I was born in 1959, 14 years after the Nazi concentration camps were liberated. In my brain, those camps never went away.
I grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s in a Jewish suburb of Baltimore. Pikesville was so predominantly Jewish that “clever people” called it “Kikesville” instead. My public high school was so predominantly Jewish that even the non-Jewish kids took the Jewish holidays off — cos they knew NOTHING was happening in school those days.
You might think growing up in a place so culturally Jewish would shield one from the Holocaust’s awfulness. You might think such an awful memory — so close in our rear view mirror — would have made my community so horrified that they couldn’t bear to discuss it.
We went completely in the other direction. I wouldn’t say we “embraced” the Holocaust so much as we “owned it”. As my community tends to do, we made it a teachable moment. From a young age, I was told about this tragedy and shown images that burned into my mind forever. I don’t regret that for a second. I needed to remember these lessons – forever.
I have always been grateful to Hebrew school for making me the atheist I am today — and for giving me a stone, cold accurate view of the world — and my place in it because of my tribe.
There’s a famous photo of a group of Jews being rounded up in the Warsaw Ghetto by the occupying Nazis –
From the first time I saw the photo, I became that boy in the lower right. I bet a lot of Jews my age did. We saw and felt that boy’s terror, his helplessness. His confusion: how can they be doing this to you just because you were born Jewish? You’ve done nothing wrong to anyone on the planet – yet the planet wants you dead.
“Never Again” became as integral a part of my “religious education” as chanting the ‘Shema’. The past hurt. That was not going to be our future.
In our guts, my community has always known this was lurking somewhere in the American Character. You can’t cram peoples’ heads with that much bullshit and expect the bullshit not to screw them up. Bullshit always screws people up – cos it’s bullshit. When you cram a nonsense, hateful mythology into peoples’ heads that actually runs counter to your religion’s core message (and its core messenger) — don’t be surprised when the nonsense becomes the message.
It sucks being despised because of a total fiction. It sucks worse being killed over it.