Holocaust Remembrance Day is not just about history– it’s about being watchful for how these things start

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I am hyper-jet-lagged.

I just returned from a trip to Europe, where I visited Valladolid, the seat of the Spanish Inquisition, and Prague, the home of Hitler’s Jewish Museum.

It wasn’t the purpose of my trip to meditate on the history of Jewish genocide, but it’s hard not to consider it today.

My family tree, like most Jewish families, has whole branches lopped off, whole root systems strangled out. Like most Jewish American families, the mythology of my genealogy begins with the trip to America. Whatever came before is lost. What happened to those left behind is known. My history is a single green stem growing out from a mass grave, from piles of bodies reduced to numbers and tattoos and platitudes and darkness.

My personal family mythology involves my ancestors fleeing Spain, heading north into central Europe, into Lithuania and Russia and Germany. Into places that were safer than the Catholic European south, but where “safer” was a gamble. “Safer” has always been a gamble for my people, and it was a gamble the living branch of my family tree made when they illegally smuggled themselves and their children onto a ship to Ellis Island.

There is a long history of antisemitic hatred in the world, from long, long before the auto-da-fé. Long before the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh.

I am grateful there is a day when the world remembers the broken branches of my family, but it’s a small piece of this story. Without remembering the Czar’s pogroms, it isn’t enough. Without remembering the tortures of Torquemada, or the Blood Libel, it’s not enough.

Today we as an international community specifically remember the 6.5 million Jews murdered in the Shoah, alongside the Romani and homosexuals and the disabled and anyone who dared oppose the legally elected Chancellor of Germany, and the actions he took with his legally sanctioned power.

Remember that the actions of the Holocaust were state-sanctioned. Remember that the actions of the Inquisition were church-sanctioned. Remember that it is almost always forces backed by the power of law that carry out atrocities.

Y’hei sh’lama raba min sh’maya, v’chayim aleinu v’al kol Yisrael. V’imru: Amen.

Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu yaaseh shalom aleinu, v’al kol Yisrael. V’imru: Amen.