Saturday, July 05, 2003

Avoiding dealing with Holocaust denial
John Williams has been discussing the question of Holocaust denial with me. I find myself at a loss to react. How do I feel about Holocaust denial? I'm not very good at putting over a philosophical point at the best of times, but now that I'm on a diet I think my brain has completely shut down. This is obviously why emaciated fashion models are often regarded as (How can I put this in the least offensive way?) not very bright. It's obviously the lack of sufficient carbohydrates reaching the uppermost part of their bodies (and now mine too). Gives you a sort of airy, fluffy feeling. Not unpleasant, but not conducive to developing complex philosophical theory, either.

But I digress (I love writing that).

I can't handle Holocaust denial. It's too big, too scary. Moreover I don't know any Holocaust deniers personally, which makes me feel a bit removed from the whole issue. Of course, I do know plenty of Holocaust survivors. I grew up with the second generation, the offspring of the survivors.

Lately I've been noticing things about this second generation, my contemporaries. Maybe it's because we've got to the age in which our life experiences begin to affect our facial expressions, the shape of wrinkles appearing on our faces serving as windows into our soul. Or maybe it’s because writing forces me to look more deeply at things I've been seeing for years.

Is my childhood friend's cancer an inheritance of her parent's suffering in Poland in the war? Why does my tough, no nonsense friend at work never seem to get round to translating that letter in Polish she has in her possession, written by her grandparents to her father, before they sent him out the back way, to an unknown destiny, when the Nazis came knocking on their door (although she professes a sincere interest in learning about the letter's content)? Will my forty-year-old acquaintance and his older brothers ever be able to break away from their domineering (Holocaust survivor) mother, and begin families of their own?

Maybe these thoughts mean nothing. Maybe these are just anecdotes, coincidences. Maybe most second generation are just the same as everyone else and I'm just looking at them differently because I know something about them and look for the effect.

The Holocaust is central to life in Israel. Some (such as Professor Wilkie) seem to see Israel's preoccupation with the Holocaust as some sort of manipulation. They are apparently unaware that people in Israel, and, I believe, throughout the Jewish world, are still trying to come to terms, to grasp, to understand the meaning, or the lack of it, and to learn to live with the feeling of loss that somehow persists. This task of ours is surely hard enough. On top of it all, how can we possibly cope with people who, we are told, are denying it ever happened, or are diminishing its scale?

Update: More on this by Nelson Ascher.