By Ron Jager
For the past few days, as a result of Larry David’s monologue on the TV show Saturday Night Live, I have had to reexamine many assumptions concerning what the Holocaust means to liberal Jews. As I viewed his monologue over and over, it seemed to resonate with a messages like “why it’s time for Jews to get over the Holocaust,” or “now is the time that Jews move on and stop making the Holocaust the most pivotal event in Jewish history.”
In his Saturday Night Live monologue, David prattles: “I’ve always been obsessed with women, and I’ve always wondered: If I’d grown up in Poland when Hitler came to power and was sent to a concentration camp, would I still be checking out women in the camp?”
“I think I would,” quipped David. “Of course, the problem is there are no good opening lines in a concentration camp. ‘How’s it going? They treating you OK? You know, if we ever get out of here, I’d love to take you out for some latkes.’”
I am surprised that he didn’t conclude his monologue with “The Shoah must go on.”
Injecting humor and comedy about the Holocaust on a nationally syndicated comedy show seems to subliminally suggest to viewers that the Holocaust is unnecessarily singled out as if it’s more special than other historical events. Although the Holocaust was horrifically well-organized and executed on a much greater scale, this liberal Jewish mindset seems to believe that the Holocaust was far from the first incident of a dominant power killing those deemed “inferior” on trumped-up charges.
As far as Holocaust jokesters are concerned, mankind has been perpetrating atrocities on other human beings for centuries. They seem genuinely puzzled as to why Holocaust jokes elicit what they would consider an overreaction. Why, they ask, should joking about a historical event or about hitting on women in a concentration camp even be considered a lapse in judgment or an affront to the many Holocaust survivors still with us?
Historical events, as earth-shattering and history-ending as they seem at the time, eventually fade from the forefront of public consciousness and become memory. When Holocaust survivors will no longer be around, and when there is no more opportunity to let children and educators hear firsthand testimony of the Holocaust, will the Holocaust be just another event studied in world-history classes? Will all of the effort that has gone into recording testimonies of the Holocaust be enough to preserve historical memory in terms of the magnitude and uniqueness of the Holocaust?
There are few historical events that have undergone greater scrutiny and preservation. Perhaps we can even acknowledge that we’ve done enough to ensure that the Holocaust can never be forgotten. In a moral world, in a world that differentiates between good and evil, right and wrong, this kind of preservation of historical memory would probably suffice.
However, today, in the age of globalization in which everything is viewed through the prism of cultural relativism, facts and evidence are not enough. The enemies of the Jews and of Israel not only claim that the Jews exaggerate and that the Holocaust was fabricated so as to justify the establishment of the State of Israel, but they falsely claim that Israel itself is implementing a holocaust on the Arabs living within Judea and Samaria.
Jewish comedians who belittle or “move beyond” the systematic attempt to exterminate the Jewish race seventy years ago cannot possibly fathom the significance and importance of the establishment of the State of Israel. The Jewish people made a conscious effort to rebuild out of the ashes of the Holocaust. Those who regard the Holocaust as just another unfortunate event cannot be depended on to understand that for modern Israel, in order to deal with existential threats, the country must do whatever is necessary so that “never again” will not remain an empty slogan.
Those who publicly joke about the Holocaust should be the first to be reminded of what the Holocaust was really all about. In Daniel Mendelsohn’s book The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, he describes in detail the core horror of Nazi action in collaboration with locals in Bolechow, Poland, in September 1942:
The story of Mrs. Grynberg was a horrible episode. The Ukrainians and Germans, who had broken into her house, found her giving birth. The weeping entreaties of bystanders didn’t help and she was taken from her home in a nightshirt and dragged into the square in front of the town hall. There, she was dragged onto a dumpster in the yard of the town hall with a crowd of Ukrainians present, who cracked jokes and jeered and watched the pain of childbirth as she gave birth to a child. The child was immediately torn from her arms along with its umbilical cord and thrown—it was trampled by the crowd and she was stood on her feet as blood poured out of her. She stood that way for a few hours by the wall of the town hall; afterwards she went with all the others to the train station where they loaded her into a carriage in a train to Belzec.
The enormity of the Holocaust, with the majority of European Jewry being systematically murdered, is a singular event that defies comparison in the last millennium.
In retrospect, the Holocaust compels Jews to confront their own Jewishness. After such unspeakable events as the one described above, every Jew must look inside himself and consider: Hitler tried to exterminate my people, and the world stood by in silence. Will I, through apathy and indifference, or by using one-liners and comic monologues on national TV, become a partner to Hitler? Or will my life convey a testimony to the glory of the Jewish people and its resurrection from the ashes of the Holocaust?
Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Ron is a former strategic adviser to the chief foreign envoy of Judea and Samaria. To contact him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ronjager.com.