Jewish Journal


December 21, 2009




Israel breathes a sigh of relief as news of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work makes free) sign was found, although in 3 pieces. According to Krakow police, the sign was stolen for financial purposes, not as an act of neo-Nazism. Five suspects were arrested and further investigation is required.

Last Friday, people around the world were furious to learn that the sign above the Auschwitz Death camp was stolen. But in Israel this was a “sign of the times”.

Were the perpetrators attempting to erase traces of the Holocaust? Obviously, the theft of such an important historical monument was a statement against Jews, a provocative gesture insinuating that the war is not over, or an attempt to deny the war took place altogether.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) referred to the theft as a “critical failure of the Polish police.”

Germany was quick to raise their donations for the new Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, now holding at $87 million.

But wait a moment! Isn’t history – even Holocaust history – open to all sorts of interpretations these days? Could it be that there never was a sign over the entrance of the Auschwitz Death Camp? Clearly, much of the world believe that “if it didn’t happen in my lifetime it just didn’t happen!”

Take my younger sister, #2. After seeing “Inglorious Basterds” last week, I had to assure her that Hitler, Himmler and the rest of the Nazi vermin were not blown up while viewing a movie.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Tarantino, and I really enjoyed the film. But at the end of the movie my father, who’s mother survived two and a half years in Auschwitz, shook his head and smiled. “I wish those inglorious bastards had existed. I’d probably have grown up with grandparents if they had.”

There’s entertainment and then there’s history. When you put them in the hands of someone like Tarantino you get entertaining history which most young people treat as historical documentaries. These people believe what they see, and why not? It looked realistic to me.

So I have to wonder: Are we placing our heritage in the right hands?

Although there were certainly many heroes during the Holocaust, both Jewish and Gentile, the catastrophic outcome of this madman’s dream led to millions dead, despite the heroic efforts of some.

When my Grandmother went to see “Life Is Beautiful” she really loved the movie, especially the way the barracks were so clean and the prisoner’s outfits well-ironed.

“If only the Camps were like that!” she lamented. “By the end of the War we were lined up in the snow totally naked for the ‘counting’, the final decider of who would live and who would die. Oh, I just wish the war was like the movies.”
As the years go by, more and more misinformation about the Holocaust blurs our understanding of the facts. Yes indeed, facts are sometimes stranger than fiction, but fiction can make mincemeat of facts.  Movies, as important as they are for documenting real life events, still have to add the spices of love, adventure, action, etc. to make their concoction palatable to their audiences. Right now, the Nazis are always the bad guys. But what if a wealthy Holocaust Denier (and there are wealthy ones) decides to make a movie showing how dedicated the Nazi soldiers and officers were to the Fatherland and how it was the Jews’ fault they were murdered? Sounds impossible? That’s what they said about the Holocaust in 1933.

When I went to Poland with my Grandmother who wanted to revisit Auschwitz, she showed me the hard, wood bed she and 11 other women slept in. She pointed to the spot where she last saw her Mother torn from her arms. She relived the terrifying memory of the cries and pleas of those gagging to death in the gas chambers.

We heard our guide explain about the conditions in the Camp, about the tortures, about the kapos, and the sadism of the Nazis. After the lecture and tour, my younger brother turned to me and said, “You know how the war ended, don’t you? Hitler killed himself.”

“Yeah, so the rumor has it,” I confirmed.

He nodded solemnly. “And do you know why he killed himself,” he asked me, daring me to know the answer, the answer he had learned in school, from a friend. “It was because the gas bill was too high. He couldn’t afford it.”

No, my little brother didn’t realize he was joking.

Or the time my young sister took a practical joke literally, and on Holocaust Day in school, publicly announced that Chihuahuas were the number one killer dogs during the Holocaust, responsible for the murder of many Jews. To this day she shakes uncontrollably whenever she sees a picture of Paris Hilton and her pocket sized dog in her purse.

As a child someone convinced me that Hitler was responsible for inventing cigarettes, in order to give Jews lung cancer.

It all boils down to whether we even want to know the facts. You can create as many Holocaust museums as you want, but if the crowds are all lined up to see a bunch of inglorious basterds destroy the Nazis single-handedly, then there may, God forbid, come a time when entertainment becomes a place of reality and the museums become a home for the discarded relics of the past, things like the sign above the Auschwitz Concentration camp.

And Chihuahuas will take the place of Doberman Pinchers.

And Hitler will have killed himself because he couldn’t “afford” to keep killing Jews.

And, darn, if only the Master Race hadn’t made those silly mistakes we’d all be demi-gods today.

It’s time to give the Holocaust a reality check… today.

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