April 12, 2010

Rabbi Marvin Hier

Each year, we try as best we can, to fathom the unfathomable - to remember the enormity of the greatest crime committed by human beings on other human beings in the history of mankind. If each day, we took upon ourselves to remember just one of the victims, and we began our memorial counting at the time of the birth of Abraham, it would take us another 12,200 years to complete the count to six million.

Unfortunately, my friends, the focus of Yom Hashoah is all too often exclusively on the events that occurred following Kristalnacht and Hitler’s attack on Poland in September 1939. We often gloss over the events from 1933 to 1939 when the Holocaust and WWII could have been prevented; gloss over the grave miscalculations and mistakes made by our leaders in appeasing and overlooking Hitler’s crimes – how we stood by in March of 1935, when Hitler announced he was rebuilding his armed forces – how we again said nothing and a year later, when he occupied the Rhineland and again, in 1938, when he took over Austria, and on October 1 of the same year, the Sudetenland and 6 months later, the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Rather than stand up and confront the tyrant, we used all our abilities to pressure the free people of Czechoslovakia. Rather than begin negotiations by asking for concessions from the terrorists and the perpetrators who are threatening the world, we focused all our energies on trying to weaken Czechoslovakia’s ability to defend herself. Rather than treat Hitler with indifference, we went out of our way to befriend him and to disinvite and snub the duly elected President of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Benes. As Winston Churchill said at the time, “If we go on waiting upon events ... how many friends will be alienated, how many potential allies shall we see go, one by one, down the grisly gulf.”

It is ironic, that 65 years after the horrific events of the Holocaust, the world’s most famous Holocaust denier, the President of Iran, who continues to call for the destruction of Israel, seeks a nuclear arsenal, while the world looks on and does nothing.

Those lessons, my friends, have great relevance to what is taking place today in our world. As Santayana correctly warned us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”