On Holocaust Memorial Day 2024

Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD
5 min readJan 20, 2024

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Here we are again. Holocaust Memorial Day will be next week, and this year, like every year, I am perplexed. Annoyed and irritated. This year, probably more than in other years.

You see, we Jews already have one day in our calendar to commemorate the martyrs of the Holocaust. It’s Yom ha Shoah, a date set according to the Jewish calendar, and followed -after one week- by Yom haAtzmaut, the Israeli Independence Day.

There is a logic here or, as they say, a narrative. The Shoah, the Holocaust, is framed as the lowest point of the Diaspora on one side. Sort of “this happened because we did not have a State to take shelter, nor an Army to protect us”. And on the other side, the Israeli Independence, on the 8th day after, is framed as the highest point of Jewish history, the return to our land, or at least as the turning point in history. From now on, no Holocaust will happen again.

There is a meaning even in the number of days between the lowest point of Jewish history and the Israeli Independence: eight days, like Chanukah. Which, in this way, is seen as a celebration of military heroism, leading up from the tragedy of the Shoah to the affirmations of Zionism

On the other hand, Holocaust Memorial Day was established by the United Nations half a century after the events. And there is a case to say that the same United Nations (or what was before) have not been able to prevent the Holocaust. There seems to be an alternative narrative, a different logic, another way to frame the events.

The website of Holocaust Memorial Day states that the goal is “to remember the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution and in the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.”.

So here, the Holocaust is not the lowest point in Jewish history. Nor is the inexplicable horror that it is.

Let me remind you that while Germany was losing the war, the trains to Auschwitz had precedence over the trains to the front. Details like this (and there are plenty of them) defy any logic. Never in human history has the imperative to exterminate one person taken precedence over other imperatives, economic, political or otherwise.

With all the respect for tragedies such as Darfur or Cambodia, the Holocaust is a unique event in human history because it is something more, or something worse, than the bloody imposition of Communism over the rural society in Cambodia or the ethnic cleansing of the non-Arab population in Darfur. These are tragedies and genocides, to be sure; nonetheless, human history is full of similar attempts to impose collectivist utopias or to cleanse some regions of land ethnically.

As Jews, we have plenty of good reasons to find irritating, or worse, the denial of the unicity of the Holocaust. It downplays the most tragic chapter of our history. But there is worse.

There is a connection between the Holocaust and the State of Israel. The Holocaust (I prefer the Hebrew term Shoah, by the way) taught us that in the 20th century, in the age of totalitarianism, we Jews cannot trust anymore the protection granted by kings and sovereigns. That was during the Middle Ages when we were helpful to the economy (the role of Jewish innkeepers and tax collectors in the economy of Czarist Russia is well known). During the Middle Ages, we survived, and in some cases, we thrived (see Venice’s synagogues) as a minority, as a Diaspora. This did not work anymore in the 20th century. To survive in the 20th century, say the Zionists, we Jews need a nation-state.

And the Zionists are right. Religious and ethnic minorities have a very hard life in the age of totalitarianism and afterwards. So, for our collective survival, it is better to have at least one place in the world where we are the majority and from where we can send soldiers to rescue our people when things turn sour, be it Ethiopia or Croatia.

But for the enemies of Israel, the connection between Israel and the Holocaust works differently. They believe that after the Holocaust, the Zionists manoeuvred the United Nations and the public opinion through a subtle combination of financial power and political connection (which, for some reason, did not work when 6 million Jews were murdered). Exploiting the guilt of the Europeans, the Zionists have been able to establish themselves in the Middle East as white colonialist outposts.

For the anti-Zionist (and the anti-semittes, the two overlap quite often), the uniqueness of the Holocaust is a dirty trick, a tool used by the Zionists to justify the existence of Israel and atrocious, of course, “worse than the Nazi” crimes, committed against the Palestinians.

I fear that Holocaust Memorial Day, the commemoration of the Holocaust alongside other tragedies, and for teaching purposes only, somehow plays in the hands of Israel’s enemies, those who want to erase the largest Jewish community in the world and deprive us of political autonomy. My fear is that this year (and it will probably happen), Gaza will be listed among the places of genocide alongside Auschwitz. This will be used as a tool against Zionism and the State of Israel.

By Shai Charka

Which is sadly ironic. Let me be a bit of a historian. The Balfour Declaration promised a homeland to us Jews. It was 1917. Had a Jewish State been born in due time, without delay, six million Jews would have found shelter, a way to survive. At the same time, that failed painter (voted and trusted by the majority of his fellow citizens) continued his clown-like rages.

This is history. History says that evoking the Holocaust -which happened because there was no Israel- against Israel is factually incorrect and morally perverse. But yet, this is what is taking place under our eyes.

Yet, because this happens, because of the vulgarisation of the Holocaust and the trivialisation of history, it would be irresponsible for us Jews to leave the scene to our enemies, Palestinians or otherwise.

The day is called Holocaust Memorial Day for a reason, and the reason is that it memorialises the Holocaust. So we must take part in the commemoration to remind the public what the Holocaust was and why; by stating that it is unique, we do not lessen nor sanitise other tragedies.

It is a challenging message to convey, especially in those times when history is ignored or trivialised. As time passes, the witnesses and the survivors are fewer and fewer. We have to swim against the tide. We must explain complexity and nuances to a public who wants to see things in black and white and has no time for complexity,

But who’ll do it in our place if we don’t do it?

So please take your time to attend the commemorations where the uniqueness of the event is honoured, and no offensive anti-Isrtael agenda is hidden.

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Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.