Moving away from the Holocaust: so what or now what?

Last month, around the time of Yom HaShoah, I wrote about my grandfather’s experience in the Holocaust and the effect it had on my life and my sense of Judaism. This month, as I thought about how the Holocaust affects my adult life, the real question that emerged is the more global question of what does the Holocaust mean in the year 2010? Let’s look at some facts:

  • Most (not all of course) Holocaust survivors (including both my grandparents) have passed away, leaving the next generation to pass on their stories.
  • Schindlers List was 17 years ago, and I can’t think of any major cultural work that has been so effective at raising awareness about the Holocaust since.
  • Holocaust deniers are still getting written about in major publications.
  • All these new wars, like Iraq and Afghanistan, are receiving all the attention of the press, leaving less time for the classics, like WW2 and Viet Nam.

While I am proud to be a third-generation survivor, it is interesting to think that at this stage of my life, the Holocaust has very little day to day impact on me.
Last month I wrote that in high school I defined my Judaism by my grandparent’s story of survival, now it is more defined by my kid’s involvement in the Heilicher Jewish Day School, my involvement in the Minneapolis Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership group, and Shabbat and other holiday dinners and gatherings. I did join some group on Facebook of third generation survivors, but I’ll admit I usually don’t read the emails or visit the home page. Although it was interesting to see Facebook friends that are also members of the group that I had no idea were grandchildren of survivors.
So what does this all mean? Is there something wrong here, does this signify a cultural shift too far away from our past, or is it an expected and acceptable result of the growing distance of time since it happened?
Like most of you, of course I believe that the Holocaust is a critically important part of our history and that the continued education and study of it is necessary to help prevent anything like it from ever happening again. Reading what I wrote above now has me wondering if I am part of the problem, part of a society that is moving into the future without taking enough time to study the past.
And that of course leads to the next question… if I (and you) want to be part of the solution, what should we do? Here’s some brainstorms, feel free to add your own in the comment section below:

  • I should go the Heilicher Day School and ask about their Holocaust curriculum, not just on Yom HaShoah, but throughout the year. Ask them if any Holocaust survivors or second generation have come in to talk to any of the students. For the record, I have no idea if they have, and as a Day School parent, I can proudly say I have been very impressed with every part of their curriculum.
  • I should seek out and read at least one survivor’s story per year, maybe even 3-4 per year. And I should share them with my children, and talk about them.
  • I should take my children to my grandparents’ gravesites and talk to them about their journey through the Holocaust and to Minnesota.
  • I should volunteer to read my grandfather’s speech he used to give at schools at any schools or organizations that are willing to let me.
  • I should go around to the local school districts and see if the Diary of Anne Frank is required reading, and if it’s not, I should wave my arms around wildly until they add it. And when that’s accomplished, I should make sure there is curriculum and discussion that surrounds the required reading.
  • I should host a Yom HaShoah party next year, invite other third generation survivors as well as others, and drink Vodka and tell stories, but find a way to make it a happy and fun time instead of a total downer.
  • I should ask Hillel if they sponsor any programs on campus having to do with the Holocaust, like a Schindler’s List viewing night.

I wonder if I’ll actually do any of these things. Maybe the act of writing them down in a public forum will inspire me to follow up and take action. Maybe one of you will want to partner up with me. Who’s with me?