Trigger/Content Warning for the Holocaust
If reading or hearing about the Holocaust causes significant distress for you, it might be best not to read today’s post.
One of the few clear memories I have of 10th grade is of me listening to a holocaust survivor speak at my school. I don’t know whether she’s still alive, but she was very friendly then, and very kind. She seemed like such a kind, grandmother-ly type woman. Then she started telling us about her experience.
I did not understand.
This woman belonged in a kitchen making cookies, or on a recliner knitting something. Maybe she could’ve had trouble with her ex-husband years ago. That’s all. It did not make sense for her to have been in the holocaust. The holocaust had an innumerable mass that was persecuted, it didn’t have people. It certainly didn’t have tiny women with open smiles.
That was about eight or nine years ago, but I’m still having trouble with this.
It’s not that I’m unable to understand it on an intellectual level. Of course I don’t think all the Jews, homosexuals, and other “undesirables” were inhuman or anything. It’s just difficult on an emotional level to comprehend such a scale of suffering.
Hearing about millions dying, worked to death, being tortured, feels comfortably impersonal, while listening to just one person out of those millions tell me about how she felt, what she lived through was too real for me to handle.
If just one person could have gone through so much difficulty, it was inconceivable to imagine a dozen others like her, or hundreds, thousands, or more.
But… there are many, many other people like her. It wasn’t numbers who had their human rights violated by the nazis, it was men and women with their own hopes and families and pasts.
It hurts me to think about that. And yeah, I know, boo hoo hoo to me for feeling uncomfortable thinking about suffering when there’s people who actually lived through it. It’s something I feel ashamed and embarrassed about.
For years I’ve noped out of anything involving the holocaust. I avoided watching any movies depicting Jews being murdered, passed on reading books about the Third Reich, and tried my hardest to only think about it in a dispassionate, clinical manner.
It was very, very wrong of me, and I’m proud to see I’ve been getting a little better at it lately.
I started off reading Maus; I watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas; I’ve forced myself to sit through videos of survivors talking on youtube, and so on. Just a couple of days ago I started a series of books that goes into deep detail about pre-War Germany, the nazis, and German culture at the time.
It doesn’t feel any better. I still feel like hiding under a blanket and crying for hours. I don’t think it will ever be any more comfortable.
That is, of course, as it should be.
The holocaust and the atrocities of the nazis are impossible to comprehend. No one can understand all the pain that was caused in just a few years. Even so, it is incredibly important to try. It is the duty of absolutely everyone to not allow ourselves to feel comfortable at all about any of it. I understand wanting to avoid the horrible feeling that comes from thinking about it, and I’m not judging anyone for trying to escape it. Like I said, it’s what I’ve done all my life, and it’s taken me considerable effort to change even a little.
However, I do want to challenge you. If you’re like me, please try to learn more about the Holocaust. As difficult as it is, try to listen to someone who was there, read histories of it, watch movies about it. Anything. It’s hugely important to keep the memory of it alive and vivid. It hurts because it’s supposed to hurt, and it’s our responsibility to make sure it never stops hurtin