Remembering to Remember

As the Three Weeks approach, it is an appropriate time to once again turn our attention to how successful we have been in properly commemorating the neshamos of the six million Jews who perished, R”l, in the destruction of Europe from 1939 to 1945.

My first memory of this issue being discussed at a meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah was in March of 1975. I had just joined the staff of the Agudah and was privileged to sit in for a part of the meeting which included the presence of Harav Moshe Feinstein, Harav Yitzchok Hutner, Harav Yaakov Kaminetsky, and the Bluzhever and Novominsker Rebbes, zichronom livrachah.

The meeting was held in the conference room of the Agudah offices which, at that time, were on the 9th floor of 5 Beekman Street, in Manhattan. My rebbi, Harav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, zt”l, was ill and was the only member of the Moetzes who did not attend.

Reb Dovid Klein, a representative of the shearis hapleitah, asked the Rabbanim to set aside a day that we could use as a communal yahrtzeit for all those who perished. He spoke about the longing of those who died al kiddush Hashem to be remembered as well as the need for future generations to remember what had happened. Also making presentations were, z”l, Rabbi Leibel Cywiak, David Turkel, and, l’havdil bein chaim l’chaim, Rabbi Yoseph Frankel, shlita, (later to become the Veyolipoler Rebbe and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah).

One of the major factors involved in the decision that day was the position of the Chazon Ish. He felt strongly that our generation does not have the power or ability to make new “days” or takanos for all of Klal Yisrael. Establishing a new day to commemorate the Churban of Europe was out of the question. The day set aside from time immemorial was already Tishah B’Av. No new day could be established.

It was agreed, though, that a way must be found to memorialize this most recent Churban so it and its lessons are not forgotten.

At that meeting they made two decisions. First, they noted that the sixth Siyum HaShas would be coming up in a few months (14 Tammuz 5735). The Daf Yomi was actually a creation of European Jewry. Before the Second World War, the estimated number of Daf Yomi learners numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Most of them, R”l, were murdered.

What better zechus would there be for the neshamos of the Kedoshim than if the Siyum HaShas would be reinvigorated and dedicated l’zecher nishmasam?

The program of the Siyum would include a presentation of what we had lost so that the next generation should gain an appreciation of the void that this has caused in Klal Yisrael. A clarion call was issued to rebuild the network of Daf Yomi learners which had fallen from the peak before the war to a mere handful at that time.

Agudas Yisrael of America undertook to reestablish the Daf Yomi in our country and Harav Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, was asked to make the presentation at the Siyum HaShas in Manhattan Center. Remarkably, the commemoration was most effective and, at each Siyum HaShas of the Daf Yomi since then, a special memorial section was inserted into the program to commemorate the Kedoshim.

The Kedoshim of Churban Europe have the enormous zechus of causing the mobilization of Klal Yisrael to reach remarkably prodigious levels of Shas; the results of that meeting still reverberate to this very day. Rav Gifter’s memorable words are still played over by many on Tishah B’Av to help them understand the meaning of that tragic day.

There was another decision of the Moetzes, though, at that meeting. The other directive was not as readily accomplished.

“The Moetzes placed a ‘chiyuv’ upon all mechanchim to teach their children about what happened in those horrible years — with special emphasis on the stories of Kiddush Hashem and mesirus nefesh during the period.”

This, in fact, is a direct quote from the minutes of that meeting written down by Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, and provided to me by Rabbi Moshe Kolodny, the archivist of the Orthodox Jewish Archives.

Only recently have Torah Umesorah’s Zchor Yemos Olam and the Geliebter Foundation’s Yizkereim program, as well as the trend-setting work of Project Witness, really taken hold and begun to have an impact on our yeshivah school system. The Three Weeks is a perfect time to take stock and see how we can finally accomplish the assignment that was given to us by the Moetzes in 1975, to see what additional resources can be brought to the table to fulfill that directive.

It has been 40 years since that memorable meeting. The time has certainly come.


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