It’s difficult to have conversations about the holocaust. And there aren’t many words, as a Jewish person, I can place. Friday, January 27, however, marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I am compelled to speak.
It’s difficult to quantify, to parse the intergenerational trauma of genocide. For some Jews, the holocaust — referred to as the Shoah in Hebrew — is much closer to home. Every Jew has a different relationship to the Shoah, as we navigate a complex diaspora of assimilation, survival and the preservation and resurrection of various cultural traditions. Many Jews, myself included, feel displaced within this diaspora, one of the primary reasons being, the holocaust.
While globally, Jews are approaching the same numbers we had before the holocaust — 16.6 million then, 14.2 million now — the holocaust killed over 6 million Jews, and on a cultural scale, Jews were devastated in a way that is impossible to quantify.
The cultural decimation then, continues today. While our numbers have risen, the damage is irreversible. And therein lies the tragedy of why International Holocaust Remembrance day can conjure up so many complicated emotions; many Jews don’t even know the culture they have lost.
I am, of course, no exception.
I grew a fascination with the holocaust when I was told my mother’s father was Jewish. At 13-years-old, I was reading and researching, combing through book after book, article after article; searching for something, searching for a piece of myself. That is, of course, because her father, my grandfather, escaped the holocaust in 1936, three years after Hitler came to power.
On a deep level, this disturbed and terrified me. I was coming to grips with, at such a young age, that I was connected to genocide, that I was connected to a people I had never known.
Thirteen was a precarious age for me, given the terrors of puberty. Given the bombshell of this new information, I was shaken to my core. The holocaust is how I began to conceptualize myself around being Jewish. And when the pieces fell into place, I began to realize how my experiences had already been shaped through antisemitism.
I’ve always had curly hair, since I hit puberty. When I wore it long, it was all people ever commented on. I was the one with “the hair” I was the one people would, consequently, question about my race and ethnicity. I was also, I discovered at puberty, hairy.
This is in stark contrast to my sister, who is relatively hairless with straight hair and a button nose. When puberty hit, I stuck out like a sore thumb. My nose was bigger than hers, I was hairy and I had thick, dark curly hair.
Growing up, I realize now, I was more visibly Jewish than her. And for that reason, I sought reconnection.
Today, I see myself connecting still. However, given the current political climate in the United States, it’s very unfortunate timing to be Jewish. Just last week, I was harassed by two Nazis on the internet, and saw, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Jew told to “get in the oven” by Nazis on Twitter.
It’s comforting in a way, that these Nazis’ had their public information leaked. However, it doesn’t stop the terror of their boldness.
Nazis are growing bolder and bolder by the day, they are gaining platforms in the media and around the country, and I would argue, appointed to positions of national authority. It is then, an eerie feeling, to be reminded of the holocaust, once more.
What does “never again” mean, when people are debating whether or not Jews are people on CNN, what does “never again” mean when Nazis openly plan marches against Jews. What then, is “never again” when this violent and pervasive antisemitism has become so normalized once again.
I think of my grandfather, who escaped Germany at the age of 23, lucky to get out when he could, lucky to have survived. I think of his youth, I think of his fears and I think; I am seeing the spread of fascism in my country the way he did his, 81 years ago. If he were still alive, he would be 103.
I find myself thinking and I find myself horrified at the political parallels between Nazi Germany and the United States currently. This comparison has been heavily criticized, but the more I learn about Germany before the holocaust, and the way the media and the public helped to normalize Nazism, the more I find it apt and appropriate.
What does it mean then, to be Jewish and to be connected so intimately to the holocaust at this time in America? I find myself and other Jews asking themselves the same question. What does International Holocaust Remembrance Day mean to us, when at every turn; there is open Nazism in the United States.
We are forced to remember in a world that makes sure we could not possibly forget.