Thursday, August 25, 2011

Important Memories and Strange Bedfellows

I received an email this morning about the Holocaust.  I have an uncle by marriage (he was married to my mother’s sister, now deceased) who is a very conservative man, born and bred in poverty in the little towns around Meridian, Mississippi.  He has remarried to a woman who is a devoted born-again Christian and, judging from other emails I’ve received from her, is also quite conservative.  This morning’s email came from her.

It’s important to me to note here that my uncle has made a generous, ongoing effort to maintain an uncle/niece relationship with me since my aunt’s death, which is a little ironic, since we had no relationship to speak of while my aunt was alive.  That was largely my choice, because I had never really forgiven him for banning my black father from visiting their white New Jersey home when I was a kid.  I didn’t particularly like my aunt, either.  When I was a teenager, I christened them Aunt Tarantula and Uncle Fuck.  Fortunately, we all grew up and calmed down – and my uncle had a very nice relationship with both my parents during the last 15 years (or so) of their lives.  And my uncle’s second wife, Tommie, was accepting of me as a niece right from the start.  If you can keep politics out of some relationships, the ties that come to bind can surprise you.

Earlier this year, my uncle and step-aunt visited Israel with a Christian touring group.  They came back filled with delight and, I think, a sense of renewal.  For some Christians and Muslims, as well as Jews, Israel is regarded as a holy, treasured place.  “Everyone who considers themselves a Christian or Jew should go there,” said my uncle.  Since the “Left” abandoned Israel and it became embraced by the “Right,” my uncle has taken a great interest in Israel’s safety and survival, and has developed a genuine simpatico with Jews.  It’s too bad this didn’t happen when he was married to my aunt, who, at his request or through her own instincts (I don’t know which), hid the fact that she was Jewish from his family for the first 15 years of their 30+ year marriage.

Anyway, Tommie sent me an email with a link to a video about The Auschwitz Album, which is very moving and informative and I hope you’ll take a look at it.  I sent her the following verbose reply:

Dear Tommie,

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.



JoyceClark said...

Although I have viewed many historical photographs of the holocaust, I can reasonably say that this is as prolific as the others. The knowledge of the outcome of this unforgettable tragedy continues to be a ever present reminder of what a man can be capable of if left to diabolical debauchery against a society. Thank God we have those folks who continue to kick & scream if their civil liberties are jeopardize in any way. Not saying that people like "H" do not exist today, just saying that things that occurred in the past have left a lasting impression on what has made OUR future.More often than not many schemes have been exposed in just the nick of time.The watchful eye is always open as it should be.they call it "big brother".
By the by MizB, let me extend my pride to you. After reading your blogs I intend to seek out some of your many publications. You are a very interesting & talented writer. But then again, you were always opinionated. Those days we spent at JOB with Arlene, Theresa and Sylvia are forever etched in my memory. We were both young gals unsure of what we wanted in our future. I am oh sooo proud of your accomlishments & prouder still to say I knew you when!!! I never forgot you & your wonderful sense of humor, your opinions & your friendship. Continued success with your current & future endeavors.
Mazaltov !!!! to everything else in your life..Joyce

MizB said...

Hi, Joyce -- It's so nice to hear from you and your kind words about me and my blog. I remember you very fondly from the JOB days and have often wondered what became of you, what you're doing now, etc. I tried clicking on your name to send a private email, but all I got was a Verizon that requires membership, passwords et al and I have no relationship with Verizon (or Facebook; I am on Twitter, but hardly use it). I'd love to exchange a couple of emails; hopefully Verizon will send you this reply. Warmest regards, Jeanne

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