Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

We Lived, We Died, We Fought…

Posted by lchaimlover on April 16, 2007


Jewish Freedom Fighters from Vilna

I’ve written here before about “changing our story”, and I can see that many obviously agree with me. This week, the Museum of Jewish Heritage opened an exhibit called “Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust.” I am so glad to see people fighting back the old myth that Jews walked willingly into the gas chambers. In fact my beloved bashert’s grandfather not only participated in the Jewish resistance forces in Russia during World War II, but his other grandfather runs a beautiful museum in Karmiel, Israel dedicated only to the bravery of Jews throughout time.
There’s been some talk here about “alternative observances” of Yom HaShoah. I recommend viewing the film “Escape from Sorbibor” about the only successful resistance staged at the Sorbibor Death Camp. Instead of feeling depressed, like say when I view Schindler’s List, I feel reinvigorated, knowing that the story of the Shoah is a rich story with many facets, each one contributing to the complex character of the Jewish people.

I have included here a poem I wrote a few years ago on Yom HaShoah. This is my Yarzheit Candle, This is my observance:

The Town of Bliss

The shift in the wind
Blows in the smell
As the baker displays his
goods in the shop downtown.

The women smile and
avert their eyes
as the sway of the trees
reveals the fence.


The smoke had
might as well
be clouds. That is
after all
what it is called.


Over the hill,
and through the woods,
Oh the sights
there are too see.
Soon the boots
march into town.
The bliss is shattered.


The stench of death cannot be missed now
as the corpses march to town
in twos and threes.
And the soldiers
They question
Unable to accept
And they force the people to see.


One boy, now made a man by all he has seen,
Cannot contain his pain, his anger.
“This is the price,” he cries,
pointing to the dead, dying, lying, walking.
“This is the price fear paid.”


4 Responses to “We Lived, We Died, We Fought…”

  1. Friar Yid said

    Interesting stuff, lchaimlover. I wrote a post examining the same phenomenon from a different perspective. I agree that learning about all facets of people’s Shoah experiences is important, but find it more than a little concerning how much these various narratives seem to be so closely linked to different Jewish communities’ conceptions of what makes for “acceptable” Jewish identity.

  2. Oyster said

    Hi Friar Yid, welcome to Oy Bay! Are you from ’round this part of the West Coast?

    I briefly read your post. I personally don’t feel that the Holocaust is any sort of evidence or proof towards the existence or non-existence of HaShem. That’s actually one of the problems with that line of thinking: the Holocaust was not the first massacre of our people, and there’s nothing saying that it will be the last. Because many Jews are Jewishly-illiterate, they think that the Holocaust was the first and only suffering that we went through. And in every generation, we survived and persevered in our tradition and faith. In fact, such thinking is very dangerous, since it makes Jews put down their guard, as if to say, “That was the worst; we’ll be okay now that its out of the way…”. People who cannot imagine a worse horror than the Holocaust lack imagination. And people who lack imagination are the exact type of people who couldn’t forsee the horrors of the Holocaust…

  3. Friar Yid said

    Hi Oyster,

    Yes, actually, I’m a SF native finishing up college and returning to the city for good (fingers crossed) in a few weeks. I think you’ve got a really nifty thing going on here, and I’m sure I’ll keep coming back.

    As to your comment- First, let me preface this by saying that my formal Jewish education was nil, so I’m already probably substantially more agnostic about the whole God thing than your average Jew. That said, I would agree that the Holocaust is by no means unique; rather, it’s one of the more recent (and because of its magnitude, traumatic) episodes of Jewish suffering. The Holocaust is merely another example of the classic problems with theodicy (and to a lesser degree, God) in general. Additionally, the Holocaust seems to be a much more common point of reference for contemporary Jews, including people making the theodicy argument. If I heard people claiming to know the magic answer to why the Inquisition happened, I’d be similarly suspicious, and if I was as intimately acquainted with the details of the Inquisition, and felt as personal a connection with its victims as I do with the dozens of relatives of mine that died in the Holocaust, I’d probably be similarly angered. Simply put, it’s a convenient scenario because everyone’s familiar with it, and because the fact that there are still survivors around and that their testimonies have been fairly well-documented functions as a useful counterweight to other points in Jewish history that were recorded after the fact and given the slant of whoever was writing them down (i.e., some of the victims of the Inquisition or the Cossacks might not have seen themselves as holy martyrs suffering for the sanctification of God’s name, even though that’s how they’re sometimes portrayed).

    Your use of the term Jewishly-illiterate is interesting. From context you seem to be using it in reference to people elevating the Holocaust above its station, above similar Jewish tragedies, to the point that it challenges God. Such a move could certainly be the product of a lack of Jewish education. At the risk of (almost) putting words in your mouth, I’d also like to preemptively address it as applied to my larger argument, since that’s where it could potentially lead- i.e., using the Holocaust (or other Jewish tragedies) as evidence of a lack of God or divine plan, etc, is the product of a similar Jewish illiteracy. I’d argue that while my argument (the Holocaust, as with many other Jewish experiences, challenges the idea of an all-powerful/knowing/good God, and certainly one with a specific plan for everything,) is certainly different from the classical “it’s in God’s hands, therefore God is in some ways responsible, but God is good, so even if we don’t understand how, this in some ways has a purpose/is somehow good” position, I don’t know if it’s the product of Jewish illiteracy per se as much as Jewish cynicism. To be fair, all my Jewish education has been self-taught, so I’m potentially the poster child for Jewish illiteracy, but I think it has more to do with just not buying theodicy as a concept than being ignorant about Jewish history.

    People who cannot imagine a worse horror than the Holocaust lack imagination.

    Not to get into a futuristic dystopia version of dueling banjos, but I must admit that, IMO, gas chambers, death marches, and occasionally being burned alive sound pretty bad. Short of robots, rape, forced incest and violent dismemberment, I’d say that future horrible things happening to us will probably still be hovering close by this benchmark. Do you have ideas for how a future event could be worse?

  4. Oyster said

    Hi Friar Yid,

    First off, let me thank you for your comment. You write well and raise
    some interesting points. I’ll try to reply in kind:

    In case there was any ambiguity, please know that I did not mean my
    use of the term “Jewish illiteracy” to be any kind of ad hominem
    attack. It merely is frustrating for me to see Jews treat the
    Holocaust as “a fluke” that just-so-happened to befall the Jews, but
    wasn’t likely to happen again, or could have just as easily happened
    to a different group of people. A single data point makes for a very
    treacherous line-fitting (I’m an engineer by training, so you’ll have
    to bear with the math analogies 🙂 ). Rather, if one were to look at
    the entire sweep of Jewish history, one begins to see that the
    Holocaust fits a very sinister pattern, and a pattern for which
    there’s no evidence of the trend abating without explanation.

    Let me just say that I’m also on a road towards ever-increasing Jewish
    literacy, and I applaud your efforts towards that end. It doesn’t
    matter to me whether you were in day-school (I wasn’t) or if you’re
    self-taught. I just care about how much Jews know about their own
    people’s traditions, literature, and history.

    Do you have ideas for how a future event could be worse?

    I agree that, in my mind, the Holocaust has the dubious honor of being
    something of a “gold standard” for G’henna-on-Earth. But then again, I
    don’t often find myself dwelling on how one can ‘one-up’ the
    Holocaust. A trivial example that doesn’t get too phantasmagoric is to
    imagine a world where the Third Reich “finished the job”… 😦

    When you’re back in the area, look us up! We have some Oy Bay meet-ups
    in the works. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: