Monday, April 12, 2010

The Holocaust: More Relevant Now than Before

As I grow older, the holocaust continues to traumatize me and increasingly forces me to think and re-evaluate my life more.
There's this stigma, that I've heard more than once -- said by people with no shame, that Jews of middle-eastern descent who didn't have relatives killed in the holocaust don't indentify with the holocaust. When I first heard this stereotype, I was shocked. I was shocked that a Jew can tell another Jew such a thing.
I first learned about the holocaust when I was 6 years old. My 1st grade teacher was telling us about yom hashoah. This teacher, unfortunately, didn't have much tact when it came to teaching 1st graders about how evil men slaughtered millions of innocent Jews. She told us about the showers that weren't really water showers, like the ones we bathe in at home, rather -- they were made of gas and killed these people.
The whole issue boggled me. I didn't understand. I raised my hand and asked the teacher "how come G-d helped our avot but not these people?" I had no doubt that HaShem was there, I just didn't understand how He allowed them to be killed. A remedial and naive understanding, obviously.

I came home shaken, and my Mother took me to the library and took out a children's book about Anne Frank. Until this day, the illustrations of Jews with shaven heads are etched in my mind.
For years to follow -- from elementary to middle school, we continued learning about the holocaust. They showed us movies, we read stories, we had survivors come and re-tell their stories. It always gave me the chills, and for years, I was scared to shower. I was scared to sleep with the light off. I was even scared to have books about the holocaust in my room.
And not once did I ever think to myself "these are Ashkenazi Jews. I'm Sefardi." I thought to myself "these are Jews. These are my people - my ancestors." - Just like I thought that the Jews who were killed after the Beit Hamikdash were just Jews who lived 2,000 years ago. Or that the Jews in the Tanach were Jews who lived 4,000 years ago. Everyone who is Jewish was relevant to my life simply because they're Jewish.
It never occurred to me that they were "different" and not related to me, simply because they lived in a different region than my Grandparents did.

Until now, even though I'm able to shower or sleep with the light off, I'm still terrified of holocaust movies and literature. I can't bring myself to visit the camps. Not out of apathy, but out of empathy. There's a voice inside of me that tells me these people were forced to go to these camps and now we're volunteering to do so. Would they want us to? I'm not so sure. I'm not so sure that I want to stand on the same ground where such horrors occurred per the second.

As I grow older, I find that the holocaust is more relevant than ever because my understanding of it develops to be more mature and spiritually aware. There're so many adults, well into their 50s and 60s, who question G-d's existence and use the holocaust as an excuse for not believing. That's precisely why I say it's a rudimentary, immature understanding of it. If one looks closely into the history and details of the Nazis and holocaust, the facts seem so particularly impossible that it's clear that G-d's Hand was fully there in guiding history.
And as I grow older, I read more and more stories, watch more and more footage, and meet more and more people who have miraculous, inspiring stories and positive outcomes.
And it becomes clear to me: G-d was 100% there during the holocaust. The question isn't "Who?" - it's "Why?" But that same exact question has been asked many times before, and Jews didn't lose their faith.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, and The Satmer Rebbe are strong figures who come to mind. Their answer to the same question that many struggle with is one that doesn't even question faith.

If anyone's interested in shiurim about "Where was G-d during the holocaust?" and/or "Why did G-d allow the holocaust to happen?", then I highly recommend Rabbi Bentzion Shafier's shiurim. The shiurim are free, and they can completely change one's entire outlook because they shed a lot of light on this dark topic.


  1. Is that like the new lingo for a stellar post? B/c no one clues me in on blogger lingo. :(


    check out the second definition.

  3. Oh. I shall add that to my list of urban vocab words.
    Thanks Juggy

  4. In the century that preceded the holocaust, the overwhelming majority of European Jews completely abandoned mitzvah observance and Judaism.

    Nobody wanted to marry the few remaining yeshivah students.

    Rabbi Avigidor Miller [who was in Europe At the time of the holocaust] claimed that the few Jews in Europe who continued to observe mitzvot were demoralized and would not have held on much longer.

    In the 1930s, German Reform Jews began to practice a new definition of Jewishness: so-called "patrilineal descent," meaning that the child of a Jewish father and Gentile mother would be recognized as a Jew, even though this was totally rejected by: the Biblical Book of Ezra, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Babylonian Talmud, the Zohar, the Midrashim, Rambam, Rashi, the Baalei Tosefos and the Zohar, etc.

    So-called "patrilineal descent" would have resulted in a Europe where it was not possible to know for sure who was Jewish and who was not.

    All the Jewish newspapers in Europe constantly printed articles attacking and ridiculing Judaism, designed to encourage Jews to abandon their belief in Judaism and abandon mitzvah observance altogther.
    To receive quick quotes from Jewish holy books, go to:

  5. Jug: Shouldn't it be the other way around? You say "steaksauce" when you like the post and then to explain you say "A1" like this

    anyway, I agree, this post is steaksauce

  6. Mr. Cohen - I've heard that reason several times. But it's just a possible insight; we don't know the ways of G-d.

    BJG - Hmm...I've never tried steaksauce. Maybe I should.

  7. BJG- I wasn't trying to say A1 as in the steak sauce when I originally wrote the comment. I just used the steak sauce as a means of explanation.

  8. It's terrible that people could accuse you of such a thing. My grandparents are all American (my 2 grandfathers were in the US army during WWII) so B"H I don't have first-hand connections to any survivors either. My background is largely Eastern European and I am Ashkenaz, but my maternal grandmother's family was from Turkey. Her great-uncle's entire family of 16 (from Greece) were all killed in Treblinka. To me it's ironic that of all my family members, it was the ones from the Sephardic side who ended up in the camps. I am sure there are plenty of Sephardim who were affected.

    And I went to a Holocaust memorial in college this week... cried like a baby even though the kids onstage lighting candles for their grandparents were dry-eyed.

    Question though- are there any Sephardic mass incidents that Ashkenazim don't commemorate?

  9. Auror, thanks for sharing. Yes, it's true, there were Sephardic Jews in Italy, Greece, and Libya who were murdered by the Nazis.

    I'm not sure about mass murders, but I know of several cases where Jews were victimized and killed by Muslims. One particular example includes my grandfather's brothers, who were hung because they were Jewish.
    B"H we should never know of such things.