The theme for this year’s commemoration is framed by a question: “How do we connect to Yom Hashoah when we are so far removed?
For myself, I try to read a book every year at this time about the Shoah. This year, I re-read “Man’s Search for Meaning.” It’s a short book that I first read in high school and I recommend you read too. It’s written by a psychiatrist named Viktor Frankl who survived four concentration camps. Dr. Frankl wrote a memoir about the psychological impact of the barbaric treatment he and his fellow inmates endured.
Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food, and various mental stresses may suggest that inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any person can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him…He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.
Quoting the Russian novelist and philosopher Fyodor Dostoevski, he says: “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.”
Frankl explains: the way we respond to our trials is a freedom no one can rob us of. In the bitter fight for self-preservation we may forget our dignity and become no more than an animal. Or, we may bravely retain our dignity and perform some act of courage, generosity, or encouragement that only we can perform even in the worst conditions conceivable.
How can we connect to Yom Hashoah when we are so far removed?
This year, I connect through by grappling with the powerful words of Dr. Viktor Frankl.
To paraphrase him: How do we live our lives so that we are worthy of the life we are given?
Thankfully, we live in a world and a time when we are not fighting for self-preservation. Yet, it is also a world where most people are preoccupied with satisfying their own needs and wants.
In such a world, it takes courage to grapple with the question: What can we give to others? What can we do for others?
In a world where most people believe that life owes them something, it takes courage to ask ourselves: What does life want from us?
We each possess unique gifts and talents and skills and abilities. There is a task in this world that only we can do. What is it?
If we live with these questions, our lives will be imbued with greater significance. We will live life with purpose. Our lives will gain greater meaning.
And we will have found a response to the challenge: “How do we connect to Yom Hashoah when we are so far removed?