April 7, 2010
Have we hit Holocaust fatigue?
(Page 3 - Previous Page)
This presents an additional dilemma: teaching the Holocaust and its history while still staying current with what society is willing to watch and embrace. As opposed to teaching the Holocaust as having been limited to 1939-1945 and instilling in young Jewish children their own unique Holocaust original sin, we must change how we teach and remember. This begins with exploring the world prior to World War II. A huge number of steps had to take place before the first concentration camp opened in Germany. What were the causes? How did people react? How would you have reacted? It’s not enough to study Auschwitz if you don’t have a strong understanding of the events that allowed Auschwitz to be built, and those events started long before the 1942 Wannsee Conference.
We need to teach the younger generations about the culture that was lost in the ghettos and camps. Intellectuals, teachers, artists were of limited value to the Third Reich, and that brain drain will never be recovered. We need to remember that Holocaust education should not end with May 8, 1945 — V-E Day — when Nazi armed forces surrendered.
The plight of survivors after the war is every bit as important in understanding Jewish history. While the roles of the Zionists in Palestine were crucial to the creation of Israeli statehood, does anyone believe that the Holocaust did not play a majority role in the formation of Israel in 1948? As we grapple with the numerous genocides that followed the Holocaust, we have to reflect on history. Regarding Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur, it is clear that the dictators and regimes behind those genocides were careful students of Hitler and the Third Reich. The stories of deportations among those survivors, when placed next to testimonies of Holocaust survivors, are eerily similar. Without the lens of history, we cannot see and contextualize what is transpiring in front of us.
All the films and books serve a purpose, some a bit higher than others, but all help in solving an infinite puzzle that is the Holocaust. We will never finish this puzzle, but every piece that we fill in gives us a greater understanding than we had before. But we need to stay vigilant. When fact becomes fiction, we must know enough so that we can shout out the truth. In jest the other day, a friend mentioned that we need to create a Holocaust Channel, where films and documentaries play 24/7/365. A bit extreme, yes, but an idea not completely without merit. It is within the documentaries and testimonies that we move as close as possible to a reality that will always escape us.
The Holocaust will not be forgotten. Even in another decade or two, when the last survivor with vivid memories of the camps is no longer with us, we will still have hundreds of thousands of hours of film and testimonies to study. But who will study them? When the last survivor is gone, will we no longer talk about the camps? Perhaps we will continue along the creative path that has become clear over this past decade. We will create stories adjacent to the Holocaust, and we will move further and further away from the actual causations and realities.
To do that would mean forgetting the most important reality of the Holocaust that we as non-survivors must remember. The camps themselves.
Jon Kean is a Los Angeles-based writer/director. He is a guest lecturer at the Rogers Center for Holocaust Education at Chapman University as well as serving as a board member of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. He can be reached through his Web site, www.swimminginauschwitz.com.