How to remember

Often it's not clear to me what people mean when they talk about remembering the Holocaust. I'm not sure of much, but I do know that any commemoration or attempt at understanding has to take many approaches. Here's what my reading list (or, for the tradition-minded, seder limud) was for today. (Needless to say, I didn't get to even a small fraction of it this year.)

Telling the story: Geheymshtot, an epic poem by Abraham Sutzkever. Ruth Wisse says of this poem, and another epic in Sutzkever's oeuvre:

The enormity of the history to which he bore witness inspired Sutzkever to write epic poems as well as lyrics. The narrative poem Geheymshtot (Secret Town, 1945-47), in several hundred stanzas of amphibrach tetrameter, depicts a symbolic ten survivors who hide in the sewers beneath Vilna. The epic poem Gaystike Erd (Spiritual Soil) commemorates the arrival of Sutzkever with his wife and infant daughter in Eretz Yisrael aboard the ship Patria. In each work, a constellation of dramatic personages represents the human and ideological variety of Jews who share a common fate -- the crucible of destruction in the one case, and the reclamation of national sovereignty in the other.

Understanding the events: Among the hundreds of works witnessing the Holocaust that one could spend a lifetime studying, there are two I would like to read sooner rather than later: Togbukh fun Vilner Geto (The Diary of the Vilna Ghetto), by Herman Kruk, a new translation of which is available; and Emanuel Ringelblum's Togbukh fun Varshever Geto (Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto).

Prayer: The siddur of the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel, "Ve'Ani Tefilati," has an insert for Yom Ha'Shoah. I'm not a hundred percent sure I agree with the theology, but I included it in my davening this year. (The insertion used to be available on the Web, but no longer, it seems. Instead there's a dvar Torah on the connection between parshes Shemini and Yom Ha'Shoah.) Here's the text, to be inserted in the berachah "Al ha'tsadikim":

נחם, ד´ אלוקינו, את עמך ישראל, שארית הפליטה, אוד מוצל מאאש, כי בשבת אבותינו בטח בגלותם קם עליהם שונא אכזר מכל, גוי עז פנים אשר לא ישא פנים לזקן ונער לא יחון. ואמר: "לכו ונכחידם מגוי ולא יזכר שם ישראל עוד." לבי לבי עם חלליהם, מעי מעי על חלליהם – ומאנה ופשי להנחם. עלי היו כולנה. ועף-על-פי-כן ולמרות הכל, נצח ישראל לא ישקר.

Just as one tells and retells the Exodus from Egypt in many different ways, so must one tell and retell the anti-redemption, the abandonment.

Postscript: It appears that David Roskies' Nightwords: A Liturgy on the Holocaust is available on-line. I'm not sure why, copyright-wise, but I'm not tzadik enough not to take advantage of it.

Post-postscript: The Warsaw Ghetto Web site, in Hebrew, is a mass of sobering detail.

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