Today is Holocaust Day 2013. 70 years since the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Social media (re: Facebook) is full of people sharing photos, stories, memories and memorials of people, both of those that they know and those that they don't know. It's important to see how many Jews (and non-Jews) throughout the world connect to the horrors that our world experienced a very short while ago and, in the process, to each other.
One of the "shares" that I saw this year is a collection of photos, entitled "20 Photos that Change the Holocaust Narrative." Basically, the person who compiled these photos wanted to show something inspirational, some photos to show Jews fighting back, Jewish spirit, Jewish resistance.
So why am I so disturbed by this collection? Because the vast, vast majority of the Jews who were caught up in the Nazi onslaught were not survivors. They did not survive. They did not have the opportunity to head out to the forests and fight or even wait it out until liberation day. They were overwhelmed by the immensity of the organization and precision of the Nazi's determined efforts to eradicate them and didn't know what to do. And died.
The majority of the Jews were, quite simply, crushed by the immensity of the campaign against them. There was nowhere for them to go. They had parents, children, grandparents to take care of. How do you join the partisians if you have a 3-year-old who needs you? How do you go into hiding when you're trying to comfort your parents, find a little food for your nieces and nephews? How do you "disappear" when the occupiers are so prepared that they have created lists of all the Jews of the countries that they plan to occupy before they even conquer the country?
Researchers have noted that the Nazis were the first to use computers to amass this kind of data. Killing Jews was such a strong objective of the Nazi ideology that they were prepared to divert resources from their war effort to accomplish the goal. Over six million innocent civilians were, in no way, prepared for what was coming. Today in America, there's a great debate over gun control, whether people can own a gun to protect themselves. And that's protecting themselves against individual nutcases. Here, the Jews didn't have a clue as to how to protect themselves because there was no possible protection. No guns, no hiding, nothing.
A large proportion of the Jews who went into "hiding" ended up returning to their families and communities to live out their fate together. The psychological pressures of living in hiding were so devastating that they preferred to die rather than stay "safe."
I have a lot more to say, but I guess that in short, if I were to create a "Holocaust Narrative" it would stress that the "heroes" are no less those individuals who tried to calm their children as they were led to the slaughter, tried to grab a few extra potato peels for their bunkmates, or even continued to get up day after day until the bitter end, with no hope of salvation, than the guys who were able to greet the liberating armies at the end of the war. I don't mean to take anything away from the survivors, or the people who were able to resist, in whatever way possible.
I simply want to point out that, for almost all of the victims, this was simply not possible, and that a true Holocaust Narrative should not delegitimize their experiences because they don't make us feel as good as looking at pictures of survivors holding champagne.
And that, while the 20 Photos that Change the Holocaust Narrative might make everyone feel better, feeling better shouldn't be the goal of Holocaust remembrance.