TODAY IS INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY. Of course when I think about it, what comes to mind first isn’t the Holocaust, but my own memories of growing up Jewish and feeling conflicted about so many things. On one hand I felt a connection to the people I went to Sunday School with, to temple with. We were…what exactly? The smart kids in school? (Oftentimes, yes). The outcasts? (Oftentimes, yes). The kids whose parents hugged you and kissed you in a way that Christian families didn’t. The “chosen people”? The characters in Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song? What was that exactly?
This was the cultural identity we shared, something I still very much feel. But on the other hand, I didn’t know about the religious part. It’s always felt somewhat like watching a movie after you’ve missed the first 20 minutes.
Mixed up in all of this was the Holocaust. My parents had lots of books on the Holocaust, and as a young kid I was morbidly fascinated by the images of stacks of shoes, the corpses tossed into huge piles. I read Elie Wiesel, Maus, and so many other books whose names and authors I’ve forgotten.
And in an adolescent way, I identified with all kinds of emotions, a borrowed guilt and rage, until it was almost like the experience of the Holocaust touched part of my story, which it didn’t. I knew people growing up whose parents were survivors. And throughout the years and my travels to Buenos Aires, I’ve even met a few survivors.
But my own family had immigrated to the US well before WWII, and looking back on it now, I realize how much I objectified, how much I appropriated the Holocaust when I was young. There was this sense that “this thing happened” and I should always remember because one day I might have to defend myself, my family, whoever it is.
And while that may be true, what I wish I’d focused on wasn’t the horror and evil but the people themselves. That instead of reducing them down to “victims,” I should always remember that their stories continued — continue to this day.
Take a minute to witness the story of Martin Greenfield above. Think about how he treats people, how to him, each person is “a perfect person.” Think about what he has accomplished and the way he’s done it. This is what to remember. That even the Holocaust couldn’t kill this in him.