Religion & Beliefs

The Holocaust… Not Just for Jews

“The Holocaust is a uniquely Jewish event.” So sayeth Assemblyman Dov Hikind, representative of Brooklyn. You might not be aware that Nazi Germany, in addition to murdering six million Jews, also managed to snuff out the lives of some five … Read More

By / June 15, 2009

“The Holocaust is a uniquely Jewish event.” So sayeth Assemblyman Dov Hikind, representative of Brooklyn.

You might not be aware that Nazi Germany, in addition to murdering six million Jews, also managed to snuff out the lives of some five million other undesirable groups: gays, Roma (gypsies), and Jehovah’s Witnesses just to name a few. If you weren’t aware of that, it’s probably due in large part to the efforts of people like Dov Hikind. The occasion for Hikind’s remarks is a plan that would honor gays and other non-Jewish victims of Nazi persecution at Brooklyn’s Holocaust Memorial Park. You’ve probably seen a memorial like the one in Brooklyn. They exist all over the country, virtually anywhere a sizable population of Jews reside. It hardly matters that the Holocaust didn’t happen here. Hikind and others in the Jewish community have made it a communal mission for several decades now to commemorate the deaths of 6 million Jews at the hands of Hitler’s minions. Good for them. I’m a fan of remembering the Holocaust. I think it’s a significant part of our history, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, and we have much to learn from it. As with all shameful moments in human history, it can be tempting to turn away from it, bury it, pretend it could never happen again. It is critically important that we not bury it, not forget it, if only because it certainly can happen again. During World War II we marched Japanese-Americans into internment camps. After 9/11 we didn’t have to march Arab-Americans and other Muslim citizens into camps. But we did persecute them in a similar manner. In a moment of fear, we repeated our historic mistakes. To avoid this, we study history. That is why it is there, recorded for posterity. That is how we learn. That is why Hikind is an unlearned fool.

The Holocaust, with a capital H, has become the purview of Jews. We demand that the memories of six million never be forgotten while doing everything we can to divorce their persecution from the same savage impulse that brought Nazi wrath down on gays and others. Does the irony escape anyone? It is fair enough to say the Nazis singled out Jews. They did, and they certainly killed vastly more Jews than gays or Roma. If you add up everybody else they exterminated, we’ve still got one million more victims. But if this kind of one-upsmanship is what our Holocaust remembrance has become, then go ahead and forget. Really, forget. We’re not learning anything from that kind of remembrance. If, instead, we hold out our hands and say, “Once Jews were singled out for extermination, but we were not alone in our suffering, then or now,” we can begin to integrate the very real lessons of that experience. Today, gays are not rounded up and gassed. But they are faced with the denial of their basic rights simply because they are gay. They are even targeted by violent criminals who would stone them for their identity. In Europe, Roma live as if in the Third World within walking distance of modern luxuries. Perhaps most difficult of all for us to face, in our own communities, Muslims and Arabs face the wary eyes of those who would let fear and ignorance govern their suspicions. Our suffering as Jews is not isolated, even if it is unique in some respects. If that suffering is to have any real meaning beyond our own bitterness, if it is to lead us towards any true understanding of our commonality as human beings, then we shouldn’t be drawing up borders between Jewish suffering and others’. We should instead remember the dedication of every Passover for thousands of years: that we have suffered and been strangers, so we much never waver in our concern for those who suffer so today. It is a sign of insecurity to say, “The Holocaust is a uniquely Jewish event.” The Holocaust was a human event, the resultant mixture of fear, political mastery, and a moment when racism masqueraded as science even in the halls of American academia. If it was our suffering alone that we should remember when we light our memorial candles, then we have missed the point entirely. Hikind, it should be no surprise, opposes gay marriage. Let him oppose it, but let’s move beyond the shallow rhetoric of trying to claim ownership over distinct suffering. There are no brownie points to be had in that, only narrow factionalism. It makes the day that much further away when we can all hold hands and recognize our share humanity.

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