Thank you for sending this to me.
No, I've never seen this album before, but I of course have seen many other photos and hours of Nazi war footage over the years. I have been fascinated, appalled, and in many ways galvanized by the Holocaust since I first saw footage from the camps on TV when I was about 8 years old. My parents and grandparents did not hesitate to explain the Holocaust to me -- as much as the Holocaust can be “explained.”
When I was growing up in the 50s, knowing about the Holocaust, which at that time had ended so recently, was the duty of all Jews and something essential that had to be understood by Jewish children so we would keep the memory alive. I have very vivid memories of Nathan, our local small grocer in the Bronx, who wore short-sleeved shirts even in the chill of winter, because he wanted people to see the number tattooed on his arm and talk to him about what happened. I also remember my grandfather sitting close to a little white plastic radio, clutching the arms of his chair and crying as he listened to the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel.
I wonder if many secular Jewish children today know anything about this shattering event.
Since the Holocaust, there have been other horrible instances of mass murder around the globe, properly described as genocide. But the Holocaust is unique – not because it happened to Jews, but because it happened in Germany (and Poland, and throughout Nazi/Fascist Europe), one of the most refined and “civilized” countries in the world that has made virtually unparalleled contributions to art, music, science, literature, social development and religious reformation.
It is different because of its cold, meticulous organization. The Nazis were not ignorant peasants or savages, killing with machetes and rocks and malfunctioning guns out of misplaced passion and ignorance. They were calm, cool executors of a deliberate, evil, master plan, so planned and so “thrifty” that they made sure to collect gold fillings from the mouths of the dead and use their skin for soap and lampshades, and save their eyeglasses for recycling.
Yes, it was the ultimate act of anti-Semitism, but it was also an outrageous cautionary tale about what so-called civilized people/countries are capable of doing to other people who are fully integrated into society. Before the Holocaust, many Jews were prominent German businesspeople, educators, renowned artists/musicians/writers/scientists, community leaders, and local/national politicians, many of whom identified themselves as Germans ahead of viewing themselves as Jews. There were lots of poor, commonplace Jews, but there were also a good number who were rich and had fine homes and beautiful, treasured belongings.
The Holocaust is also unique because it was not done to cleanse society of destructive elements, but because the aim was to permanently rid society of everyone and anyone deemed inadequate by the twisted standards of Aryan superiority. Which is why it's also important to remember that there were not only six million Jews who were destroyed, but another six million people, as well: Catholics, political dissidents, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally challenged and physically deformed – essentially anyone considered inferior, but more significantly, considered unnecessary, worthless.
The Holocaust was the pivotal event of the 20th century and has much to teach us in the 21st.
Especially now, as America and Europe endure such socially/politically/ financially difficult times, it's important to remember what unvarnished hatred can lead to, what resentment of immigrants and minorities can lead to, what the desire to be rid of criminals and drug addicts and “social deviants” can lead to. It's so much easier to destroy rather than compromise and co-exist. It's why the present feels so dangerous and frightening.
And, if for no other reason, the Holocaust is reason enough to support Israel, which was created by and for Jews (not to mention the British...) as some insufficient compensation for the devastation of the Holocaust. I know that many people believe Barack Obama is anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian, which provides just another reason to hate/oppose him. But that's not true. PM Netanyahu is a conservative leader with conservative views about how to protect/preserve Israel. There are many, many Israelis who do not agree with his opinions and approach. And these dissenters must be heeded, because the Arab Spring is creating a larger, tighter ring of hatred around Israel than has ever existed – and as the US's key negotiator said after resigning out of frustration, Israel will not survive without local allies. How this can/will be achieved remains to be seen, but in memory of the Holocaust and as an act of important present-day diplomacy, it's an alliance that must be created.
If you wish, feel free to pass the above rant on to anyone you'd like.