Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel (updated)

Article published on April 12, 2010
community published
Article published on April 12, 2010

What does one do on the Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Day?

One idea is, learn about it. The TV is en­tirely ded­i­cated to the Holo­caust. Since it is not a pub­lic hol­i­day, schools are open, of­fer­ing a chance to look for new top­ics and orig­i­nal takes on the tragedy. My He­brew school is open too, let's see what we'll learn today.

An­other idea is, re­frain from usual things. Bars close down the evening be­fore (like re­li­gious hol­i­days, the Day starts after sun­set), en­ter­tain­ment stops (not in my im­mi­grant neigh­bour­hood though), and sirens in­vite peo­ple to con­tem­plate the tragedy.

Then, many peo­ple feel they should talk about it on their blogs and face­book. A friend of mine wrote a beau­ti­ful blog post about the Yid­dish lan­guage as a vic­tim of the Holo­caust. Sev­eral friends have re­lated FB sta­tuses. News­pa­pers re­mind us about re­main­ing Anti-Semi­tism in the world.

Much of the world, I would guess, feel as lost as Is­rael. There is a feel­ing that some­thing should be done about it, there should be a "let's" part to it, but how does one es­cape banal rep­e­ti­tion of what has al­ready been said? What does one ac­tu­ally do about it? How does one go be­yond de­pleted 'aware­ness rais­ing' cam­paigns that preach for the al­ready con­verted?

Mean­while, let's see how the day pro­ceeds. To be up­dated.

--- Up­date ---

What hap­pened today at my He­brew school fits nicely into what I wanted to write about today but had no time in the morn­ing. A dis­cus­sion arose as to how we re­mem­ber the Holo­caust and how, as a re­sult of this re­mem­ber­ing, we talk about it. Ba­si­cally, the ques­tion is, what does it mean to be a 'good re­mem­berer'? Two po­si­tions emerged, as they often do in the world:

As you can see from the way I pre­sented both po­si­tions, the sup­port­ing ar­gu­ments are highly 'grounded' in my world, and I found both of them le­git­i­mate (here is one on the Nazism-Com­mu­nism com­par­i­son in East­ern Eu­rope). I think both of the claims should be treated with sen­si­tiv­ity and re­spect. The prob­lem is when the two opin­ions are taken to ex­tremes. The first po­si­tion, taken to ex­tremes, be­comes emo­tional and dan­ger­ous fight of analo­gies. "Zio-nazis!" "Is­rael is a Nazi regime!" - such de­struc­tive crit­i­cism, esp. when com­ing from abroad, does not make Is­rael's po­lit­i­cal elite re­con­sider their de­ci­sions, it only alien­ates hu­man­ist forces within the coun­try from the main­stream so­ci­ety (like in­ter­na­tional ac­cu­sa­tions push Lithuan­ian pro­gres­sive left to a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion, as I dis­cussed be­fore). The grop­ingly crafted com­par­isons of Nazism and Com­mu­nism at­tempt to cap­i­talise on the uni­ver­sal con­dem­na­tion of Nazism, but often fail to take a more nu­anced view on what there is spe­cial about the ter­ror in the USSR and other coun­tries and hid­ing it be­hind a com­par­i­son. The sec­ond po­si­tion taken to ex­tremes ex­plodes in over-sen­si­tiv­ity each time some­one com­pares dis­crim­i­na­tory regimes, poli­cies, re­ac­tions, etc. as if they are com­par­ing the ac­tual suf­fer­ing ().The Holo­caust teaches us some­thing about racism today. Of course, a non-Jew­ish stu­dent would have hardly had the courage to bring this up in Is­rael, al­though this opin­ion is rather com­mon in the rest of the world. This po­si­tion fo­cuses not as much as what hap­pened dur­ing the Holo­caust, but how it hap­pened. And it hap­pened step-by-step. First the spread of racist ide­ol­ogy, then var­i­ous re­stric­tions and hu­mil­i­a­tions, fol­lowed by grave lim­i­ta­tions in every­day life (such as the ban on using pave­ments) and prop­erty con­fis­ca­tions, then iso­la­tion and ghet­toi­sa­tion, and then the "Final So­lu­tion" (this 'road' to the "Final So­lu­tion" is re­flected in the struc­ture of the Yad VaShem mu­seum and the [very good] Holo­caust Mu­seum in Bu­dapest). When we speak about the Holo­caust, we have to have all the steps in mind, not only the "Final So­lu­tion". There's noth­ing com­pa­ra­ble to the "Final So­lu­tion", but the Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Day should make us more alert about racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion in the world. Ac­cord­ing to the pro­po­nents of this opin­ion, sev­eral trends in Is­rael should also be seen in this light: the re­cent de­ci­sion to strip hun­dreds of West Bank-based Pales­tini­ans of their res­i­dency rights (see also blog entry) is an alarm­ing ex­am­ple. So­lu­tions to the legal limbo of African refugees in Is­rael should, ac­cord­ing to this po­si­tion, also draw lessons from the years when Aus­tralia, the UK and other coun­tries re­fused to ac­cept Jew­ish refugees es­cap­ing geno­cide (this is doc­u­mented in the Yad VaShem Holo­caust Mu­seum in Jerusalem). A pin-mak­ing work­shop or­gan­ised by local an­ar­chists in Tel Aviv, which I at­tended, of­fered pins with at text that the main les­son of the Holo­caust is the dan­gers of far right. Over­all, "good re­mem­berer" is one who is aware and ac­tive in fight­ing any form of racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion today, as it may bear re­sem­blance to the ini­tial steps which led to the "Final So­lu­tion". I hope it will not sound too provoca­tive if I say that writ­ing and talk­ing about mod­ern Anti-Semi­tism on the Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Day also partly ad­heres to this po­si­tion, since post-WW2 Anti-Semi­tism does not com­pare to the "Final So­lu­tion", ex­cept that it is di­rected against the same group. In­ter­est­ingly, ac­cord­ing to one high-rank­ing em­ployee of the Simon Wiesen­thal Cen­tre I met, the Cen­tre has spe­cial pro­grammes to mon­i­tor and raise aware­ness about var­i­ous forms of racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion (in­clud­ing pro­mo­tion of anti-Roma, Is­lam­o­pho­bic, etc. at­ti­tudes), if not equally with Anti-Semi­tism, than at least con­sid­er­ably. This way of re­mem­ber­ing can be seen as "work­ing through" the tragedy and stim­u­late pos­i­tive, con­struc­tive ac­tivism -- a bal­ance to the frus­tra­tion over con­tem­plat­ing what the fact of the Holo­caust tell us about human be­hav­iour. I could com­pare this at­ti­tude (those who want to post a com­ment that I'm com­par­ing the tragedies, spare your time, I'm not) to the ini­tia­tives in Hi­roshima. Hi­roshima Japan has the only A-bomb­ing site, and, 'for­tu­nately', noth­ing in the world has matched what hap­pened there. How­ever, aside from re­mem­ber­ing the tragedy, both the Peace Memo­r­ial Mu­seum and var­i­ous ac­tivists are en­gaged in pro­mot­ing peace and nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment.The Holo­caust should re­ceive a spe­cial 'shelf' in our mem­ory. The Holo­caust is not [yet] a tragedy that has been "worked through" and reached the point from which it is pos­si­ble to move on. Nu­mer­ous sur­vivors are still alive and un­able to come to terms with their per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences. Some of them are aban­doned and in need of help. Many peo­ple have been cut off from their roots and still un­aware of who their real par­ents are and where they were born. A lot re­mains un­re­searched and un­spo­ken about. Holo­caust de­nial is still dan­ger­ously wide­spread in the world. Var­i­ous ini­tia­tives 'in­no­cently be­lit­tling' the tragedy are also com­mon and even more dif­fi­cult to iden­tify (and re­flect upon, even by those who pro­mote them with­out much think­ing. Prof. Dovid Katz strives to iden­tify them in his web­site - I might often have slightly dif­fer­ent opin­ions, but the ini­tia­tive is wel­come). Nazi sym­bol­ism is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a re­vival. Even aside all this, the scale and na­ture of the Holo­caust is dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend. I re­mem­ber my for­mer class­mate, a bor­der­line ge­nius in Maths and far from a ro­man­tic poet type, once ut­ter­ing: "As we speak about the Sun [in our Physics class], we know its vol­ume and weight. But, like a chicken stand­ing in front of a sky­scraper, I don't un­der­stand what it is about." When faced with the re­al­ity of the Holo­caust, we are the chicken stand­ing be­fore a sky­scraper, and thus we should not en­gage in the things at our 'eye level' as if we are en­gag­ing with the sky­scraper. The Holo­caust in­volved both metic­u­lous tech­ni­cal plan­ning and sense­less emo­tional out­rage of sleep­ing con­sciences, the most mod­ern na­tion­al­ism and Me­dieval su­per­sti­tions, prag­matic rea­son­ing and blind­ing ide­ol­ogy. The "Final So­lu­tion" is way be­yond forced de­por­ta­tions, racial or eth­nic dis­crim­i­na­tion and mil­i­tary abuse of civil­ians that are hap­pen­ing in the world. Un­like, for ex­am­ple, Stal­in­ist ter­ror, the Holo­caust weights on our minds as a les­son about human be­hav­iour, with an im­pact sim­i­lar to the Stan­ford ex­per­i­ment and the like. This is not to be­lit­tle any­one's suf­fer­ing, but just to point out that the Holo­caust de­serves its own Re­mem­brance Day, free of all other dis­cus­sions; its own share in ed­u­ca­tion and sites of mem­ory. In one gen­er­a­tion there won't be di­rect wit­nesses. If the Holo­caust be­comes 'one of' the tragedies talked and taught about, it risks being over­shad­owed by oth­ers, that are closer to var­i­ous na­tional ma­jori­ties and con­tem­po­rary in­ter­ests. There are var­i­ous other 'Days': against Fas­cism and Anti-Semi­tism, against Racism... A "good re­mem­berer" spares the Holo­caust Re­mem­brance day for only the Holo­caust and only Re­mem­brance.

ex­change of let­ters

see an ex­am­ple

Com­ing back to Is­rael and away from the ex­tremes, Is­rael is not only stum­bling under the high ex­pec­ta­tions of peo­ple who want to see it as a vi­able po­lit­i­cal al­ter­na­tive, as a dif­fer­ent coun­try with lessons learned from the his­tory. Is­rael is also under pres­sure to be the flag­ship of re­mem­ber­ing. Who ever said it's easy...