Tattooing the Holocaust

The post that caught my eye was a New York Times piece entitled, “A Tattoo to Remember.”

April 17, 2013 21:12
2 minute read.
A display showing tattoos at the Holocaust Museum in Wasington, DC

Holocaust tattoos 370. (photo credit: reuters)


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Shortly after waking up on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I completed my morning ritual of rummaging through my Facebook news-feed, where I stumbled upon one of the most appalling posts I have ever read.

To put this into perspective, I am a proud Jew and prefer not to align myself with any movement. Additionally, I am an adamant Zionist that is immigrating to Israel this coming summer. Between Facebook posts critiquing Judaism on movement lines or analyses of the State of Israel, there is no shortage of thought-provoking and potentially irritating posts. While I usually ignore these irritations, this was so irritating I could not resist.

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The post that caught my eye was a New York Times piece entitled, “A Tattoo to Remember.” It is an album of Jews, young and old, inked with the identification numbers of their family members that were in the Holocaust.

The amount of people getting such tattoos is small, but it is a growing, controversial trend that is seen as offensive to both survivors and the greater Jewish community.

Regardless of your views on how the Torah was given, whether by God, man, or divine inspiration, its prohibition on marking the skin is clear. The Nazis sought to destroy the very basis of the Jewish people, not only with murder, but also by undermining their faith.

Whether by cutting beards and sidelocks of Orthodox Jews or tattooing identification numbers, these practices were used to permanently undermine the Jewish foundation.

The tattoos given to those in the Holocaust were forced, in order to dehumanize Jews. If people had been given a choice in being marked, the number would not be on their arm.

With the practices that Nazis forced upon the Jewish people continuing, this time self-inflicted, the inhumane nature of the Nazis remains alive. By resisting the continuation, you are making a statement that the Jews survived, while the Nazi memory is dead.

The act of tattooing a family member’s number to your skin does not keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, knowledge does. Knowledge gained through reading first-hand accounts and traveling to the sites, which eventually leads to the ability to educate the next generation.

To those contemplating getting a tattoo of a family member’s number, I want to pose a question: Does the tattoo truly preserve the horrific memories of the Holocaust if it subsequently offends the majority of survivors and wider Jewish society? In order to truly preserve your family member’s Holocaust memory, resist the offensive tattoo, fight the Nazi attempt to undermine Jewish foundations, and dehumanization of the Jewish people.

Most importantly, spread the knowledge by writing their story down. After you complete the story, share it with anyone willing to read or listen. Ink used thus will go much further in preserving the memory of a loved one than ink in your skin.

The writer is a student in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona.

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