My Lord; Why Have You Forsaken Me?

2 05 2008

Today is Yom HaShoah, the day on which we commemorate the savage murders of the best people in Europe. Those words, the plaintive cry that adorns the title of this post, were not cried by Jesus on his personal cross. They were cried by untold generations of Jews, bearing crosses that were not of their own construction: blamed for ritual murder, they were murdered ritually; at the wrong end of a holy sword, they lay dead and bleeding for a god they never knew.

Yom HaShoah is a dark day, an emotional day. Speak to me of the destruction of the Temples? I will tell you of the razing of the synagogues. Speak to me of the dispersion of the tribes? I will tell you of the humiliation of rabbis. Speak to me about the end of monarchy? Of an exile even within the land that our texts have taught us to believe was our own? I will tell you about children, beaten and torn; about grown men hiding in toilets; about gas chambers and ovens; dogs and lies and smoke. I will tell you about the burning of books: not the books that they burned in Paris and in Amsterdam; not the Sifrei Torah that they immolated in Spain, nor even the tractates of the Talmud, to which they put the torch throughout all of Western Europe. In Poland and in Germany they burned books of flesh and blood.

In the face of this barbaric raping of my history, I have little to no interest in Jewish festivals. I do not identify with mythical slaves that left a fantasised Egypt for their legendary sojourn in the wilderness. I do not care about the plight of a fictitious queen in her quest to thwart a fictitious plot against her people. Conquests and intrigues, battles and laws. This is the stuff of great fiction and, were I a Don Quixote, they may move me to don my hat and boldly say a prayer, but I am not. I love the texts because, on other grounds entirely, they intrigue me. Lifeless words on lifeless pages, they neither judge me nor appraise. It is I who judges and appraises them: I, in the form of the textual-critic, the philologist, the specialist in ancient Semitic languages and long-dead Israelite religions. I analyse them and I deconstruct, and yet I am myself impervious to their message. They speak too gently for ears tuned into traffic noise and cinemas.

Yom HaShoah speaks very loudly. I can hear it over the cacophany of distractions that wrack my brain. Unlike Yom HaKippurim, on which I must fast in order to sense the gravity, Yom HaShoah displays this gravity by hurtling me towards the ground, even while I eat and drink. It is a closed book to me. It lies beyond the pale of my analytic thought. It stabs my mind and lays waste my human senses. Yom HaShoah appraises me. Yom HaShoah judges me. And every year, I am left wondering if I have been found worthy. Am I worthy of the city in which I was born, the choices that I have been given, the lifestyle that I am blessed in being able to have? When it could have been me, but for the accident of birth, who was led like a slave to an ocean of crimson.

The survivers of the world that went insane were few. My grandmother and my grandfather, his siblings and their spouses. My great-grandmother, too, survived, and lived in Australia until the death that Hitler sought for her found natural means of claiming its prize. My mother, when she was four, moved here after the Hungarian revolution. They are all survivors. But the others – all the others – were not. Their missing siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles… their friends, their lovers, jobs and lives. It is all gone, swallowed up into a great black pit where nothing ever can sprout weed. A tragedy of “Biblical proportions”, and yet a tragedy that surpasses even the imagination of the Bible’s authors. And there is nothing that could ever encourage me to visit the location of their loss.

The leader of the Catholic Church arrives in a couple of months. Undoubtely, he will pay lip-service to Australia’s Jewish community. He will reiterate statements earlier ratified that the Jewish wait for a messiah is “valid” and that Jews and Catholics may work better in future, as friends and as partners. I appreciate his sentiments, and I believe that the steps that he is taking are positive steps, for both of our peoples. But do not speak to me of friends and partners. We do not want anything from you other than for you to give back what you stole from us.

You cannot return the lives of those you cruelly snatched away from us; give us back their books. When the precious literary artefacts are returned to their rightful owners, then we will be friends. Until then, Holy Father: you are my enemy.




2 responses

3 05 2008

Wow, harsh. I wonder if the Pope blogs (strangely, more* people seem to ask whether he is Catholic, which, to me, sounds like the somewhat simpler question).

Yom HaShoah, here, seems to be very different. Here, everyone has grown up with the knowledge of the Shoah and with a very clear connection between it and the importance of a Jewish state.

Even the physical structure of having a siren at 10am ordering one minute’s silence for the victims of the Holocaust, followed one week after by a siren at 10am ordering one minute’s silence for the soldiers killed in the wars of the Jewish State, followed the same night by a siren announcing the end of mourning and the commencement of celebration of the country’s independence, shows a clear (chrono)logical progression.

I think that in many ways, Holocaust scholarship outside of Israel has taken the view (which, depending on your view on my next sentence, may be considered, the “luxury”) that the Shoah was inexplicable and impossible to understand and integrate into the human worldview. One of the many odd things about this country was, I believe, that the opposite was the case, and it is possible that such opposite indeed was necessary in order to exist. But existential questions are a little beyond me, and I am left with a feeling that this may be yet another luxury lost.

* 54,300 Google results, as against only one result:

5 05 2008
Simon Holloway

On the contrary, I would argue that the Israeli perspective (that the declaration of a state was a necessary corollary of the Holocaust) is a luxury and, hence, is completely untrue. I also don’t agree that mainstream scholarship views the Holocaust as inexplicable. There are too many examples in the world today of people treating other people with the same baseless contempt, and I do not believe that “my people” (a concept that I vacillate back and forwards as regards whether or not I believe in it) would – or are – exempt from that. But I do agree that Israeli scholarship on the Holocaust has a different timbre to scholarship outside of Israel, and that the belief in Israel’s declaration as a result of the Holocaust may have done much to inform that.

For my part, I’m more inclined that view history as a discrete series of events, the imposition over which of a narrative structure is arbitrary at best and propagandistic at worse. But, like most things I believe, I don’t live by it.

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