Mass grave in snowy forest marked by a blue fence and star of David

Today is Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day),

when in Israel sirens sound at 10 a.m. For two minutes, the entire country stands still to observe the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

An hour after the siren, the “Unto Every Person There is a Name” ceremony at the Knesset (Israeli parliament) begins, as lawmakers read out the names of Holocaust victims.

Facilitated by Yad Vashem’s database of victims, Jewish organizations all over the world participate in this naming ceremony.

Last November my family and I visited the Buczyna forest outside of Tarnow on our tour of the Holocaust sites in Poland. In this forest in 1942, Nazi Einsatztruppen first shot the Polish opposition. Then they shot the Jewish citizens of Tarnow, making a special effort to kill Jewish children.

As we stood by the mass grave that contains the remains of about 800 Jewish children, we did just such a naming ceremony.

Standing in the freshly fallen snow, by the blue fence that marks the edge of the children’s mass grave, we were surrounded by hills and towering trees. I wondered:

Can such a forest be just a forest?

When it harbors the corpses of so many innocent victims, brutally murdered? When such evil took place here, and the evidence is still there?

Tour participants gathered around the fence of a mass grave in a snowy forest

Each of us fifty tour participants was given a piece of paper with the name of a child, documented to have died in the Holocaust. The organizers especially selected victims with first names that were the same or close to our own. They asked us to read this child’s name out loud. I had three sobbing fits before it was my turn, but I did manage to read mine:

“Anat Braun, born in 1931 in Sapanta, Romania, to parents Mendel and Leah, and murdered in Auschwitz, aged 13.”

A fellow traveler and friend of ours read the name of her uncle. To the best of her surviving family’s knowledge, he was thrown into this very mass grave at two years old. How she managed to read his name there, I don’t know.

May their memory be for a blessing.