I was recently given a “Holocaust book” to read, although I declined to review it. I don’t want to trash a book which is well-written from a technical point of view.
As a reader, I was drawn so close to the central characters that I felt like I was getting into bed with them. Endlessly. In what seems to have become the staple of Holocaust novels, the book is studded with sex scenes.
In fairness, the writer does depict how the hero and heroine are survivors struggling to return to something like normal life in a world where the very idea of things carrying on normally as before is obscene. But for me, the obscenity didn’t stop there.
I have a problem with Holocaust novels as a genre. As soon as the facts – so absolutely awful – are turned into fiction, doubts are bound to creep in. If not for this generation, then for the next, and the one after that.
And we as a people are defined by our millennia- long collective memory, a never- changing narrative in the old-fashioned sense of the word. It’s hopelessly politically incorrect but the Purim story and Passover tale are a way of passing on our history to our children; they don’t take modern liberal sensitivities and tastes into account. They are stories of survival, themselves intended to survive and be passed on.
The Haggada which we read on Seder night, a defining Jewish experience all around the world, contains the words: “For not just one enemy has stood against us to wipe us out.
But in every generation there have been those who have stood against us to wipe us out, and the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands.”
We are commanded to remember, always, Amalek who tried to wipe us out as we escaped, tired and desperate, from Egypt.
Yes, us. For just as the Talmud teaches us that saving one life is the equivalent of saving the entire world, so too the destruction of the Jewish people at any stage in our history – under the Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Greeks, Spanish Inquisitors or Holocaust – would have been the end of our world.
The commandment “Remember” is collectively becoming harder and harder. Strangely, the more access we have to the truth, the less we can believe what we read and see. For the Holocaust novel has a cinematic sister.
Here too sex and violence are increasingly used to sell.
And even when a movie is not busy trying to titillate viewers – does most of the audience really buy a ticket to voyeuristically view the rape, abuse and murder of the greater part of the Jewish People? – many are tweaked to lend that great necessity of the new era: universality.
Years ago I was shocked and offended in very rapid succession at the ending of Andrzej Wajda’s film Korczak. Instead of finishing with a shot of the children from the Warsaw Ghetto and their courageous teacher and mentor arriving at Treblinka – the final stop – the movie ends with a dream-like sequence in which the cattle car into which they have been packed is detached from the rest of the train and the children spill out into a beautiful green field, presumably to live happily ever after, at least in cinematic paradise.
The American movie-going public at the time was assumed to want happy endings.
Now, it is presumed to want sex and a message that it could have happened to anyone.
The overall effect is one of desensitization and an increased lack of credibility.
Today, almost no museum or exhibit on war or the Holocaust would dare avoid a message of universality. And in this way, instead of spreading the message of the absolute evil perpetrated on the Jews for being Jews – which should be a warning in itself – we are lectured about the threat of violence and intolerance in general. It might be easier than admitting that an ancient hatred still exists among us – and it is certainly more popular – but it is less effective. When everyone becomes a victim, no one is a perpetrator, no one is guilty.
As a generation is growing up not knowing or hearing about the horrors firsthand as the survivors literally die out, the banality of evil is being replaced by the simply banal. The meaning of the Holocaust, its immensity, is constantly being diminished. Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi” might have turned into one of the iconic TV series’ most popular episodes, but it makes me lose both my appetite and my sense of humor. Some cheap laughs come with a heavy price.
THE DISTORTION is so great that equating the Jewish state with the Nazi tormentors of yesteryear has become close to de rigueur in certain circles. Israel is compared to Nazi Germany and Gaza has become a “ghetto.” This image is nurtured even when rockets rain down on southern Israel, as they did on Sderot over the end of the Passover holiday.
This is no ghetto. This is an increasingly Islamist de facto Palestinian state. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas swears that Judea and Samaria will be judenrein in the event of any peace agreement.
And yet it is Israel that is accused of being an “apartheid state,” another expression of ignorance of historic facts and present truth.
This Passover, indeed, provided several unpleasant reminders that the hatred of Jews thrives.
Ukrainian Jews feel increasingly under threat in a place where synagogues have been firebombed and the community singled out.
In Israel, police commander Baruch Mizrahi, a father of five, was killed as a terrorist opened fire on his car as he drove with his wife and children to a family Seder in Kiryat Arba.
And people around the world were shocked by the attack on the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, in which three people were killed: Reat Underwood, 14; his grandfather, William Corporon, 69; and Terri LaManno, 53. None of them were Jewish as it happens, but there is no doubt that this was a classic anti-Semitic attack carried out by a man who never hid his views.
I recently watched a TV discussion on anti-Semitism focusing on Europe and North American university campuses, though Heaven knows, the hatred of Jews is not restricted to those continents. There’s no definitive solution, but one way of tackling the problem is boosting Jewish identity. The more people are scared to openly identify as Jews, the more they conversely open themselves up to bullying.
Earlier this month, the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York witnessed a spirited discussion on Israel’s image. The two main schools of thought were divided between those who want to focus on the country’s successes and those who stressed its ongoing problems as a victim in a tough neighborhood.
I fall somewhere between the two approaches: I believe Israel’s development in almost every field has been close to miraculous – particularly given that it has had to fight roughly a war a decade and the threats are far from over.
I’m not looking for the sympathy vote. I don’t think a culture based on victimhood is healthy, but I’m definitely a member of the “Zachor” (“Remember”) brigade. “Forgive and forget” is literally foreign to my way of thinking. I’m more into remembering, learning and moving on.
I marvel at the miracles, the contrariness of surviving and thriving. I take pleasure in Israel being a country like other Western countries, and at the same time I am proud of our uniqueness.
This is who we are, in spite of everything we’ve been through and because of everything we’ve been through. What hasn’t killed us made us stronger. You can read the earliest accounts about it (with a fair amount of sex and violence, too) in The Book that doesn’t change. I’d trust it more than I’d trust the movie.
firstname.lastname@example.org The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.