Yom HaShoah

On the eve of Yom HaShoah, all is quiet in Tel Aviv while Israel remembers the Holocaust. It’s a pretty powerful thing to think about, how this country would not exist if it wasn’t for World War II but on the other hand, we would have 6,000,000 more of us roaming this planet – procreating, breathing, laughing, crying… living.

A friend reminded me earlier today that many more Jews were killed by Stalin in Soviet Russia before and after WWII. I know that Soviet Russia had government sanctioned anti-Semitism and mass killings in the Gulags, but her number (about 20,000,000) did not seem right. I did some further research only to find that it’s a common misconception, but actually the numbers game between Hitler v. Stalin were quite similar, when it comes to killing Jews.

“The total figure of civilians deliberately killed under Stalinism, around six million, is of course horribly high. But it is far lower than the estimates of twenty million or more made before we had access to Soviet sources. At the same time, we see that the motives of these killing actions were sometimes far more often national, or even ethnic, than we had assumed. Indeed it was Stalin, not Hitler, who initiated the first ethnic killing campaigns in interwar Europe.”

— Timothy Snyder (read more here)

imageAbove photo from my Everything is Illuminated adventure in New Viledniki, Ukraine (a small village about 2 hours outside of Kiev). This is a 500 year old Jewish cemetery, where my great great grandfather is buried; however, we did not actually find my great great grandfather’s grave because most of the tombstones are crumbling or being taken over by weeds – it’s so very green. The tombstones with inscriptions that have not yet worn away are the newer ones, WWII casualties. I saw an anonymous one that read: “killed by fascists, 1941.”

I’m listening to Neutral Milk Hotel’s album In the Aeroplane over the Sea, thinking about Anne Frank, thinking about how much she affected me as a 10 year-old, thinking about how similar I thought we were. Every Jewish girl goes through this, but I truly thought I was her reincarnated for the better half of my childhood.

The Earth looks better from a star
That’s right above from where you are 
He didn’t mean to make you cry 
With sparks that ring and bullets fly 
On empty rings around your heart
The world just screams and falls apart 

I haven’t given Anne Frank much thought in the past 15 years or so, I haven’t given the Holocaust much thought since I came here. It’s strange since I was so affected by it as a kid but completely indifferent to it as an adult. I’m glad for today, for the quiet, for the existence of this country. Even though I talk a lot of shit, I am grateful.

My friend Lia and I were having dinner the other night, sushi actually, talking about the usual stuff, politics, the weather, dudes, and Syria. We both agreed how crazy the situation has gotten and she made a really obvious but sincere point, which I had never thought about. She compared the Civil War going on in Syria to the Holocaust and how everyone always asks “how could we have let such a thing happen? how could the world let such a thing happen to 6,000,000 people?” So what about it, world, how can we just sit back and watch it happen all over again?

Every year, on this day in Israel, there is a two-minute siren (the very same one that alerts us to run to a bomb shelter whenever there is a rocket attack… but that was November) at 10 AM. to commemorate the somber day. People stop what they are doing, in the middle of traffic, get out of their cars and stand in silence with their heads bowed down. It’s a pretty powerful thing to witness, to participate in. Orthodox Jews tend to ignore this ritual, some Arab-Israelis probably do too, but I don’t really know enough about the statistics to comment.

image

Photo by Moti Milrod, from Haaretz.com. See more photos here.

What I do know, is that I’m proud to be Jewish, I’m proud of my parents, I’m proud of my grandparents. I’m immensely proud of my dad for standing up for himself when he was mistreated as a 20-year-old in the Soviet Army for the simple fact that he was Jewish – I love his stories about fights with other members of his unit, when they tried to steal his bunk bed because he earned the slightly more comfortable spot in the cabin but others didn’t believe a dirty Jew could do better than a clean-blooded Russian (back then they were Russians, now pure Ukrainians). I miss my neighbors Esther and Ben, my great aunt Gisa, who had to bury her child while fleeing the Nazis at a 10 minute train stop to Central Asia from Ukraine. Russia may not have been very good to the Jews, but politics got in the way and they actually saved some Jewish lives during WWII. I’m grateful for Gisa who raised me, I’m grateful for your grandmother who made me dinner a few weeks ago and who refuses to go to Paris because she knows they don’t like Jews there. Above all else, I’m grateful for the fighting blood I have in my roots and for the fighters we will always be because our struggles make us stronger.

Forget God, forget keeping kosher, forget who owns what land. Today we remember history, we remember those who died and we remember that we are still alive.

MargaretBourke-camp

Taken in Buchenwald just after its liberation by the incredible photographer Margaret Bourke-White, this image is so powerful not just because it shows the pure joy of liberation, but because it turns these men who we have almost turned into mythic creatures into normal folks. 

See more photos here.

ru.jpg

1941-1945 photos taken in St. Petersburg, Russia on May 9, 2005 in my old neighborhood, Petrogradskaya. May 9 is Victory Day (Dgen Pobedy) when the Russians defeated the Germans. There was a day-long parade in the city and just about everyone came out to the streets for the celebration – drunk men of all ages, families, women in stilettos, all of Mother Russia was represented. I’ll never forget a little girl on her father’s shoulders yelling “Hitler, Kaput! Hitler Kaput!” Remember, this was 2005 not 1945, but Hitler’s death was still very fresh in the narrative.

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