Living with history

As a Jew, I don’t burn Nazi flags, and as a Zionist I don’t seek to destroy the evidence of the many attempts to keep my people off its land and from its state – quite the opposite.

August 20, 2017 21:02
3 minute read.
Living with history

TEARING DOWN history. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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There is a reason all of Hitler’s concentration camps weren’t leveled and destroyed; there is a reason they are still standing, to this day. It is hardly a tribute, or even proof of acceptance, but rather a piece of evidence, kept for the dead, the living and those yet to come.

There has been Holocaust denial as long as there has been a Holocaust to deny, but the camps and their remnants stand there to be seen, touched and palpably experienced for new generations and those experiences become witnesses, making it more difficult to get away with lies, distortions and outright persecution. Earlier today I read that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it is going to “modify” tiles in a Manhattan subway station that people have complained look like confederate flags.

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This comes after over a year of heated debate over confederate statues and symbols all over America, liberal voices and outlets urging to have them removed, and the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, where violent protests broke out and a woman was murdered as neo-Nazis marched in support of a monument to confederate general Robert E. Lee.

I am deeply uncomfortable with what feels like a near-Orwellian mood not only in America, but across the world, as we try to sanitize history and rewrite it in a way that fits our current worldview. Not only will it not achieve the sought result, but it also speaks to an almost child-like naiveté that could prove downright dangerous.

When we demand to have symbols – or what kind of sort of look like symbols – taken down or destroyed, we focus our energy and anger on the object and not the subject of our frustration and rage. Statues do not create Nazis and flags do not start wars, but furiously attacking inanimate objects can lead to an angry hysteria that has more far-reaching consequences than leaving them be ever could.

As a Jew, I don’t burn Nazi flags, and as a Zionist I don’t seek to destroy the evidence of the many attempts to keep my people off its land and from its state – quite the opposite.

I need the proof of where we have been and what we have gone through in order to see where I am going, clearly and truly, and I fear those who ask for cleanliness in what is and always will be a very messy world. The history of my people is not just told through our successes or our glory, but through everything we’ve been, done and have had done to us. To me, that is the only option – to tell the whole story, or nothing at all. We either live in the light of history, or hide in the shadows of what we cannot face.

I am thankful that someone had the fortitude to not burn the camps to the ground in a very understandable urge to abolish all evil that they contained and erase the stain on our collective soul. Keeping them around preserves not only our memories of the atrocities but also our soul, our conscience and our ability to shape the future that we enter, carrying our past, however difficult it may be.

Tearing down statues does not erase the history that they symbolize, but it runs the risk of distorting it and negating it and eventually, repeating it. We must learn to live with history and, more broadly, with ourselves and what we as human beings are capable of. I dread the day some special interest group gets to decide what history to tell and what monuments to destroy and which to keep.

Either we own all of history or become victims of it, albeit in some well-meaning attempt to wash our hands of what is considered the ultimate evil of our time.

Children tear down the things they disagree with, but as grownups, that is a luxury we just cannot afford. Learning to live with history is a basic part of the human experience, and if we are becoming unable to do that, our society has much bigger problems than a few confederate statues or an upsetting flag. Our collective history is told through pain and joy, through victories and heartbreaking loss, and if we cannot keep all of it, we will end up with something much worse than nothing at all.

The author is a political adviser and writer on the Middle East, religious affairs and global antisemitism. Follow her on Twitter @truthandfiction.

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