Observing Yom Hashoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day

Posted by Billyjam, April 21, 2009 11:31am | Post a Comment
the readerOne of the most memorable scenes from the hilarious Ricky Gervais/ Stephen Merchant television series Extras produced by HBO/BBC is the episode in which Kate Winslet, playing a nun taking a break from shooting a Holocaust film, is giving advice on how to score an Oscar. "If you do a film about the Holocaust, you're guaranteed an Oscar," advises Winslet, playing herself in the mockumentary about extras in Hollywood. Winslet's episode was first aired in August 2005. Of course, the real kicker to this fictional scenario is that just three years later Winslet went on to star in the wonderful 2008 Holocaust film The Reader and won an Oscar for her role for "best actress" at the Academy Awards earlier this year. 

But the real reason why so many films about the indelible scar on the human experience that is the Holocaust go on to justifiably win Academy Awards is that these typically somber heartfelt films tend to be made, by both directors and actors alike, with such a level of pure passion and sincerity that it comes across in the finished product and ultimately makes for really powerful pieces of art. Examples of films that deal in some way with the Holocaust include Anne Frank - The Whole Story (2001), The Devil's Arithmetic (1999), Conspiracy (2001), Sophie Scholl - The Final Days (2005), Life Is Beautiful (1997), Schindler's List (1993), Jakob the Liar (1999), as well as the 1978 TV mini-series Holocaust. All of these films are available on DVD and found at Amoeba Music.

life is beautifulI address this topic today, April 21, 2009, because this is the observed Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom Hashoah. Today is a most somber day when people of all backgrounds and races should stop to ponder the horrors of the Holocaust, which took the lives of approximately six million Jews. Today is a day for all of us to question however such a living nightmare could have possibly occured, and only a little over 60 years ago (very recently in the history of mankind). We also should question if such a horror could happen again, and empower ourselves with information to find out if it is already happening again in places such as Rwanda.

In Israel Yom Hashoah has been a national public holiday since 1959. In general, all over the world this day of remembrance is observed with candlelighting, speakers, poems, prayers, and singing. Usually six candles are lit to represent the six million Jews murdered and to honor the countless families completely decimated. At most remembrance services Holocaust survivors speak about their experiences or share in the readings.

Yesterday, in preparation for this Amoeblog, I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage at Battery Place in Lower Manhattan and saw their A Living Memorial to the Holocaust installation. One part filled with photographs of victims is one of the most sobering and emotion filled museum exhibits I have ever witnessed in my life. Although, on a par with it is the real-life scale outdoor sculpture of Holocaust victims, the Holocaust Memorial by artist George Segal, in San Francisco just near the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. That piece is so vivid and real that it gives me goosebumps every time I see it. In addition to visiting the museum, reading some book excerpts & visiting websites, I also caught up with Jewish radio broadcaster Nachum Segal, who five mornings a week (M-F, 6-9am) hosts the popular music and talk radio program JM in the AM (Jewish Moments in the morning) on WFMU 91.1FM, available online 24/7.

I asked Segal what percentage of the music in his extensive library is themed around the Holocaust. "That's a tough one to answer," he responded. "Do we count all the heartfelt prayers which we say on a regular basis, many of which are associated with Jewish tragedies over the centuries?...The percentage goes much higher the broader we use the Holocaust category. But I would say that there is a significant small percentage which speaks directly to the Shoah. Many in Yiddish and English especially take on an aspect of the Shoah directly." 

What are some of the most powerful or poignant pieces of music about the Holocaust in Segal's opinion? "I may be the wrong guy to ask because I might be in the wrong generation," he said. "Older people might go for the Yiddish selections that describe the actual trauma and feelings of those being rounded up. I, on the other hand, being second generation, cannot think Holocaust without thinking of the almost immediate founding of the State of Israel and the association of the two. Therefore there is a song sung by Moshe Yess ("Yosef My Son" -- found on the recently released CD The Greatest Hits of Megama) which describes the seperation of a child from his parents and then the miraculous reunion in Jerusalem after all thought the other was dead. That might be my favorite."

I asked Segal if music as well as film and other forms of art that directly tackle the Holocaust help in the healing process. He said no, absolutely not, stressing that, "The acts were so cruel and so vast and so the boy in the striped pyjamasaccepted that 'healing process' is not an applicable term in my opinion! It is all about remembrance and for Jews (I do not like when we demand that the world remember), our first responsibility should be to remind ourselves." Finally, I asked Segal of all the Holocaust films both fictionalized and/or documentary that he has seen, what are the two or three that he would he recommend people watch? He responded, "Shoah by Claude Lanzman -- remarkable in that he has zero footage of WW2 and it is yet so amazing. I recently saw The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas [and] felt [it] was very powerful and done exceedingly well."

Click here for a link to Nachum Segal's commemoration of Yom Hashoah today.

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