For the day after Yom ha-Shoah v’hag’vurah – Holocaust Rememberance DayPosted on April 18th, 2012 5 comments
In the normal course of things, stuff happens, good stuff, bad stuff, fun stuff, difficult stuff. Then it passes and we forget most of it. We remember what is meaningful, or useful, or hard to let go of. Those memories inform our actions, which in turn create new stuff, good stuff, bad stuff, fun stuff, difficult stuff.
But when something catastrophic happens, when the stuff is beyond words, imagination, or of a scope that cannot be imagined, this regular chain of stuff, remembering, forgetting and incorporating is disrupted.
Growing up in a family that was, as my mother now calls us, second hand Holocaust survivors, I lived with the effects of catastrophic disruption. No one in the family that went to the camps survived but many did escape. It was not easy, (you can learn about how my family was interned in United States at the Holocaust Museum) and it left long and lasting imprints. Hitler and the Holocaust were ever present and our extended family ever absent.
On my path to figuring out how to cope with this legacy, I became a Jewish historian. My initial goals were purely feminist, but when I settled on the study of German Jews, I had to confront my sense of disruption, memory and family history.
The focus of my graduate work was the period from 1848-1914. I looked at the rythms and flow of domestic life. As I read diaries, letters, and cookbooks, the mundane elements of daily life came to life. There were joys and frustrations, aspirations and limitations. It was stuff, good stuff, bad stuff, fun stuff, difficult stuff –normal stuff.
Somewhere in between the Anschlus and the liberations of 1945, my namesake, Razel Lowy Brody known as Rufi was murdered. My mother never knew her grandmother. Never got to experience her cooking, her drawing, her singing. She never had a chance to get annoyed with her grandmother, bored that she told the same old stories, or argue with her about the way she dressed. She missed out on all the stuff. She never got to remember, forget and incorporate the way one normally does in the ebb and flow of life.
It goes without saying that we can never forget the brutality of the Nazis and the callousness of the millions of bystanders. That is what Holocaust Remembrance day is for.
But if we only remember that, we are in danger of handing Hitler a posthumous victory. Reducing the memories of those who perished to their final helpless moments robs them of the complex legacies they would have passed on if the richness of their lives had been lived out in the proper order of things.
When the candles go out at the end of Holocaust Remembrance day, take some time to engage with the past. Learn about Jewish life in Greece, the complexities of ethic Jewish identity in Yugoslavia, or domesticity in Germany. Take some time to get to know the people who did not live to share their stuff.
5 responses to “For the day after Yom ha-Shoah v’hag’vurah – Holocaust Rememberance Day”
Ruth Baer April 19th, 2012 at 08:42
Lovely. My husband is writing a book about his parent’s escape from the Holocaust. You are right, they never really escaped the experience, and the children of those parents who escaped death were raised with the insecurities of that time even though they were not alive to see it first hand.
Ruth Sohn April 19th, 2012 at 11:08
Thank you so much Ruth, this is wonderfully thoughtful, insightful, and beautifully articulated. Your words will help me make more of the special opportunities in Yom ha-Shoah v’hag’vurah today…helping me move beyond my own strong feelings, family stuff, and ambivalence about we mark these events on this day.
Camille Shira April 19th, 2012 at 13:54
Thank you, Ruth. I will share this with my staff and community. Beautiful words and inspiration for this day.
Dear Ruth, What a beautiful piece of writing and an incredible window into your soul. Of course you became a historian. You are the keeper of a rent past with the frayed edges of beautiful lives hanging in tatters and the artisan of the future mending together a stunning new fabric of hopeful, meaningful, rich, warm and all-embracing garment of the possibilities which lay ahead.
rabbiruth April 19th, 2012 at 19:41
Thank you for all the wonderful comments. I am glad that that which weighed heavily on my heart, opens up possibilities for thought and reflection. We each play a role in paving the way forward with memory.
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