My wife is on a Nazi kick lately. She found out I had a copy of Lebert, Lebert, and Evans's My Father's Keeper for sale and asked to read it before I sold it, and then she picked up Peter Novick's The Holocaust in American Life from my shelf o'Holocaust books. On deck is Ron Rosenbaum's Understanding Hitler.
Novick has got her pretty pissed off. She disagrees with at least 90 percent of his conclusions, and I've done a fairly good job of keeping my mouth shut, since I agree with about 90 percent of his conclusions. After all, the book is on my shelf because I used it in a Holocaust seminar I taught five years ago.
The argument that arose last night, however, was one that was fairly unavoidable in hindsight. It would have come up eventually; it just happened to come up now. And, by happenstance, it happened to come up on what is on the Jewish calendar the tenth day of the month of Tevet, which commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. and the date on which non-Zionist Jews, like myself, commemorate the Holocaust.
The subject of the argument was the so-called March of the Living, a yearly held series of events that take Jewish youths to Nazi death camps in Poland, culminating in ceremonies on Yom ha-Shoah (Day of the Holocaust — the date on which Israel, and now most of the world, commemorates the Holocaust) at Auschwitz. From Poland the kids go to Israel, where they celebrate Yom ha-Atzmaut (Israel's Independence Day).
"When we have children," my wife said, "I'd like them to do this."
"I would be very much against that," I replied.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because," I said. "It teaches Jewish children that the solution to violent anti-Semitism is Israel. And it isn't."
"Don't you think that the Holocaust made it clear that the world's Jews need a safe place to live?"
Several issues went through my mind at once. What's so safe about Israel? Why can't Jews live safely where they already live — particularly here (the U.S.)? Shouldn't living safely where we already live be a goal? Those kinds of questions. I didn't ask any of them, because I saw that it would only prolong an argument I didn't want to have — at least not right then.
My wife is quick to point out when we disagree on issues like this that much of her grandparents' families (from Lithuania, Belarus, and mainly Ukraine) were killed during WWII because they were Jews. The name of one of her great-grandfathers' shtetls appears in the infamous Jäger Report. My Jewish ancestors were German-speaking Jews from Prague and Bavaria who left Europe before the U.S. Civil War. No Holocaust casualties anywhere in my line — at least as far as I know. When my wife "waves the bloody shirt" (as I would call it were I debating someone on the issues rather than having a disagreement with my wife), I normally get angry. And I did last night. But as I was reflecting on the argument on my way to work this morning, I considered that maybe she had a point — at least in so far as I can't understand what it's like to have lost family in the Holocaust. I may know far more facts and figures, but personal loss vis-à-vis the Final Solution is absent in my psyche.
This doesn't mean I'm going to change my mind w/r/t the March of the Living. I think it's a crass Zionist recruitment method that, like so much else in Israeli discourse, uses the Holocaust to justify Israel's actions, right or wrong. But maybe on this particular day, as I commemorate the victims of the Nazis, I should consider the inevitable generational effects of this genocide, right down to my own household.