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?
“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.”
Wow. This is deeply shocking to me.
I mean no disrespect to you, sir. In fact, I admire you for thinking and for actively considering doing many worthy deeds for remembrance of the Shoah. And that is exactly what makes the quoted statement so incomprehensible to me. (Dare I hope that this a spectacularly ill-considered joke?) I struggle to understand how the same person who wrote the rest of what you have written could also write that.
My grandmother was an 11-year-old in Kiev, Ukraine, when the war started. Of all my family only her grandparents died in the Shoah; when I was eight or so she took me to Babiy Yar, where her grandparents were murdered. Unlike you, I’ve never identified myself as any generation of survivor, nor have I ever thought of the Shoah as central to my Jewish identity. But whenever I contemplate the Shoah, I have to make an effort to avoid tears and trembling.
Never in my wildest imaginings could I conceive that someone who is as deeply aware of the pain of the Shoah as you must be could possibly place “the Shoah” and “fun” in the same sentence. To me, the use of the phrase “total downer” suggests an alarming nonchalance. I really doubt that this was what you intended. Please, sir, for the sake of the memory you hope to perpetuate, avoid such unfortunate phrasing in the future.
I am never shocked by Holocaust denial. I am never shocked by ignorance of it. But your statement, sir, shocked me.
This topic has been on my mind alot lately. I’m also 3G.You havesomegreatideas.Letmeknoif the vodka bash comes together…
I do want to apologize deeply for offending Mike and anyone else who took offense to my Yom HaShoah party comment. I realize my choice of words is regrettable. But I stand by the idea within that bullet point. While the tragedy and sadness is unavoidable, I do believe there is a way to use that day and those emotions to create an event with like minded people that can be uplifting and beneficial. Monday is Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. We honor this day by having Barbeques, being with family, and enjoying the warm weather. Is that crass? I haven’t thought about it, maybe it is.
Mr. Kapel, you don’t need to apologize to me. You did not offend me. Shocked, yes; but shock wears off.
For what it’s worth, I do agree that stories of survival could be uplifting. I suppose it depends on how it’s done — and on the audience.
After all, on Pesach we do celebrate our freedom, not focusing exclusively on the slavery that preceded it.
While I believe stories of survival can be uplifting, we must be cautious that with the passage of time the truth of the horrors (and disbelief about these truths) must not be minimized. I have grave concerns about the loss of this generation of survivors because there is danger in minimization of the stories and their immense sadness and loss. These losses will affect future generations…..we need to continue to live with vibrance but hold a special place for the losses in our history.
Great article. I think it’s very healthy and necessary for Jewish identity to be about ACTIVE participation in Jewish life and rituals and not ONLY about teaching/learning lessons of the Holocaust. Of course I say this not to minimize the important of the teaching/learning, but it’s not enough to sustain Judaism or give people reasons to remain Jewish.