Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks noticed Hebrew lacks a direct word for “history.” The closest term, “Zachor,” emphasizes the duty to remember.
Within the Torah, two commandments are intricately tied to the notion of “Zachor.” The first urges remembrance of the Sabbath Day with the directive “Zachor et Yom haShabbat” – to remember and sanctify the Sabbath Day. The second, “Zachor et Amalek,” underscores the importance of remembering Amalek. Here is the translation of the Torah verses about remembering Amalek.
“You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you went out of Egypt, how he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary, and he did not fear G-d. So it will be, when the Lord your G-d grants you respite from all your enemies around you in the land which the Lord, your G-d, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the Heavens. You shall not forget!” (Deut. 25:17-19).
These verses are annually recited in synagogues on the Shabbat preceding the Purim holiday. Here is the auditory rendition.
The intricate threads of Jewish history, spanning five millennia, are woven into the fabric of our sacred texts and beloved holidays. Explore a captivating journey through recent global history via enlightening documentaries and talks by modern scholars. Within the pages of this blog, as you immerse yourself, the profound importance of “remembering the past” becomes unmistakable, emphasizing the crucial role of preserving our collective memory.
Stalin’s Ascent to Power: Unraveling the Machinations of a Dictator
Stephen Kotkin‘s meticulous exploration of Josef Stalin’s life, detailed in two volumes and enriched by recently released Soviet archives, unveils a narrative far from the stereotypical tale of an abused upbringing. In contrast, Stalin’s early education in Catholic institutions reveals a path that could have led him to become a Catholic priest. However, captivated by revolutionary Marxist ideology, he transformed into an anti-czarist activist, enduring exile and imprisonment before the overthrow of the czarist regime in 1917.
In the first volume, we learn that Stalin was not the product of an abusive home. He was educated in Catholic elementary and high schools because these were the best schools his parents could afford in his neighbourhood. His path was open to becoming a Catholic priest. But as a young man, he became enamoured with revolutionary Marxist ideology and made a career of being an anti-czarist activist. Before 1917, he was exiled and imprisoned by the Czarist police five times.
With Lenin’s rise to power, Stalin swiftly climbed the political ladder, assuming the role of Secretary-General of the Communist Party. Lenin’s incapacitation provided Stalin with an opportunity to consolidate power ruthlessly. As a workaholic with exceptional people skills and managerial acumen, he employed manipulation, torture, and murder to eliminate rivals, solidifying his autocratic rule. Under the guise of communist ideology, Stalin engineered policies such as collectivization, leading to widespread poverty and starvation known as the Holodomor.
The Nazis’ Ascent: Hitler’s Chilling Path to Totalitarian Rule
The rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany unfolds through a compelling PBS documentary, “Rise of the Nazis.” In 1930, Germany stood as a liberal democracy; within four years, democracy crumbled, and the Nazis, led by Hitler and collaborators like Göring and Himmler, assumed control of all national institutions. Hitler’s autocratic rule, coupled with Göring’s creation of the Gestapo and Himmler’s control over the police, army, and courts, signalled the demise of democracy.
The documentary delves into Hitler’s early attempts to seize power during the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, his imprisonment, and the subsequent penning of “Mein Kampf.” Hitler’s twisted ideas, promoting racial inequality and the supremacy of the Aryan race, laid the foundation for the horrors that unfolded in Nazi Germany. The series also highlights the courageous efforts of figures like Hans Litten, a German lawyer who exposed Hitler’s violent tendencies in court but eventually suffered imprisonment and torture under the Nazis.
The second episode unfolds the power struggle between Göring and Himmler, leading to the Night of the Long Knives, where Ernst Röhm and his Storm Troopers were systematically murdered. The episode concludes with the lesser-known story of Joseph Hartinger, whose efforts to expose Nazi atrocities were thwarted, providing a sobering glimpse into the morally bankrupt nature of the regime.
China Undercover: Unveiling Oppression and Surveillance
In “China Undercover,” a PBS documentary, FRONTLINE, investigates the oppression of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province. It exposes China’s extensive surveillance, concentration camps, and invasive use of surveillance technology. This has sparked worldwide concerns about the widespread invasion of privacy and human rights abuses by the Chinese regime.
Cameras monitoring citizens, analyzing facial structures, and the invasive measures taken by the Chinese regime paint a dystopian picture reminiscent of George Orwell’s “1984.” The documentary sheds light on the systematic oppression faced by the Uyghur minority, emphasizing the urgent need for global awareness and action.
The Call to Remember: Understanding History for a Safer Future
Reflecting on the histories of Hitler and Stalin and current situations highlights the importance of remembering. It’s a clear reminder of the severe outcomes that can result when people or institutions, lacking moral principles and claiming to pursue “social justice,” seize supreme governing authority.
The Torah’s injunction, “Zachor,” emphasizes the ongoing duty to work towards eliminating rulers who threaten justice, not for vengeance but to create a safer world for everyone. By witnessing these historical events, we contribute to the collective responsibility of upholding justice and protecting the vulnerable in our global community.