No study of Jewish life can escape the Holocaust. Nothing in Jewish history exceeds its horror. No other event surpasses its significance.
Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) commemorates the systematic murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II and the destruction of their culture. Although some rabbinic authorities opposed setting aside a day to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust, many Jewish communities around the world observe Yom HaShoah on the twenty-seventh day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, the date chosen by the Israeli government. In Israel, theaters, banks, schools, and many businesses close, and sirens mark statewide moments of silence.
Humanistic Jews dedicate their observance of Yom HaShoah to the murdered six million, lighting candles in their memory and honoring the courage of all who suffered and resisted. Some secularists prefer to commemorate the Holocaust on April 19, the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one of the most dramatic examples of Jewish resistance. A band of several thousand Jews, unwilling to passively accept deportation and extermination, fought back for weeks in the face of certain death. Their martyrdom was an act of heroic defiance.
The Holocaust is the ultimate testimony to the absence of a divine plan. Belief in a just God controlling a well-ordered world is impossible in the face of such implacable horror and brutality. The most appropriate response to the Holocaust is to intensify the quest for human dignity, which can provide meaning and order in a chaotic, uncaring universe.
It may be difficult for Humanistic Jews to join with other Jewish movements in community-wide observances of Yom HaShoah due to the theistic nature of such observances.