Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hasho’a in Hebrew) commemorates the genocide of six million European Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany between 1941 and 1945 and is commemorated one week after Passover. This year it’s on April 28.
In Israel, a siren is sounded on this day throughout the country in memory of those who lost their lives. Cars stop in the middle of the highway, and bypassers stand still in solidarity so that the world will never forget or repeat the horrors of the Holocaust.
Today, there are nearly seven million Jews who live in Israel. After World War II, many Holocaust survivors made Aliyah (immigrated) from Europe. With broken but hopeful spirits, they risked the dangerous journey through the Mediterranean Sea by ships to the shores of Israel as pioneers, rebuilding Israel as their new home. Even then, many ships were returned to Europe or refugee camps in Cyprus since Israel was under the British mandate.
Some might wonder why so many Jews stayed in Europe during the rise of the Nazi regime in 1933? And why, knowing persecution was imminent, did they not flee to Israel?
The Jews of Europe were stuck between a rock and a hard place, and the reality was much more dangerous and complex than one might assume.
With the growing popularity of the Nazi party and the rapid increase of antisemitic crimes, the Jews in Germany feared for their safety. Although all would agree that their circumstances were dire, no one could have predicted the unimaginable terrors that lay ahead.
As racial tension and pressure in Germany began to mount, more than 90,000 German and Austrian Jews fled between 1933 and 1939 to neighboring countries such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, and Switzerland. For the most part, these countries opened their doors to fleeing Jews and brave gentiles hid Jews in their basements, attics, floors, and closets.
In the aftermath of the Kristallnacht pogroms (pogroms against the Jews carried out by the Nazi party) on the 9th-10th of November 1938, more than 100 Jews were murdered, and 30,000 Jewish men were imprisoned in concentration camps. Thousands of Jews attempted to flee the very next day. With Germany stripping German Jews of their German citizenship in 1935, immigrating to different countries became near impossible without proper documentation.
Spain permitted entry to almost 30,000 Jewish refugees, primarily from 1939 to 1941. Approximately 300,000 Polish Jews, nearly 10% of the Polish Jewish population, fled German-occupied areas of Poland and crossed into the Soviet zone between 1939 and 1941.
Tens of thousands were deported to Siberia, Central Asia, and other remote areas. After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, more than a million Soviet Jews fled eastward into the Asian parts of the country.
Countries such as France, Belgium, and the Netherlands took in 30,000 each, and the United States accepted 102,000, the most of all countries.
Although many Jews did make it to other countries, many were turned away at the border, and some who came by ship were not even allowed to dock. Imagine arriving at the border of a country that might be your only hope of survival, only to be turned back, doomed to almost certain death.
Jews looking for safety did not initially set their hopes on returning to Israel as one would expect. Israel, then ruled by Britain, took in 55,000 but limited the number of refugees they were willing to accept.
In Europe, although close to 30,000 Jews were accepted into Switzerland, approximately 20,000 were turned away at the Swiss border.
The famous St. Louis ship carried 937 Jews seeking refuge in Havana, Cuba, but only 28 were allowed to disembark. The ship then tried its chances with the United States and Canada with no success, finally returning to Europe to disperse the people between the countries.
At a certain point, escape became near impossible after the war began on September 1, 1939. With lack of funds, burdensome immigration bureaucracies, and lack of efficient communication or transportation - families were trapped and forced to watch as evil approached.
What transpired after these events was a nightmare no one could have foreseen. Millions of Jews were taken to ghettos, concentration camps, and death camps scattered on European grounds. The option of escaping was only by death.
Unfortunately, the world is nowhere near done with wars and persecution. Yeshua warns us that the end of days holds many challenges:
"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then they will deliver you over to be persecuted and killed, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name." (Matthew 24:6-9)
According to the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency's Antisemitism Report for 202, the year 2021 was "the most antisemitic year in the last decade". The report found that the average number of antisemitic incidents reported in 2021 was more than ten per day, with approximately 50% of attacks occurring in Europe.
Unfortunately, antisemitism is not a thing of the past. As the world becomes progressively worse, Jews living in the diaspora will have to make the difficult – yet not unfamiliar – decision to flee again.
Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, more than 3.4 million Jews have made Aliyah to Israel.
With the recent Russia-Ukraine war, over a million Ukrainian refugees fled to neighboring countries, and thousands of Ukrainian Jews made an emergency Aliyah, seeking refuge in Israel.
How can Israel prepare for the waves of immigrants bound to come from the nations when wars escalate?
New immigrants go through many hardships and challenges as they charge forward with courage to begin again in a different culture.
At Vision for Israel, we know just how important it is to receive our Jewish brothers and sisters with open arms. That is why we donate household goods such as fans to combat the Israeli heat and provide food baskets and backpacks for their children.
Acclimating to a different country is made easier when the local body of Messiah rallies around in support, practically and emotionally. Serving them allows us to hear their stories and hardships and encourage them along the way.
As believers, we should pray for the Jews whom God calls back to Israel to receive the grace to uproot and make their home in the land. Let us not forget to lift up the Ministry of Interior, which accompanies the families and aids them in the transition.
The first Holocaust survivors to make it to the shores of Israel could never have imagined that one day, millions more would follow in their footsteps. Their bravery and courage serve as an example for new immigrants to believe that they too will successfully triumph over the hardships of immigration.
Their testimony is a fulfilment of prophecy, as we read in Ezekiel 37:4-6:
“Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”
On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, we honor the survivors who journeyed to Israel and made it the incredible nation it is today.