I’ve recently become a fan of the hashtag #throwbackthursday, or #TBT. It’s a cute way to remind people of days past, and moments we might have forgotten otherwise. Last week, I posted a picture from my days at Jewish summer camp – I won’t make excuses for the awkward side ponytails or the spaghetti-strap tank tops because hey, it was 2000 and I don’t really have an excuse to make.
This morning I woke up to several articles explaining how, among all of the chaos in the Ukraine, things can actually get worse. Reports indicate that Jewish individuals, under the new pro-Russian government, are being told they have to pay a “registration fee” and if they don’t, they’ll be ejected from the country and all of their assets and belongings will be seized, too. If this isn’t bad enough, more recent articles say that it’s nothing to worry about, that the government wouldn’t be that dumb to threaten the credibility of the pro-Russians when they’re very much in the world’s headlights, and that it’s just a couple of foolish groups trying to play up a history of anti-Semitism.
Nothing to worry about, they say. Nothing to worry about?
What bothers me is that the second article is titled, “Relax, Ukraine is Not Asking Jews to Register,” and yet it goes on to say that “in conclusion: the Jews of Donetsk and eastern Ukraine may have been asked by a leaflet to register, but it has not been enforced nor are any Ukrainian Jews registering themselves.” So not only is the title of the article blatantly contradictory to the content of the article, but no one’s addressing the fact that THIS STILL MEANS JEWS ARE BEING ASKED TO REGISTER THEMSELVES BY A GOVERNMENT? Jews are still being told by some group of people in charge that they have to declare themselves, upon penalty of expulsion and seizure of property. Maybe it’s not being enforced now, but they didn’t roll out all of the Nuremberg Laws at once, you know.
And maybe you think that’s a huge jump – leaping from registration of Jews to the thought of ghettos and extermination camps and millions killed simply because of what they believe. Maybe it is. But I’m pretty comfortable making that jump, because I spent an entire semester in college researching the importance of teaching Holocaust education, both in and out of schools. An excerpt from part of my paper:
“As my middle school education and religious school education drew to a close at around the same time, I began to notice that the two were seemingly converging on one another. Just as we started reading Night out loud, every Thursday afternoon in a quiet room in the basement of my synagogue, we began the chapter on the Second World War in our history textbooks in the inner-city school that I attended. I was excited to be able to talk about the things I had learned in my religious classes in “real school,” so one day I decided to bring both Night and my religious school textbook, The Holocaust: The World and the Jews, to class. As we turned to the chapter on the Holocaust in our big blue books of American History, I was surprised to see that there were only a handful of pages on the topic before jumping right into the bombing of Hiroshima. I was even more surprised, and hurt, to find that whoever had owned the book before me had attempted to draw their own swastikas in the margins of the old, ratty book. The marks were shoddily erased, but the symbols were still visible on the pages and I quickly closed the book and pushed it to the side. I figured that I would know what the teacher was talking about, anyway, so I didn’t worry too much about following along.
Unfortunately, class went from bad to worse in a matter of minutes. My teacher spent the majority of the class period talking about America’s lack of involvement in the plight of the Jews and its relationship with England. Several times I tried to raise my hand to point out things that I had learned in religious school, like how reports had been smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto as early as 1942 and sent to London, or that when the world finally was given proof that same year that the Germans were exterminating Jews that newspapers in Palestine were bordered in black to represent mourning. However, it was clear that my teacher was already crunched for time within a public school syllabus, and was under pressure to not only talk about the Holocaust, but to do so as quickly as possible.
When class ended, I approached my teacher at his desk while everyone else gathered up their books and headed off to lunch. I put my religious textbook down on his desk and waited for him to realize that I was standing there, as he himself packed up his leather briefcase and shrugged on his tweed coat. When he finally noticed me standing there, a look of pure defiance in my eyes, he sighed and sat back down, picking up my book and flipping through it halfheartedly. “This looks like a perfectly acceptable book,” I remember him saying. “See? You’re getting the education that you should. Isn’t that good enough?” I wanted to tell him about the faded swastikas in my other book, erased from the pages but not from my memories. I wanted to tell him about how the kids in class weren’t interested in hearing about the diplomatic relations that prevented the U.S. from entering the war. I wanted him to show us how important it was to learn about this tragedy in the ways it had been presented to me, through firsthand accounts and through books that helped young learners relate. When I opened my mouth to tell him these things, however, he stopped me once more. “You should go to lunch now-it’s a beautiful day, I bet everyone will be eating outside.”With that, he stood back up and sidestepped me on his way out the door.”
I could go on and on about how those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it, but I think I’ve made my point.
And that’s why this Throwback Thursday, I’m posting a photo from my March of the Living trip, nearly six years ago next month. It’s a photo of one of my close friends, Brian, looking over a vast stone structure located in Majdanek, one of the most “dirty” concentration camps on the planet. If it came down to it, the camp could be fully operational as a death camp within 48 hours. And the structure he’s looking out over, it’s full of the ashes they found when the camp was liberated. It’s the ashes of thousands of people who died there. It’s the ashes of people that had to register themselves over sixty years ago, register with their government as Jews, so that they government could start to target them.
Maybe it wasn’t enforced right away. Maybe this really isn’t anything to worry about. But maybe, maybe it really is.