We were out to dinner with friends when the conversation turned to Harvey Weinstein and his sexual abuse of women. There was no disagreement around the table about how vile Weinstein was until Mrs. R. passed judgement on all men as sexual exploiters and abusers.
I wondered about what went on in their bedroom for a moment and quickly dismissed the thought. What went on behind their bedroom door was their business alone. Weinstein was another issue and so was the generalization about men.
I disagreed with Mrs. R that all men are sexual exploiters and abusers. I said it is not about men, it is about power. Mrs. R. became instantly and surprisingly hostile. Her husband agreed, that it was about power but a glare from her shut him up quickly. I went on despite the glares.
A few years back, I met a Holocaust survivor who knew my father in Buchenwald, David R. He shared with me his brother’s survival story. I shared it and another later in the evening.
David’s brother was a very handsome young man. Orders came to report to the central train station for “resettlement”. Everyone knew what that meant.
A non-Jewish woman who knew his brother offered to help. She offered to help his brother but not him. The price was direct. She was an extremely unattractive woman. Her husband had been drafted by the German army and she wanted a man. She wanted a man not to take care of her but to service her.
For the next two and ½ years the brother had to perform and perform well and regularly on command. In return for his servicing, the woman took “care” of him.
The woman had power over him. Sexual exploitation was not a male thing at all, it was a power thing. One human-being having power over another.
Mrs. R. was stunned into silence for a moment.
She brought up the # Me Too twitter fire. Everyone was a victim. She proclaimed she was a victim too. Her brother had died recently and she was a victim.
The tragic death of her brother was a personal tragedy but we all have or will have losses over our lives. A loss does not necessarily make us a victim. There are those who are truly damaged as victims. And there are those who are injured and yet can find closure to go on successfully with their lives.
I shared another story from another Holocaust survivor I knew, Shaul. Shaul’s entire extended family was killed. Only his parents and he survived. Shaul said his parents enveloped their victimhood about their shoulders as a prayer shawl. They immersed themselves in victimhood and were destroyed by it.
Shaul was offered Restitution money from the Germans but he refused it. He refused it he said because he refused to become a living victim of the Germans for the rest of his days as his parents had become. He told me emphatically, he watched other survivors, those who were damaged and those who were injured.The damaged ones he said embraced their victimhood and it destroyed them. They passed that victimhood on to their children, damaging them.
He refused to become a victim. He never forgave or forgot what the Germans did. He refused to make his children into victims. Shaul is an old man now and continues to speak out against a Godless world that does not equally value all life.
I wondered about how we teach and remember the Holocaust as Jews. Are we remembering or are we the victims? The Palestinian conflict continues because the parents of many have chosen to make their children victims.
Mrs. R. seethed into her Pinot Grigio. It may be a long time until we go out to dinner again.