Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah), observed this year in Israel on April 24, is a day filled with mixed emotions. While the Holocaust is one of the world’s most tragic historical events, it is also commonly credited with leading to the creation of the State of Israel.
“Many of Israel’s original fighters were Holocaust survivors,” noted Dr. John A.I. Grossman, Chairman of LIBI USA, the official welfare fund of the Israeli Army (IDF). “It is incumbent upon all of us to both honor those who went through the Holocaust as well as to recognize their contribution to the State of Israel.”
To that end, in a moving addition to the International March of the Living ceremony, to be held next week in the Auschwitz death camp, the parents of missing IDF soldier Lt. Hadar Goldin will read a letter their son wrote while on a high school Holocaust memorial trip to Poland before he entered the army. The Goldins will join a delegation from the IDF for the ceremony.
“The Israeli army recognizes the importance of educating soldiers, both about their heritage and about their history,” continued Grossman. “Part of the LIBI USA budget goes towards Holocaust awareness programs and trips which help to develop a deeper appreciation about where the Jewish people have been, where we are today and the clarity to know that we have to fight for a safe and secure future.”
Goldin’s letter is particularly moving given the circumstances of his death. During the Gaza war in 2014, called Operation Protective Edge, Hamas orchestrated a deadly ambush two hours into a humanitarian ceasefire. They killed Goldin along with Sgt. Oron Shaul. Their bodies have never been returned to Israel and are believed to be held by Hamas as a future negotiation tool in exchange for terrorists imprisoned in Israeli jails.
In his letter, Goldin wrote that he had the strength to give “above and beyond” for his country. He wrote, “I am sitting in a freight car in Poland, in the corner. I don’t know how many children like me and people similar and different to me passed through here – and they were all Jews. They were torn from their homes, their families, their parents and children and did not know where they were being sent and where they were going. But I want to tell you that because of you, I know where I am going.
“I am going to the State of Israel. My country and ours. And I understand, thanks to you, what my country gives me, but mainly – what I need to give of myself to the country. To represent and defend my country in the IDF.”
In addition to the participation of the IDF in the March of the Living, the army is expanding its Holocaust education initiative through a project called Zikaron BaSalon (Memory in the Living Room). Survivors and their children will visit 120 army bases to tell their stories about surviving the Holocaust.
“With the passing of each day, the number of survivors who can share their personal accounts of the Holocaust rapidly declines,” expressed Grossman. “We have an obligation to honor and remember those who passed through that time in history and make known their part in the miraculous creation of the Jewish state. Who, in those years, could have imagined that Israel would have a strong and proud army?”