During assembly on Friday, May 6, sophomore Max Krupnick told students that Holocaust Remembrance Day was on May 5 and that Israel marked the day with its annual two-minute standstill to mourn the six million Jews killed during World War II. Max invited Rabbi Michael Rovinsky, who is involved in many aspects of Jewish education and youth work, to speak about the Holocaust. Rovinsky holds two Rabbinic ordinations, a bachelors and masters degree in Talmudic Law from Ner Israel, a masters in administrative sciences from Johns Hopkins University, and a masters in education from UMSL.
Rovinsky said history is like a rear view mirror — you have to look backwards to move forward. He told students that there is no way for the human mind to comprehend the horrors of the Holocaust and no vocabulary to describe it. He said the Nazis had two goals: to eliminate Jews and to de-humanize them in the process. While the Nazis were successful in exterminating millions, Rovinsky said the Jews thwarted the second objective through their spiritual heroism which maintained their human dignity.
He explained that the Jewish approach to learning begins with a basic tenet that evil is transient and that faith links the past to the future ... faith continues even when the present is wretched. Rovinsky shared two vignettes to illustrate this tenet in action during the Holocaust:
- Guards tried to taunt starving prisoners by throwing a fresh loaf of bread among them. Rather than fighting over the food, the prisoners quietly divided it.
- Prisoners at Auschwitz denied themselves meager allotments of margarine to save as oil for a makeshift candle during Hannukah, when they celebrated miracles of the past and hoped for miracles of the future.
Rovinsky showed images of the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a memorial in Budapest honoring Jews who were killed by the Arrow Cross militia in 1944 and 1945. The Jews were shot into the Danube and carried away. Rovinsky said empty shoes are part of many Holocaust memorials and are a reminder to never forget, to remain faithful, to retain dignity, to stand up for the innocent, to never stand silent.
Rovinsky said the living have an obligation to make the world a better place — to live exalted and sanctified lives in the face of adversity and inhumanity. He added that the question each of us should ask ourselves is whether we have done everything we can to make a difference ... don't worry about success or failure ... just give 100 percent.