Every so often, it’s useful to recall the immortal words of novelist William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That insight certainly applies when it comes to our collective responsibility to honor the memory of Holocaust victims and to care for the survivors who are still with us.
Two stories in J. this week describe new local efforts to remember the Shoah.
One is educational: The Tri-Valley area of Alameda County will now be home to the newly formed East Bay Holocaust Education Center, which will conduct outreach to local schools, teaching the lessons of the Shoah largely through the arts.
The second is commemorative: 6 million buttons, one for every Jew killed in the Holocaust, will be installed in a memorial garden at Chabad of Bakersfield, creating the first Holocaust memorial in the Central Valley.
In the Bay Area, we have Holocaust memorials, notably the sculpture outside the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, and the Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove on the campus of Sonoma State University, which includes a sapling cloned from the chestnut tree that grew outside Anne Frank’s hidden attic in Amsterdam.
We also have educational initiatives. For years, individual survivors have helped tell their stories in person. The Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation, an S.F.-based organization dedicated to remembering the heroics of Jewish partisans, sends speakers to schools and other settings to tell their tales of fighting back against Nazi tyranny. Jewish Family and Children’s Services’ Holocaust Center in San Francisco runs one of the country’s finest speakers’ bureaus, counting — not too long ago — dozens of survivors among its cadre of lecturers.
Today that number is down to 17.
As we have been reporting for years, time is taking its toll on the survivor generation. Every year we lose more of them, and those who remain, now mostly in their late 80s and 90s, are increasingly unable to make public speaking appearances.
Even worse, too many live in poverty. According to Kavod, a national nonprofit that aids Holocaust survivors, of the 80,000 survivors living in the United States in 2019, a third were living at or below the poverty line.
That’s why we need initiatives such as Operation Dignity, a project to help some 150 survivors living in the South Bay. It’s a team effort, with Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley and Jewish Silicon Valley (formerly the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley) working hand in hand with Kavod to raise and distribute funds for food, shelter, medical aid and dental care.
It is fitting, and necessary, that we continue remembering the Holocaust and develop new ways of teaching how to identify the warning signs and fend off such horrors in the future.
But the past isn’t past. The human needs of those who went through this most terrible period in our people’s history must be front and center in our consciousness. We must do everything possible to guarantee care, comfort and dignity for the survivors among us.