By Evan Frankl, Reference Librarian, Fordham Westchester Campus
Many of us are probably familiar with the “holiday” of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This was established by the U.N. General Assembly to mark the date (January 27th) that the most infamous of concentration camps, Auschwitz, was liberated by the Allied forces. This solemn event marks the darkest chapter of the 20th century, and is a rare occasion of near-unanimous international support for a memorial. However, there is another annual day of remembrance that is being observed this year from the evening of April 20th through April 21st. It is known as Yom HaShoah.
What is Yom HaShoah?
Since before its creation in 1948, the people of Israel, many of them Holocaust survivors, were determined to set aside a memorial date for the tragedy that had befallen the Jewish community. An initial proposal was made to set aside the date of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (pre-World War II Warsaw, Poland having the world’s second-largest Jewish community, after New York City). However, since this fell during the holiday of Passover, it was not considered appropriate. A compromise set the new “holiday” at seven days after the end of Passover (source: Haaretz). This year, Yom HaShoah starts on the evening of April 20th.
As seen in this report from ILTV News, all of Israel – both secular and religious – have developed an annual series of rituals (with Interfaith participation) to mark the date. The most public display of Yom HaShoah is the two-minute nationwide “freeze.” Traffic stops and people stand in place, while air raid sirens wail throughout the country.
As a religious holiday, Yom HaShoah is relatively new, and both liturgy and rituals are still in flux. In New York, as across the U.S., ceremonies may be public or private, led by clergy or laypersons, held in sanctuaries, Jewish Community Centers, or public buildings. Commonalities include the lighting of 6 memorial candles, the chanting of the prayer El Maleh Rahamim (G-d Full of Compassion), and a group recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish.
The Rosenblatt Holocaust Collection at Fordham University Libraries
Fordham alum Mr. Sidney Rosenblatt (FCLC ’82) believed that during his time at the university, the Library’s holdings regarding the Holocaust were inadequate for a first-class research university. In 1991 he decided to start a collection of Holocaust books at Quinn Library (since relocated to Walsh Library) that has grown into a collection of over 10,000 books, films, & artifacts.
As with many atrocities, there was an initial surge of newspaper coverage and books published. However, given the combination of survivors happy just to have survived, and mid-20th century custom that people did not discuss their war experiences, publication of Holocaust memoirs and research books only started to significantly increase in the last 30 years (about the time of the start of the Rosenblatt Collection). The Rosenblatt collection contains a great number of personal memoirs (and biographies) from different facets of the Holocaust. Over 200 of these volumes were published in the last decade. Although far from “light reading,” there is also a wide range of appropriately toned fiction written about the Holocaust in the Rosenblatt collection.
Even graphic novels have entered Holocaust literature, the most famous being the Maus series by Art Spiegelman.
An invaluable part of the Rosenblatt Collection Guide is the “Holocaust Studies in America” section. This provides links to twenty different museums and archives (such as the Archives of the Leo Baeck Institute, and the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center) to assist with research on both the macro and local level. New York City alone has at least 11 such collections.
Museums and Places of Reflection
Probably the most famous Holocaust museum in the U.S. is the United States National Holocaust Memorial Museum, opened in 1993 near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. For those members of the Fordham community wanting a closer physical resource, the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust can be found locally in Battery Park City. For outdoor, contemplative experiences, the Fordham community has two options: first, the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial Plaza (Riverside Park at 82nd St.) is only 1.5 miles from Lincoln Center campus. Second, the Garden of Remembrance in downtown White Plains is only 2 miles from Westchester campus.
According to estimates produced by researchers for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, only approximately 67,000 Holocaust survivors remain alive in the United States, and the majority are over age 85 (source: Claims Conference). As these heroes fade into history, it is important to learn, important to remember, and most importantly – to never forget.