Friday, May 02, 2008

Shoah Thoughts

I missed blogging about Yom HaShoah yesterday. But there are a few old posts that were decent:

As a jumping off point, there is Who is a Real Survivor, a series of reflections on Holocaust history and its divisive politics, which is sort of a microcosm of the various issues with Jewish collective memory in general.

Then there is In Loving Memory, the list of lists. Sixty-two relatives and counting. It is a list that never gets easier to read. But every once in a while, good news does happen, even if you were 100 years late in hearing about it.

And this leads me to a final thought: in a book by late Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, he mentioned meeting with the previous Rebbe of Belz in Jerusalem years after the Holocaust. Hertzberg had been eagerly anticipating the meeting because his parents' families had been members of the Belz court and close to the Rebbe in Poland. Hertzberg wanted to learn more about them, but was disappointed:
"[The rebbe] talked willingly of [my] grandfather, remembering that... [he] had been his teacher when he was young, but he was totally silent when I mentioned my mother's father and her brothers, who had been his disciples until they were murdered during the war. I was upset. This strange behavior was later explained to me by his principal assistant: the rebbe had not once said any of the prescribed prayers (Yizkor, Kaddish) for his wife and children because those who had been killed by the Nazis for being Jews were of transcendent holiness; they were beyond our comprehension. Any words about them that we might utter were irrelevant and perhaps even a desecration of their memory."

I do not think that words about the Shoah or its victims are irrelevant. I think words are important. As a writer, I believe that language has transformative properties, that communication has incredibly significant potential. Writing about the Shoah, rather than sullying the Holocaust, can help us honor its heroes, mourn its losses, appreciate its lessons, and, hopefully, prevent its recurrence.

But I do believe in desecration. And I take it very seriously. As tolerant and understanding as I try to be, I too have my red lines, and I object strongly to the co-option of the Holocaust to score political or religious points. I object when left-wingers do it, when right-wingers do it, when Gentiles do it, and when Jews do it. It's cheap, it's demeaning, and it's degrading. To everyone involved.

The Holocaust should not be unapproachable. But I do wish it were untouchable. In my mind, NO ONE should be compared to the Nazis. Not because there aren't bad people in the world. But instead for two reasons. First, because the comparisons invariably come up short, which backfires on the person making the claim. And second, because the Nazis and the Shoah were an incredibly specific group of people and events. As much as I am glad people know about their crimes, I resent them becoming incorporated into the universal standard of evil for the past half-century. As that happens, the specificity of things the REAL Nazis ACTUALLY did becomes diminished.

No, the Bush Administration is NOT a bunch of Nazis. No, Planned Parenthood are NOT a bunch of Nazis. Neither Michael Moore nor Bill O'Reilly are Nazis. Louis Farakhan is not a Nazi, the Palestinians are not Nazis, Ariel Sharon was not a Nazi. Random military groups doing things you don't like aren't Nazis, politicians doing things you don't like aren't Nazis. People walking around wearing knee-high boots aren't Nazis, and, let's be honest, those idiot skinheads aren't Nazis, either.

The Nazis were a specific group in a specific time and place. For twelve years, they were a scourge on Europe and the world, who ravaged a continent and murdered my family for the crime of being who they were. Period. That's who the Nazis were. If you have someone you dislike, whom you hate, whom you even think qualifies as evil, fine. They are evil enough without you bringing the Nazis into it. If you dislike abortion, go ahead. You don't need to show the Auschwitz bodies side-by-side with fetuses to make your point. Intelligent Design proponents don't need to invoke the Nazis. PETA doesn't need to invoke the Nazis. Media demagogues have no right to throw around terms like "Goebells," "Nazi" and "Hitler" as if they mean nothing.

For the sake of basic decency, the media, and all of us, should stop. The Nazis are not our pet comparisons to use whenever we want. Some words still mean something. Some history still matters.

And I wish more people understood that.

1 comment:

Sholom said...

Duly agreed. One exception, however: Adherents of Aryan supremacist National Socialism are Nazis, whether or not they shave their heads or wear knee-high boots.

Although I don't really abhor them; at least, not nearly as much as I abhor the Bush administration, Planned Parenthood, Michael Moore, Bill O'Reilly, and Ariel Sharon.

Funny V-word: Plativug

It's a portmanteau of platypus and zivug.