Medicine and the Shoa

Medicine and the Shoa

Every Passover families gather and with varying degrees of attention, comprehension, and kavana retell parables from our long journey. The Haggada conforms to the pattern of our history: perseverance in the face of affliction, rescue by a supernatural power, and a promise of better things to come. We are commanded to understand it and to explain it to our children.

Pharaoh’s slaves were brought out of Egypt by the power of God. But what if there had been no miracles, no triumphal Exodus? What if Pharaoh had slaughtered our ancestors on the shores of the sea and incinerated their bodies?

God’s presence, so pervasive in biblical Egypt, was nowhere to be found in the death camps and smoldering ruins of 20th-century Europe. Seventy years after the Shoa we are still struggling to  comprehend it. How can we explain it to our children?

It is generally accepted that German physicians, in an incredible lapse of ethics, were instrumental in the planning and implementation of the century’s defining human tragedy. Perhaps it is fitting that today’s medical profession help us understand how it happened.

On April 16, Yom Hashoa, there will be a one-day conference, “Reflecting on the Past to Protect the Future: A Conference on Medicine, Bioethics, and the Holocaust,” at Drew University in Madison. The conference is open to the public. We can only teach our children that which we ourselves understand.

Allen Menkin MD, MS, FAAP
Adjunct assistant professor
Drew University

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