Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Guilt and the Holocaust

In high school, we had a class called "Churban Europe" upon request of the "Gedolim." At the end of the year, the teacher screened a movie/documentary. I was crying so hysterically, I couldn't contain myself. I didn't want to cover my eyes because I didn't want to shelter myself from the harsh reality of what my grandparents endured. But I did. I peeked through the cracks between my fingers as my tears flowed through them.

Whenever I catch a glimpse of the numbers tattooed on survivors' arms, a chill goes through my body, and I shudder with guilt. I think of the agony, the living hell that they endured at the time those numbers were harshly tatooed on their arms. And now it's stuck with them forever. A reminder -every day of their lives of what they lived through. (Perhaps some see it as inspiration, that G-d kept them alive and all that. )

But are we supposed to feel guilty? Is this the purpose of the Holocaust education?
Besides, why call it "Churban Europe," just call it the Holocaust!! That's just trying to shield us again.

My mother, a child of holocaust survivors, picks up books here and there on the topic. "You should really read this," she says, handing me the book. I can't do it.

Am I just a spoiled little brat who can't handle the truth? Or is it my responsibility to cry my way through it?

In high school, we had to do a book report on one of two books, one was the Artscroll "Rav Yaakov" one, which is HUGE, or the Klausenberger Rebbe, which I think was like 200 pages. Obviously I chose the shorter one, and also felt it was my responsibility to read up on the important topic. The tears streamed down my face once again.

We had to write a personal profile for one of my journalism classes. I thought of my relatives who are holocaust survivors remembering how my Bais Yaakov made sure to have assignments of the sort all the time. We've all spoken to my grandmother at least once for one homework assignment or another. Why can't we just ask out of our own interest? I'm uncomfortable bringing it up, because I don't feel it's respectful.

We know that the survivor generation is dying out, and nowadays with Ahmajenidad spewing his hatred and denial of the Holocaust, it's important that we learn about it. But are we supposed to feel guilty?


At 10/09/2007 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guilt over what?

And there's no reason to force yourself to read books about the Holocaust if you don't want to.

At 10/09/2007 1:57 PM, Blogger MS said...

Michelle, I'm not sure what kind of guilt feelings you are referring to.

I also don't think you have to force yourself to read books with graphic details if you can't handle it.
Two summers ago I spent 10 days in Eastern Europe, 5 of those days in Poland. I visited a few concentration camps, mass graves, and deserted shtetles. I'm not sure what exactly caused me to always have a burning desire to go espsecially because I don't know any survivors personally (and I believe I was the only one on the trip who had 4 American-born grandparents.) I was quite surprised at myself for not having the emotions I thought I would have. What I did feel while walking along train tracks and standing in gas chambers was a sudden of everything clicking into perspective like, "Wow. NOW I understand."
Should I feel guilty for NOT crying more than a few minutes? I don't know...
I do know that I cannot visit museums, look at photographs and watch documentaries that contain pictures and read some books that are highly detailed so I don't!

At 10/09/2007 3:43 PM, Blogger Kaila said...


Perspective changes with life. I know that in high school I took a very well taught class on the Holocaust. I came out feeling I knew more and relieved that I had a source of information. (my grandparents are all american.)

in college i decided to take another course on the Holocaust. This was right after having my son. Being a mother changed my perspective completely. Suddenly I had to leave the room if we were watching videos with violence, even if it was inaccurate. I saw the anguish of other people's children. Scary. It is not your job to feel guilty..

you should talk to your grandparents if you can, it's important.

At 10/09/2007 3:51 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

"Besides, why call it "Churban Europe," just call it the Holocaust!! That's just trying to shield us again."

I've never heard it called Churban Europe before but there may be a political motivation for the name. There are some, notably "Gedolim", who don't like the idea of a special commemoration for the Holocaust in contra-distinction to the series of atrocities committed against the Jews throughout history. Making a separate day, Yom HaShoah, and not lumping it in with Tisha B'av - as is done for the crusades, expulsions and pogroms, etc. - is like an affront to tradition.

I think they have a point but at the same time, the Holocaust is still raw and in the living memories of survivors so it's too soon to de-emphasize a special day of recognition for a tragedy of its magnitude.

On a personal level I don't associate the tatooed numbers with the worst of the tragey since, after all - these are the survivors. They went through hell but then they also came out of it. What they do bring to mind is the incredible chutzpah of the Nazis and how they could dare treat people in such a manner. It makes me angry more than it makes me sad.

A few days ago the Times had a story about a priest who's been going through Ukraine and asking the locals what they witnessed during the Holocaust, since it's been an area relatively under-investigated. "[W]itnesses described how the Nazis were allowed only one bullet to the back per victim and that the Jews sometimes were buried alive. 'One witness told of how the pit moved for three days, how it breathed,' Father Desbois recalled."

So I can imagine the last person alive, injured, yet living on for days suffocating under the bodies of his family. One might be tempted to envy those in the gas chambers.

When I think of the Holocaust I feel enraged, I feel sad, I feel bewildered, I feel horrified, and I feel a great sense of loss - but guilt? Never.

At 10/09/2007 4:13 PM, Anonymous iyhbyyou said...

why should you feel guilty? don't try to throw yourself into an issue and situation from which you are far, far removed.
as for the crying issue:
i visited auschwitz with my grandparent who was interned there for about a year. i saw teenagers and other people bawling away yet i, a typically very emotional and sensitive person, did not shed a tear. why? because i cannot appreciate to even the smallest degree what happened. think of a person's parents being shot in front of them; such an event cannot even register properly in one's psyche. so i think all these people crying are crying to cry (without being a cynic at all). yes it is sad when one is killed or dies: that's an event which invariablly will move someone's emotions. yet one will be moved only because of that event, not at its being a part of the holocaust in general. the holocaust is far too grand for it to be truly recognized for what it is. so it's hard to be moved by it, let alone feel guilty-an absurd proposition.

At 10/09/2007 7:50 PM, Blogger Lubab No More said...

> But are we supposed to feel guilty?

You should NOT feel guilty. "They" over do it with the Holocaust stuff. As I got older watching the fast-day holocaust movie marathons got to be a bit sickening. It's turned into some grotesque horror-fest. (Look! Look how much they hate us!) I think on some level they do want you to feel guilt. These films are shown in the context of other Jewish tragedies that we are told the Jewish people ARE to blame for (destruction of the temples.) It seems natural that you would make the connection. But again, you shouldn't feel any guilt.

At 10/10/2007 6:24 AM, Anonymous Ike said...

I see no reason to feel guilt.

Why, because we never experienced what they did? Guilt for (thank God) having a better life than they did?

I believe that G-d places each of us in a certain generation based upon our abilities and our purpose in life. G-d decided to place us in America in 2007 rather than 1940's Europe, for whatever reason. But there's definitely a reason for it, whether we can understand it or not. And every time and place has its own share of nisyonos and challenges, whether they are of a physical or spiritual nature.

So if it was G-d's plan, why should we feel guilty?

At 10/10/2007 1:52 PM, Anonymous Shmuli said...

I think it's become pretty obvious that any feelings of guilt would be entirely misplaced because for there to be guilt there must be responsibility. And, obviously, one cannot put any responsibility on our generation and not be considered absurd. Further, for one to be responsible for something, one must have some form of control over the circumstances. Again, anyone arguing that we had control over something that happened decades ago would surely be nothing short of a freaktard.
More important is what our responsibility actually is. That could very well be the subject of a more interesting debate. Some might argue that we fight tirelessly to educate the masses. Others that we ensure future generations never forget the tragedy. Few would disagree, however, that we must never take for granted the luxuries - property rights, full suffrage, due process, etc. - that have made "our" lives incomparably better.

Book recommendation: "The War Against the Jews" by Lucy Dawidowicz

At 10/11/2007 7:42 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

shmuli-- hmm, I never thought of that. You're right--the only time to feel guilt is if there's responsibility.

I believe it was Orthoprax who also made a good point: However, do you mean to say that we should feel more anger than sadness?

So I guess you'd agree with the notion of not buying any German products.

Many Sefardim drive Mercedes and BMWs because their ancestors had different experiences.

But how many frum people do you knw who have a Bosch mixer? Do you feel they are in the wrong?

At 10/11/2007 9:40 AM, Blogger MS said...

Michelle, funny how you should bring up not buying German products...A few weeks ago as I was attempting to comfort my crying baby with a pacifier I saw clearly on the nipple of his favorite Nuk pacifier, "Made in Germany."

At 10/11/2007 1:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea of not buying German products brings up another question - what about Egyptian products? They made us slaves for them for 210 years. And anything made in Spain? The Inquisition?

At 10/11/2007 4:38 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

ms-- so what did u do? buy him new ones?

anon--good point.

At 10/11/2007 8:54 PM, Blogger rescue37 said...

I don't know who coined the term Churabn Europe, but I do know that R' Yizchok Hutner ZT"L was vary strong strong in calling the holocaust, Churban Europe. I believe the reasoning was due to the fact that this churban was one more in the line on many (inquisitions, Tach vTat, churban beais hamikdash) and the emphasis should be on the overall calamities that happened, and not one specific one that just happened to be the last on on the list. To give it a special name i.e holocaust is to connotate that itwas worse than the others and more important, when he apparently felt that it was not.

At 10/13/2007 6:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why feel guilty about the holocaust, and not other tragedies that are taking place today, such as the shidduch crisis, people who can't have kids, folks who have children with special needs, families who are at the poverty level.....?

At 10/13/2007 7:04 PM, Anonymous Something Anything!?! said...

the survivors have enough trouble dealing with their own 'survivor guilt' (why did I survive and everyone else I loved didn't). There is no reason for you to carry any guilt as well. If the survivors knew about that, it would only make them feel more guilty.

I got a good dose of holocaust education recently. I described to my survivor grandfather how my baby had picked up a red m&m off the floor and had red drool that looked like blood all over his mouth. He became pretty nauseous and didn't let me finish the story. The look of relief on his face when I said it was just a candy said it all for me. I guess it reminded him of some uncomfortable memories. (I know that a man was shot in the head directly in front of him for sneaking an extra potato and I'm sure that's just the beginning).

At 10/14/2007 12:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michelle, REad this article. Maybe they can do a study in the USA too.
Study: Holocaust trauma affects survivors' grandkids

By Ofri Ilani


At 10/14/2007 2:25 PM, Blogger AidelKnaidel said...

I feel the same way. I can't read those books anymore.

When I hear a song, or a story, it brings me to tears. I feel so super-sensitive about it, and being the grandchild of survivors, I guess I do have a right to be. But we have to remember, and read the stories, and recollect. Because if we don't, no one else will. And then we will forget. And we can never, ever allow that to happen.

At 10/14/2007 2:34 PM, Blogger MS said...

To answer your pacifier question: I did not buy a new one. It is the only one he took for a short while. Now he refuses any pacifier so I am no longer faced with this dilemna...but this is not at all relevant to your blog.

At 10/15/2007 12:26 PM, Anonymous Chani said...

I think Ike put it beautifully. I agree with what basically everyone has been saying so far-why should you feel guilty? Maybe we should all feel guilty about being spoiled babies, but that has nothing to do with the fact that our grandparents experienced something horrible.
Although I don't like the idea of buying German stuff(anyone know of a good substitute for CMK lipstick?), I have thought similarly to what anonymous is saying. The truth is, all of the goyim hate us & most of them have tried to kill us out. I think the differenciation with the Germans is that the pain is still so raw-there are still Nazis & survivors around. The Egyptians living now may hate us & want to destroy us & Israel, but they're not the ones who enslaved us.

At 10/15/2007 1:14 PM, Blogger megapixel said...

the only reason to feel guilty is because look at our lives, how good we have it, and what are we doing with it? Are we utilizing our opportunites to become a better Jew?
It amazes me. two generations ago people were starving in concentrations camps and now we have plenty of food, yet the statistics of frum, anorexic, women starving themselves to look skinny, is astounding...
what about drug abuse? we have health care and medicines that let us live a long healthy lives and instead we have girls cutting themselves and boys and girls self destructing in other ways. It's sad.
we have our parents for longer - unlike holocaust survivors whose parents were mowed down in front of them. yet the chutzpa this generation is intolerable.
we have sinks, toilets etc, and these survivors lived with horrible conditions, and look how our homes are constantly being redecorated - bigger and bigger, with five bathrooms and 3 kitchen sinks and so on, yet how many families have real shalom bayis, and how many people do you know that are really happy with what they have? everyone is busy pointing fingers at parents, the way they were raised, and everyone is in therapy for something.
That's a CHURBAN!

At 10/15/2007 1:49 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...


"The truth is, all of the goyim hate us & most of them have tried to kill us out."

Let's not go overboard. There are plenty of decent, non-hating goyim around - most of which whom have made no attempt to exterminate the Jews.

At 10/15/2007 1:58 PM, Anonymous Xvi said...

I am never really sure what products people want to ban when they say to not buy German merchandise.

I can understand the idea of not buying a mercedes, but CMK makeup? Did they test on Jews in concentration camps, to deserve the boycott? Or is it ANYTHING that was produced, conceived or marketed in Germany? Should I not talk to Yekkis (sp?)? They are pronouncedly German.

Maybe I just wont donate to their shuls.

At 10/15/2007 5:36 PM, Anonymous Something Anything?!? said...

Why should I feel any more guilt about what happened in Europe 60 years ago than I do for that starving child in china/africa?

My mother grew up with the refrain, "eat my child ess mein kint, b/c in europe we had nothing to eat and stood on bread lines". Maybe that's why there are people with weight issues in our community. All of this excessive and non-constructive, nay, destructive guilt weighs heavily upon us and the results are aberrant.

I understand that my grandparents still eat rotten fruit and hoard food staples under the bed, but why should I act as though I lived through gehinnom? I didn't. I don't have post traumatic stress disorder; they do. Instead of seeing how I can imitate their miserable lives, I/we should strive to live healthy lives. Hopefully, we can give them encouragement and a sense of security through our healthy and satisfying living. It's probably too late for that though. At least let them know that our generation is not suffering the way that theirs did.

I don't see how watching graphic violence will help anyone. It's bad enough for those who lived through it. Why scar another generation???

To be clear, I think that there is value in studying the holocaust, but it has to be done with sechel. There is no need to re-live it. Meaningful lessons can be learned without people becoming nauseous or developing disturbing physical or mental conditions.

At 10/15/2007 10:53 PM, Anonymous iyhbyyou said...

please step off from your soapbox. god places people in specific circumstances for a specific purpose. our nisyonot are different from our grandparents. you know what, 50 years ago buses did not have nude women adverts on their sides. 50 years ago, utter cultural depravity and promiscuity was not the norm. im not saying they had it better, but what i am saying is that each generation has its own tests and purposes. so please, don't be so closed minded.

At 10/15/2007 11:01 PM, Anonymous iyhbyyou said...

agree with xvi. (even about the yekie thing). for whatever reason, a german car has come to symbolize german industrialism and efficiency, the same industrialism and efficiancy that was used to kill jews. so yes, we don't buy german cars. yet smaller german products, as well as larger ones, (siemens, maker of many hospital MRI machines) and so on, which aren't conspicuosly german shouldn't be as taboo as it is to buy a german car.
and, as far as sefardim buying german cars, i think is deplorable. so your grandparents weren't killed and thrown into ovens, but you know what, millions of your "brothers" and am yisroel were, so show some solidarity.
and what pisses me off the most is when i see german cars owned by the "younger generation." suddenly these whippersnappers are driving in their audis and bmws. a lexus and acura will do the job just fine. i understand if one wants to indulge in luxury, in fact, i do. but you can sacrifice the extra tenth of a second to get from 0 to 60. when should we end the boycott? i don't know. but certainly 27 year olds who are now making $100k + shouldn't be the ones to decide.

At 10/16/2007 5:02 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Yesterday I wrote a whole long comment responding to everyone individually....and then Blogger was down :-(
I'll try to re-do it tomorrow IYH too tired now...just want y'all to know I am reading your comments and enjoying them

At 10/25/2007 11:29 AM, Anonymous megapixel said...

iyhbyyou - all i am trying to say is that we live in peace and prosperity like never before, alot of our problems are self inflicted...
thinking of the holocaust could maybe help us focus on priorities.

At 10/25/2007 12:15 PM, Anonymous iyhbyyou said...

okay, but it's irrelevant to the topic.

At 11/01/2007 7:56 AM, Anonymous BB said...

I don't really understand what is wrong with calling it Churban Europe?
essantially that is what it was,
the destruction of Europe, and very tragic event.
If you look up the definition of holocaust online, it will tell you: holocaust to refers to the violent death of a large number of people.
Which really what it was, I think because you went to a jewish School,
they wanted to give it a more appropriate name, for our circles.
And no you shouldn't feel guilty at all.

At 11/02/2007 1:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may be confusing the emotion of empathy with that of guilt.

At 12/06/2007 5:55 PM, Anonymous BloggerFlogger said...


At 2/20/2008 5:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>The idea of not buying German products brings up another question - what about Egyptian products? They made us slaves for them for 210 years. And anything made in Spain? The Inquisition?<

I just can't understand the foolish comparison made by many. How in the world can anyone compare the two??? Where is the perspective balance?


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