The other day, someone tweeted, “Name a b*tch badder than Taylor Swift.” The tweet was met with unexpected, albeit appropriate responses, referring to women, who survived life-or-death situations, many of them during the World War II.
I was pleasantly surprised that other Tweeters had these stories in their back pockets, and found them more impressive than that of becoming a rock star (although I am a Taylor Swift fan)! Being consciously aware of the past gives the present perspective; and while, I’m not always able to maintain that perspective, thinking about the Holocaust does help.
For the two plus years I lived in Berlin, I thought about the Holocaust every day, which is not all that surprising given how Germans incorporate remembrance into so many facets of their culture and daily life — from the books they read in school to the memorials all over the city, such as the gold stepping stones with the names of Shoah victims and a large Holocaust memorial near the Brandenburg Gate. Sometimes, when I rode the Berlin bus, I often had second thoughts before giving up my seat for an elderly person: Because, what did he or she do during the war?
As a Jew in Germany, it was hard to compartmentalize the Holocaust.
But I haven’t lived in Germany for 15 years, and still think about the Holocaust every day. And since, I became a mom, the thoughts have intensified. For example, the first time I packed my son’s bag for a sleepover at my parents’ house, I thought of the Kindertransport, during which Jewish children were sent to safety in England, away from the imminent danger they faced in Nazi Germany. I imagined sending Elliot off and never seeing him again. Tears came to my eyes, and when my wife asked what was wrong, my answer didn’t surprise her… because with me, “all roads lead to the Holocaust,” as she often says.
Earlier this year post-election, I kind of went off the deep end, using Holocaust as a Litmus test, and concluding that anyone who voted for Trump would have been — at the very least — a complicit German (which in retrospect I understand to be a gross oversimplification). I played the Anne Frank Game in order to reconcile my friendships with Trump voters. (Would they have hid my family?) Although, now I realize that if I were truly threatened, I wouldn’t be able to pick and choose my friends like that.
But thinking about the Holocaust everyday isn’t always related to something negative. Often, it gives me perspective when my problems seem overwhelming. When I remind myself that at least I’m not at Auschwitz — that my Jewish forbears endured something truly horrific — it’s an instant attitude adjustment. Might sound harsh, but have you ever tried it?
Most importantly, thinking about the Holocaust everyday helps me embrace and maintain my Jewish identity. I am a secular Jew, who is compelled to understand everything I can about why Holocaust happened. In the process, I inevitably started understanding more about being Jewish, and why it’s not just about Torah and temple. I’ve learned Modern Hebrew, immersed myself in Israeli culture and politics, and spent a ridiculous amount of time studying Jewish history in the Diaspora.
This year, I will light the menorah on Hanukkah because it’s important to me that my son knows who he is. And if it weren’t for the Holocaust, I wouldn’t be in a position to teach him about his identity. I was raised on Jewish principles like social justice and charity, but the motivator to bring up my son “Jewish” for me really comes from the knowledge that our people were almost completely wiped out.
It’s not guilt I feel, but rather a responsibility to preserve what is ours and an understanding of why that matters.