Like millions of his generation, the Rebbe was personally touched by the Holocaust.

His younger brother, DovBer, was shot to death and thrown into a mass grave, as were tens of thousands of other Jews in a series of massacres conducted by the Germans shortly after their occupation of Dnepropetrovsk in fall of 1941. A beloved grandmother and other family members were also killed. The Rebbe’s wife lost her younger sister Sheina, who perished in Treblinka together with her husband and their adoptive son.

In his writings and discussions on the subject, the Rebbe rejected all theological explanations for the Holocaust. For what greater conceit, and what greater heartlessness, can there be than to give a reason for the death and torture of millions of innocent men, women and children? We can only concede that there are things that lie beyond the finite ken of the human mind. Echoing his father-in-law, the Rebbe would say: It is not my task to justify G‑d on this. Only G‑d Himself can answer for what He allowed to happen, and the only answer we will accept is the immediate and complete Redemption that will forever banish evil from the face of the earth and bring to light the intrinsic goodness and perfection of G‑d’s creation.

To those who argued that the Holocaust “disproves” the existence of G‑d or His providence over our lives, the Rebbe said: On the contrary—the Holocaust has decisively disproven any possible faith in a human-based morality. For was it not the very people who epitomized culture, scientific advance and philosophic morality who perpetrated the most vile atrocities known to human history? If nothing else, the Holocaust has taught us that a moral and civilized existence is possible only through belief in and submission to a Higher Power.

The Rebbe also said: Our outrage, our incessant challenge to G‑d over what has occurred—this itself is a most powerful attestation to our belief in Him and His goodness. Because if we did not, underneath it all, possess this faith, what is it that we are outraged at? The blind workings of fate? The random arrangement of quarks that make up the universe? It is only because we believe in G‑d, because we are convinced that there is right and there is wrong and that right must, and ultimately will, triumph, that we cry out, as Moses did: “Why, my G‑d, have you done evil to Your people?!”

The SS Serpa Pinto, the ship the Rebbe and Rebbetzin arrived on from war-torn Europe
The SS Serpa Pinto, the ship the Rebbe and Rebbetzin arrived on from war-torn Europe

But the most important thing about the Holocaust to the Rebbe was not how we do or do not understand it, nor, even, how we memorialize its victims, but what we do about it. If we allow the pain and despair to dishearten us from raising a new generation of Jews with a strong commitment to their Jewishness, then Hilter’s “final solution” will be realized, G‑d forbid. But if we rebuild, if we raise a generation proud and secure in their Jewishness, we will have triumphed.

This the Rebbe proceeded to do. Appointed by his father-in-law to head the educational and social arms of Chabad, he set in motion the programs which, over the next half-century, would herald the renaissance of Jewish life in the post-holocaust world.

The Rebbe's Correspondence

"...To remember is indeed an imperative and a duty—particularly in light of the growing campaign to forget and to make forgotten. And yet, remembering is only one part of the task that rests upon us. The other, and far more crucial, part is to actively counteract Hitler's so-called 'final solution'..."

"Your first duty is to live: to assume an ordered life, a married life, to establish a Jewish home and a Jewish family. This will most definitively underscore Hitler's defeat: that not only did he not succeed in eliminating a certain Vishnitzer Chassid, but that this Vishnitzer Chassid will raise up children and grandchildren, generations upon generations of Vishnitzer Chassidim. And I don't mean this as figure of speech—though it is less important if he be a Vishnitzer, or a Lubavitcher, or simply a Jew who lives his life in accordance with the Torah and its precepts..."

Freely translated excerpt from a letter written by the Rebbe in 1965 to a Holocaust survivor