We frequently discuss on this blog the state of superposition – the mixed state unique to quantum mechanics, in which the system can be in two or more states at the same time. Remember Schrödinger’s Cat that is dead and alive at the same time? Every year on the 9th of May, I find myself in a state of superposition – I am happy and sad, I celebrate and I mourn. The 9th of May is V Day – the day when allied forces led by the Red army defeated Nazi Germany. I celebrate this victory as the victory over the greatest evil known to mankind. It is not an exaggeration to say that this victory saved the world. It certainly saved the Jewish nation. And that makes me happy – it’s worth celebrating! At the same time, I mourn the death of six million innocent Jews that perished in the Holocaust. I think of countless families who lost loved ones in gas chambers of concentration camps or on the front lines fighting the war – and that makes me very, very sad. A popular Russian song, “Victory Day,” called this day Это праздник со слезами на глазах – “a Holiday with tears in the eyes.” Call me a Schrödinger Cat, if you will, but on this day I am in a state of superposition.
The enormity of the Holocaust tragedy is beyond our comprehension. The horrors of war are beyond our comprehension. But the way we treat this day is beyond my comprehension too. It goes by like an ordinary day, without being mentioned, let alone commemorated, in most Jewish circles. Like it never happened… We shall not forget! There are still people alive who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, the horrors of war. If not us, it’s our parents, our grandparents. How can we not remember this day?
We have a mitzvah, zecher Amalek – remember Amalek, the nation that attacked us in the desert as we left Egypt. I have little doubt that Hitler, Y”Sh, was the Amalek of that generation. The absolute evil of Amalek was personified by the Nazis, Y”Sh, who participated in these unspeakable crimes. The world was watching while the Nazis were murdering Jews. Complacency in the face of evil encourages evil.
How can we not remember the soldiers that earned this victory for us? Many of them died so that we can live. Many were Jews. 1.5 million Jews fought in Allied forces. 500,000 Jewish solders fought in the Red Army – 200,000 of them were killed. 550,000 of Jewish solders fought in the U.S. Army – 11,000 were killed. 100,000 of Jewish solders fought in the Polish Army – 30% were killed. 30,000 served in British Army.
On this day, I think of my father, Abraham ben Reuven, OH”Sh, who joined the army to fight the war in 1941. He was a 17-year-old boy who just graduated from high school and was admitted in Polytechnic Institute in Odessa. He didn’t get to study there. His youth was interrupted by the horrible war. Although he was too young to be drafted, he volunteered to fight the Nazis. Two years later, in 1943, he returned from the front alive, but without his legs. For his heroism, my father was awarded the Order of Glory and the Order of the Great Patriotic War of the First Degree.
I think about my grandfather who was a dentist and was drafted into the army on the first day of the war. He became military doctor and went through the whole war – from Kiev to Berlin. All his brothers did too. There was not a Jewish family in Russia who did not lose a loved one during the war. My grandmother had 10 siblings – only one survived. There wasn’t a Jewish family in Europe who did not lose, if not the entire family, at least someone, in the Holocaust. Maybe we don’t commemorate this day because it is just too big for us to wrap our minds around.
At the same time, it’s a happy day – it’s the Victory Day. This year, it’s the 70th anniversary of the V-Day. In America, they call it the VE Day – the Victory-in-Europe Day, because the war with Japan still continued till August of 1945. We celebrate Lag B’Omer – the 33rd day of sefirat haomer – in part because, on this day, the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying. Why shouldn’t we celebrate the day when the war ended, the Holocaust ended, the greatest evil in the history of humanity was defeated? On this day we remember the fallen soldiers; we thank those who served; we celebrate the victory. It’s a holiday with tears in the eyes…
After the war, there was an attempt in Israel to establish a day to commemorate the Holocaust. Unfortunately, Ben Gurion and rabbis could not agree on the date. Politics, as usual, got in the way. The State of Israel established Yom Hashoa, which is commemorated by secular Israelis, but the hareidi community did not accept it. We are left with no date to commemorate our recent history. If the Rabbis and Jewish leaders cannot agree on a date, why not use V-Day? Isn’t it the most logical choice?
To commemorate this awesome day, every year, on Shabbat before V-Day, our family makes a Kiddush in our shul and talk about the war. I am always astonished by how little people in this country know about WWII. Yet, after I finish speaking, many of my American friends get up and tell that their fathers also served during WWII in the Pacific and they thank me for reminding them about V-Day. Every year it becomes more difficult for me to speak about the war. I get choked up on the middles of a sentence… It’s a day in a state of superposition of happiness and sadness. It’s a holiday with tears in the eyes… I suggest that we start a grass-roots movement: let every one of us make a Kiddush in a synagogue on the Shabbat before or after the V Day and talk about the Great War, the unfathomable losses, and the great victory. For we must not forget!