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Monday, August 13, 2007

Yad Vashem


were sent to slave labor.

Our tour guide told us that those who were sent to slave labor were allowed 200 calories a day.

The photograph above is in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. I took it off their website. The album is the only surviving visual evidence of the process of mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is a unique document and was donated to Yad Vashem by Lilly Jacob-Zelmanovic Meier.

When I was a teenager one of my cousins (a South Sider) came to stay with us for what was supposed to be a couple of months. It turned out to be over a year and great for me, because as you know I was the only girl in my family and had my own room and it got a little lonely. So she and I talked into the night that year and it was very nice on all kinds of levels.

My cousin suffered from migraines and when she did, she mostly slept. One day I asked her what she thought caused them and she said she didn't know, but they started the day she heard about the Holocaust. I was fourteen and I hadn't even read Night by Elie Wiesel, or heard any first hand Holocaust stories, which was ironic since my parents had at least a handful of survivor friends.

All four of my grandparents had come to America in the early thirties, escaping Hitler's reign of terror.

Or I wouldn't be here.

I always felt a little guilty for not pouring over the books about the Holocaust. I read NOTHING about it in my social studies primers in grade school the fifties and early sixties. And I'm still a little light in this department. But I go to the museums if I'm in a city with a memorial museum and suck up as much as I can.

L.A. is good, Washington's better. The one in Jerusalem is the best.

So I was in Israel a couple of weeks ago, and since Yad Vashem is considered the world’s largest repository of information on the Holocaust, of course I had to go. I had been there ten years ago, but new founders have reinvented it, turned into performance art, a collection of photos in motion, sculpture, visuals and sounds, a sophisticated vehicle that breathes life into the victims, the perpetrators, and the bystanders of that awful period in time.

I've had it in mind to go to there since my youngest son, a particularly sensitive young fellow said to me after I booked the flight to Israel, "You should definitely go to Yad Vashem, Mom. It's very cool."

I rely on my kids to direct me in life, especially to things that are cool. For example, Empath Daught tells me what to wear (sends me home with sweaters), the Stooge tells me what movies I'll be able to stomach.

If you haven't been to any of the Holocaust museums then you're missing out. These memorials are much more than store houses of historical facts, artifacts, newsreels, etc. Their entire raison d'etre is to put you face to face with so much truth that you have to be emotional.

If you suffer from depression and know you can't handle too much reality then forget about this particular reality field trip. I tell MANY of my patients not to read or watch the news. Stay in LaLaLand and don't go to the Holocaust museums. But you HAVE to tell others to go in your stead. It's your responsibility.

I went with FD, his mom, sister, and brother-in-law, a few days after my niece's wedding. You last met them in a post I wrote about how saying incantations can help you find lost objects (I AM a social scientist, I REALLY am). We sang show tunes at Borders that Saturday night. It was unforgetable.

Anyway, bro-in-law Michael immediately sized up that we needed a guide for this exhibition. We were lucky to get Devorah Gold, perfect. Her grandfather made sure that her father escaped the Nazi's. He sent him away. I think she said that her father met her mother and married her in a DP (displaced persons) camp.

Devorah delivered every powerful line of her script with careful precision. It was like psycho-surgery. Hypnosis. I felt right at home.

FD was upset by the way the museum worked emotions. The museum is set up to make you feel the experiences of those who perished, and those of the few who survived. My guy found it all too emotionally manipulative. After the tour he wandered off for about an hour to see the art and other exhibits. He totally tranced out, didn't even answer his phone. I was a little worried about him.

But I feel that this type of emotional upset is good for people. It connects us with reality and we have to know this reality. It's good to go through this. It's nothing, frankly, compared to the horror that that generation suffered.

It's a fact of life that the world is replete with horrific acts of mankind. Rape, torture, and murder are universal. Violence sells newspapers; it is the stuff of NPR. I have to wonder if there's something wrong with a society that is so captivated by horror. We're literally entertained by horror films and desensitized to violence.

Some of us even LIKE the Holocaust museums. Even though 6-10 million people died in that genocidal world war they remember.

And to this day there are people who deny that it ever happened. Not the war, the death.

We listen to fireworks on the 4th of July, barely connecting them to the rockets red blare, but at least it's an effort to connect to death and destruction. Annual memory pitches that honor Good Wars include Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We LIKE seeing photographs in newspapers and magazines of men (mostly men) in uniforms wearing medals; men who fought for freedom.

Yet, most of us manage to avoid the pictorial side of the Holocaust. The emaciated bodies of starved concentration camp survivors, the piles of dead in mass graves, the death marches to gas chambers, the empty eyes of children. .. just not attractive. A downer.

I have a well-heeled, wonderful friend who set up a social service agency for rape victims. She had problems getting funding. "I could get the money to stage a week's worth of performances of Madame (pronounced Ma-da-meh) Butterfly, but get funding for rape victims? Ha!"

So most folks don't volunteer to see photos of emaciated, dying people, or medical experiments that turn the stomach either.

But it is VERY cool going to museums in Israel these days, technologically speaking, seriously. Yad Vashem is virtually new, and at Masada, too, there's a new museum, complete with a "smart" audio tour. No longer do you have to hit a button on the remote control to hear narrative . The remote control knows where you are in the museum. You go into a room and you hear about what it is you're supposed to hear about what you're looking at, perhaps ancient coins or pottery inside the display case. It is very cool.

And at Yad VaShem, if you use a guide like Devorah Gold, you get a head set and hear her speaking loud and clear, explaining what it is that you're seeing, assuming you haven't drifted too far away from your group. The head-set audio tour is great for the predominantly aging populace that visits the museum.

Ten years ago, before the remodeling of Yad Vashem, I saw hundreds of pairs of shoes behind a vertical glass display case, the shoes of the victims of the Holocaust. Now the shoes are in a display under a floor covering of thick glass. We're encouraged to walk on the display, to walk on the shoes.

Go ahead, walk on it, walk on those shoes, says our guide. No one does.

I do. She's really saying,Walk in those shoes.

The museum is like that, very experiential. Do you want to know what the German soldiers were thinking? How could they kill every Jewish child under the age of 10, for example (a 1942 proclamation, Every Jewish Child Under the Age of Ten Must Die) .

Open the door to a wooden box on a wall and read a soldier's explanation to his family.

One officer, Karl Kretshmer says (I'm paraphrasing): It is a weakness not to be able to stand the sight of dead people. The way to overcome this weakness is to kill more often. You get used to it.

I'm told there's a movie we should see, The Wave, about a brilliant teacher who teaches children how to be murderers, willing executioners.

When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, soldiers were ordered to shoot victims in the head at close range. To do this they were ordered to first drink 1.5 liters of vodka.

14,000 people were murdered at Babi Yar in two days.

It is a weakness. . .

The Pope didn't leave his palace. . .

Martin Niemoller, a German pastor wrote these famous lines:
They came for the Socialists, and I did not object because I was not a Socialist.

They came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not object because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not object because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to object.
The only children who survived the Holocaust were those sent away by their parents. Some left on the KinderTrain (Google the Kindertransport Association). They left Poland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia on a train to Great Britain. Alone.

The "Righteous Among the Nations," risked immediate death if discovered harboring a Jewish person. But the Righteous (euphemism for Gentile) hid Jewish children in attics and closets. After liberation, some "lucky" children were reconnected with war-traumatized parents who came for them, whisked them away from their adoptive parents, the people who had loved and cared for them.

The enormity of such separation, so many separations, is inconceivable, even to those of us who think we understand separation.

Devorah Gold asked her father why he married her mother, how he chose her. He said, straight faced, "She was rich."

"Rich!" shouted Ms. Gold. "How could she have been rich? She was a survivor!"

"She had two sisters," he replied.

She had relatives. Anyone who survived the Holocaust with relatives was rich.

It gives us a little perspective, I think, when we begin to feel sorry for ourselves.

Lest we forget.

therapydoc

18 comments:

Shalva said...

I wonder. I disagree with you about there being a responsibility to allow the emotional manipulation of these places. Indeed, I feel there may be a sinister connection between holocaust entertainment and the soldier's injunction to kill more often so as to get used to seeing dead bodies. Some things SHOULD be unimaginable, and practising imagining them is not responsible. IMHO.

What's important is to know that individuals matter, and to stand up for fairness and liberty. Wouldn't your time have been better spent writing letters to help get Guantanamo Bay closed down, for example?

therapydoc said...

I'm guessing you mean, one's time, surely one's call.

Shalva said...

Your post said "you HAVE to", "it's your responsibility" etc. Not "one HAS to" "it's one's responsibility". Of course, you can disagree with my assessment, just as I can disagree with yours, but I don't think you can justly criticise my language.

Midwife with a Knife said...

I actually disagree also. I think that everybody should be taught about the Holocaust, and I certainly think that these museums have their place, but I really don't think that everybody needs to go to one. I see more than enough of the direct results of violence, abuse, rape, and other sorts of inhumanity in my work to give me nightmares.

I certainly do not need that kind of object lesson to know that we should not let genocide and torture occur, whether it's in Nazi Germany in the 1930's-40's or in the Sudan in the 2000's.

I think that most people can honor the suffering of Holocaust victims of all kinds without actually exposing themselves to such violent imagery.

Again, I certainly think that these kinds of museums/memorials have their place, and that they definately should exist, but I also don't think that they're for everybody.

isabella mori said...

thanks for this, therapydoc.

as someone who grew up in post-WWII germany, the holocaust is in the forefront of my awareness all the time. too much for my own good, probably - but that's another story.

what i found interesting is making the connection between the "downer" of the pictorial aspects of the holocaust and your friend's difficulties in raising money for rape victims.

it looks like the news is the only (highly stylized) framework within which most people allow themselves to look at the bad things that happen to people. i was going to say, "within which they allow themselves to look at suffering" but that isn't correct.

we do NOT want to look at suffering in whatever context.

therapydoc said...

Shalva, sorry if it came across as me criticizing your language. I couldn't tell, honestly, if you meant that I personally should be taking on the atrocities at Guantanamo Bay.

There are MANY horrific causes that I could discuss on the blog, and surely Guantanamo is one example of unjust incarceration, terror, trauma, abuse, and gross injustice and violation of human rights.

I chose to talk about the Holocaust and didn't feel (when I wrote my glib response to you) that one thing took away from the other or that one was more important than the other.

I appreciate that you brought up Guantanamo. Of course we should be writing to our Congresspeople and demanding that something be done. I agree with you one hundred percent.

therapydoc said...

Midwife: You're right, too.

I think I said that if a person suffers from depression that visiting a Holocaust museum isn't a good idea. Same goes for some folks who suffer from secondary trauma.

Understand. For me it's the incredulity of what happened in the Shoah (destruction during those years), the fact that it was so extraordinary, so dehumanizing, so racist, that makes me say (and I'm not alone),

Never again.

There is an increase in anti-Jewish feeling internationally in our times. There are many people who really feel that actually. . . This CAN happen again.

So if I say, people should go, should sensitize themselves to this vulgar potentiality, it is because had anyone suggested that it could happen prior to 1939, no one, absolutely no one, would have taken him seriously.

So I take it seriously, feel it should be known. And SEEING is believing.

msb said...

Thank you for this post. I went to the Holocaust Museum in DC some years ago and found it very powerful. At some point I found tears running down my face. I think of the saying about never forgetting the past least we repeat it. I don't see anything in a world chalk full of unbelievable atrocities that holds a candle to the crimes so blatantly committed to such a large group of people during WWll.

therapydoc said...

Thanks, MSB.

Heidi said...

I think that if anything, Holocaust museums should be more emotionally charged. We are at a point in history when Holocaust survivors are becoming rare. I personally cannot believe the Holocaust could have happened, but I have spoken to survivors and children of survivors, so even though I cannot believe it, I know it happened.

What happens when kids grow up not being able to believe it, and then they only read dry history books about it? At best, why will they care to read about it? at worst, why will they believe it actually happened?

BTW, The Wave was excellent. I showed it for a class presentation recently. It is a little dated... but interesting, and proves an important point.

Patricia Singleton said...

Therapydoc, thanks for the reminder. We should not forget.

rbach said...

Thanks for your post.

I tend to agree with your perspective on the impact of visiting a Holocaust museum. Growing up Jewish in Southern California, I got all the positives: tradition, holidays, fantastic food, but the history seemed distant.

Visiting the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles was a blow to the gut. All the things I had read and seen on screen paled in comparison, and I think that emotional empathy was key to really understanding what happened (and what could happen again).

therapydoc said...

Thanks, RBACH. The Museum of Tolerance in LA was my first holocaust museum experience, and I'll bet it's even more intense now. That was many years ago.

communicatrix said...

Having made the pilgrimage to Auschwitz-Birkenau itself, I no longer question the legitimacy of these memorial/museum experiences. There is a thing about paying witness to the physical objects, the dreadful remnants of the experience, that is important and difficult to replace with reading accounts or watching images (although I am glad we have those to aid us in remembering, and had been exposed to much of it before our journey to Poland).

This is not to take away the importance of all kinds of other thoughtful reflection on all kinds of other atrocities. There is no worse; it is not a competition.

The importance, as many in this thread have intimated, is to keep the connection alive. To remember that not only did this happen, but that it can happen again.

Heaven forfend.

brooke said...

i'm obviously late to this.. but i just discovered your blog..

i've been to yad vashem myself - last year when i visited palestine / israel. i've also read about the holocaust all my life, and in many ways i consider myself a zionist.. i believe the jews should have a homeland.

just after i went to yad vashem i went on a tour of east jerusalem, and got to hear about the conditions for the palestinians there, and i visited the wall, and i stayed in homes of palestinians in the west bank who's land has been taken by settlers, and heard stories about young school children who are afraid to go to sleep because the next day they have to walk by illegal israeli settlers who attack them on the way to school in the south hebron hills.

throughout all my years of reading about the holocaust i read "never again" and i agreed.. yes, never again. but it is happening in gaza, it is happening in the west bank. the land that yad vashem was built on was a palestinian village that was wiped off the map. never again- yet israel is doing it now.

i find it very sad that what people learn from oppressors is not how NOT to be, instead, how to oppress. this is what i witnessed in the land where christ walked (i am a protestant, of the liberal kind), where the israelites were lead to escape slavery in egypt. the land of palestine and israel is sacred, holy land - and yet is also one full of sadness, anger, and a 61 year al-nakba. yes, very sad.

therapydoc said...

Thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to write this, Brook.

But I have to ask, Did you ever SEE an Israeli shoot at an innocent child on his way to school?

I've been in similar situations, and never have. Some of us feel that the Arab world has done a much better public relations job on what goes on between the Palestinians and the Israelis, than the Jews.

Which is a really sad thing and is divisive and leads to hate.

ann said...

i was in yad vashem a year ago, 40 years since my first time there - these testaments are an obligation that must be passed down from generation to generation

i live in london - sixty years since the end of WWII has been a long time for the jews outside of israel to live in relative peace, but antisemitism has not lain dormant in europe all these years, it has simmered beneath the surface and can erupt at any time again - we cannot be complacent - we cannot forget - i for one am afraid, very afraid

brooke's comment saddens me - did she not visit sderot where israeli children only know life in an air-raid shelter - where rockets have been launched against them for years on a daily basis - did she know that when gush katif was handed back to the palestinians it was razed to the ground and turned into a rocket launch pad

the palestinians are not victims of the israelis, they are the victims of hamas who use and abuse them - they are scapegoats --- more palestinians were slaughtered in gaza at the hands of hamas than by israel

therapydoc said...

Thanks so much. We have it here, too. Just last week FD went to play basketball at the Jewish Community Center and the streets were blocked off-- bomb scare.