Dear Natalie,

Recently you’ve complained that Jews spend too much time teaching the Holocaust, and not enough about other genocides. To your mind, this leads Jews to be too paranoid about another Holocaust and to not learn enough about empathy towards others. In the parlance of the old debate on the subject of Holocaust commemoration: Jews should ditch the specifically Jewish message of the Holocaust in favor of a purely universal one.

I happen to agree with you about knowledge of other genocides and how it is important that all people, not just Jews, know of them. Indeed, I don’t think there is enough awareness of a particular kind of genocide: the communist-engineered ones.

But even that aside, I oppose your call to “equalize” the Holocaust with other genocides in the Jewish curriculum, for the same reason it is wrong to tell Ukrainians and Armenians how to learn theirs: it’s our tragedy. It does not matter one bit “who’s Holocaust was worse?” as if such a foolish question, even if answerable, could in any way dull the pain of millions who were deliberately starved to death or killed like wild animals.

It is the height of presumptuousness to tell individuals how to mourn their loved ones, regardless of “others suffered as well,” and it is no less condescending to tell a Cambodian, a Rwandan or a Jew that they must give up the mourning for their loved ones, for their fallen, in the abstract name of “feeling empathy for all” or condemning “man’s inhumanity to man” in one of the more condemnable and obtuse phrases of the universalists.

For this assumption that we can feel an equal degree of universal empathy is false. It ignores human nature, and it displays a distinct lack of empathy for how real people feel and mourn. The truth is, Natalie, that we naturally and viscerally feel more pain for “our own” (however that may be defined) than we do for humanity at large. This does not mean we cannot feel empathy for others, as others may feel empathy for us, but it is not and it will never be the same, and it foolish if not foolhardy to pretend otherwise.

I welcome commemoration of other genocides, but not as part of a hollowing out of all genocides as part of a general and banal campaign for “empathy” or “humanity.” To the contrary, let all who endured such horrors mourn their own in their own way, and commemorate them as they see fit—and for as long as they see fit. Let them emphasize the unique nature of how their brethren were killed as well as the unique nature of the evil that befell them.

I ask that you extend us the same courtesy.


Avi Woolf