: Yom HaShoah: An opportunity to remember and stand together

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Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah, is an annual observance to honor the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. For me and so many others, the history of the Holocaust is quite personal.

I had a large extended family that had lived in Plonsk, Poland, for many generations. That all changed on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Because my family was Jewish, they were subjected to discrimination and violence. Many died in concentration camps.

My father, Cantor Arthur Asher, an American studying in Europe, had met the family in Poland in 1937. He kept a journal with all of their names and relationships. By the end of the Holocaust, 73 members of my own family had been murdered by the Nazis. Those who did manage to escape tried to rebuild their lives in America, Australia and Israel.

It is through an examination of the Holocaust, and hearing the stories of survivors, that we are able to see the slow and systematic way in which people were labeled the “other,” dehumanized and then marked for murder.

In today’s atmosphere of political, cultural, ideological and racial divisions here in America, the mission of the Virginia Holocaust Museum is more relevant and vital to our society than ever.

The museum preserves and documents the history of the Holocaust. We strive to safeguard the stories of victims of genocide and educate our visitors about the dangers of hatred unchecked. We aim to inspire future generations of Virginians to fight prejudice and indifference. Our board and staff do not take this responsibility lightly.

Reports from the Anti-Defamation League tell us that anti-Semitism is on the rise. The attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh, San Diego and other cities make the danger even more apparent.

Attacks on Asian Americans now are at the forefront of our attention. The trial for the murder of George Floyd makes us even more aware of racism in our country. Therefore, we must remain vigilant and proactive in our efforts to identify and oppose bigotry and racism when we find it.

One of the ways that we can stand up to racism, bigotry and all forms of intolerance is to participate in this year’s virtual Yom HaShoah ceremony at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond on Sunday, April 11, at 3 p.m.

The program features the lighting of the Holocaust Memorial Candles by survivor families. Six candles represent the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust and one of the candles is shorter than the others to signify the 1.5 million children who died.

During the ceremony, James A. Grymes, professor at UNC Charlotte, will share some insights from his book, “Violins of Hope: Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour,” about the violins that were played in the camps and survived the Holocaust.

Lovingly refurbished, these violins are tangible memorials that will be played on concert states all over the world, thereby restoring the voices of those we have lost and reminding us of the hope for a better tomorrow.

Now more than ever, Yom HaShoah reminds us to speak up against intolerance, injustice and racism. Please join us. Tell the Holocaust survivors and other victims of hatred that you stand with them. We are stronger together.

Samuel H. Asher is executive director of the Virginia Holocaust Museum. Contact him at: sasher@vaholocaust.org

Information about the Yom HaShoah observance can be found at: vaholocaust.org

The program features the lighting of the Holocaust Memorial Candles by survivor families. Six candles represent the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust and one of the candles is shorter than the others to signify the 1.5 million children who died.

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