My grandparents came from Eastern Europe. Jews who escaped discrimination, but who got out long before the Nazis sought to change the face of Europe. Does that make them somehow special, “survivors?” And what about my beloved godmother who came from Stuttgart, Germany, her family literally leaving on the last train out before the gates closed. She wrote a small monograph, A Survivor’s Story, detailing the slights and more significant affronts that led to her family’s departure. Was she a “survivor” that set her apart, made her part of a special club?
Many Jews regard themselves as members of a special tribe of victims who have somehow overcome victimhood, not only to “survive,” but to become a nation, Israel, to be reckoned with in the world. That view, however, is hard to reconcile with Israel’s depredations in Gaza and ongoing encroachments in the West Bank. Who is the survivor? Who is the victim? Does Palestinian intransigence and resistance justify Israeli policies that create more victims? It seems not, though the so-called holocaust industry does everything in its power to support that view.
It’s hard to sort out. I can always hear the voices of a pro-Israelis ranting in the back of my head, questioning my loyalty to the memory of the untold millions brutally murdered by the Nazi death machine. Jason Stanley, writing recently in the New York Times Sunday Review shared the extraordinary insights of someone who had “lived through” much of that disaster in Europe, his father:
My father’s reaction to describing him as a Holocaust survivor was … severe. He angrily questioned my motivations. Was I seeking a special status as a victim? He urged me to reflect about how offensive this is to those who have to actually live under oppression. He argued powerfully against the stance of the victim. It was morally dangerous, he said, using the actions of Israelis and Palestinians toward one another as an example. He was scornful when he saw signs that I was taking the Holocaust to mean that Jews were special. “If the Germans had chosen someone else,” he often said, “we would have been the very best Nazis.”
In this view, the world of survivors does not reach across the generations or somehow those who have been “touched” with the burden of anti-Semitism. But surely, those who survived the Nazi Holocaut were somehow “special?” Not so much in this view:
Most frequently and passionately, he would reprimand me for taking the Holocaust to be about me, or about my family. The Holocaust was about humanity. It was about what we are capable of doing to one another. It could happen again, it could happen here. The Holocaust was about everyone.
Ah, that definitely puts some things into place. The “holocaust” was not so much unusual as extreme in scale. The brutality of the Turkish massacres of Armenian citizens in 1915, the tragedy of Cambodia, the genocidal disaster in Rwanda may not match the scale and pure “efficiency” of the Nazi final solution, but they really are all part of the same human impulse. Stanley’s father refused to put the Jews and Israel in a special category To him, we all need a moral compass, stronger than allegiance to the tribe:
Helping to prevent such events from occurring required agency and good moral sense, and good moral sense was not consistent with preferring one’s own people.