The Importance of Bearing Witness

Perspective from International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Bearing witness is not passive. It is the work of active listening, not looking away, and most importantly, responding.

One of the true joys and gifts of my new role with the JCRC is hearing and sharing the stories of the incredible people that populate this valley. Something that I have just come to understand is that despite the Holocaust feeling far away and removed from us today, most of the people I know in the Jewish community have a personal connection to the Holocaust. 

The Holocaust is not just a thing of the ancient past, it is very much part of our present.

I was so honored to attend multiple International Holocaust Remembrance Day events last week and to hear from survivors. What kept coming up for me, was the importance of bearing witness to these stories, to the truths of what happened, and to the people it happened to. 

Witnessing the end result of the Nazi Regime's "Final Solution."

At a press event in front of San Jose City Hall on Friday, January 27, Chief Assistant District Attorney for the County of Santa Clara, Jay Boyarsky, shared the story of his father, a private in the military who entered Dachau in 1945 and documented what he found there with his camera.

While his father did not speak in detail about what he had seen and witnessed, it clearly deeply impacted him and he kept the pictures he had taken.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Jay Boyarsky’s father witnessed the end result of what the Nazi Regime called the Final Solution. As we know, the Nazi Regime did not start there. It started with small, seemingly insignificant acts of discrimination and “othering”.

In reflecting on why we would want to keep reminders of the horrors and atrocities of the Holocaust, Chief Assistant District Attorney Boyarsky pointed to the importance of remembering.

"Why would we ever want to keep what happened in that place? In that dark time? We keep it as a reminder, a warning, an amulet."

Powerless. Hopeless. Resilient.

Earlier in the week, at the San Jose City Council meeting on January 24, 2023, Council Member David Cohen and the San Jose City Council presented Holocaust Survivor Tamar Jacobs with a proclamation in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

During the ceremony, Tamar shared some of her story. 

"You can't change what was done to you, but you can change how you live now."

As a young child she was tormented, bullied, and abused by the child of Nazis. He threw sticks and rocks at her and called her horrific names.

Her mother was unable to help or intervene because the boy’s parents were figures of importance and influence.

Tamar felt the powerlessness of her mother and her own helplessness against cruelty. 

Tamar was a witness to, and the survivor of, the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. 

This was a foundational experience for Tamar, and deeply impacted her for years to come. 

Being Witness is Not Passive.

I used to feel hopeless after hearing stories of the Holocaust. 

I didn’t understand how to process what I was hearing or move beyond the horror. 

I understand things differently now. 

I understand that while I cannot stop the injustice and cruelty that has occurred in the world, I can fight the injustice by listening to the stories of those who were impacted. 

In so doing I acknowledge their dignity, see their uniqueness and understand their place in history. What happened was not without consequence or importance. 

Bearing witness is not passive. It is the work of active listening, of not looking away, and then most importantly, the act of responding.

There are many avenues by which the JCRC will continue to be fighters of injustice.  One of the ways we will continue to do this is by bearing witness. 

We would love to have you join us.

See here for more information about the JCRC and our work. Or email me at [email protected]