When the last survivor has gone, to whom does the mantle pass? When they can no longer tell their stories, who can? Who should? Who will?

Silence, Wordsworth wrote, “is a privilege of the grave, a right of the departed: let him, therefore, who infringes that right, by speaking publicly of, for, or against, those who cannot speak for themselves, take heed that he opens not his mouth without a sufficient sanction.”

Preserving the memories of Holocaust survivors is certainly a sufficient sanction, but those who take this noble duty upon themselves have a responsibility to ensure that they reliably transmit the testimony that they have heard from survivors. It is too easy to insert ourselves into stories that are not our own.

As victims of the modern age, Holocaust survivors have provided the world with extraordinary and abundant evidence of their bravery and determination.  So while it’s true that my descendants won’t hear my grandmother explain how she was born into a religious family in Lithuania; how she survived first in the Kovno ghetto, and then in forced labor camps in Estonia, and was finally liberated from the Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, they can read her books, watch her testimony, and hear her stories. The best way to speak for survivors is not to speak for them at all, but to ensure that even after their death they can still speak for themselves.

I sometimes worry that we are not preserving their legacies as well as we think. When Sean Spicer made his gaffe about Hitler not gassing his own people, I asked myself: Is it really possible that people who have reached the highest echelons of government have so little knowledge of a war in which our country fought? When the White House excluded Jews from its Holocaust statement in January, I asked myself: Is it really possible that the world has already forgotten? Have we chosen not to remember?

Jews, too, sometimes prefer to forget. On the left, there is a nefarious tactic of trying to portray the Jewish people as more sinning than sinned against. For those in the anti-Zionist realm, the Holocaust is an ugly snag in the narrative of an Israeli Goliath targeting a Palestinian David. But sometimes there is a desire to forget even within the staunchly pro-Israel camp. It can be tempting, in celebrating Israel’s military might, its flourishing democracy, its miraculous existence, to forget that we were not always so strong. But we cannot let that pride come at the expense of remembering who we are, which necessarily includes remembering what we as a people have endured.

And we won’t. Jewish liturgy and tradition are peppered with the language of memory. We are commanded to remember the Sabbath. We sing about the repercussions of forgetting Jerusalem. Many blessings and prayers conclude with the exhortation that what we are doing is l’zecher yitziat Mitzraim—in memory of our exodus from Egypt. And every year, in commemorating that exodus during Passover, we contemplate our obligation to see ourselves as if we, personally, had been taken out of Egypt; we sing of how in each generation, a new enemy rises up who seeks our destruction; and we commit ourselves to telling the story to our children and our children’s children.

We are a people who understands the immeasurable power of a story told well, so we will not forget. We must ensure that the world does not either.

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