We are in the holy month of Tishrei. It includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. On Rosh Hashanah, HaShem (God) writes in the Book of Life for the coming year: Who should live? Who should die? Who by fire? Who by water? Who by hunger?
Yom Kippur is the holiest holiday on the Jewish calendar. We go to shul to pray. We stay there a whole day dressed in a white kitel (white robe) and white yarmulke as a sign of purity and a reminder of mortality. We ask HaShem to forgive the sins we committed during the year.
I remember my father, God bless his soul. On Yom Kippur, he kept the yahrtzeit for his father who was killed in the first World War. He lit one yahrtzeit candle. Now I keep the yahrzeit on Yom Kippur for my father and, at the same time, I keep the yahrtzeit of the 6 million martyrs who died in the Holocaust.
I always debate with myself how many candles I should light. Neither my father nor my mother nor the 6 million Jewish martyrs ever had a funeral, nor did they have a grave in a cemetery, nor do they have a matzeva (tombstone).
That’s why the members of our organization put a matzeva at the Hebrew Memorial Cemetery. Just coming to this matzeva to stand and read the names of our parents … to read the names of the concentration camps where they were murdered brings back memories of when we came through the gates of Auschwitz, where we saw the gas chambers and the crematoria and smelled the stench of burning flesh.
Over the years, many of us wondered and asked the question, “Why were the Jewish people singled out for hatred and to be killed?”
The Jewish people of Europe got a bad verdict in the six years between 1939 and 1945. The Amalekim, the Hitlers, the Nazis and the anti-Semites forced us out of our homes. They put us into ghettos. They took us to death camps like Auschwitz, Majdanek, Buna and many others. We found killing factories equipped with gas chambers and crematoria where the Nazi government and many people volunteered to murder 6 million of our people.
Our history has recorded mass-murders before. The Jewish people lived through persecutions and suffering during the Crusades and the Inquisition. We also went through pogroms in Czarist Russia. However, the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust exceed the combined total of all these catastrophes.
Nazis murdered our fathers and our mothers. They murdered our children. They murdered our zaydies and bubbies. They murdered 6 million of God’s chosen people. These people were rabbis; they were tzadikkim (righteous). They were chassidim, they were Orthodox and Conservative. They were rich and poor. Those years, the Jewish people were isolated and neglected. No country on this planet came to our rescue; instead, we were treated as subhuman.
If we examine what happened after our liberation, after the Shoah, it will forever dominate Jewish history. The miracle of the transition from misery and suffering to the new heights of pride, the emergence of the state of Israel is God’s answer to the German design of Jewish extinction. Within a short time after the defeat of Nazism, the Jewish people established our own country that God gave us thousands of years ago. There is a definite connection coming from Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen and Majdanek to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel, our own God-given country.
As the years have passed, memories fade and our survivors’ numbers continue to decline. Many members who were with us at last year’s Yizkor service are not here this year. They passed away.
It is of the utmost importance the world never forgets! I urge the entire Jewish community of Detroit to attend this important and inspirational event — this Yizkor, this Kever Avot of the 6 million kedoshim, including 1.5 million children, will be held at the Hebrew Memorial Cemetery at Gratiot and 14 Mile Road in Mount Clemens on Sunday, Sept. 16, at 1 p.m.
I wish the entire Jewish community a happy and blessed new year. May God inscribe each and every one of us in the Book of Life, and may the sound of the shofar summon us and be heard speedily in our days!
Michael Weiss, a Holocaust survivor, is a speaker at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington and author of the book Chimneys and Chambers.