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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 4/13/21

Good morning!


A number of people have asked me about Yom HaShoah, the annual remembrance of the Holocaust, which occurred last week.

We live in scary times that possess echoes of inhuman acts of the past. The past lives with us. The Holocaust is the greatest act of mass murder committed against a people in modern times (perhaps in any time). It grew out of centuries of pogroms and dehumanization of the Jews within the context of the European world that struggled to accommodate antisemitism while the enlightenment took hold. It was the ultimate and most extreme manifestation of a hatred that existed for centuries. This was simply the seemingly inevitable apotheosis.

But there are other horrors, of different types, that killed more people. They are horrific in their own way. Just look at what Stalin and Mao were capable of—indifference to the suffering of their own peoples and the loss of tens of millions of lives.

The Black Lives Matter movement memorializes another horrific historic event. The ramifications of slavery still live with us. It is unique within the context of the centuries of human bondage and dehumanization, much of which continued through Jim Crow and to our times.

There is something of a cottage industry of trying to claim the prize of the most horrific event in history. They are all bad. The Holocaust is unique in its a systematic attempt to eradicate an entire people. Slavery is unique for the systematic bondage of a race—not to be exterminated, but to be exploited. It is possible that two ideas can exist together—these unmentionable acts each are uniquely tragic in their own way.


Israel notoriously is a country consisting of a wide spectrum of political and religious views, all reflected in a large number of parties vying for seats in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) in a parliamentary system. Such a system does not lend itself to stability—but to constantly evolving and changing coalitions. There are religious parties, ethnic parties, secular parties, Arab parties, even an Islamist party. Cobbling together a majority of seats to create a government is complicated and explains the large number of elections in a short period of time, yielding little in the way of a conclusive result.

But one thing that most Israelis can agree upon is that, at least in some way, they commemorate the Holocaust together. Even though over half of Israeli Jews come from the Middle East or otherwise of Sephardic extraction, the nation was conceived from the rubble of post-war Europe and broken lives drawn together to create a homeland. An expression of this solidarity and shared memory of loss is the two minutes of silence shared each year by most of the citizens, regardless of level of observance. Every year this video is striking—this year particularly so, with the masks of the pandemic:

Thanks, Ken Kahan, for providing this link.


When I was a kid, I went to the local deli with my parents most Sundays. Al and Irving were the proprietors; their wives worked with them. I remember them showing me the numbers tattooed on their forearms—it was the first time I made the connection from learning about the Holocaust to actually seeing and talking to people about their experience (they didn’t talk much about it, either because the memories were too painful or they didn’t want to frighten a ten year old kid).

Pretty soon those who suffered in the Holocaust will be gone. What will be left will be conversations some of us had with survivors, memorial remembrances, the oral histories like those saved by the Shoah Foundation, books and documentaries. Recently California.

Among the most meaningful of these remembrances to me will be Schindler’s List. The telling of the story of the Holocaust in that movie is so brutal, personal, and evocative that it will be hard to ever do better. Backing up the haunting images and compelling story is a remarkable soundtrack. Jerry Coben provides this moving rendition by the Israeli Philharmonic:


The Holocaust is singularly the most horrific single event perpetrated by one people upon another. But it is by no means the only such event. One need only visit the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda, to be reminded of man’s inhumanity to man. In that museum, commemorating the neighbor-to-neighbor violence of their government-supported genocide. That museum has a separate section devoted to other genocides in history—the Holocaust, of course, standing as the ultimate of modern genocides, but also Pol Pot’s reign in Cambodia, the Turkish genocide against Armenians and others. In our times we are witnesses to the Chinese brutality toward the Muslims in the Northwest, horrors in Africa, and sex trade throughout the world.

When I saw the looks of hatred on the faces of the Proud Boys in Washington, those storming the Michigan statehouse and the repeated attacks on Black, Asian, Jewish, immigrant and other groups, I can’t help but to believe that the hatred that spurred on these acts in the past continue to live under the rocks of our society that we think is so advanced, until they again come into full bloom. It is sobering and frightening.

Stay safe and have a good day,


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