Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lessons from the Shoah and our Psychological Legacy

We spent part of our morning yesterday at Reut standing in silence for the victims and discussing personal stories.

Of those who saw the danger early and left.

Of those who stayed yet survived against the odds.

Of those who stayed and didn’t.

And of the type of psychological legacy they've left us. After all, most of us come from families who were either paranoid enough to leave Europe before the unspeakable horrors of the war, or traumatized enough by living through them.

There is a famous story that in 2003 Israeli pilots (descendents of Holocaust survivors) flew F15 fighter jets over Auschwitz in commemoration of the victims.

Less well known is the response of the Auschwitz museum which criticized the plan arguing the site was "a place of silence and concentration" and that the demonstration of military might was an "entirely inappropriate way to commemorate the victims."

In many ways, that disagreement reflects different lessons that can be taken from the Shoah.

For many in Israel, Holocausts happen when people are weak. To prevent their recurrence we must ensure our strength (thus the F15s).

For many in Europe, Holocausts happens when countries are too strong (and nationalistic). In order to prevent their recurrence, we must curb our strength (and sovereignty).

Another story I thought about yesterday involves the family of former MK and head of the Jewish Agency Avram Burg. Having lived in Hebron for seven generations, half of them were brutally murdered in the Arab riots of 1929. The other half were saved by their Arab landlord.

Ever since, the family has argued over who is the 'genuine' Arab – the one who killed his family or the one who saved them.

Meanwhile, the best article I read relating to Yom Hashoah came from Yair Lapid, son of survivor and former MK Tommy Lapid. Discussing the day, Lapid junior argued that "The Holocaust dismantled everything human beings knew about themselves, and then taught us two unforgettable lessons"

"The first one is that we must survive at any price, that we can't rely on the world to protect us…that we must always prepare for the worst case scenario, because otherwise it will materialize."

"The second one is that we must be moral."

Interestingly enough, the national commemoration service at Yad Vashem reflected both ideas.

The survivors spoke about the importance of treating humans with respect.

The politicians – Bibi, Barak and Peres to a man - discussed the Iranian threat.

What none of our leaders seemed able to discuss was the question Lapid termed the biggest challenge of all - what to do when these two lessons contradict each other, when ensuring our existence at all costs means carrying out morally questionable acts.

Yom Hashoah thus raises more questions than answers.

Is the archetypal 'goy' he who stood by as we were slaughtered, or he who put his family's life on the line to save us?

Should we enhance our strength, or curb it?

Emphasize security or empathy?

Become particularists or universalists?

Distrust the world, or open our hearts (and doors) to the stranger?

And how can we – with our questionable psychological legacy – authentically and honestly engage with these questions and work out the correct balance between them?

No comments: