Another year, another Holocaust Day -- just as there's another Earth Day, Groundhog Day, Tax Day, Valentine's Day ... you name it. It had to happen to the Holocaust, too. It's become a Day.
It's a familiar transformation -- from the unique to the annual, from enormity into class assignment. It's the standard modern metamorphosis: Awe gives way to routine, shock to ceremony, the monstrous to the mundane, the horror to lectures about it.
Is there any better way to reduce the unique to the ordinary than to make it a Day? It's the essence of modernization: trivialization. When was Holocaust Day -- Sunday, Monday? I forget.
The process is familiar by now, and it happened some time ago to the Holocaust. Something singular, ineffable, beyond words ... is turned into nothing but words, something no longer unique in history but today's lesson plan. The inexpressible sorrow and pity of it, the shame and anguish of it, is turned into ... what, exactly, if anything? A notation on the calendar? A college major? A website? A springboard for the current political cause of some president or prime minister somewhere?
So does the Holocaust become a genocide like any other genocide, entitled to the same neglect from the world. When the Holocaust becomes Holocaust Studies, what happened is turned into academic studies of what happened.
It's the inescapable, modern way: demystification. The greatest mystery cannot survive being talked to death. Now we have Holocaust Day the way we have Black History Month. It is observed mainly for ceremonial purposes, or political ones, or just out of a sense of duty that became rote long ago.
Yes, the abyss that was and is the Holocaust must be explored, none of it forgotten, so it will never happen again. Yes, we know it all needs to be written down, recorded, studied. But our attention wanders. How many times can we be told the same thing without its paling? Yet it is no longer possible simply to contemplate it in silence. Silence may be the one thing our ever-tolerant society cannot tolerate.
Silence in the waning presence of the Holocaust may still be possible, but only in theory, not in practice. Silence is the one service all our modern, sophisticated, wondrous, interconnected technology does not provide. Our consumer culture can produce a new gizmo a minute -- the Next Big Thing that we all must have. But not silence. And not the whole constellation of things that go with silence: reflection, reverence, privacy, solitude, contemplation, awe.