Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 27/01/2008
Remember… That is the imperative that one finds in the writings of people who took part in the Holocaust/Shoah as witnesses and involuntary victims. Remember…is what is repeated each year when the ceremonies for the Shoah take place or when the monster of hate rises to threaten jews and non-jews alike.
Still the imperative “remember” assumes different meanings for the different people who utter it. This is fairly obvious in the different ways society deals with the Day of Remembrance. Right-wing politics flock to show that despite their friends, their sayings and their stands they still are not “jew haters”. Left wing politics fail to even show up, since the jews are the new “fascists” to compete against. The Institutions simply see it as a burden to bring forward in the less obvious way possible, lest be accused in succumbing to the jews. The Media simply broadcast the same old archives from foreign documentaries and deal with it the same way they deal with the tsunami, a bad thing but that happened far-far away to “others”. The rest of the Society doesn’t know or care and frankly, seen how Politics, Institutions and Media deal with the Day, they have their fair share of excuses.
On the other hand I grew up in a house where no one ever had to tell me to remember. For me the Holocaust was strange tales about a place far-far away the grownups in my house were involved in. The only tangible aspect of these stories were the blue numbers tattooed on their arms. I used to be so stupefied by these numbers for they transformed a tale into a reality which I could touch, scrutinize and fantasize upon. I was just a kid but it was fairly obvious that something had indeed happened and these numbers told of a story which I could only get glimpses and half truths from its comprehensibly reluctant narrators. Still to them it was not the historical event that later became the Holocaust; to them it was simply “τα στρατόπεδα”/“the camps” were they had gone but even if they wanted they could never truly shed from them since the mark of the camps was not only in their minds but on their physical shelves. This number, hard as they might have tried should they have wanted, could not be erased and hard as I might have tried should have I wanted could not be forgotten.
At that time I didn’t have the faintest idea how different the war had been upon them. I remember that I used to harass them regularly to have them tell me stories which were adapted to suit a 5 year old and which invariably fascinated him. From these stories I can only remember parts that I, as a small pampered kid, could understand remotely: having to rise with shouts – getting beaten – being hungry. Hell, I remember that hearing “Raus” and “Schnell” seemed extraordinarily funny and I repeated them same way today a kid will parrot a phrase from the telly.
As I grew up my perception of the Holocaust changed and its memory was perpetuated through the Absence than through the Presence. It was no longer necessary to see the numbers on the arms or hear stories to remember; it was enough to see what was missing. There were no stories that passed from generation to generation, no relatives to visit, any family relics or photos. When I was little this absence didn’t weigh on me since I didn’t actually realize it and the immediate present was just enough. As I grew up, the natural urge we all have to discover our past and make bonds with it also kept growing only to find itself bump against an invisible wall which defined Before and After. One could, through research, get to know more about what had happened 500 years ago to his family than know more about the generation immediately prior to the Holocaust. The Absence was what defined the Holocaust and the generations past it; people focalizing on this specific moment trying to secure little threads of memories which could be extricated from the WW2 maelstrom. In my family a single photo whose members but one were dead by 1943, reconstituted from the pieces it was torn, is the sole remainder of all the generations that passed before; it struggles to rise up to the immense role of filling the Absence but it isn’t the only one that defines the past – the tangible absence of all the others is a monolith to whom this humble photo has to confront with.
Remembering for me is not only a token of respect to those who were murdered, gassed and burned. It is a vital need to fill up the void, a deep drive to give meaning to all those who lived before me and found their entire lives clinging upon a meager photo before fading in the oblivion. And if the Holocaust physically erased thousands of persons it managed to go even past the Holocaust generation and burn itself unto the generations that were to come by eliminating their Past and through the Absence it created make it a part of their life in a painfully contemporary way.
So I must admit I lied when I said I keep the memory vivid in me; I’ve never had to remember because the cataclysm the Holocaust had been, never actually left me.
PS. Yad Vashem has a page for the schools approved by the Greek Ministry of Education and Religion – visit it.