Monday, May 16, 2011

The Survivor Generation, Level II

My mother's generation is known as the Holocaust Generation or sometimes as the Survivors Generation. Yes, the appellation is a true one. Members of this generation went through the horrors of the Holocaust, and some survived it. But there is a group of us, a large group of us, who are labeled as part of the Boomer Generation but should more aptly be labeled Survivor II--the Next Generation. The members of this Generation are those who were born to members of the Holocaust Generation immediately following the events of the Holocaust. For a large part, members of this sub-generation were born in the war-torn hellholes of Europe. A large number of these Holocaust Survivors/Survivor II people would, within a couple of years of the birth of the Survivor II children, emigrate to western Europe or the US or Israel.

Why make those of us who were born immediately post-War into a separate generational listing? History, for one thing. It is true that the numbers of those of the Holocaust Generation still surviving are dwindling. These first-hand witnesses to the history of the Holocaust are becoming a small number. And for those who are trying to trivialize the events of the Holocaust, who are trying to change what history will really tell about the events of the Holocaust, the death of those Holocaust Generation members is a welcome thing. The witnesses to history are disappearing and revisionists can hardly wait until they are all gone.

And that is where Survivor II children come into importance. No, I did not first-hand experience the actual atrocities of WW II. I did, however, experience the immediate aftermath of those atrocities. You think that young children don't have memories of their early days? You think that infants and young children don't pick up on the tension of their parents and the other adults around them? You think that these young children were not affected by the constant moving that many of their parents had to undertake post war, as they tried to return home to what was once their homes and no longer was? You think that these young children had it so easy just because the war was officially over?

I know of at least a couple of my readers who are, like me, from that Survivor II generation, and there may well be more. The early memories we share are all war-tinged to one extent or another. We were the children who were there in the background when the adults around us shared their war stories and tried to get a picture of who was still alive and who was missing. We were the ones there to see our parents crying when they thought no one was watching. We were the ones who bore the names of the dead. And yes, we are the children whose birth certificates in many cases bear the names of places of horror, extermination camps that were turned, after the War, into displaced persons camps. We are the ones whose citizenship in the countries we would finally settle in was not a given but needed to be applied for. We are the ones who sometimes have sudden flashbacks to earlier times that give us the chills.

And yes, we Survivor II generation members also have the responsibility of bearing witness so that history will not, conveniently for some, erase the true facts of what transpired in the dark annals of human history. My birth certificate does not read Bergen Belsen because my parents thought it would be a nice place for a child to be born. I am not a naturalized citizen because my parents made a positive choice based on lots of choices of where to go to live. Many of us are still multi-lingual, and multi-experienced as well, because of lives that began in the aftermath of the War.

The responsibility of passing down the true facts of what happened in the Holocaust should be the responsibility of all of us, but it is particularly incumbent on my generation to lead the charge, because as the Holocaust Generation dies out we are the ones left with the direct connection to the events of that horrific time period.

And here is what I am telling those who wish to deny that the Holocaust ever took place, that the events history tells us about were exaggerated or fabricated--you try and peddle your trash and I'm going to loudly and with passion shoot you down for the liars you are. I'm not slinking into the shadows and letting you make a mockery of what really happened. You and your kind murdered my family and the families of millions of others, and you're not getting a pass. No, I'm not going to turn the other cheek--no, I'm not. Beware, for our motto is "Never Again" and it's not just empty words. Try and take us on and you will be getting way more than you ever bargained for.


Miami Al said...

Good luck. I hope you succeed.

Sadly, I believe the the "Holocaust Industry," for lack of a better term, lost the narrative of the Holocaust about 20 years ago and history will NOT reflect on it what we would like it to.

Understand how this looks on the "outside."

The Jewish people are not the only victims of genocide. The American Indians, the Mayans, etc., we're all wiped out in wars of expansion. Roman culture is studied as history, etc. Peoples come and go.

What's pretty unique about the Holocaust from a historical perspective is that a massive war was fought with the INTENTION of eliminating a people.

The British Colonists and early Americans didn't go to war to "rid the earth of the Indians," they went to war to conquer land to settle. That's a HUGE difference.

But the "never again" motto has become diluted, it's not about true genocide, but the new, watered down definition of genocide.

Sadly, in watering down the definition of genocide, we've eliminated it's potency, which is why Israel can stand falsely accused of genocide. Israel is in a territorial dispute with it's neighboring peoples, no sane person would suggest that Israel was actually attempting to eliminate the Arab people. But in our new watered down definition of genocide, we have this problem.

To recapture the narrative of the Holocaust, it needs to be LESS about the horrors, and more about the uniqueness. The horrors are simply beyond comprehension for a 21st Century mindset, so the more we harp on them, the more people shut down because they can't comprehend it.

So we've been doing survivor speeches, books, movies, etc., about the horrors, it HASN'T worked.

History is written by the winners, not the losers. By choosing to identify the Holocaust with our victimhood instead of our triumph -- despite near destruction, Jewish life was rebuilt in America and Israel, while the Holocaust may not have established Israel, it certain gave Israel a population of people to draw on to establish itself because they needed somewhere to go. Our eventual triumph over the Nazi German war crimes would be a more compelling story to pass along than our meekly going to the slaughter.

It's even hard for a 21st Century American Jew to identify with the Holocaust. The idea that people meekly stood by and were put in trains to be executed is unfathomable. The "weak Jew" is a distinctly dead concept in modern Jewish life except in small pockets of Chareidism. Identifying with it is VERY hard. Jews are leaders in politics, academia, and industry.

The narrative must be recaptured in a new way. I hope that your approach works, but I find it unlikely that if the actual survivors telling their story was not able to control the narrative that their children doing so will be able to do so.

Rae said...

I agree with a lot that you are saying Al, particularly about how the terms genocide and holocaust are being watered down. But this statement of yours needs some context:it's even hard for a 21st Century American Jew to identify with the Holocaust. The idea that people meekly stood by and were put in trains to be executed is unfathomable.

We live in a time period where weaponry of all kinds is available all over the country. Instructions for devices to decimate the enemy are available at a click of a mouse on the Internet. This was NOT the case in the time period of the Holocaust. Standing armies had access to weaponry. Private citizens could get arms but it wasn't easy to do so and arms dealers were highly selective in who they sold to. It wasn't that the Jews then stood by meekly as a matter of choice--what would you have had them do when they were unarmed and up against those with arms and the willingness to shoot first and no questions need to be asked later? When men, women and children were all grouped together?

The statement also doesn't take into consideration that there were pockets that rose up against the enemy--they were just too few and too poorly outfitted to change the course of the aggressors.

Miami Al said...


I'm not blaming the victims for not rising up. I'm saying that it is beyond comprehension to the modern mindset that this happened.

My son really enjoys the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk. When read through a modern interpretation, we all wonder why the mother was upset that he bought magic beans, after all, magic beans seem better than a cow.

When watch the Brothers Grim movie, we got a reminder that in the original story, the mom is upset because her son got conned and the last of their assets were stolen for a handful of beans.

There is no way that my son could comprehend the idea that his sister is sick, needed medicine, and we sent him to town to sell our last cow to pay for it, otherwise his sister will die - the way the story is shown as the anchor for the movie.

That's just NOT a world my son can comprehend.

80% of American Jews are liberal urbanites for whom the idea of private gun ownership is an anathema. That said, the idea that the police wouldn't protect them simply isn't a concept that they can wrap their heads around.

Amongst the 20% that support gun ownership, the idea that they wouldn't have the means of self defense is an anathema, unwilling to defend themselves.

It's not a suggestion that the Jews of Eastern Europe were unwilling to stick their necks out to save their lives, as you pointed out, some were, others were foolishly sent to die because "community leaders" cut a deal for freedom for them and their students, others were told not to take up arms on Shabbat, and others were simply used to rape gangs coming into down, raping their wives and daughters, and life moved on.

Please tell me how you expect the child of a successful American Jew whose successful parents know politicians and important people to identify with this person and think of this as happening to them?

I'm not saying that the victims of the Nazi war machine are guilty of cowardice.

I'm saying that it's REALLY REALLY hard to imagine making that decision. It's really hard to believe that you wouldn't be part of that small minority that fled by any means possible.

Any more than my son could imagine himself swapping a cow for beans and his sister dying.

JS said...

I agree that the terms genocide and holocaust have been watered down. There is real genocide occurring in the world and I think we've lost the moral high ground by not sticking up for those people vociferously. The term "never again" sounds selfish and perhaps even cruel when it comes to mean "never again for us." Israel complicates things as well since we've practically lost the genocide narrative there and it's all too easy to say that the world took away the Palestinians' land to atone for the Holocaust. Plus it makes for an ironic twist to show the once weak, slaughtered Jews turned into strong Nazis killing the weak Palestinians. I don't know how we can win back that narrative without solving the larger issues in that region and standing up for all victims of true genocide.

As for convincing the Holocaust deniers, good luck. Might as well try to get some KKK members to befriend black people. Some people just hate and don't care what you have to say. I wouldn't waste my time on them. I'd talk to those who are interested in listening.

I think what makes that Holocaust so hard to comprehend nowadays is the sheer magnitude of it. There's just too much death and destruction to wrap your head around - tens of millions died not even counting the Jews who were slaughtered. Plus in our highly connected society it's hard to understand how no one knew what was happening. It's also hard to understand given the immigration influx in this country how we could say no to people who wanted to enter this country (or how they had nowhere to go). It's also hard to understand an entire continent for the most part wanting you dead.

I think there are many analogies we can use today, but we fail to because of the idea that what happened to us is wholly unique. It is. I understand that. But, we probably could have helped our cause by focusing on what happened in Sudan or in the former Yugoslavia. People need to understand that the same thing is still happening, although on a smaller scale. We may have information at our fingertips, but if no one cares what's the point? People are being slaughtered, but no one cares.

Anonymous said...

Cambodia, Rwanda, the list goes on

Miami Al said...


"As for convincing the Holocaust deniers, good luck. Might as well try to get some KKK members to befriend black people. Some people just hate and don't care what you have to say. I wouldn't waste my time on them. I'd talk to those who are interested in listening."

I think you hit the nail on the head. Claims by Holocaust deniers need to be straightforward, simple, and dismissive. You simply do not want to legitimize them and create the all to common Side A vs Side B reality must be in the middle situation.

The deniers are either counter factual bigots, or simply ignorant, mostly the former.

There is no reason to get bogged down into the mud with the bigots.

Sadly, that is where the Jewish leadership always seems stuck.

Sefardi Gal said...

Very powerful post. Thank you for sharing.
I think children of survivors are incredibly strong people who've had to deal with a lot of pain. It hurts so much to see a parent cry and not to grow up with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, distant relatives, etc.

Abba's Rantings said...

when i grew up (not *that* long ago) it wasn't unusual (but not commonplace) to see survivors with tatooed arms. my kids on the other hand may very well go through life not seeing this, and if they do they might not even know what it is. the last time i saw it was upstate 2 summers ago, and i remember being struck then that i hadn't seen it before then for a very long time.

i usually attend the yom hashoah commemoration in a local day school. a few years ago already they keynote speaker was the daughter of a survivor rather than the usual survivor. i thought then that this signified the eclipse of the survivors' generation.

Anonymous said...

JS: I think you nailed it.

ProfK: What exactly are you proposing that the second generation do? One thing they can do while the preceeding generation is still here is to record their oral histories and testimony, and the second generation can record their own. How about volunteering to speak at local public schools or help develop programs for history teachers? How about, as JS suggests, advocating for other victims. What about raising our children to serve in the u.s. armed forces so that the u.s. remains in a position if, g-d forbid, there be another attempted holocaust or mass genocide, the u.s. will be prepared to step in.

Miami Al said...


"Plus it makes for an ironic twist to show the once weak, slaughtered Jews turned into strong Nazis killing the weak Palestinians. I don't know how we can win back that narrative without solving the larger issues in that region and standing up for all victims of true genocide"

Prior to 1967, the world expressed sympathies for Jews because of the Holocaust. The Jewish people in Israel were impoverished, American Jewry was just beginning its economic ascent but it was socially limited.

After 1967, the Jews were no longer weak, we were strong. More than anything else, this probably served to remove some of the barriers keeping American Jews from the top of the social ladder, etc.

So we lost our status as victims... by no longer being victims.

The Israelis live in a modern country, per capita income in the middle of the pack for Europe and growing rapidly. They have beautiful beaches, a growing economy, the ability to express their Judiasm completely, traditionally, or not at all.

The Palestinians have world sympathy. The world condemns Israel, calls Jews names, writes op-eds.

The people in Gaza live in squalor, the people in Judea and Samaria don't live much better... Per CIA Fact Book Capita income in the West Bank is $2,900, compared to Israel at $29,500.

I'm not going to suggest that Israel doesn't have problems, but looking at the Palestinians with jealousy is little much.

So we lost sympathy and victim status... Do we really care?

JS said...

I'm not saying we want or need world sympathy and I'm certainly not advocating for a return to victimhood status.

I think we need to flip the narrative by showing that we are strong and deserving of respect - the exact opposite of the post-Holocaust line.

You can be strong without being a bully. You can garner respect outside of a military regime.

Israel (and Jews) need to show that we are a strong people based on our values, our traditions, our religion, and our humanity. That is how we should garner respect. We should be the foremost advocates for human rights and dignity. That is how we should carry on the lesson of the Holocaust. History will always dim the harshness of the atrocities that occurred, but we can shed new light on the brutalities by making the world more aware of the need to protect and respect all peoples.

That is how you create a positive narrative for our people based on strength and respect instead of victimhood and sympathy and ensure that the Holocaust will never be forgotten.