For better or for worse, the Holocaust remains an important focal point for dialogue in the Jewish community -- both internally and externally. It is a central organizing point of Jewish experience -- probably the most important event in Jewish history (even more than the establishment of Israel) since the destruction of the Second Temple.
My family, however, was not directly affected by the Holocaust. All of my immediate ancestors had immigrated to the United States prior to World War II (seven of my great-grandparents were immigrants -- the eighth was born in the US as well). It seems like most Jews have a relatively close relative who is or is descended from survivors. I don't. I feel awkward talking about the Holocaust as something that personally affects me when I don't have that ancestral connection many other Jews have. It feels almost like cheating.
We did have a branch of my paternal grandfather's family which had remained behind in Europe. We never heard from them again, and we assumed that they had perished, until a few years ago (in my lifetime) we suddenly reestablished contact (this wing of the family also includes my "twin" David Schraub, who now also resides in Chicago. Small world). Obviously, I'm delighted that they all survived. But relating this experience feels dangerous to me; almost akin to Holocaust denial. The classic response to Holocaust denial is "where do you think all those Jews went?" My family offers a counterpoint: we simply lost track due to the war. Again, this is anxiety-producing, because clearly I don't want my main familial intersection with public discourse about the Holocaust to be buttressing the deniers.
I don't believe that I am actually distant from the Holocaust. It is an accident of ancestry that my family was relatively unaffected by the genocide -- I still know that were I there, my life would have been forfeit as well. And, knowing that the Holocaust was not some insane aberration but rather the extreme end of the continuum which governs how Jews are treated, the "lessons" of the Holocaust are as potent for an American-descended American Jew as they are for our European or African or Middle Eastern cohorts. Insofar as the Holocaust still is a normatively meaningful event in crafting policy or engaging in ethical deliberation, I have as much claim to it as any other Jew. I really do believe that.
But still. It's alienating. I don't feel like I'm a credible speaker for my own experience, and that hurts.