The worst evil in human history came to an end over 65 years ago, as forces of the Soviet Union captured the Majdanek concentration camp in July 1944. Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army seven months later, on January 27, 1945. Roughly two generations of humanity have passed since this time. The Shoah is fast becoming a faint glimmer in our consciousness, as survivors and eyewitnesses age and pass on.
All Jewish families have been touched in some way by the Holocaust, haShoah. Rosa Weisz (z”l), my great aunt, was killed at Auschwitz. Not many of my Hungarian relatives survived. My father-in-law Irwin Gersten (z”l) and his family survived in the Polish forest. His mother, Feyge Rifkeh, for whom my wife Fern is named, died there. Fern, her brother and cousins, are all Second Generation.
In the 1970s, survivors gathered to repair their lives. They considered new ways to expand Yom HaShoah. They thought about making a special candle to remember those who perished. This concept was powerful, Jewish, halakhic and moving. Few know why the idea was born at all. In a nutshell, Yellow Candles are about forgotten YAHRZEITS.
All who live in age of the 3rd post-Shoah generation must not let this tragedy be forgotten. We must pass the torch to coming generations, Dorim Habayim. We must remember. We must act. Why? Because entire communities were wiped out. Yahrzeits were impossible to observe. Also, death dates were unknown (although in recent years, Holocaust archives such as the Bad Arolsen files have been released to Yad Vashem, The Israel Holocaust Authority and Museum).
You're welcome to examine the records of Generations of Shoah International, a worldwide network of children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, linked together with the common goals of preserving and honoring our legacy, sharing resources and programming ideas, providing emotional support to our members, and tackling issues of mutual interest. Or, in the New York City area, check out the resources available at the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives, as they use the lessons of the Holocaust to educate current and future generations about the ramifications of unbridled prejudice, racism and stereotyping.
Because of this tragedy, the victims suffered a double death. They lost their lives and they lost their remembrances. To deal with this, the Yellow Candle was born. Its purpose was to preserve individual remembrance, and to keep the Jewish people intact with Yahrzeit observances for those who perished.
Every person must view the Shoah as if he/she were at the gates of Auschwitz. From standing at Sinai as we received the Law, to celebrating the Passover Exodus and imagining that we were slaves in Mitzrayim, Jews also bear a collective consciousness of the Shoah. Each and every one of us must act on our remembrance.
65+ years after the Shoah, a person observing this minhag (custom) resonates deeply within the Jewish soul. This is the Yellow Candle program at its core, a personal tradition. It is good to enable continuance of tradition. That is why Men’s Clubs distribute Yellow Candles to their entire congregations, and beyond. The Candle should be used on Yom HaShoah, but it is appropriate to light a candle at any other date on the calendar. After all, the death camps operated 365 days a year.
For those who do not know the original concept, the Yellow Candle is just another Holocaust observance among the many that exist. But these Candles are different. They relate directly to Jewish religious life and to memory. We are commanded to remember. This program cannot be dismissed as an afterthought. Every home should be given the opportunity to “Light a Candle, Preserve a Memory”. We remember, so that our children and future generations will know and understand their past, so that each will declare “Hineni, here am I, a survivor”.