Sunday, April 27, 2014

International Godwin's Day

Godwin's Law, coined by attorney Mike Godwin in the 1990s states that as any discussion increases in length, the chances of probability bringing up the Holocaust or Nazis becomes closer to 1.  At the time, he was referring to Usenet groups (remember those?).  However, given the proliferation of online discussion forums, the law now applies to all forms of mass online communication forums as well.

The original intention was a lesson in memetics.  However, some have turned Godwin's Law into a meta-fallacy.  The unspoken rule is that as soon as one brings up anything to do with Hitler, the Holocaust, the Nazis, or anything to do with the Third Reich, the discussion immediately ends and whoever made the reference "loses."

Shoah Business
"There's no business like Shoah business," a rabbi of mine once coyly said.  

Shoah, for those unfamiliar, is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.  

In the years since the Shoah ended in 1945, it has taken a life of its own.

For many years, plenty of survivors were silent about it.  It happened, but many did not want to talk about it.  They had seen as close to hell on this earth.  And they did not want to experience it again.

I have heard many survivor stories over the years.  And so many different ways to approach the horrors that the Jews experienced in those 10 years that the Nazis were in power.  Or even the 6 years that the world was at war.  Or even the 3 years from the Wannsee Conferences to the time that the Americans and Russians liberated the death camps.  

There is much documentation on what really happened in Europe during that period.  Much has been written on why something like the Holocaust was allowed to happen.  Why someone as evil and morally decrepit as Hitler was democratically elected and then allowed to do the things he did.  And why so many people suffered as a result.

As a child, I could never fathom it.  Every year, my school had a vigil for Yom Hashoah.  They would light candles.  One Rabbi would sing a tearful "El Molai Rachamim" for those who perished.  Those students who lost family in the Holocaust would stand by the candles.  The rest of us would watch.  And we would get a speech.  And another speech.  And then more sad songs.  

One Saturday, we were walking to synagogue.  My sister was insisting that our father tell us about Hitler.  I never heard the name Hitler.  I was 7 years old.  That name was completely new to me.  It sounded like Hillel (common Jewish name, I knew a few).  But my sister said "not Hillel, Hitler."  

So my father, on our 20 minute walk to synagogue, told us in brief about Hitler.  He told us about him taking over Europe.  He told us about the death camps.  He told us about the gas showers.  He told us about the ovens.  But then, he told us something I never expected.

He told us about Savta (our maternal grandmother).

We knew that Savta was from Hungary.  That's why she spoke with an accent.  We didn't know how old Savta was.  Every time we asked, she would say "100".  We could not even fathom her having ever been young.  

But apparently, Savta had something to do with this Hitler person who did all of those bad things.

When my father spoke of the camps and the showers and the trains, I was only lending him half of an ear.  For all I knew, it was some bad fairy tale.  But then when I heard he was talking about Savta, he suddenly had my attention.  This story was not some bad fairy tale.  It really happened.  And it happened to Savta too.

Savta was from Budapest.  Most of the Jews in Budapest thought they were safe.  They did not think Hitler would come after them.  They could understand why he attacked Poland.  But as far as they were concerned, they were safe where they were.

Savta and her family knew it was only a matter of time before Hitler would turn around and attack Hungary.  After all, Hungary was so close to occupied Poland and Austria.  They didn't know how soon.  But they knew they had to get out of Hungary.

Savta and her father managed to get into the United States.  Savta was the third oldest of 9.  But her older brother was in the army and her older sister was not born in Hungary.  So somehow, only Savta was able to get a visa.  I am not completely clear on why the rest of the family was stuck in Europe (I have heard many conflicting stories; and none of them make any sense).  So Savta and her father managed to escape to America.  But the rest of the family was stuck in Europe.

Her mother and one of her brothers died in Auschwitz.  Her youngest sister Edith (who is still alive) survived Auschwitz; she was liberated by the Russians.

Suddenly, my father had my attention.  

I still could not fathom the global enormity of the Shoah.  All I got was a bad guy named Hitler (not Hillel) and something happening to Savta and her family.  At this point, I thought the Holocaust was all about what happened to Savta.  Not until a few weeks later was it explained to me in school the global significance of the Shoah to European Jews.  That many families were torn apart.  It is approximated that 6 million died.  

From here, the Holocaust became the greatest human travesty ever to walk the face of this earth.  This Shoah became living evidence that the Goyyim hate us.  That even if they act nicely toward us, if there was another Shoah they would all jump on the Jew-killing bandwagon.  

Anti-Semitism and Me.

It would be very naive of me to say there's no such thing as anti-Semitism.  Yes, it's out there.  I've gotten beaten up for no reason other than the fact that I am Jewish.  I've been called it all. Kike.  Money-grubber.  Big-nose.  Heeb.  All that lovely stuff.

I remember one time, Savta was taking us on a busride somewhere.  This old Italian man stood in front of me and started commenting on the fact that I was wearing a yarmulke.  This old man looked and sounded a lot like Tony, the head custodian at my school.  Like Tony, he smelled of cigars and he was missing a few teeth.  But Tony was a nice man.  Tony always smiled at the kids (except when they were running in the hall and making noise, in which case he was scary).  Tony used to bring us ice cream from Carvel when we were good.

This man looked and sounded like Tony.  But he was not very nice.  He was ranting and raving about how I should take the yarmulke off.  He pointed around the bus and said "look, no one else is wearing one of those beanies.  Your grandma isn't wearing a beanie.  Why do you wear it?"  And he went on and on and on degrading me, calling me names, saying I'm not human, etc.  I was scared.

I asked Savta "why is he being mean?"

Savta just answered "don't listen to him.  He's crazy."  And there was a finality in her voice that said the discussion was over.  

Fast forward years later.

I was 20 years old.  It was my first semester in college.  

I got a random e-mail from some guy, screen name AmeriKrap.   How charming.

AmeriKrap wanted to know why we Jews are all so fucking rich.  He started complaining to me about how he and his brothers all work their asses off and don't make much money.  Meanwhile, we Jews are all comfortable, rich, and making him and his brothers miserable.  So the first thing he wanted was for us to "share the wealth" and stop being so greedy.  And he also wanted me to know that if he or one of his brothers from Paterson (the next town over from where I lived, used to be full of Jews, but since the area became dangerous many of them moved out) ever came and robbed us, we would know why.

I wish I saved the e-mail.  As a naive 20 year old, I did not know what to do with it.

But there was one line in that e-mail that really struck my eye.  He ended the e-mail with "don't give me any of this Holocaust bullshit."  Yes, he went there.  He was sick and tired of Jews doing whatever they want and then bleating about how much they suffered during the Holocaust.  He reminded me that his people suffered through hundreds of years of slavery and civil rights.  And so, he is sick and tired of hearing Jews complain about how much they've suffered in light of how much his people suffered.

After giving his e-mail thought, I responded.  Oh yes, I responded.

It was not easy for me.  I had to give it thought.  This was coming from a young, rather privileged white Ashkenazi Jew.  At the time, I could honestly have said I never had a friend in the black community.  I had one biracial friend named Chris in 7th grade.  That was it.  Other than that, I was still extremely sheltered at the time.  So my response back then was slightly different than the one I would give now.

I began by attempting to empathize with his feelings against Jews.  I explained to him that as a young person, I mean no ill will against him or any of his brothers.  I also do not support those who do mean ill will against them.  

I told him that yes, at the time my father was rather well off.  My father was a pretty high paid corporate lawyer who worked hard for his money.  But I asked AmeriKrap to consider one thing before he passed judgement on my father.  I reminded him that Michael Jordan, at the height of his career, was making $44 million plus endorsements.  I also told him that the most underpaid player on the New York Knicks probably makes more money in a year than my father does.  There are a handful of "brothers" out there who are much more well off than my father and do much less work than him--with all due respect to having a killer jumpshot, it is not harder work than corporate law, I said.  So I asked him why not go after these brothers who make all that money?  If Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, John Starks, et al decided to share the wealth with their brothers in Paterson, there would be more wealth to share.

As for his "don't give me that Holocaust bullshit" remark, I could not leave that one alone.

I asked him to consider this.  To commemorate the Holocaust, we have a day called Yom Hashoah.  My Jewish schools didn't even do much for that--a candlelight vigil, a movie, a lecture....hardly anything.  But in America, February is Black History Month.  Even my Jewish schools observed Black History Month.  Yes, we learned about Sojourner Truth, George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Elijah McCoy, Martin Luther King, etc.  We learned that slavery against the Blacks was a bad thing.  And most importantly, a little federal holiday known as MLK Day.  Yes, even my Jewish schools were closed on MLK Day.  And we learned who he was.  We learned why he was such a great man.  We respected him.  

And you do not hear me saying "don't give me any of that 'Black History' bullshit."  Nor will you ever hear those words come out of my mouth.

So he should not be saying "don't give me that Holocaust bullshit."  It is not bullshit to my people.  

He wrote back to me.

In his letter, he apologized for his initial letter.  He was pissed off at his Jewish boss.  He somehow found my profile on AOL.  My profile indicated that I'm Jewish.  So he decided to take out his vitriol at his asshole boss on the next Jew he met.  

I am not sure if he ended up changing the way he looked at Jews or not.  

But he definitely changed the way I look at non-Jews.

Godwin's Day
Today is Yom HaShoah.

And I remember not only the Jews that were lost.

I also remember everyone who was a victim of any kind of genocide.

This is my problem with the way the Holocaust is taught.  To many, the Holocaust is cheapened into something crazy that happened in Europe a few generations ago.  But few really look at the global implications.  

It's not just about the Jews who were killed.  Or the Gypsys, or the homosexuals, or others.

It's not about how many Russians died defending their land against Hitler (and how many more by Stalin during his purges).

It's about genocide in any form being bad.

It's about the Armenians who were slaughtered by the Turks in 1915.

The Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda in 1994.

The Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s.

Bosnia.  Kashmir.  Congo.

The list goes on and on and on.

This is not to minimize the Holocaust, or the suffering of my people.

This is to not cheapen it.  Not to have us only focus on the bad things that have happened to our people and to completely blank out the bad things that have happened to others.

This is to show that genocides have happened.  And we are not alone.  And let our remembrance of the Holocaust be also used as a springboard to ensure not only that we will no longer be persecuted; but also, that others will not be persecuted as well.

1 comment:

  1. You're so busy rejecting your own people you don't even make any sense. Feel free to memorialize the death of 6 million Jews however you see fit. But it's perfectly legitimate for a nation to take a day to mourn the loss of their own people without mentioning the loss of others. I don't expect the Cambodians to mourn the loss of Jews in the Holocaust on their memorial day (assuming they have one- maybe they have a different way of memorializing the Khmer Rouge genocide). Just like we memorialize different family members on the different days they die- I don't memorialize my Bubby on my Grandfather's yahrzeit.

    You have issues with Jews- we get it. But there's nothing psychologically or sociologically sound about anything you're saying. And there's nothing cute or hip about renaming the day. #yomhashoahpostfail