I always wondered how it would start. I remember reading somewhere that these things start quietly. Looking at old newsreels, it didn’t seem to start quietly in Germany. I remember seeing large crowds of people listening to an impassioned Hitler speak, even scream, and responding with the Nazi salute and loud cheering.
But here, it starts quietly, subtly.
The president’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day doesn’t mention Jews or antisemitism. Jews aren’t alone here. The statement doesn’t mention any group of people.
Instead we — because a president’s statement issued from the Whitehouse speaks for all of us, doesn’t it? — remember “victims, survivors, heroes,” “those who died,” “those who risked their lives,” and “the perished.” We remember the faceless, the anonymous, the unknown. How like tattooing a number on a person’s arm and taking away their name.
When questioned about the statement, The White House Director of Strategic Communications, Hope Charlotte Hicks, is reported to have assured us: “despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.” Hope, I have to tell you: actions speak louder than words. And a statement carefully crafted to erase why people were targets of state murder is enough to make me fear where your “inclusive” group is headed.
I’m not reassured. Like a lot of other people, I’m reminded of 1984, by George Orwell (the link is to a letter describing why he wrote the book, published at The Daily Beast), newspeak, and doublethink.
Talking about “those who suffered” does not convey inclusiveness. It masks and muffles. It gives a foothold to Holocaust deniers. How many years will it take before the rest of the world begins to forget?
Those victims and sufferers — and, yes, some survivors — were lesbians and gay men. They were Jehova’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, people of the Ba’hai faith, and people with disabilities. Protestants were not safe. The victimized peoples were Polish — both Christians and Jews, 3 million of each — Slavs, and Soviets, Romani and Sinti, Blacks, Asians, and Jews. So very many Jews. Jews from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Holland, and France. The Nazi regime murdered about 11 million people based on racial, religious, ethnic, social, and political grounds. More than half of them were Jews.
Inclusiveness might look like this:
Or it might look like this:
There are many ways to show inclusiveness. Inclusiveness has a face and a name. It looks like you and me. Think about the Vietnam War Memorial, a wall of names, a stark and deeply moving remembrance. You can touch a person’s name and think about him or her.
Inclusion does not look abstract and nameless.
I remember my fellow Jewish people who died. I remember, equally, all who died with them. I remember the people — civilians and military personnel — who died trying to save them. Experts estimate that about 100,000 people who survived the Holocaust are still alive today; the youngest are in their early 70s. They are the last first-hand witnesses. When they are gone, I will still remember and keep their memory alive. My children will do the same.
I try to create some meaning out of it. Today, my meaning is writing to remind you, Mr. President, your staff, and others who share your political philosophy that every person who died during the Holocaust, Jew or non-Jew, was a human being, worthy of regard, not as a victim, sufferer, or abstract number, but as a brother or sister or friend with a name and a history and a spark of holiness inside them, just like you.
This may be how it starts, but it will end differently. Because we remember.