Thursday, January 27, 2022

Is the Memory of the Holocaust Fading?

Lily Ebert on TikTok (People)
I am not a fan of the United Nations, to say the least. It’s true that it was the UN that in 1948 voted to create the State of Israel. But since then it has become a bastion of Jew hatred disguised as ‘legitimate criticism of Israel’. But sometimes they actually do some good things – even in the current era. On November 1, 2005 the General assembly voted to create International Holocaust Remembrance Day to be observed every year on this day, January 27th – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Russian troops in 1945. As a child of Holocaust survivors, I applaud them for doing that.

I remember when Steven Spielberg's magnum opus, Schindler’s List came out. It was 1993 and a seminal moment in movie making history. Although the story of the Holocaust was by then well documented and well covered by the media and film industry, it was the first time a filmmaker of that stature attempted to make a movie that would be relevant even after so much was already known about it.  It was also the first time that the concept of Righteous Gentiles was highlighted.

Schindler’s List received rave reviews. Some reviewers (e.g the late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert) said it was the most important film ever made. It was also the recipient numerous Academy Awards – including  Best Picture and Best Director (Steven Spielberg). In part because of that, this movie was seen by more people than any other Holocaust film to that time

Perhaps most importantly, Speilberg followed that movie up with the creation of the Shoah Foundation. Which to date has recorded visual testimonies of over 52,000 survivors, witnesses, and liberators. Those videos are located in the US Holocaust Museum.

As important as that movie was in perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust it was not without controversy. Some of the more extreme right wing Orthodox rabbis at the time  Paskined that it was forbidden to see that movie because of the full frontal nudity in it. Which involved actors potraying naked Jews marching to their death in the Nazi gas chambers. On the other hand there were many mainstream Orthodox rabbis that did not have a problem with those scenes. Context is everything. Some even considered it a must see!

This brings me to what happened in Tennessee

A Tennessee school board has banned a Pulitzer prize-winning novel from its classrooms over eight curse words and an illustration of a naked cartoon mouse.

The graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by New Yorker Art Spiegelman, uses hand-drawn illustrations of mice and cats to depict how the author’s parents survived Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

 I obviously do not agree with what that school board did. But was it in any way antisemitic? I don’t think so. Here’s why: 

Ten board members unanimously agreed in favour of removing the novel from the eighth-grade curriculum, citing its use of the phrase “God Damn” and drawings of “naked pictures” of women, according to minutes taken from a board of education meeting earlier this month. 

That was followed by the following comments from two board members:

“I am not denying it was horrible, brutal, and cruel,” Allman said in reference to the genocide and murder of six million European Jews during the second world war.

“It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy,” he added…

Mike Cochran, another school board member, described parts of the book as “completely unnecessary”…

“We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history. We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.”

I don’t agree with that decision for the same reason that I did not agree with the rabbis who banned Schnidler’s List. Like I said. It’s all about context. The horrors of the Holocaust must not be diminished with excuses about ‘inappropriate pictures’. The story of the Holocaust must be told in all of its gory detail. Nothing should be left out. 

But this does not mean I think the Tennessee school board is any more antisemitic than the abovementioned Orthodox rabbis who banned Schindler’s List. They did it for similar reasons. And, they were both wrong.

And yet even with all the effort put in trying to prevent the Holocaust  fading from the memory, there are  shocking statistics about how successful those efforts have been:

Almost two-thirds of young American adults do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and more than one in 10 believe Jews caused the Holocaust, a new survey has found, revealing shocking levels of ignorance about the greatest crime of the 20th century.

According to the study of millennial and Gen Z adults aged between 18 and 39, almost half (48%) could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto established during the second world war.

Almost a quarter of respondents (23%) said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, or had been exaggerated, or they weren’t sure. One in eight (12%) said they had definitely not heard, or didn’t think they had heard, about the Holocaust. 

It would seem from these horrible statistics that all efforts to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust – aren’t working. Sadly, I’m not sure there is much we can do about it -  if all the above efforts ended up with statistics like those. And yet there is hope by way of what one individual did in the most unlikely of resources, a phone app called TikTok. 

This is one thing that the COVID pandemic has produced that is very positive. It was done during the lockdown in the UK. Lily Ebert, a 98 year old Orthodox Jewish Holocaust survivor has - together with the help of her 19 year old Charedi great grandson, Dov -  produced a series of TikTok videos about her experiences during the Holocaust.  Which has gone viral with over 20 million views! 

What makes this seven more significant is the demographic that views TikTok. Which is people under 40 years of age. They are the most ignorant demographic about the Holocaust.  But many of them are now learning about it in much of its gory detail from someone that actually lived it. And telling her story directly to them in a popular social media app.  

If you want to be really inspired, I urge you to watch this segment broadcast today on CBS Mornings. I often criticize the mainstream media. Justifiably. But not this time. CBS deserves praise for broadcasting this story (and the reaction of the 3 news anchors to it). When something like this is broadcast to many millions of people, it cannot help but spread awareness to people that might not otherwise know about it. Thank you CBS.