Why Holocaust Remembrance Matters Now More Than Ever

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Every year, I write a blog for SHRM on Holocaust Remembrance.   

This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) is next week on May 2, 2019.

This year, we are posting the blog early. Reason: so HR has time to consider some sort of Holocaust commemoration.

During the Holocaust, more than 11 million human beings were systematically murdered.  Plus, millions more died in battle. That includes American, British and other brave military forces that sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others.

Of course, every life is a universe. Every loss of life matters equally.

But the Holocaust had a disproportionate effect on the European Jewish community. Six out of nine million European Jews were murdered—the percentage is beyond staggering.   

This is personal to me. Most of my family was killed in the Holocaust and that forever informs my worldview.

Those who were saved also informs my worldview. My cousin’s mom was saved by a Catholic Church at great risk to those who were part of its community.

While I write about Holocaust remembrance every year, this year feels different. The meme #Neveragain feels less certain.

Last year, there was the massacre of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Plus, there has been a meteoric spike in hate crimes against Jews across the globe in general and in the United States in particular (both before and after the Pittsburgh massacre).

Almost every week, if not every day, we see defacement of public or private property with Nazi swastikas. Indeed, we can find on line Nazi clothing and genocide games. 

For many Jewish employees, anxiety over antisemitism is materially higher. This may be even more so for those whose families were personally affected by the Holocaust.

Now: what can HR do? One way to do so is simply to post on your Intranet a remembrance statement. You can find words and images all over the Internet.

This is also an ideal topic for a diversity and inclusion program. One option to consider: invite a survivor to speak. Bear witness to someone who did.

There are so many things that HR can do. I ask only that you do something.

After the Tree of Life attack, I attended an interfaith service at my synagogue. People of all faiths, races and ethnic backgrounds were there.

I heard from Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Muslim clergy. Political leaders from both political parties and leaders of various racial and ethnic groups who were not Jewish made sure, along with the choir of clergy, that their Jewish brothers and sisters were not alone.

I was particularly touched by the words of a Lutheran Pastor. She said, in effect:

  1.  When anything bad happens to any of us, it happens to all of us.
  2.  When we do anything good for any of us, we do something good for all of us.

Holocaust remembrance days provides all organizations with an opportunity to remind their employees of these universal truths.

I close with a quote from Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel:

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Leaders cannot be silent.

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