What I Learned From Growing Up In The Holocaust’s Shadow

I was born in 1959, 14 years after the death camps were liberated. I grew up in an upper middle class Jewish suburb northwest of Baltimore, MD. I had at least one Hebrew School teacher with a number tattooed into her flesh. We did not shy away from what had just happened to us. We did not avert our eyes in shame except to tell ourselves “Never again”. And to justify our resolve to NEVER passively participate in our own genocide ever again, my community taught the Holocaust to little kids like me the moment they felt we were capable of understanding: the world hates you because of what you are. The sooner you learn this, the safer you’ll be.

I, for one, have never forgotten those lessons. I have never forgotten the look in every German eye as they gazed upon their Jewish prisoners. Forgive and forget?

Not possible. Well… history says it is possible — if not to entirely forgive and forget, then at least to do business with. It’s kinda like “Forgive & Forget Adjacent”. Hey — mea culpa! I’ve owned not one, but two autos made by Audi. And Audi has much to be ashamed about.When Audi was operating under the name Auto Union, it struck a deal with the SS, by which more than 3,700 inmates from Nazi concentration camps were put to work for the company.” Further — “Another 16,500 laborers — not interned in concentration camps — also were made to work for the car company in the Saxon cities of Zwickau and Chemnitz, in addition to 18,000 at a plant in Bavaria where more than 4,000 died…”. In the end, “Auto Union merged with Volkswagen, Audi’s parent company, in 1965, dropping the original name in 1985 after a merger… a decade ago, Audi paid millions into a fund set up by the German auto industry to compensate Nazi slave laborers and their descendants.”

I can comfort myself, I suppose, by telling myself “Well, at least they tried to do the right thing in the end”. As comfort goes, that’s pretty cold. But, what allowed American Jews to “forgive” the Germans — to stop seeing them all as ex-Nazis in hiding — was that, it appeared, the Germans stopped seeing Jews as concentration camp inmates — as cockroaches deserving of such treatment. That’s surprisingly hard to make people understand — people who’ve never been looked at as a cockroach because of what they are. It’s not an affect. It’s a straightforward, brutally honest communication from, in essence, one person’s soul to another. “Because of what you are, you are less than me“.

All animals, it seems, communicate in myriad “unspoken” ways — via body language or simply by “looking at” others a certain way. A little fish doesn’t have to literally hear “I’m going to eat you” to appreciate how loudly it’s being shouted by a big fish’s eyes. It’s there. All the little fish has to do is “read it”.

Forgiving and forgetting IS possible. There CAN BE constructive dialogue between diametrically opposed factions — but not if one of those factions (or both) look at the other with contempt. Nothing constructive can happen if one group sees the other as “cockroaches”. That’s not something most humans can really hide. Even when they try to? It’s pretty phony.

My biggest takeaways from Holocaust School were —

  • The Holocaust might have stopped — but only for now.
  • Jew hating is hard-wired into a lot of people
  • Even people who don’t act like they hate you — if you look into their eyes? They hate you
  • Never turn off your “Spidey senses”; if they tingle? It’s for a reason; REACT
  • The only way you can ever trust that a non-Jew might not despise you for being a Jew? They never look at you like you are a cockroach

Anti-Semitism — like racism and beauty — are entirely in the eye of the beholder. It’s never up to a racist to say whether they’re racist or not. How the hell would they know? They’re RACIST ffs! Ask the racist’s victim, ask the misogynist’s victim, the bigot’s victim, the anti-Semite’s victim: “Do you feel hated because of who or what you are?” If there’s even a scintilla of “yes”, that hater is whatever the hated says they are. Hate after all is an active verb.

It is perverse that, already, a big part of our conversation — in the shadow of a seditionist insurrection — is “can we forgive and forget so as to move past it?” White people, it turns out, hate having to EVER take ownership for their shit. Can’t we just forgive, forget and move on — like they did already? The problem with saying yes Not only do these scumbags now look at you like a cockroach, now they look at you like a stupid cockroach.

Trust me: that makes it worse.

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