Holocaust Education: A Poem

And you shall be an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword amidst all the nations to which God will drive you.
—Deuteronomy 28:37

Are there other parables like this, our catastrophe, that came to us
from their hands?
There are no other parables (all words are shades of shadow)—
—Uri Zvi Greenberg, “We Were Not Likened to Dogs”

History has vanished.
—Alain Finkielkraut, “The Religion of Humanity and the Sin of the Jews”

After 80 years
it is apparent Jews have been mistaken.

We thought that educating Gentiles about the Holocaust
building museums to be toured
creating curricula for study
designating an International Holocaust Remembrance Day
would make them realize the astonishing horror their animosity wrought
and might protect us in the future from their viciousness.

Instead, by encouraging our nation’s catastrophe
to become a moral history lesson for the rest of humanity
we handed our enemies another weapon with which to harm us
an addition to their vast arsenal of hatred heaped up over two millennia—
a new accusation and new denunciation.

The charge has by now
been pronounced so often
for so many decades
and with so much symmetrical certainty
that its perfidy—
the lie Jews have been doing to Arabs
what had been done to Jews in Nazi Europe—
no longer shocks as it should.

This prevailing parallel
of the paradigmatically persecuted, dispossessed,
and oppressed
turning into the ultimate persecutors and dispossessors
oppressing others—
is at once an attack
a defense
a wish
a reflex
on the part of those even slightly hostile to us,
and there is no shortage of them.

I have heard it said
What a tragedy that the Jews of Israel,
after Auschwitz, possess nuclear weapons;
that they who were destroyed
may now destroy.
Vengeance and honor and security are for others.
Our role in the story is to be powerless
hunted, homeless and slain.
And if we reject that role
we are offered only one substitution:
to be equated with our torturers in Nazi lands.

Some simply cannot resist proclaiming
this against Jews. The proverb is too perfect:
the victimized become victimizers;
the abused become abusers.
Others leap at the chance.
It cleanses the palate
so that their forebears’ failings seem less sour
and current animus toward Jews is not in bad taste.
And then there are those for whom the Holocaust imparts hope
that if it happened to Jews
less than a century ago,
something similar can be carried out against them again
even more successfully
in the not-so-distant future—
and no one need feel bad. Lesson learned.

About the Author
Shai Afsai ( lives in Providence, Rhode Island. In addition to fiction, poetry, and playwriting, his recent work has focused on Thomas Paine, Zionist historiography, “the bride is beautiful but she is married to another man” stories, Jews and Freemasonry, Benjamin Franklin’s influence on Jewish thought and practice, religious traditions of the Beta Yisrael Jewish community from Ethiopia, Jewish observance and identity in Nigeria, aliyah to Israel from Rhode Island, Jewish pilgrimage to Ukraine, Jewish-Polish relations, Jews and Irish literature, and Judaism in Northern Ireland.
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