I have never traveled to Europe to visit the death camps where so many of my people perished and I have no intention of doing so. As far as I am concerned a trip to a bunch of mass graves is no way to celebrate the history of my people and travelling to the scenes of our greatest catastrophe is no way to honor our dead. I haven’t thought much about this stance for a long time but Zahava Englard’s piece The Death Camp Debate brought my feelings back into focus.
Unlike her I am not descended from survivors of the Holocaust, my family made it to the UK from Poland in the late 19th century, my grandfather lost cousins and uncles but that is as direct as my family connection gets. That doesn’t mean that the Holocaust isn’t an emotive subject for me, on the contrary the nightmare suffered by my people during World War II plagues me to this day and led me to study it academically as well as during a year off in Israel at age 18, but it does not define me as a Jew nor should it. Like Zahava I object to the fact that a trip to Auschwitz has become almost a rite of passage for young Jewish kids all over the world.
Though I am not against the trip itself so much as the importance that seems to be placed on it I am against the fact that too many people feel obligated to marry Jewish because of the Holocaust, to love Israel because of the Holocaust and in short are guilted into holding onto their Judaism rather than encouraged to embrace it because of the prominence of the Holocaust in our collective memory.
What I could not agree with was the thrust of Zahava’s piece that:
“organized trips, whether they be through schools or through other organized tour groups do little more than line the pockets of the descendants of those who collaborated with the Nazis. Yes, the Poles today are laughing all the way to the bank each time groups of hundreds of Jewish students at a time embark on Polish Air, reserve rooms at Polish hotels, rent Polish buses and pay the salaries of Polish tour guides as well as Polish security guards that escort these groups.”
I have met many Poles in my lifetime and have never been greeted with anything other than sensitivity and respect. The first Poles I met were when I was working as a security guard at a Jewish school in London and they were working there protecting Jewish kids right there alongside me. I am not aware of what their grandparents did during WWII but I do know that the actions of our grandparents do not define who we are as people, nor our right to earn a living and the same applies to Poles.
The mistake in blaming all Poles for the Holocaust is compounded by continuing to blame all Poles living 65 years after the event. If everyone in the world did that then no one would ever be able to resolve a conflict. If the leaders of a people insisted that their people never forget even a perceived injustice done to them then enmity could nigh well last until the end of time and if that happened where would we be?