When the paper I run, The Beacon, ran an op-ed entitled “Why it’s Time for Jews to Get Over the Holocaust,” the reaction was incensed. In fact, it was more than incensed. Readers were so wounded by the suggestion that they “get over” an event so personal and so tragic for so many of them that they reacted with passionate emotion, attacking the piece and its writer with all the force of their identity. And that, basically, is what many felt the article did to them: It attacked their identity.
And I get it; I can understand the author’s desire to focus less on the Holocaust than we currently do in our educational system, but I also know the pain of having grandparents whose entire families were wiped out by the Nazis and their helpers. Three of my grandparents survived the Holocaust, one of them only barely, wearing a tattoo on his arm as a constant reminder of his days in the concentration camps.
We’ve grown up in the shadow of the Holocaust, for better or for worse, and for those of us in college, it’s become engraved in our selves. The Holocaust is inseparable from the modern Jewish identity. To tell a Jew to “get over” the Holocaust is no different from telling him to “get over” that silly God thing he’s always going on about, and in fact is more offensive, because it’s more personal. As far as I know, God never spoke to any of our grandparents, but the Nazis did.
But it’s not just the shadow we’ve been raised in; it’s the triumph of the future. And I think it’s this realization that angered so many of the article’s readers. Our people went through hell and came out the other end. And we didn’t just stumble out and collapse. No. We marched out with pride, set up a country, and began anew. Our grandparents and great-grandparents got married and started families, their hopes for the future un-extinguished.
My grandfather walked out of the Holocaust with his life intact but his faith in humanity shattered. He vowed never to bring children into this world, the place that had turned its back so cruelly on himself and his loved ones. Then he came to America and met my grandmother; she re-ignited his hope and his faith, and together they had two sons who in turn gave them nine grandchildren.
We would not be where we are today without the Holocaust. It’s not the past; it is our present, and we are the future.
[A comment from the editor: In other news, “Why it’s Time for Jews to Get Over the Holocaust” was published in February and remains the most read article on The Beacon’s website. It now has 117 comments and led to this follow-up by the author.]