On Holocaust Remembrance Day, there's more you can do for the Jewish people than just remember
On April 27, Jewish people around the world will mark Yom HaShoah, or, Holocaust Remembrance Day. This solemn day commemorates the genocide of 6 million Jews and 11 million others during World War II. It is a day to reflect on the tragedy, remember the victims, and reaffirm our commitment to never let such heinous acts happen again.
Each year, we declare “Never again!” But this year, with Holocaust survivors on the run yet again in Ukraine, I have a new appreciation for what it truly means to uphold that promise. In the past several weeks, I've greeted numerous Holocaust survivors – some in their late 90's – on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. They have just watched their homes get shelled and entire neighbourhoods get wiped out during the war in Ukraine, and are now hoping for a safer, more prosperous life in their biblical homeland of Israel.
As these Jews escape horror in Ukraine and make aliyah (immigrate to Israel), it's providing the rest of the world with a way to live up to the promise that we would never forget what Holocaust victims have gone through, and to reaffirm that, moving forward, we will always be there to defend them.
Rita Clements-Fleisner, a dear friend, once told me about her heroic father, LeRoy Clements, and his experiences during World War II. Clements was a strong, 6'2" golden gloves boxer, a medic, and a decorated war hero. As Rita explained, God had given him the strength for the task at hand, but nothing could have prepared him for what he saw towards the end of the war. After days marching across Germany in the cold and snow, Clements became one of the first U.S. soldiers to enter Kaufering concentration camp, the largest and worst of the Dachau sub-camps. What he and his comrades discovered when they liberated Kaufering shook them to their core.
Rita shared how her father was heartbroken when he saw the terrible suffering and death of God's chosen people. Photos and videos documenting the liberation of Kaufering show emaciated victims, many lying dead and abandoned, and others just barely alive. Clements lovingly tended to the survivors and gave them everything he had from his remaining supplies. After the war, Clements returned home, but he bore those wartime scars for the rest of his life. He could barely speak about the horrors that he witnessed. Instead, he would just cry.
Rita told me this story to explain why she feels passionately about supporting aliyah, and how it's paramount to help get Jews home to Israel from countries around the world where they suffer from extreme poverty or anti-Semitism – and now, from the terror of war. Helping Jews move to their biblical homeland is Rita's way of continuing her father's legacy of love and compassion for the Jewish people.
On Yom HaShoah, we recall the importance of not only remembering what happened during the Holocaust, but also commit to taking meaningful action to prevent another one. Thoughts and talk alone will never be enough to stop history from repeating itself. We need to take concrete action to protect Jewish people now and in the future.
By funding aliyah initiatives, anyone around the world with a heart for the Jewish people can help rescue people like Nataliia Raitman, who fled Kharkiv and made her way to Israel last week, just ahead of Passover.
“When the war began again on February 24, I had a strange déjà vu as if the same Gestapo army attacked us again,” Nataliia told our Fellowship staff. She also added that when she saw what happened in some villages like Bucha, where mass killings of civilians took place, “I felt that this is even worse than the Gestapo.”
Nataliia escaped Ukraine the first time in October of 1941, before the Germans took control of Kharkiv. Nataliia's mother helped her and her siblings evacuate, but her grandmother couldn't believe the Nazis would kill her simply for being Jewish. So she stayed behind. But sadly, her grandmother was indeed killed, along with many others in her neighbourhood.
Rita's story is a great reminder that bringing Jews home to Israel is one of the most powerful steps we can take towards achieving the goal of helping victims like Nataliia. Moreover, everything we do to support Israel strengthens the only Jewish state, which offers a safe haven for Jews around the world.
As I remember the victims of the Holocaust this week – including members of my own family who perished at the hands of the Nazis – I will find comfort in knowing that there are people like LeRoy and Rita who will do everything they can to protect the Jewish people.
And, as Holocaust survivors are once again in a fight for survival in Ukraine, you can do something about it right now as well. If we are to overcome evil and protect the innocent everywhere, we simply must couple our memory of the past with meaningful action to ensure a brighter future.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews of Canada (IFCJ Canada) was founded in 2003 to promote better understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews and to build broad support for Israel. Today it is one of the leading forces helping Israel and Jews in need worldwide – and is one of the largest channels of Canadian Christian support for Israel. IFCJ Canada is a separately registered charity governed by an independent board of directors with Yael Eckstein serving as president. Founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, IFCJ Canada operates alongside a network of Fellowship offices around the world including in the United States, Israel, and Korea. For more information, visit www.ifcj.ca.
Yael Eckstein is president of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews of Canada. She also holds the rare distinction of being a woman leading one of the world's largest, religious not-for-profit organizations, having globally raised 1.6 billion dollars, through mainly Christian support, to assist Israel and the Jewish people.