On the winter solstice most years, the darkest day of the year, I’m reminded of the children’s memorial at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. One enters into the darkened hall of mirrors and hears the names recited of the 1.5 million children murdered by the Nazis. Only a few candle flames are in fact burning, yet the visitor sees thousands of flames reflected endlessly in the mirrors. Each flame represents a single soul of a murdered child flickering perpetually in the ether of memory.
Winter is my least favorite season of the year because of the long nights, low angle of the sun, and the cold. Yet, as the winter solstice comes and goes, I know that spring soon will arrive, that the days will lengthen, the sun will rise higher in the sky, new growth will sprout with the grasses and trees, and flowers will appear again.
Though the immense tragedy caused by the coronavirus here and around the world is different in kind and extent from the death and destruction during the Holocaust, I think this year also of all who lost their lives and loved ones this past year.
The Hungarian Jewish poet Hannah Senesh left pre-statehood Palestine, parachuted into Yugoslavia on March 14, 1944, and crossed the Hungarian border to save Jewish children in her native land. She was immediately arrested by Hungarian gendarmes, and because she was carrying a British radio transmitter, was interrogated, tortured, tried, and executed by firing squad at the young age of 23 years on November 7, 1944. Among other famous poems set to music in Israel, Hannah wrote these words as an epitaph for the victims:
“There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.”