Gathering of Remembrance – Yom Hashoah 5768
Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York
May 4, 2008

Sam E. Bloch
President, American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants

[Survivor keynote address presented at the New York City-wide Holocaust commemoration co-sponsored by the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, WAGRO, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage.]

I speak here as one who miraculously emerged from the kingdom of death, as did so many of you. Our awareness and knowledge derives from a direct bitter personal experience and memories that will remain with us until the end of our days. It is our mission to transmit these memories and their implications to others, to those who were not there, in order to imbue within them the spirit of remembrance.

It is our sacred duty to remind all those who don’t know, who don’t want to know, and who don’t want to be disturbed by such memories. To all those detractors who try to deny or diminish our tragedy, we say we are here to tell the tragic truth in full.

We are the living witnesses of the Shoah. Behind us there are 20 centuries of Jewish history, a history of exile, oppression, discrimination, persecution, genocide, and a struggle for survival and renewal. Behind us are the victims of inquisitions, pogroms, death camps, and crematoria.

We choose to remember and make others remember all those who perished, lonely, and abandoned by a cruel world that stood by in silence and indifference. When the German Nazi murderers and their accomplices destroyed our homes and our communities, and annihilated, with so much cruelty and barbarism, six million of our martyrs – innocent men, women, children – they obliterated their hopes and dreams, and the infinite creativity, beauty, and knowledge that they could have contributed to the betterment of our world.

We remember the victims in their agony and helplessness. We remember all those who perished, fleeing from death, and were denied safe havens. We remember all the brave heroes who kindled the flame of resistance in all its forms in the ghettos, death camps, forests, and hiding places. Each act of resistance, each uprising, even without victory, was a noble exaltation of the human spirit. We also remember with profound gratitude all of the brave American and allied soldiers who fought to defeat the Nazi enemy and who liberated us.

The burning question persists: How is it that the free world could not see the enormity of evil and mass murder? How could so many people become accomplices to inexplicable cruelty? How could they pretend not to see, not to hear, not want to know, not stop the genocide, while millions of our people were murdered?

Meeting here today our thoughts go back to the cities of slaughter, to the fires of Auschwitz and Treblinka, to the crumbling walls of the Warsaw Ghetto, to the mass graves of Belsen and Babi Yar, and to all the places of death and destruction. Our thoughts go back to more than 4000 destroyed Jewish communities. For us, our martyrs will always be with us.

There is a danger that their and our suffering and struggle will, with the passage of time, be forgotten. But as long as we live, and as long as there will be in this world free people who care, we the survivors, our children, and grandchildren will not stop telling and retelling our tales of martyrdom and resistance.

Our infinite loss and grief is also a powerful source of commitment – to our values, hopes, and faith in the future. From the depth of destruction we brought forth a new spirit to rebuild our lives, to reestablish families, to raise a wonderful generation of children and grandchildren – the living bridge between our past and our future. We have instilled in them a pride in our heritage, love for humanity, commitment to freedom and justice, and a continued dedication to all our endeavors of remembrance.

Together, we must transform our individual memories into collective action. The conclusion we may draw from the Holocaust, its aftermath, and today’s defamers of our tragedy is the need for vigilance and effective action. In recalling the past we must reflect on certain present day realities. Is anti-Semitism less prevalent than in the past? It is the hatred of the Jew that culminated in the Holocaust. It started with speeches, the burning of books, the burning of synagogues, and ended with the burning of people.

We know that our martyrs perished with the dream of Jerusalem and Zion. While carrying in our inner being the martyrdom and suffering of the past, today the Jewish people, including the survivors of the Holocaust, stand tall with Israel as the center of the Jewish present and future. With pride we treasure the miracle of the Jewish people reborn in the State of Israel, which became a reality in our generation. We remember all those who gave their lives in Israel’s wars for freedom and security – so many Holocaust survivors among them. They are all links in our unbroken chain of Jewish survival and we rejoice in the new glorious chapter in Jewish history, which is the third Jewish commonwealth, the modern State of Israel, whose 60th anniversary we now celebrate.

Let me conclude with the following closing lines of the poem, entitled “The Oath” by the Israeli poet Avraham Shlunsky:

In the presence of eyes
Which witnessed the slaughter
Which saw the oppression
The heart could not bear,
We have taken an oath: To remember it all,
To remember, not once to forget!
Forget not one thing to the last generation!