Friday, May 2, 2008


Today, readers, is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Holocaust -- the Shoah -- need not be defined or explained in any measure here. I think that the general readership of my blog knows what happened, when, to whom, where, and why. The day was inaugurated in 1959 and the date chosen was the 27th of Nisan (because the original date, the 14th of Nisan, fell the day before Pesach which is pretty inconvenient as far as choosing dates goes). There are a variety of ways in many different places around the globe that the memory of the 6 million and more is remembered. There are marches, readings of the names of the victims, services, Torah scroll readings, and more.

I wrote not too long ago about how I have always felt distanced from the Holocaust, and I think that it is something that many converts struggle with. Though, there have been and are those who convert because of their closeness to the Holocaust -- a feeling of remorse, regret, sympathy, humanity. For me, I've read about the Holocaust in more ways than I can count, and I always promised myself I would not involve myself in Holocaust studies because those I've met who are actively involved tend to be cynical and sarcastic about life and the general human condition. I've read the books, the laments of "Where was G-d?" And I have no answers, only questions, and I'm comfortable with that.

So today, I take a brief moment to mention someone who shares my name who sacrificed herself during the Shoah to save others.

Chaviva Reik was born as Emma in Shayo Hasso in Solvakia, and she grew up in Banska Bystrica the Carpathian Mountains where she joined the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. She made aliya to Israel in 1939, where she joined Kibbutz Ma'anit and then enlisted in an underground military organization's parachutist unit. During this time there was a puppet government in place in Slovkia and an uprising was staged to coincide with the entrance of the allied forces, specifically the Red Army. But to squelch the uprising, the Nazis took Slovakia in 1944. After her training, Chaviva and several others waited in Italy to be parachuted into Slovakia, but because of the refusal of British authorities to send a woman behind enemy lines for military operations, she had to hitch a ride to the location with some U.S. pilots. Finally in Banska Bystrica, the group of parachuters set up soup kitchens, community centers, and helped Jewish kids escape to Hungary and on to Palestine. The group also helped rescue POWs. In late 1944, Nazis moved in and occupied Banska Bystrica, so the parachuting group and about 40 other Jewish partisans escaped and built a camp in the mountains but were captured within a few days by Ukrainian SS troops. About a month later, Chaviva and most of the others were shot by the Nazis, while others were sent to death camps. One, Haim Chermesh, escaped to Palestine. It wasn't until 1952 that Chaviva's remains, as well as those of the others, were returned and buried in Mt. Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem. Now, Chaviva Reik's name adorns an institute, a ship, and numerous streets.

So here's to Chaviva Reik, on this remembrance of the Shoah. I tend to be more reflective about the Holocaust on Tisha B'av (which is in August), so perhaps I'll have something more to add then. But until then, here is a video of a memorial prayer for those lost to the Holocaust.

And perhaps, just one last thought, something to consider when we remember the Holocaust and the tragedies that have befallen Jew and non-Jew alike, a quote by the Jewish writer Sholem Asch, "Not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, is a necessary condition for our existence."