As a member of the US Army’s 8th Infantry Division, my grandfather, Ronald Rabinovitz, found himself in a unique position of liberating his fellow Jews. “When I said that I was also Jewish, they threw their arms about me and kissed me,” he later wrote to his brother in a letter. “It gave me a strange feeling which I’ve never before experienced and can’t describe very well.” As the only soldier fluent in Yiddish, he became an unexpected translator and was entrusted with the solemn task of sharing some of the earliest firsthand accounts of the Holocaust, serving as a bridge between the survivors and the Allied forces.
According to his own account, my grandfather witnessed Commanding General Bryant E. Moore, gather local German civilians to confront the horrors first hand within the camp gates. Unbeknownst to General Moore, his actions mirrored the early seeds of what would become a cornerstone of Holocaust education: bearing witness.
Aware of their impending defeat, the Nazis themselves scrambled to erase their genocidal atrocities. This conduct mirrors the typical behavior of a perpetrator in the aftermath of a traumatic crime. In her seminal work, “Trauma & Recovery,” Dr. Judith Herman observes, “In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting.” Confronted with the unfathomable barbarity of the Nazi crimes, preserving the camps as stark evidence for the world became, and remained, paramount for the past 79 years. The need to witness is critical for validating the experience. Entering these camps today evokes a chilling immediacy, as if the dormant crematoriums could be rekindled at any moment.
Whether for better or worse, Jewish history often unfolds in a relentless cycle, with stories from the past continually reshaping in the present. I felt the weight of this phenomenon recently while viewing images of foreign dignitaries and celebrities at Kfar Aza, a kibbutz brutally attacked by Hamas on October 7, 2023. It stirred memories of German civilians strolling through Wöbbelin. Notably, the Israelis deliberately chose to preserve the raw damage of the kibbutz from that very day, akin to our approach with the camps in Europe. As Jews, there’s a deep-seated fear that the world may not believe us. Much like the barbed wire fence around the camps, we decided to keep the ransacked homes in Kfar Aza untouched.
The striking resemblance between October 7th commemorations and Holocaust remembrance has become an inescapable lens. In the months following the attack, special units tirelessly worked around the clock to recover even the smallest bone fragments and ash of the victims. A similar effort is ongoing in parts of Poland, conducted by some of the same organizations responsible for collecting the remains of Israelis after October 7th. During my last trip to Poland, I experienced this firsthand as heavy rains brought bone fragments to the surface. While collecting these remains is a part of Jewish burial practice, one should not ignore the profound psychological need among Jews to ensure that no one is forgotten, as if this tragedy never occurred. Unfortunately, the fear of Holocaust denial is well-founded. A recent poll by the Economist/YouGov revealed that 20 percent of US citizens aged 18-29 believe the Holocaust is a myth.