Tuesday, December 25, 2018

I Have No Holocaust Survivors in My Family

I have a confession to make.

None of my immediate family were (directly) impacted by the Holocaust.

All of my grandparents were born in the United States, before World War II. My great-grandparents were the immigrant generation, arriving just past the turn of the century. So when the Holocaust began, everyone was already here. I have some distant relatives who were (and are still) in Europe, so I assume they must have some survival story, but I don't know it.

And, weirdly, I feel a strange guilt about this.

The Holocaust, and being descended from survivors, is a huge, central part of the contemporary Jewish narrative (especially contemporary antisemitism). And while I don't feel alienated from it -- indeed, there's an obvious "there but for the grace of God" association -- sometimes I feel like I'm somehow cheating when I refer to it, as if it isn't truly "mine".

And worse still, I sometimes feel as if my very existence is a trap waiting to be sprung by Holocaust deniers. "The Holocaust never happened!" "Yes, it did." "Oh? Tell me you clever Jew: where was your family during this supposed 'Holocaust'", "Well, they were in America, but ..." "Aha!"

I'm not saying this is rational. But it is something I've felt for a long time. I wonder if other Jews with family backgrounds similar to mine feel the same way?

1 comment:

Marni said...

My ancestors also weren't impacted by the Holocaust though my great grandparents immigrated due to Russian and Polish progroms. The centering of the Holocaust narrative is something as a kid I felt slightly alienated by (probably because it was framed as a defining characteristic I did not share) and as an adult appreciate Tablet's critiques of. The guilt, personally not so much but I doubt it's a particularly novel feeling given how many Jews have non-german backgrounds but I can't say as to having seen it talked about much.