Reactions to Bin Laden’s death on Yom Ha Shoah

Today is Yom HaShoah (יום השואה) the Holocaust Remembrance Day, or, as many prefer to call it, the Shoah Remembrance Day (to see why you should call it Shoah and not Holocaust, read here). In Israel, sirens sound for two minutes all over the country and everyone ceases their activities no matter what they are doing, where and why in order to pay tribute to the memory of the 6 million Jews and 5 million other victims killed during the Shoah.

Here are some pictures of Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, which I took in August 2010. The pictures are all in black and white, because photographs cannot convey the emotions experienced during the visit to Yad Vashem: the total absence of colours is an attempt to crystallize this moment of mourning and recollection.

The triangle is the shape of the building hosting Yad Vashem. This picture shows the part visible externally, while the rest of the building continues below ground level. The triangle represents half of the Star of David (Maghen David) as a sign of mourning for the death of millions of Jews. While 6 million of Jews died during the Shoah, the names of only 3 millions of them have been identified to date and are listed inside Yad Vashem.

Below, some pictures of people’s reactions after visiting Yad Vashem. A feeling that, from my own experience, I can describe as a painful feeling of suffocation both caused by the thoughts about the number of victims and the atrocities they suffered, and, at the same time, the terribly dry heat that seems to be like a physical way to remind us about the weight and importance of that place.

On this year’s Yom Ha Shoah, the killing of Osama Bin Laden has been announced by the U.S. President Obama. Some part of the world (the U.S. in particular) is rejoicing, while others (to mention one example, Hamas) are mourning his death.

I believe both reactions to be wrong and non-sensical. No one should ever celebrate anyone’s death, even when it is the enemy’s death (whatever “enemy” might mean, I will not discuss this issue here): it would mean putting oneself on the same play-field as the “enemy” one is claiming to have fought.

At the same time, rejoicing of Bin Laden’s death seems to be both naive and counter-provocative: does anyone seriously believe this to be the end of the international threat of terrorism? I wish it were, but I very strongly doubt so. Rejoicing of his death could even bear serious consequences to security which should be carefully weighed out by people standing in the streets…and here I come to comment the second and opposite reaction to Bin Laden’s death: mourning.

Isn’t it ironic that, on Yom Ha Shoah, Hamas and Iran are mourning Bin Laden’s death declaring he was the only “Arab holy warrior” and condemning “Zionist terror”? This is only to prove that we must continue being aware of the dangers to international security and we mustn’t put our guards down now believing “everything is over”.

Perhaps, one should consider more seriously some of the more moderate views coming from Egypt, where Issam al-Aryan of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood responded to Bin Laden’s death by stating that “it’s time the world understood that there is no connection between violence and Islam” and now calling on the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq.

As for myself, I am still slightly bewildered by the news of Bin Laden’s death and I don’t really feel like this event equips me with any additional information allowing me to comment on the world’s future of war or peace. Maybe this is because, in fact, absolutely nothing will change after Bin Laden’s death.

How do you feel about the news of Bin Laden’s death?

Do you think this news has overshadowed the importance of Yom Ha Shoah?

Arbeit Macht (Nicht) Frei

As you all know, today – the 27th January – is the Holocaust Memorial Day.

“Countless men, women and children suffered the horrors of the ghettos and Nazi death camps, yet somehow survived. All of them carry a crucial message for all of us.  A message about the triumph of the human spirit.  A living testament that tyranny, though it may rise, will surely not prevail”. (UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 27 January 2010)

The 27th January – the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp – was designated  in the “Holocaust Remembrance” United Nations Resolution 60/7 – as an annual International Day of Commemoration to honour the victims of the Holocaust. This occasion is observed with ceremonies and activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and at UN offices around the world. Every country around the world holds specific events dedicated to this occasion.

I don’t actually like using the term ‘Holocaust‘, in fact a lot of controversy has been raised regarding the use of a term meaning “sacrifice” as if the killing of millions of people had a ‘higher’ purpose or justification. This is why the preferred term is the Hebrew one ‘Shoah’ meaning catastrophe, disaster and destruction.

I would like to remember this day, by posting the famous poem ‘If this is a man’ (Se questo è un uomo) by Primo Levi, which was written by the well-known survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp to convey the feeling of degradation and inhumanisation experienced by the people kept in the Nazi extermination camps.

Voi che vivete sicuri / You who live safe
Nelle vostre tiepide case / In your warm houses,
voi che trovate tornando a sera / You who find warm food
Il cibo caldo e visi amici / And friendly faces when you return home.

Considerate se questo è un uomo / Consider if this is a man
Che lavora nel fango / Who works in mud,
Che non conosce pace / Who knows no peace,
Che lotta per mezzo pane / Who fights for a crust of bread,
Che muore per un sì o per un no. / Who dies by a yes or a no.

Considerate se questa è una donna / Consider if this is a woman
Senza capelli e senza nome / Without hair, without name,
Senza più forza di ricordare / Without the strength to remember,
Vuoti gli occhi e freddo il grembo / Vacant eyes, cold womb,
Come una rana d’inverno. / Like a frog in winter.

Meditate che questo è stato / Realise that this has happened.

Vi comando queste parole. / Remember these words.

Scolpitele nel vostro cuore / Engrave them in your hearts,
Stando in casa andando per via / When at home or in the street,
Coricandovi alzandovi / When lying down, when getting up.

Ripetetele ai vostri figli./ Repeat them to your children.

O vi si sfaccia la casa / Or may your houses be destroyed,
La malattia vi impedisca / Illness bar your way,
I vostri nati torcano il viso da voi / Your offspring turn away from you.

This poem, which is of extraordinary strength, focussed on the humiliation of the camps that sought not only to destroy people physically, but also – and especially – emotionally. People there were not to be people anymore. The key aim of the Nazis was to make these prisoners forget they were humans too, and, as such, had natural rights.

I wrote about this poem once before in my blog, when I was talking about racism against immigrants. You can read about that topic, here: This is Not a Man.

A year ago, I wrote a few lines about the 27th January, The Meaning of Life.

Today, people have lived like usual and people have been at work.

Yet, today, we need to stop and think…we need to remember what has been and why.
This has been and it could be again.

Please take a few minutes today to think, remember and understand that what happened can happen again. We are never to consider ourselves safe enough from humans’ folly.