If you travel throughout Europe, you might find yourself stumbling over uneven bumps in the street. Looking down, you might find that it was no ordinary section of the path that tripped you up. It’s a small concrete cube bearing a brass plate raised above the rest of the street. That’s no accident. Each stone bears the name, birthday, and fate of a victim of the Holocaust. The fate of some was exile, some suicide, others internment, but most ended up victims of deportation or murder.
There are more than 70,000 of these Stumbling Stones strewn across the world, primarily in Europe. You can find them in more than 2,000 towns and cities throughout 24 nations, including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine. They are written in any one of 20 different languages. Together they tell the unforgettable story of those who endured the Holocaust, and they form the largest decentralized memorial in the world.
These Stumbling Stones, known as Stolpersteine, are a powerful picture of the call we have to never forget the horrors of the Holocaust. January 27 is internationally recognized as Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day when we should be especially willing to “stumble” over the terrible reality of those brutal years of Jewish persecution in the 1930s and 40s.
So let’s not gloss over the pain these Jewish prisoners endured. They experienced cruelty in almost every form. They were forced into manual labor in concentration camps to the point of death. They were killed in gas chambers. They were hung. They were starved to death. They were gunned down. Through this day of remembrance, we honor the memory of the victims and are reminded each year of the evil in man’s heart when he rejects God and His Word and is driven by hate.
As we pledge to never forget the Holocaust, we take part in ensuring a future that does not repeat such evil.
I wish I could say the world has learned its lesson since those dark times, but in many places in the world, Jewish people are still dogged by anti-Semitism, intolerance, and violence. Rather than eradicating these problems, Eastern Europe has seen a rise in anti-Semitic issues in recent years. Jewish people still face unprovoked violence in neighborhoods in states like New York and New Jersey far too often. And in what is now the only Jewish nation on Earth, danger is always imminent from hostile neighbors who want to wipe Jewish people out of the Land of Israel and off the map.
We would do well to keep in mind the words of author George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” As we pledge to never forget the Holocaust, we take part in ensuring a future that does not repeat such evil.
On this day we recall not only the evil of the Holocaust but also the freedom from it. It was on this date in 1945 that the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps were liberated, freeing the remaining 9,000 prisoners.
Fortunately, we have many options at our disposal to remember the Holocaust and pass on the legacy of its victims and survivors to younger generations. This is a day when social media can be a powerful tool for good, connecting people around the world to stories from the Holocaust—stories of both tragedy and triumph—and filling the public consciousness with the remembrance of this event. You can spread awareness in your own way by sharing your reflections on this day using #WeRemember on your social media posts. And though the number of remaining Holocaust survivors is dwindling each year, many of those who remain with us have shared their experiences in their own words through written and oral testimonies and in public programs. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s YouTube channel offers a host of videos of Holocaust survivors sharing their stirring stories of escape from the powers of evil.
Nazi Germany and its proxies nearly succeeded in erasing the Jewish people from the face of the earth. As about 6 million Jewish people met a gruesome fate, there could have been none left by the end of World War II. The only possible answer for the deliverance of the survivors and the proliferation of the Jewish race is God. He made an everlasting covenant with Abraham to be the God of His descendants forevermore (Genesis 17:7). God promised that only if the ordinances of the sun, moon, and stars left God’s control, if heaven could be measured, and if the foundations of the earth could be searched would Israel cease to be a nation before Him (Jeremiah 31:35–37)—which will never happen! Though terrible evil engulfed the Jewish people, God did not allow the Jewish race to be exterminated.
Only by God’s hand could Israel not only be revitalized but also thrive in a region of nations bent on its destruction.
He even caused a miraculous blessing to be born out of the horrors of the Holocaust: the birth of modern Israel in 1948, just three years after the Holocaust ended. Then and now, Israel has served as a safe haven for Jewish people escaping persecution from countries across the globe. Only by God’s hand could Israel not only be revitalized but also thrive in a region of nations bent on its destruction.
God never abandoned His Chosen People, and neither should we. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is our opportunity to take time each year to remember the suffering the Jewish people endured. And as the Stolpersteine remind us, we should be willing to stumble and sacrifice our own comfort to ensure such evil will never again run unrestrained while we live and breathe.