Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Survivors vs. Hitler

In a recent article in Newsweek’s My Turn, Shirley Paryzer Levy writes about her late father:

"When my father felt the end was near, he started to obsess about his past. He decided that if he didn't start talking about the Holocaust, who would remember? He made a series of audiotapes beginning with his life in Europe, leading up to the Holocaust and ending with his wedding to my mother in Germany in 1946……
I don't know if he felt the Nazis would rise again, but I know for sure Hitler never left him. A friend of mine who recently lost her mother told me that two weeks before her death, her mother started acting in a way that made my friend think she was hallucinating about being back in a concentration camp. She was once again being tormented by the Nazis. We agreed Hitler got her in the end. Just as he got my father. Hitler didn't end at 6 million. He is still killing the Jews. It is 6 million and counting."

While I can feel her pain, I cannot accept Paryzer Levy’s conclusion. Hitler killed 6 million, and scarred millions more. Yes, some survivors were so emotionally crippled they were unable to reenter society. However, most did their utmost to triumph over Hitler. Indeed, this week I officiated at a funeral of someone who lost his entire family in the war, yet immediately after the war started all over again, intent on rebuilding his life and his family.

So why do so many survivors fixate on the Holocaust? Wouldn't it be emotionally healthier just to "get over it"? I think that for many survivors memory is a personal responsibility. Having faced the ultimate evil, they feel uniquely responsible to live. For them, the biblical responsibility to “remember what Amalek did to thee” spurs them to live, to ensure that evil is defeated. These memories are not the reminiscences of bitter people consumed by inner demons, but rather a motivation for the wounded and scarred survivors to summon the courage to triumph over evil. Success was far from uniform; indeed, the great chronicler of the Holocaust Primo Levy, committed suicide in 1987, 42 years after the end of World War II. But by building families, retelling stories, and recreating Jewish community, the survivors emerged victorious in their encounter with Amalek.

The Holocaust ravaged the Jewish community; Hitler very nearly succeeded in his goal to destroy world Jewry. However, looking back at the last 63 years, the survivors have shown that they had the commitment and toughness to outlast the unimaginable and rebuild a community. Or as Benjamin Mead, a survivor, said to a gathering of fellow survivors in 1995:

“He tried to kill us, and he lies in the ground. And we are here”.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, it is a bit understandable for some to be obssessed again about Hitler a few decades later. When you consider the headline about Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, all combined with the trendy attitude to bash Israel, it is reasonnable to think that Hitler "spirit" might be reviving. However, it might be that increased access to world news make more visible what had always been. But I think that to a survivor, that is not how it looks. It looks like "oh no ! again !"