Yom HaShoah: A Day to Remember

In Blogs by Ty Perry1 Comment

Two years ago I was in Israel on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day). Our team of young adults, a delegation from California and Nevada taking part in the March of the Living, sat in a park amphitheater together. We each shared what we had learned about the Holocaust during our two weeks in Poland and Israel.

Not long after we began, the wail of a siren broke the calm of the still, spring morning. For two minutes, the haunting blare rang out in remembrance of the 6 million Jews and 5 million Gentiles who died as victims of the Holocaust.

Yom HaShoah is, by its very nature, relatively modern, established by an act of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, in 1951. This means, of course, that, unlike Passover, Sukkot, Yom Kippur, and the other feasts of Israel, Yom HaShoah is not a biblical holy day. Rather, it is a solemn observance—and a very painful one at that—in which the Jewish community collectively memorializes victims of the Holocaust.

The fact that it was not instituted by God, however, does not mean that Yom HaShoah is not theological. On the contrary, questions about God, His relationship with Israel, and His character are inherent to discussions about the Holocaust. I discovered this several years ago when talking with a Holocaust survivor. He said, “If we are God’s Chosen People, why did He allow 6 million of us to perish? I find it very hard to believe in such a God.” 

Since then, I have heard similar sentiments repeated countless times by Jewish friends. We must acknowledge, however, that questions of God’s presence during the Holocaust are distinct from questioning God’s existence in light of evil in general. My Jewish friends are not necessarily questioning God’s existence; they are questioning why their God would allow such evil to befall His special people.

The Bible has the answers to such questions. Let’s address just a few.

1. God was not sleeping.

Recently I was at coffee with a Jewish friend. We were talking about God’s protection of the Jewish people throughout the ages when she said, “I guess God was asleep at the wheel during the Holocaust.”

Certainly, from a human perspective that seems plausible. After all, surely God must not have been alert to or aware of the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. God tells us, however, that He was not sleeping. Far from it, in fact.

Consider past persecutions of the Jewish people. Remember the account of Esther? Although God’s name is never once mentioned in the book of Esther, His hand behind the scenes is evident as He raises a young Jewish woman to a place of authority in the Persian king’s court. He uses Esther to save Persian Jewry from annihilation (Esther 4:14).

And who can forget the Exodus out of Egypt? Oppressed for 400 years by the Egyptians, God used Moses to lead Israel out of bondage and eventually into the land He promised them (although their sin added four decades to the journey!). 

The Lord was not distant from His people during these times—He went through the trials with them.

God was not sleeping or unaware of Israel’s suffering during these painful periods. In fact, the psalmist writes, “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). And the prophet Isaiah declares that “[i]n all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). 

The Lord was not distant from His people during these times—He went through the trials with them.

2. God foretold of Jewish persecution.

If God was not sleeping during the Holocaust, then He must have allowed the Holocaust to take place. How does that square with a just and good God?

The answer to this question is found in Deuteronomy 28, where we read that because God has a unique relationship with and love for Israel, He will chasten them when they are disobedient. Among the curses of chastening listed there, we find the following:

Then the Lᴏʀᴅ will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known—wood and stone. And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the Lᴏʀᴅ will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life. In the morning you shall say, “Oh, that it were evening!”And at evening you shall say, “Oh, that it were morning!” because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see (vv. 64–67).

The parallels between this description and the experience of many during the Holocaust are unavoidable. Centuries before Hitler was born, God foretold future dispersion of the Jewish people and subsequent persecution of them on the part of the nations.

We must remember, though, the purpose of these curses. They are not merely punitive measures, taken to show God’s displeasure. These curses are acts of God’s chastening of His beloved Chosen People. Indeed, the Scripture records that “whom the Lᴏʀᴅ loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Prov. 3:12).

3. Restoration and judgment will come.

The thing about punishment is that it is usually an end in itself, the consequence of bad behavior. Chastening, on the other hand, has as its end goal repentance and restoration, not pain. The pain of punishment is the catalyst God uses to get His people’s attention and to show them where they went wrong.

The pain of punishment is the catalyst God uses to get His people’s attention and to show them where they went wrong.

Shortly after listing the cursings that will come upon Israel for disobedience, God promises restoration, conditioned on repentance. 

Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lᴏʀᴅ your God drives you, and you return to the Lᴏʀᴅ your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the Lᴏʀᴅ your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lᴏʀᴅ your God has scattered you (Deuteronomy 30:1–3).

Interestingly, eight days after Yom HaShoah, Israel and the Jewish community worldwide celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. It is a joyous celebration of the rebirth of Israel as a sovereign nation. But to the believer, it is more than that—it is a recognition of God’s faithfulness to His Chosen People, and it looks forward to the day when ultimate national repentance and restoration will take place (Zechariah 12:10; 14:9–11).

The Holocaust was an incredibly painful event, one that continues to haunt not only the dwindling number of people who experienced it firsthand, but their children and grandchildren too. The Holocaust, though, was not the end. Indeed, as the psalmist writes, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). God promised that national restoration will come, and that restoration precedes the judgment of all who have sinned and not placed their trust for salvation in Israel’s Messiah, Nazis included (Revelation 20:11–15).

Conclusion

Sitting in that amphitheatre, the lone Gentile among a dozen or so young Jewish people, my heart hurt. Many, if not all of those sitting with me, lost a relative in the Holocaust. 

But as the siren’s scream came to a close, I found myself thanking God. Despite centuries of persecution and satanic attempts to destroy God’s Chosen People, and despite being scattered around the world, sitting with me were members of a new generation of Jewish young people, visiting the historic Jewish homeland. God has been faithful to His promises and He always will be.

About the Author

Ty Perry

Ty is a Field Representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. He ministers to the Las Vegas Jewish community by building relationships through volunteer work with various pro-Israel/Jewish organizations, a Bible study with rabbis, and care for Holocaust survivors. Ty also speaks in churches and at Christian colleges about Israel and the Jewish people. Ty resides in the Las Vegas area with his wife, Lissy, and their two children. You can support Ty's ministry online here.

Comments 1

  1. Hey Ty! Thank you for that great article about Holocaust Remembrance day! It would be awesome to meet some of the survivors like Eli Weisel. Sorry if I misspelled the name! God bless y’all and Shalom!

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