Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Israel Monday


There was only one purpose to my day on Monday, to experience Yad V'shem, the Holocaust museum in Israel. As many of you know through conversation, and my other articles here (Israel last year talking w/my grandfather), here (3G Coffee), and here (Lithuania), I have thought quite a bit about my Jewish identity (strong), my religious identity (nonexistent), and my thoughts on a higher power (still unclear). My experiences at Yad V'shem only solidified all three of those positions…yes, you can solidify an unclear position.

As you go through the new museum, you are forced to see, how Europe slowly progressed to such a low point and how humans could act so low, all as you slowly descended underground, to the lowest point of the museum. You are shown videos of Hitler yelling phrases like, “The age of exorbitant Jewish intellectualism has come to an end!” as the crowd burns books in the background. You see images of how the Jews were being blamed for all of the German economic problems. There were cartoons of Jews in magazines which depicted them with both dollar signs along side that symbol in the Russian flag. Which means they were calling Jews both capitalists (bankers) and communists (Karl Marx), which we all now know aren’t really compatible philosophies. Yet these depictions were placed throughout Europe, so when the Jews were systematically shipped to Ghetto’s, their leaders killed immediately to quell any chance at organized resistance, the general public turned a blind eye, and sighed a relief.
As Jewish rights were slowly stripped, why didn’t they leave? When public sector jobs were taken away, when stores were boycotted and destroyed, and when ownership of property or companies was forbidden why didn’t they leave. Well, some tried, my relatives did leave thankfully. But there wasn’t anywhere to go, and these people had lived in their towns for hundreds of years, many of them were much more German or Polish or Austrian than Jewish. As Germany’s economy thrived in the late 30’s, and the Jewish people were out of sight and out of mind, most of the regular people forgot about what they’d given up to get to that point. Anyway, from this we dive into concentration camp life, and onto the death camps. We saw videos from the lone survivors of massacres, telling their stories, as none of the hundreds of people solemnly walking through museum actually spoke (besides the tour guides).

Once we hit the bottom, there was only one way to go, up. We learned about the resistances, the righteous gentiles who saved lives, and we learned about the end of the war, the liberation. But while there were parades as Americans and Russians liberated the cities and countries from German rule, we, as a people, could barely smile, how could we be happy? While my emotions were supposed to be uplifted toward the end, they were not. I was left bitter, I was left angry, I was left looking at my relatives, skinny, barely able to move anymore, having lived on 183 calories for 3+ years (3 pieces of bread). They looked bitter, and lonely, and unsatisfied. And I was left thinking about my grandfather, whose parents, brother, sister, and most of his aunts and uncles and almost 200 hundred people he once knew weren’t even lucky enough to be one of those skinny, lonely people. While the liberation was a time of celebration for much of the world, for us, it was a time of confusion, a time of finally being allowed to mourn, a time of long journeys to the US, Israel, and maybe back home, to find out if anyone else was left.

As the museum finishes, there’s a room that reminds you not to forget, but to remember the past, and these atrocities forever, as to honor those who didn’t live through it. You walk up the last few steps, back to ground level, and are left with a magnificent, uplifting, view of the hills and valleys of Jerusalem. It’s as if the museum is trying to tell you, “Out of all that, came this.” And as we’re standing at the exit, there are kids playing games, and people are smiling and talking again, and I really did feel happy for what had happened since, but it didn’t quell my bitterness at all. Today, Tuesday, I’m still angry, and want to get up and FIGHT for those who can’t, for those who didn't, for those who are not with us anymore. AND I want to fight an enemy that doesn’t exist anymore. Then I realize that my inspiration to fight, is likely similar to those who did survive, and who did see in real life what I have just seen in a museum. Those people, decided to fight starting w/the liberation, and have been flighting ever since. That is what Israel stands for isn't it? It’s a group of Jews who will fight back, constantly. Appeasement doesn’t exist here.

What have I thought since? I have wondered since, as it’s an ongoing issue here in the US, about what would have happened had the Jews had the right to bear arms. Had Jewish Europeans, who’d been living in their homes for hundreds of years, had guns to fight back on Kristalnacht, if a better resistance could have been formed. But then I think that since it was such a slow, systematic, racism, that the right to bear arms would have been stripped well before any Jew could have expected they would have been targeted for extermination.

How do I feel now? I feel pride in my Judaism. I wonder about God and think that if there is a god, he favors those who die for him/her, without giving up their loyalty to him/her, above those who kill for him/her. This was the main theme of the play I finished reading last week, which coincidentally dealt with Jewish pogroms, and the question of “Where was god.” Do I believe he deserted my family? ABSOLUTELY. But that is as an outsider looking in. If you ask those who actually died, if they would be willing to denounce their beliefs in God to save their own lives, I don’t believe they would. And thus the quandary, if those who these terrible things are actually happening to don’t turn their backs on God, and stay truthful, to the death, how can I blame God for letting all of these terrible things happen, and turn my back on him / her.

On the question of Israel, and whether I believe that without the Holocaust, there would be no Israel, I think Doron (not my dad), a member of our reunion said it best. “You can talk about if there was no Holocaust, there may be no Israel, but you cannot answer the question. It did happen, but it is a question with no answer.”

And thus, at the end of the day, I’m still very Jewish. I’m still very non religious (considering the systematic extermination was surprisingly efficient at killing religious Jews just as effectively as secular Jews who never practiced, thus I don’t see any advantage to the dogma. That doesn’t mean I don’t like some traditions. And I’m still ambiguous toward God. If I were to meet him/her, I’d be pissed, and would likely give him a piece of my mind.

The rest of my day seemed pretty insignificant.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your opinion of the museum, i think i felt the same way when i got to the end, wanting to fight and do something but not really knowing what to do. You really synthesized the experience of going through this museum either as a Jew or non-Jew, it really doesn't make a difference. Thank you for sharing this with me and hopefully we will be able to see each other again before the next reunion, New York isn't that far away from Boston. Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

I want to thank you for your special and personal comments regarding our visit at Yad V'shem. For me going thur the museum was a very sad and emotional experience. It left me with a very empty feeling inside and also very angry. I have seen many documentaries about the Holocaust, but going thur all the exhibits in the museum really hit my heart and soul. It made me very sad to think of all my ancestors, my extended family, my grandparents and my own parents. I hope that we will never again experience such a horrific event. Thank you again for sharing your own personal thoughts with us.
For me and my son Herman, our visit to Israel and our wonderful family reunion is something that we will remember a cherish for a long time. Best regards from
Miriam and Herman