Yom Hashoah – Reflections from Poland

holocaust yom hashoah

This Thursday, we will commemorate Yom Hashoah – the Jewish calendar’s Holocaust Memorial Day. In Israel, the day is marked by a national minute of silence, lowered flags, and official ceremonies held by the Government and Rabbinate. Across the world, communities hold memorial services and give their remaining Holocaust survivors a platform from which to share their stories.

Another popular event held around this time of year is the March of the Living, where delegations from across the world tour sites across Poland and explore this dark period of modern history for themselves. Other Poland trips – like schools and synagogue groups – visit throughout the year and especially around Yom Hashoah, as the international Memorial Day helps make the experience even more poignant for the participants.

It’s hard to envision the Holocaust without having experienced what our ancestors went through. Visiting Poland offers a small measure of insight: visiting the camps’ remnants and discarded ghettos gives a glimpse of the horrors – and minimally, leaves your mouth stinging with the bitter taste of emptiness.

One step further: seeing stacks of glasses and pots at Auschwitz, or cages filled with shoes at Majdanek, helps to personalise the Holocaust. Literally – personal belongings help to take the astronomical figure of six million murdered Jews and turn it into a mass of real people who once wore shoes and glasses and cooked in pots – and no longer can.

Visiting Poland does more than help you understand the Holocaust. As Jews, it can imbue a real sense of purpose: they are gone, but we survived. Why? What is our purpose? Why are we here?

The poem below, written by a student while on a Poland trip surrounding by Majdanek’s shoes, expresses some of that sense of purpose carried by third-generation survivors. It is reprinted here with permission.

I am six million pairs of shoes.
I will never walk again.
I am gone.
I am finished.
I am dead.
I will never see the sun rise over a clean winter morning, or set over a warm July night.
I will never touch my husband, kiss my child, give comfort to a friend.
I will never.
I can never.

You can.

I have gone but you are here, a living testimony;
A living testimony to me.
You will wear my shoes, you will walk my path
You will finish my journey and then, you too will be six million pairs of shoes.

You will walk because you are here.
You will walk because you have to.

You will continue what I have started,
Raise my child, live my dream.

I am six million pairs of shoes;
I am six million pairs of shoes.

What are you?


I am Shira Hill
I am a pair of shoes.
I am hope and dream and aspiration
I am the child you could not raise
I am the dream you could not dream
I am the life you could not lead
I am the path you could not follow

I lie.

I am not now. Not yet.

But one day, one day I will be.
I will love for your hope, your dream, your aspiration
I will raise your child
I will dream your dream
I will lead your life
I will follow your path

I will wear your shoes.

I will wear six million pairs of shoes;
I will wear six million pairs of shoes

I promise.