Why I don't remember - an Israeli and the Holocaust
Let me tell you a story, a story about a guy in his mid 20's, who happens to be Jewish and a born and raised Israeli. That guy found out that he is going to spend a year in Germany and almost overnight he moved to a country, that was a tabu for him since time immemorial. That guy is me, me more than three years ago. That guy didn't care even the slightest for the remembrance of the Holocaust, even though he was going to the place where it was planed and executed. The Lion's Den of the holocaust remembrance.
So why didn't I care? Looking back brings back the saturation of the holocaust in my daily life. To start with, I grew up with a father who took his parents's tragedy upon himself. I was pretty interested in a lot of things, things people weren't talking about. For instance why does grandma can speak German? Why does grandma and grandpa have no sisters or relatives? Where did they come from? And how? Only to get disappointed for the lack of a good answer. To add to that, there was the tabu on everything german. I remember playing with toy soldiers that had a german federal republic flag with them. I had to beg my father to play them, and had no idea why.
Of course after that, I got older and in school and TV, everything becomes holocaust related. It's like over the span off one year, my life changed, something I was forbidden to hear about, became the most abundant thing everywhere. And it doesn't stop there, I suppose growing up in Israel is, ironically, much like growing up in Germany; the holocaust is behind every corner. Whether it be how people speak, memorials, the background story of every person you meet, the memorial days, old people, the trips to the camps (which I refused to go to), it's everywhere to a point you want not to care anymore. But you you do. That's when you become cynical, like most Israelis.
Could you blame me for being cynical? We live in a society where everybody you don't agree with is a "Nazi" and "holocaust" is just another name you can add to anything you want to make look bad. Everything holocaust related has been diluted to a point where, quite frankly, it means very little. So little, that people don't associate it with it's appropriate context anymore.
I carried the cynicism with me to Germany. And everything seemed fine in the begging. And then, amidst the day to day life, there comes a sobering moment. A movement where you understand that you cannot get away from remembering and you cannot play as if it isn't relevant anymore. I can only compare it to a calm, quite night drive along a lonesome road. You are driving alone, yet there, for a moment, inextricably, you are no longer in control of the car. Something that you weren't aware of, that was there all along, has awoken and took the steering wheel away from you. It is a moment without an ounce of denial, where the holocaust becomes vivid, personal and present. A hidden backseat driver pulling you from what you knew. I had, many, many such moments, while living in Germany.
It is for these sobering moments that I see pass my cynicism. I have learned to revere the German remembrance culture. In the past, I thought it was a subject of an unpleasant necessity. Now I believe it to be a virtue. My view on remembrance of the holocaust has changed. I understood that to remember because you have too, doesn't mean anything, as long as you don't give it a purpose. You must answer the question why do we remember? Many Israelis and Germans shame themselves for this remembrance (in Israeli, day of remembrance is also known as Yom haShoa wehaGwura - day of remembrance of the holocaust and bravery, for those who fought). I however believe no one should feel ashamed of himself for what his ancestors committed or endured. I find "shame" a bad term, that means a will to dislodge yourself from this memory. I find responsibility a much better term for remembrance. We are responsible to truly learn what this terrible part of history has to tell us all. And better our self, so we do not repeat it.
Three years ago I stood in the German Bundestag (German parliament), commemorating the victims of the holocaust. I said to a ZDF(German TV) interviewer that "My grandfather who fought against the Nazis, would have been proud of me now". After visiting home and telling my father about the interview, he said: "your grandfather would think many things about this interview, pride is not one of them". At that moment I understood, that my responsibility is to make that grandfather my way of remembering, and father to understand the way I view Germany today. Although I'm not sure why, I can excuse this so my children won't have to grow up with unanswered question. After all, I believe such an issue left unresolved is a shame. And so thanks to the help of some amazing people, I dug the story of my grandfather and his WW2 past from the grave, and today, I remember.
the full story will be published on the 23.04.2017, the Israeli remembrance day of the Shoa.