Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel (updated)
What does one do on the Holocaust Remembrance Day?
One idea is, learn about it. The TV is entirely dedicated to the Holocaust. Since it is not a public holiday, schools are open, offering a chance to look for new topics and original takes on the tragedy. My Hebrew school is open too, let's see what we'll learn today.
Another idea is, refrain from usual things. Bars close down the evening before (like religious holidays, the Day starts after sunset), entertainment stops (not in my immigrant neighbourhood though), and sirens invite people to contemplate the tragedy.
Then, many people feel they should talk about it on their blogs and facebook. A friend of mine wrote a beautiful blog post about the Yiddish language as a victim of the Holocaust. Several friends have related FB statuses. Newspapers remind us about remaining Anti-Semitism in the world.
Much of the world, I would guess, feel as lost as Israel. There is a feeling that something should be done about it, there should be a "let's" part to it, but how does one escape banal repetition of what has already been said? What does one actually do about it? How does one go beyond depleted 'awareness raising' campaigns that preach for the already converted?
Meanwhile, let's see how the day proceeds. To be updated.
--- Update ---
What happened today at my Hebrew school fits nicely into what I wanted to write about today but had no time in the morning. A discussion arose as to how we remember the Holocaust and how, as a result of this remembering, we talk about it. Basically, the question is, what does it mean to be a 'good rememberer'? Two positions emerged, as they often do in the world:
As you can see from the way I presented both positions, the supporting arguments are highly 'grounded' in my world, and I found both of them legitimate (here is one on the Nazism-Communism comparison in Eastern Europe). I think both of the claims should be treated with sensitivity and respect. The problem is when the two opinions are taken to extremes. The first position, taken to extremes, becomes emotional and dangerous fight of analogies. "Zio-nazis!" "Israel is a Nazi regime!" - such destructive criticism, esp. when coming from abroad, does not make Israel's political elite reconsider their decisions, it only alienates humanist forces within the country from the mainstream society (like international accusations push Lithuanian progressive left to a vulnerable position, as I discussed before). The gropingly crafted comparisons of Nazism and Communism attempt to capitalise on the universal condemnation of Nazism, but often fail to take a more nuanced view on what there is special about the terror in the USSR and other countries and hiding it behind a comparison. The second position taken to extremes explodes in over-sensitivity each time someone compares discriminatory regimes, policies, reactions, etc. as if they are comparing the actual suffering ().The Holocaust teaches us something about racism today. Of course, a non-Jewish student would have hardly had the courage to bring this up in Israel, although this opinion is rather common in the rest of the world. This position focuses not as much as what happened during the Holocaust, but how it happened. And it happened step-by-step. First the spread of racist ideology, then various restrictions and humiliations, followed by grave limitations in everyday life (such as the ban on using pavements) and property confiscations, then isolation and ghettoisation, and then the "Final Solution" (this 'road' to the "Final Solution" is reflected in the structure of the Yad VaShem museum and the [very good] Holocaust Museum in Budapest). When we speak about the Holocaust, we have to have all the steps in mind, not only the "Final Solution". There's nothing comparable to the "Final Solution", but the Holocaust Remembrance Day should make us more alert about racism and discrimination in the world. According to the proponents of this opinion, several trends in Israel should also be seen in this light: the recent decision to strip hundreds of West Bank-based Palestinians of their residency rights (see also blog entry) is an alarming example. Solutions to the legal limbo of African refugees in Israel should, according to this position, also draw lessons from the years when Australia, the UK and other countries refused to accept Jewish refugees escaping genocide (this is documented in the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem). A pin-making workshop organised by local anarchists in Tel Aviv, which I attended, offered pins with at text that the main lesson of the Holocaust is the dangers of far right. Overall, "good rememberer" is one who is aware and active in fighting any form of racism and discrimination today, as it may bear resemblance to the initial steps which led to the "Final Solution". I hope it will not sound too provocative if I say that writing and talking about modern Anti-Semitism on the Holocaust Remembrance Day also partly adheres to this position, since post-WW2 Anti-Semitism does not compare to the "Final Solution", except that it is directed against the same group. Interestingly, according to one high-ranking employee of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre I met, the Centre has special programmes to monitor and raise awareness about various forms of racism and discrimination (including promotion of anti-Roma, Islamophobic, etc. attitudes), if not equally with Anti-Semitism, than at least considerably. This way of remembering can be seen as "working through" the tragedy and stimulate positive, constructive activism -- a balance to the frustration over contemplating what the fact of the Holocaust tell us about human behaviour. I could compare this attitude (those who want to post a comment that I'm comparing the tragedies, spare your time, I'm not) to the initiatives in Hiroshima. Hiroshima Japan has the only A-bombing site, and, 'fortunately', nothing in the world has matched what happened there. However, aside from remembering the tragedy, both the Peace Memorial Museum and various activists are engaged in promoting peace and nuclear disarmament.The Holocaust should receive a special 'shelf' in our memory. The Holocaust is not [yet] a tragedy that has been "worked through" and reached the point from which it is possible to move on. Numerous survivors are still alive and unable to come to terms with their personal experiences. Some of them are abandoned and in need of help. Many people have been cut off from their roots and still unaware of who their real parents are and where they were born. A lot remains unresearched and unspoken about. Holocaust denial is still dangerously widespread in the world. Various initiatives 'innocently belittling' the tragedy are also common and even more difficult to identify (and reflect upon, even by those who promote them without much thinking. Prof. Dovid Katz strives to identify them in his website - I might often have slightly different opinions, but the initiative is welcome). Nazi symbolism is experiencing a revival. Even aside all this, the scale and nature of the Holocaust is difficult to comprehend. I remember my former classmate, a borderline genius in Maths and far from a romantic poet type, once uttering: "As we speak about the Sun [in our Physics class], we know its volume and weight. But, like a chicken standing in front of a skyscraper, I don't understand what it is about." When faced with the reality of the Holocaust, we are the chicken standing before a skyscraper, and thus we should not engage in the things at our 'eye level' as if we are engaging with the skyscraper. The Holocaust involved both meticulous technical planning and senseless emotional outrage of sleeping consciences, the most modern nationalism and Medieval superstitions, pragmatic reasoning and blinding ideology. The "Final Solution" is way beyond forced deportations, racial or ethnic discrimination and military abuse of civilians that are happening in the world. Unlike, for example, Stalinist terror, the Holocaust weights on our minds as a lesson about human behaviour, with an impact similar to the Stanford experiment and the like. This is not to belittle anyone's suffering, but just to point out that the Holocaust deserves its own Remembrance Day, free of all other discussions; its own share in education and sites of memory. In one generation there won't be direct witnesses. If the Holocaust becomes 'one of' the tragedies talked and taught about, it risks being overshadowed by others, that are closer to various national majorities and contemporary interests. There are various other 'Days': against Fascism and Anti-Semitism, against Racism... A "good rememberer" spares the Holocaust Remembrance day for only the Holocaust and only Remembrance.
Coming back to Israel and away from the extremes, Israel is not only stumbling under the high expectations of people who want to see it as a viable political alternative, as a different country with lessons learned from the history. Israel is also under pressure to be the flagship of remembering. Who ever said it's easy...