my grandmother, that is. a woman who loved to play shop with me, to feed me her twist on new york style cheesecake, who loved to gift me with dolls from poland and the odd teddy bear or two. i remember her warmth, the slightly shrill voice, the woolen clothes and those brown loafers that she loved so much.
but i also remember how i’d catch a version of her that i wasn’t used to - a woman who looked much older, with ghost-white knuckles, and a hardened face that was far too solemn for someone who gave and gave and gave - for someone who deserved so much more than what she was given. i remember how that version of grandma would speak, too. in a hushed voice, speaking in the mousiest of whispers, as if she were a teenager again, trying not to make a peep as she hid with her whole family under the floorboards of a family friend’s home.
i also remember the tears. how they’d just… appear, from nowhere. sometimes they’d just start falling from her face mid-sentence, other times it was when she was looking forlornly out of the large window in the living room that i’d drawn on as a toddler. they were not the same tears she shed as a teenager, after watching her mother be taken away by men who embodied and reveled in pure evil. they were cracks in the wall that my grandmother had built.
then there were those days where i’d catch her looking at her arm, and the faded numbers that had overstayed their welcome there. it was like black paint on a white canvas only that canvas was a person and that paint had not been spilled accidentally, but tattooed into the arm of a young girl who had lost everything but her humanity - something the man who gave her the tattoo never had.
but worst of all, i remember how she’d frantically run about the kitchen to make me a meal when she learned i hadn’t eaten for a day. i asked her why.
“because, bubula, i know what hunger feels like.” she replied. i didnt quite understand the depth of that back then.
like how i didn’t understand the tremor in her hand when we walked past a group of teenage boys who made a hitler joke. how i didnt understand why she had to pull over on the side of the road to sob when she heard that a fellow holocaust survivor had died on the radio.
my grandmother was a fighter and a survivor and she was a woman who was strong as steel and as sweet as honey-dew. she was a woman who gave and gave and gave, a woman who deserved all the stars in the sky and pearls in the sea.
my grandmother was ripped from the arms of her family, she thrown into the deepest pit of hell, and she survived the flames. because my grandmother was a survivor of the holocaust.
Today, on International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, the world bows its head in memory of 11 million lives lost; 11 million people who lived, learned, thrived, struggled, laughed, worked and loved.
Today, we remember 11 million people who were stripped of their individuality and humanity, and we say: Never again.
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I’m more convinced than ever that it could happen here. I’m also convinced that if it were to happen here, the left would not support us.
There have been dozens of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers in the US these past few weeks. Yet only two of my hundreds of goyische Facebook Friends said anything about it and one only knew because his niece went to pre-school at a JCC. It’s not common knowledge, but JCC’s actually provide services and facilities for non-Jews as well as Jews, including pre-K and daycare. Which meant that one of my FB friends was aware of it without affecting her.
I’ve seen dozens of articles talking about the ethics of protecting Nazis, but I’ve seen virtually nothing outside of the Jewish media about protecting Jews. I’ve heard nothing anywhere about anti-romani racism.
The American Left seems increasingly blind to antisemitism and has grown moreso over the course of my life. Instead, what I’ve seen is an increasing display of Oppression Olympics in which antisemitism seems to constantly lose. The Left doesn’t de-prioritize antisemitism in favor of other issues so much as utterly ignore it.
Indeed, what I see happening is people continually downplaying Nazi antisemitism, despite the Nazis deliberately murdering 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, in favor of universalizing their hatred to include almost anyone except for Jews. I see dozens of repurposings of Niemoller’s “First they came for…” while somehow leaving Jews off the list.
It’s not like there haven’t been dozens of Swastikas painted all over the place since the Trump campaign kicked into high gear. It’s not like we haven’t had to evacuate our children from JCCs over bomb threats. It’s not like Nazis haven’t tried to organize armed marches to threaten Jews in Montana.
So today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’m calling non-Romani goyim out. Stop leaving Jews out. Stop talking around us. Stop lying about fighting antisemitism when you don’t even pay attention to it and ignore our concerns. Antisemitism neither began nor ended with the Holocaust, but the Holocaust shows us what can happen to us when hatred of Jews goes unchecked.
Today is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On January 27 1945, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by Soviet troops.
The above image shows just some of the thousands upon thousands of wedding rings confiscated by the Nazis from victims of the Holocaust. These rings were found by US troops after liberating Buchenwald in 1945.
Never shall I forget that smoke. … Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget these things, even if I were condemned to live as long as God himself.
Elie Wiesel, Night
All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes—all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience, and the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and remember…
Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone, “Deaths-Head Revisited”
When Soviet troops arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp on the 27th of January, 1945, they found roughly 7,500 living prisoners–most of whom were weak, ill, and starving–and hundreds of corpses. Though the camp remained largely in tact, the retreating S.S. had demolished several buildings, including the gas chambers, in an attempt to hide their crimes. Overall, an estimated 1.1 million people were murdered in Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945, making it the most deadly of all the Nazi concentration and extermination camps. The majority of the victims were Jews.
Auschwitz-Birkenau became a museum in 1947, and the UN appointed January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Seventy years after its liberation, Auschwitz remains the dominant symbol of the Holocaust
27 January: International Holocaust Remembrance Day
On this day we honour and remember the approximately 22 million innocent souls who fell victims to hate racism and prejudice crimes, nearly 7.5 million of which were slaughtered for being who they were.
6 million Jews (1.5 million of which were children)
1.5 million Romani
270 000 People with disabilities (be it physical or mental)
55 000 gay people (approximately)
14 million civilians, caught in the crossfire, famine and ugliness of war from all over Europe.
12 000 Jehova’s Witnesses (approximately) of which 2 500 - 5 000 killed.
This day is an important reminder of what once was and what should never be again.
May their rest be more peaceful than their life and may their memory be a blessing.
Anne Frank has to a great degree, become the embodiment of Holocaust victimhood. Her diary, which has been translated into over 50 languages and has sold 30 million copies, is often one of the first experiences that young Americans have with the Holocaust. The plays and films based off of her diary only add to the way in which Americans identify the victims of the Holocaust with the young German Jew.
While her diary certainly depicts one victim’s life, responses, and attitudes under the Nazi regime, that her’s represents Holocaust victimhood to Americans is notable. In the first image we see a well dressed, young girl studying at a desk in what appears to be a well-made building. She is not at all stereotypically Jewish. In fact, she could be an American student in the 1930s. In the second, she is taking part in a tea party along with friends. Certainly a Western, almost Anglo setting that portrays her as assimilated into Western culture.
While her diary contains clear depictions of her “Jewishness,” the American play and screen versions of the 1950s downplayed such aspects of her life. While still Jewish, she is depicted as a victim of fascism/totalitarianism rather than one of anti-Semitism. As such, she safely represents all victims of the Nazis and, in spite of this, states that “in spite of all, I still believe men are good.” Certainly a lesson from her diary, but one written before her experiences in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Nevertheless, the placement of this statement at the end of the theatrical and screen versions of her story places her narrative into a positive, hopeful, American context.
What then can we see in these images? We can recognize that for many Americans, the Holocaust victim is primarily Western, educated, and assimilated. She is innocent and safe. Furthermore, although she did not survive, she leaves us with hope for mankind.
In the next post, we will contrast Anne with images of the vast majority of Holocaust victims.
Anne Frank(1940). 1940. Collectie Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam. Accessed January 17, 2017.
Jewish refugee girls from Germany, including Anne and Margot Frank, have a tea party with their dolls at a private home in Amsterdam. 1934. USHMM, Washington, D.C. Accessed January 17, 2017.
Mintz, Alan. Popular Culture and the Shaping of Holocaust Memory in America. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.
Novick, Peter. The Holocaust in American Life. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how my various identities inform my work. They’re a part of me; they can’t not. Being Jewish, I’ve long resisted telling Holocaust stories. We’re so saturated with them, it often feels like writers and directors think that they’re the only stories there are to tell about Jewish people. It’s so important to me to tell Jewish stories that are NOT about the Holocaust. However, in this current climate, Holocaust narratives feel more important than ever. For all people claim to be oversaturated with Holocaust stories, there’s a shocking lack of knowledge out there about what caused the Holocaust and why Jewish people were targeted in the first place.
More importantly (to me, at least) is that whatever Holocaust stories I choose to tell feature Jewish people at the center of the story. I have no desire to see anymore movies told through the eyes of a German bystander or righteous gentile. Those stories are fine, but they’ve been told. I want Holocaust narratives that show Jewish people as more than victims. I want a movie about Gisella Pearl, abortion doctor of Auschwitz. I want a four part mini-series about Chanah Senesz and her heroic time in captivity. Give me a play about Jewish women who joined the partisans and the French Resistance. I want stories about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Sobibor uprising.
In general, I want to see Jewish people at the center of our own stories, but it’s particularly important when it comes to the Holocaust. It is such an important story in Jewish history, and yet it feels like, in film and television, it has been taken away from us. With the last few Holocaust narratives I’ve seen, it’s felt like we were no longer the heroes in our own story. I won’t contribute to that.
Tuesday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the passage of 70 years since the Jan. 27, 1945, liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps built and operated in occupied Poland by Nazi Germany. As many as 1.1 million people, mostly Jews from across Europe, were killed there in gas chambers or by systematic starvation, forced labor and disease.
Today was also the day that my grandparents, aged 95 and 91, finally decided to get the tattooed serial numbers they received upon arriving at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp covered.
Seventy four years ago, the numbers ‘108115’ and ‘108117’ were permanently tattooed on their left arm. Now, the phrase “Sam Roma”, written in huge letters, has replaced these godforsaken serial numbers, and honestly, I’ve never been more proud of them. I’ve never been more proud to be Romani, either.
They only people that should forget about everything that took place during the Holocaust are the people that lived through it.
The rest of the world should always, always, remember.