This year our JCJ commemoration focused on the millions of children who perished during the holocaust. Six young people from our community lit candles, then shared the poetry and prose of teens whose words express and describe experiences no young person should face. Each was cut off from his or her potential, none grew to be adults, and the world was lessened by their loss. While some of the readings express the horrors of Ghetto life, other surprisingly still express hope, even amidst all the death and privation.
While at the Terezin Ghetto Franta Bass (1930 – 1944) wrote the following words:
I am a Jew and will always be a Jew, forever.
Even if I should die from hunger,
still I will never submit
but always fight for my people,
on my honor,
to their credit.
And I will never be ashamed of them;
this I vow.
I am so very proud of my people now;
how dignified they are!
And even though I am oppressed,
still I will always return to life ...
Like the other young authors whose words were shared last night, Franta Bass did not live to fulfill his potential. He was murdered at Auschwitz in 1944.
The last reading shared by our teens was a famous entry from the Diary of Anne Frank. Anne too looked towards a hopeful future, that she would sadly never see. She perished in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in 1945.
“That’s the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within
us, only to meet the horrible truth and be shattered. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever-approaching thunder; which will destroy us too. I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that
peace and tranquility will return again. In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals,
for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.”
If we look around us it is clear that the forces of intolerance and violence are again a significant threat. Hate crimes and anti-Semitism are on the rise across the globe. Houses of prayer are again no longer places of safety. Yom HaShoah calls on all of us to be forces for change. It demands that none of us be indifferent or silent, for silence is assent. “Never again” is a slogan of commitment that never again will we allow hatred, bigotry and violence against anyone anywhere.
Here in Japan on May 1stthe Reiwa Era just began as a new Emperor ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne. The meaning behind Reiwa is beautiful harmony. Human work to eliminate hate and violence is necessary in order that there will be beautiful harmony and peace for the entire world.
The Butterfly -- Pavel Friedman (1921-1944)
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing
against a white stone ...
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly 'way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here,
in the ghetto.