November 18, 2019

Never Again Para Nadie

By Rachel Levy

Growing up, I remember waiting on two important talks from my parents: the sex talk and the Holocaust talk.

I had heard vaguely of both, but only understood them as topics that I would learn more about when I was mature enough to understand their magnitude. When the sex talk finally did happen it was short, uninspiring, and I quickly repressed it. However, when I got the Holocaust talk—or talks, as they more realistically were—I felt as if I was being handed down a powerful legacy that came with the responsibility to always remember and never forget.

The Holocaust talks began with stories and trinkets from my grandmother who was fortunate enough to immigrate to the United States from France in the 1940s. We would sit on the couch of her home in Long Island and leaf through a scrapbook full of photographs, papers, and notes that represented the childhood she never got to have and the family members that I would never have the chance to meet.  My formal Holocaust education began in the 7th grade when my Jewish day school and Temple Sunday school individually determined that 12 years old was mature enough to understand its magnitude.

My peers and I collectively shuddered at The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, held our breath for Anne Frank and her family as we read excerpts from her diary and applauded each and every Holocaust survivor that visited us during that year. The following year, my 8th grade class and I visited Yad Vashem in Israel, and as I matured, my understanding of the Holocaust expanded and deepened.

I believe that the goal of all of these Holocaust talks was to foster Jewish trauma so that we could harness it for the power of good. I thought that when we were learning about the Nazi Regime and the rise of a ruthless dictator, that our lesson was to be wary of certain strains of charisma in leadership; when we learned about the yellow stars that Jews were made to wear, I thought that our lesson was that differences between humans can be wielded to create fear and separation and when I learned about the concentration camps, I thought that the lesson was that all humans deserve to be treated with dignity.

My Holocaust education was important because it gave me a litmus test by which to recognize injustice: Are my leaders concealing evil behind charisma? Is difference being constructed in a way that disenfranchises people and creates inequality? Are humans being treated with dignity? 

On July 2, I marched in protest with 1,000 other Jewish activists to let ICE know that it does not pass my litmus test. We marched together to clarify for members of the Jewish community and all people who are following this discourse that “concentration camp” and “never again” need to be recognizable beyond the context of the Holocaust. We marched together to honor the memory of the Holocaust by calling out injustice and taking action to prevent a similar atrocity from occurring again.

Frankly, what I view as significant and scary is that the people who helped design my Holocaust and Jewish education curriculums are too preoccupied with prioritizing and sanctifying their own trauma to recognize it when it happens to other groups. The divisiveness in the Jewish community over the comparison of the U.S. detention centers to the concentration camps of the Holocaust has become a distraction from acknowledging the blatant disregard for human dignity. 

One of the most poignant and effective quotes from the Holocaust is this, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” (Martin Niemöller)

Never Again means Never Again for anyone.

Rachel Levy is a rising senior at University of Michigan Ann Arbor and a HBI Gilda Slifka summer intern

 

Comments

  1. Laura Morowitz says:

    Rachel,
    Your post is beautiful. I recently learned about the group “Never Again Means Never Again” and I am so proud of all of you.You have perfectly articulated how so many of us feel. If you don’t already know about it, there is a group of over 500 very accomplished scholars of history, Jewish studies, Holocaust studies, etc. that have collectively signed a letter of concern to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for their statement that “unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events.” Thank you for marching, thank you for speaking out and thank you for inspiring all of us.
    Dr. Laura Morowitz

  2. Judith Geller says:

    Yes, Rachel! I agree with you and I am so grateful that you were protesting yesterday. May the entire Jewish community be willing to see what is so clearly in front of us: a scapegoating of a group of people, a herding of human beings into camps, a depriving of people of their basic needs, a terrorizing of children by separating them from their parents and leaving them without adults to help them–it’s happening now, in our country, led by a charismatic leader and his followers. Yes, there are some comparisons we can make. Let’s work now so that this horror cannot progress any further.

  3. Shulamit Reinharz says:

    I, too, was moved by your post, Rachel. One point that you might want to add is that it is not only people who should avoid polarization, but also ideas.
    So, for example, I think it is appropriate for comparisons to be made between what is going on at our southern border and aspects of the Holocaust. And it is appropriate to try to understand what is different. We should not put ourselves in the position of having to choose one of these perspectives over another. I look forward to your next blogs. Best, Shula Reinharz

  4. Stay strong Rachel. Recently I toured the Drancy deportation camp outside Paris and was surprised by all the parallels to US migrant camps. Everyone should listen to the testimonials — especially one from a woman who said she remains haunted by the cries of children separated from their parents. Institutional evil has a long history.

  5. Judy levy says:

    Very powerful; very true. Gram j

  6. Douglas B. Levy says:

    Indeed, Rae, your post is typically outstanding. However, I would like to correct the record on one important point. The people who helped design your Holocaust and Jewish education curriculums were actually preoccupied with creating Tucson’s Jewish History Museum AND Holocaust History Center @ https://www.jewishhistorymuseum.org. The Holocaust History Center is devoted to educating about the Holocaust and all other genocides which have occurred since the end of World War II. While there is great division within the Jewish community on the best way, for example, to pursue a Two State Solution between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors, I believe that the overwhelming majority of Jews in the USA believe that these detention centers at the southern border of the U.S. are deplorable and that our current President is failing miserably when it comes to respecting human dignity of the migrants and beyond. Keep up the great work. GO BLUE. The Doug.

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