Saturday, June 21, 2014

Purely Anecdotal

--mber them wheeling the Holocaust survivors into school to give talks, every 2-3 years it seems like. The poor creatures were thoroughly aged, and we'd been pre-instructed not to ask them about executions or gas chambers, so it never got brought up. They'd bring some poor old Jewish woman into the library or the theater, set her wheelchair there next to a panel of teachers, and the woman would be prompted to speak, so she'd tell us that she was grateful we were all learning, and happy that we'd welcomed her there.

The survivor would trail off then, and the assistant principal would swiftly take over, giving a quick review of what our textbook said about how World War II had gone, and then she'd pass it off to a history teacher, who would lecture, briefly, about how there was a "final solution" and how tragic it was that so many people had died, and we should all take this opportunity to listen to a part of history. Then all eyes would turn back to the Jewish woman in the wheelchair, or the guy with a cane and derby, or, only once, the guy with the yarmulke, and the survivor would talk about how they'd grown up in such and such, lived in such and such, and how one day they got sent to a work camp, and it turned out to be Auschwitz or Buchenwald or one of the others. And they'd talk about how they stayed there, working, for 2 years or 3 years or just 7 months, whatever, until they were liberated, and yes, they were hungry, and yes, they were glad to leave the camps and go home, and then they moved to America, and it was so nice we were all taking an interest in history, and did we have any questions?

And then the all-As girl would lob some slowball like, "Why did you think they did that?" and the survivor would gravely answer that they weren't sure, it never made sense to them, but sometimes people did terrible things, and then another of the future valedictorian competitors would give another easy one, like, oh, "Do you ever go back and visit there?" and the survivor would say no, it would be too painful, because it was such hard work there and the food wasn't good and there wasn't enough of it, they sometimes still have nightmares. And the history teacher would quickly prompt the survivor about how the survivor thought her or his relatives had survived back then, and the survivor would say that they weren't really sure, some of them had died in the bombing, one had actually joined the army because he had light hair, another one went to a different camp, but he died a few years ago at 82 and he had never really wanted to talk about it.

The assistant principal would clap and encourage us to read the textbook, and a swarm of school board members would appear to give the survivor some honorary certificate, and the survivor would smile weakly at all of us, wave, encourage us to learn about the world, and to read plenty of books, and then the school board people and the administrative staff would get her and her wheelchair and her sparkly blue blanket out of there, while the history teacher directed us back to our homerooms and reminded us that the Holocaust would be covered in our World War II unit in a month or two, and we were so lucky to get a presentation like this because it only happened once every couple of years.


  1. I am surprised there isn't an appropriately themed Disney park.

    1. Actually, they made one in DC back in '93. Haven't you been?

      Somewhere on the "sickness" scale of all this is the nauseating way that people who actually lived in the camps get used by politicians later. They killed Primo Levi when he tried to get people to listen to his experiences at labor in Auschwitz; from a historical perspective, their job on him looks like a setup for MLK, X, Kennedy, or Wellington.

      Even in the kind of world they pretend we're in, though, it's still shameful how they use that era, as though their own perspectives are more important than firsthand evidence.