A Guardian of the Memory of One Holocaust Victim

by Maskil on June 29, 2009

I try hard not to be obsessed with the Holocaust, and I have a problem with those (apart from direct survivors) who see the whole world and the whole of history through Holocaust-coloured spectacles. Those who see all of history as a prelude to the Shoah, and the entire world as another Holocaust in the making.

I don’t want the Jewish people to see themselves (or be seen) as the People of the Holocaust. I have a problem with university chairs of “Jewish and Holocaust Studies”, and with churning out Holocaust memoirs. I believe that more money should be spent on making Holocaust survivors comfortable in their last years, and less (far less) on memorials and museums. I believe that no organisation (Jewish or otherwise) should claim to represent survivors and their interests unless its executive is appointed by means of “universal suffrage” of those survivors. I believe that there was no justice for the victims, or restitution for the survivors, or punishment for those responsible (apart from a few show trials). Most of all, I believe that the Holocaust is and remains our private tragedy, and that attempting to draw too many universal lessons from it will result in no useful lessons at all.

Having said all this, however, there is no doubt that the Holocaust has impacted on every aspect of Jewish existence and how we see ourselves and the world around us. How we see our numbers and inter-marriage, Israel and the threats to it, outbreaks of anti-Semitism, the drift away from Judaism, the clinging to Jewish traditions and extreme forms of Judaism. Our population distribution and makeup, the languages we speak have all been determined or at least impacted by this calamity.

Still we’ve been unable to truly come to terms with these events, to face them, understand and absorb the lessons, lay blame and forgive (where appropriate) and move on. The sheer scale of the genocide and our closeness, amongst other things, prevents this, as does the tendency to see things in Apocalyptic and theological rather than historical terms.

Perhaps one of the ways that we can put the Holocaust in perspective – to make it real and personal rather than something out of Revelations – is to try to see through the numbers (6 million) and get to grips with a single life or family.

For that reason, I was interested to come across the “Guardian of the Memory” campaign, run by Yad Vashem UK and supported by The Jewish Chronicle. The aim of the campaign is put very succinctly on the Home Page:

Yad Vashem holds the names and details of more than 3 million of the 6 million victims of the Holocaust, which included over 1.5 million children.

Each victim needs to be remembered by someone.

Please become the guardian of the memory of one victim.

Ensure they will never be forgotten nor denied.

As a Guardian, they will pledge to light a memorial candle in honour of that person each Yom Hashoah. More detail is contained in the About Page (click anywhere on the landing page).

I hope to see the Guardian of the Memory campaign being adopted by Jewish communities worldwide, instead of being limited to the UK.

We need to come to terms with these events, as events that occurred in the real world, involving real people, not as a titanic struggle involving the Messiah and Hitler, with only evil oppressors and idealised victims. Only in that way can we prevent another occurrence of industrial genocide, whether it involves the Jewish people or not. And only in that way can we come to terms with the Holocaust and move forward from our state of suspended action and emotion as a people.

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