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Descendants of Holocaust Survivors Choose to be Tattooed
October 1, 2012 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Descendants of Holocaust Survivors Choose to be Tattooed Livia Rebak was branded with the number 4559. Now her grandson, Daniel Philosof, has the same tattoo.

It is certainly an intensely personal decision that often provokes ugly interactions with strangers offended by the reappropriation of perhaps the most profound symbol of the Holocaust’s dehumanization of its victims. The fact that tattooing is prohibited by Jewish law — some survivors long feared, incorrectly, that their numbers would bar them from being buried in Jewish cemeteries — makes the phenomenon more unsettling to some, which may be part of the point.
posted by modernnomad (115 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
When they said "Never forget", this wasn't what they had in mind.
posted by Egg Shen at 6:50 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Guh, ugly. Part of the same "us vs them" mentality that lead to the original tattoes.
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:57 AM on October 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


Key sentences from the article: We are moving from lived memory to historical memory and We got the country [Israel] because of these people. The Holocaust has become to Israel what 1777 and all that is to the US, a founding myth; the tattoos fit in with that, even wehn at the same time they're something intensively personal to the people who are getting them.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:59 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't know what I really feel about this. I've seen a couple of these. I think honestly knowing that it is descendants of survivors who are doing this makes me feel somewhat better about them. I don't know that I have the lived experience to be able to say anything negative about it.
posted by corb at 7:01 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think this is totally acceptable in terms of individuals participating in, and remembering their family history; If kids were just getting these for shits and giggles, that'd be absolutely gross, and quite unspeakable.

I have some deeply personal tattoos that never see the light of day that remind me of places and times of my life, both good and bad; they're a storybook for me. My ethnic background doesn't lend itself to having generational-level tattoos on me. That said, be damned sure that if something as intense and huge as an ethnic cleansing happened in my family history, I'd have a reminder of it on my body.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:11 AM on October 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


Their bodies, their choices, their families, their history.

Very interesting about the founding myth, Martin, thanks for pointing that out.
posted by PigAlien at 7:13 AM on October 1, 2012 [15 favorites]


For some reason I'm reflexively fine with the kids who got them done with permission / endorsements of the grandparents themselves, not so much with the guy whose grandfather didn't know and wouldn't have wanted him to.

Like corb, I'm not sure it's my place to weigh in hard, anyhow.
posted by ominous_paws at 7:13 AM on October 1, 2012


The Holocaust has become to Israel what 1777 and all that is to the US

The year of the Vermont Republic's declaration of independence from New York? (Numbers, like history, are rather tricky things.)

/derail
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:23 AM on October 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


As suggested upthread, a glossed over approach is that this ain't much different than getting "Don't Tread On Me" inked on your arm.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:24 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My grandparents would've been utterly disgusted with the idea of me getting this type of tattoo, nevermind the fact that I have any at all. Jewish identity as it relates to the Holocaust is such a hairy issue. I couldn't say at all how I fall on this issue, even as a Jew. Tangentially related is Sander Gilman's Jewish Frontiers, which has some compelling discussions of how Jewish identity are shifting (where a discussion of tattooed Jews would fit right in, I think).
posted by catch as catch can at 7:29 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


how ideas of Jewish identity*
posted by catch as catch can at 7:30 AM on October 1, 2012


Really, how is this anyone's business than the people involved? The NYT story is a little thin, although I can see how people might find an interesting tension in a person getting a tattoo to honor a Jewish grandparent, especially this tattoo. On the other hand, the decision (and reactions) are so personal, I am not sure what kind of useful conversation can be had....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:30 AM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Part of the same "us vs them" mentality that lead to the original tattoes.

WTF? Showing pride in family and Jewish history caused the holocaust?
posted by Forktine at 7:31 AM on October 1, 2012 [19 favorites]


Guh, ugly. Part of the same "us vs them" mentality that lead to the original tattoes.
PopularEthics, can you explain what you mean by this? Are you implying that the Nazis attempt to exterminate Jews is equivalent to the survivors of extermination being sorrowful and angry about it? Or did you mean something else that i can't seem to see?
posted by Kololo at 7:36 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've actually wondered for years if/when this would start happening. My grandfather was a camp survivor but wasn't tattooed; I've often wondered if, had he been, I really would have gone ahead with this.

As for "They would have been horrified" - okay, yes, but... so? I don't mean to sound flippant, but we do lots of things that would horrify our grandparents, even things that, to us, may in fact honor them. I think in particular of the fact that my grandparents' decades-long, happy marriage is absolutely a model for my own relationships, and my behavior toward the women I have (and will) love is absolutely a direct echo of their own affection and partnership - and yet they would be absolutely devastated, horrified, and furious that I'm not particularly likely to marry a Jewish woman, and none of my cousins have married Jews.

When we say "Never forget," it's about our own memories. The memory may be of them, but now we carry it ourselves, in our own way. You cannot preserve a memory in amber if you want the lesson to persist - it has to be relearned and renewed with each generation, in that generation's own way.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:37 AM on October 1, 2012 [35 favorites]


PopularEthics, can you explain what you mean by this? Are you implying that the Nazis attempt to exterminate Jews is equivalent to the survivors of extermination being sorrowful and angry about it? Or did you mean something else that i can't seem to see?

Godwin's law abounds, (even?) in Holocaust threads.
posted by wrok at 7:40 AM on October 1, 2012


Forktine: WTF? Showing pride in family and Jewish history caused the holocaust?
I admit this is a hasty reaction, but I have the same revulsion to family / ethnic / patriotic pride of all types. I find them all excuses to demark your tribe from the rest of the world.

The Nazis leveraged anger at their historical grievance (Versailles) into a story about a superior race kept down by others. Same in Rwanda. From there, it's only a few steps to war and genocide.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:41 AM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Part of the same "us vs them" mentality that lead to the original tattoes.

Hitler's classification of "them" was pretty damned broad. It started with political dissent: All Communists and – where necessary – Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security, and then it went farther. The new "us" are descendents of survivors, not some self-selected "master race."

From the article:
“We are moving from lived memory to historical memory,” noted Michael Berenbaum, a professor at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles who is among the foremost scholars of the memorialization of the Holocaust. “We’re at that transition, and this is sort of a brazen, in-your-face way of bridging it.”

Mr. Berenbaum, himself the son of survivors, said that “replicating an act that destroyed their name and made them into a number would not be my first or second or third choice,” but, he added, “it sure beats some of the other tattoos that some of the young people are drawing on their skin.”
Some people chose to remember, others want to forget.
Ms. Sagir, a cashier at a minimarket in the heart of touristy Jerusalem, said she is asked about the number 10 times a day. There was one man who called her “pathetic,” saying of her grandfather, “You’re trying to be him and take his suffering.” And there was a police officer who said, “God creates the forgetfulness so we can forget,” Ms. Sagir recalled. “I told her, ‘Because of people like you who want to forget this, we will have it again.’ ”
A number tattooed on the arm or ankle is something pretty minor, in the scale of ways people choose to brand themselves as part of a group. And group solidarity does not always lead to ethnic cleansing. In fact, that's the minority, otherwise we'd see a lot more strife between the Polish Towns and Little Chinas that arise from people gathering together in the United States and elsewhere.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:45 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tomorrowful, I don't disagree with you. I suppose it's just really interesting to me to think about my grandparents' reaction while they were still alive 10 years ago, versus the more open/accepting reaction displayed by the grandparents in the article, thinking about that shift in what's culturally acceptable.
posted by catch as catch can at 7:46 AM on October 1, 2012


I've known a few survivors and no two coped the same. A friend's elderly uncle needed to laugh about his pain, even though he bore scars. He claimed his number was for "when they call me to heaven." "I'm living a long time because my number is so high, you see?" he'd joke with us. "God needed my parents and sister more quickly." I was too young to understand his laughter--the idea of losing my own parents was shocking and monstrous--and in fact it took me years to see this was how he survived with his memories. He was by nature a joyful man and this was his way.

Conversely, my sister's gentle neighbor, a tiny widow with a soft voice, hid her number and would not talk about it at all; if anyone had used it as a tattoo I think she would have been mortified. She was a pious and serious woman who laughed rarely; she bore her pain with privacy and dignity.

Who is to say who is correct? Life, death and pain are experienced uniquely. Something as vast as the Holocaust surely has no "right" or "wrong" way of being remembered by its victims and their descendents. I think ultimately the most important thing is that it be respectfully remembered in whatever way works.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:46 AM on October 1, 2012 [32 favorites]


Perhaps this is mostly a way to continue to show allegiance to memory. As an atheist it is still one of the most important things in my life to make people aware of religious and other forms of tolerance, and chief among these issues is an incredible obtuseness that the average educated person has about Judaism, to the point that still to this day my peers don't think they have ever met a Jew because the person didn't have black bushy hair and a big nose. I can see people feeling a sense of despair and desperation that as the last survivors of the Holocaust dies out, so to will the tenuous memory of the historical episode itself in the minds of the world's peoples.

And really, anyone that says as a society we are past the possibility of another genocidal epoch directed at a weaker segment of society is insane.
posted by docpops at 7:51 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Nazis leveraged anger at their historical grievance (Versailles) into a story about a superior race kept down by others. Same in Rwanda. From there, it's only a few steps to war and genocide.

In other words, yes, you are comparing the children of Holocaust survivors to Nazis and one of the most persecuted "tribes" in human history to their persecutors. Your work here is done. You may go. In fact, please do.
posted by Behemoth at 7:53 AM on October 1, 2012 [19 favorites]


If a tattoo help one to remember to not be an inhuman monster, that we may all have the capacity to be such things in the right circumstances and/or to have more compassion for others then I am all for it. I wish the people who set up things like Gitmo and CIA rendition camps would have such tattoos.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 7:54 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


If a tattoo help one to remember to not be an inhuman monster, that we may all have the capacity to be such things in the right circumstances and/or to have more compassion for others then I am all for it. I wish the people who set up things like Gitmo and CIA rendition camps would have such tattoos.

Would it work that way? Or would such a tattoo encourage more CIA officers to enhance their interrogations to make up for past wrongs? I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but I strongly suspect the latter.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:05 AM on October 1, 2012


Showing pride in family...caused the holocaust?

"Fatherland" and "Ein Volk" ring a bell?
posted by DU at 8:07 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


There was one man who called her “pathetic,” saying of her grandfather, “You’re trying to be him and take his suffering.”

People like this really irritate me. If you want to have a conversation about my thought, or meaning, or intent, start by asking me, not by telling me.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:07 AM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think this is great. And, I don't see how it's any different from, say, Christians who have appropriated the crucifix.

If one feels the need to band together into a tribe opposing unadulterated hate, I'm all for it.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:08 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I heard a similar story on NPR a few months ago, and it affected me in the same way. I can see both sides of the argument, and I can understand the need to show solidarity, honoring one's parents or granparents by keeping the memory alive. I don't know whether or not I could do it, especially if I knew it would hurt someone in my family. It's not a decision I have to make, but I don't stand in judgement of those who have done so.
posted by blurker at 8:11 AM on October 1, 2012


The Nazis leveraged anger at their historical grievance (Versailles) into a story about a superior race kept down by others. Same in Rwanda. From there, it's only a few steps to war and genocide.

You are missing out on the part where is a choice people are making for themselves, or maybe just making the considerable leap to where it is what people are doing, with fatal consequences, to others. Tribalism is a complex topic, but in general I am okay with people deciding for themselves what do with their own bodies; it is all they've got.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:14 AM on October 1, 2012


I'm not about to take a position on whether these tattoos smack of nazism, but what makes you think 30s-era Germans wouldn't have said they were making choices themselves to, say, join the brown shirts? It's dangerous to simplify things like that by not looking at influencing factors, prevailing winds of opinion and social pressure, etc.
posted by DU at 8:17 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting. I am the grandson of Holocaust refugees (they were able to flee Germany in late 1938 and spent the war in the Philippines, bombed and , but still better than the death camps). My grandparents didn't have camp tattoos, but if they did I would not have chosen to get tattooed with the number. What I did do, to keep a connection to my past, was to reclaim German citizenship for myself and my children under German Basic Law 11 (Restoration of German Citizenship for decendants of those who had citizenship stripped due to the Nazi laws. ) When they were alive they told me that they always considered themselves to be German; it was only Hitler who decided they were not. For me, reclaiming German citizenship was a way to show that Hitler was wrong.
posted by dudeman at 8:27 AM on October 1, 2012 [39 favorites]


It'll be interesting to see if the holocaust is the first massacre to actually have permanent traction in memory via the assorted memorials that have been erected. It's been a good try so far by the proponents. I wish them luck even though it squicks me out.
posted by Mitheral at 8:27 AM on October 1, 2012


Whose memory? I'm pretty sure Native Americans (and native populations in other places) remember...
posted by DU at 8:30 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Coincidentally, Nina Paley's post for today is somewhat apropos.
posted by DU at 8:37 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not about to take a position on whether these tattoos smack of nazism, but what makes you think 30s-era Germans wouldn't have said they were making choices themselves to, say, join the brown shirts?


You know who else chose to eat food when hungry?

I mean, look, if you're going to compare people to the Nazis, it might be useful to pick one of the axes of comparison that are unique or relevant to specifically the Nazis rather than an axis (heh) of comparison that is broadly shared by all people.

I participate in another online forum where people using surrogate mothers or using donated eggs were compared to rapists because "both are making use of women's bodies." Yes, yes ... which is why artists using life models are like rapists and medical researchers are like rapists and gynecologists are like rapists and ballet instructors are like rapists, and , and , and ...

If you're comparing someone to a rapist or a Nazi or a murderer, you're doing it as a way of saying "these people are as bad as rapists/Nazis/Murderers/whatever in certain ways." Brown clothes and a crew-cut shouldn't be enough.

---Myca
posted by Myca at 8:38 AM on October 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think it would make so many grandparents so sad. I'm sure they were glad to watch their children and grandchildren be spared the horror.
posted by discopolo at 8:43 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


DU: "Whose memory? I'm pretty sure Native Americans (and native populations in other places) remember..."

The wider population, and especially that of the perpetrators. As opposed to those groups who have been slaughtered en masse, whose survivors usually seem to have no trouble remembering what was done to them.

Populations that have committed genocide tend to try and erase those acts from the historical record, or whitewash them so that history portrays the victims as sharing culpability for their own demise. As happened with the Armenian genocide, and yes, what was done to Native Americans.
posted by zarq at 8:43 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm a [cultural, agnostic] Jew with tattoos--among them, a memorial tattoo to my deceased grandfather who in his life time refused to be tattooed himself (he was asked, during his tenure in the navy, to join a submarine where all the men aboard had the same tattoo--and refused). My tattoo is for me, though, not for him. Memorials are for the living.

I also think it's pretty powerful that these people have reclaimed an icon of hate once used against them and turned it into a unifying experience.s
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:51 AM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you're comparing someone to a rapist or a Nazi or a murderer
If there's any Godwinning happening in this thread, it's by overreaction. Discussing the dangers of tribalism is not the same as calling people Nazis. We can do this civilly.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:51 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think this is great. And, I don't see how it's any different from, say, Christians who have appropriated the crucifix.

I agree. So for some, it's a solemn token of their faith, and the deep suffering at the heart of it, while for others, it's pure adornment -- looks good with that shirt they're wearing.

Welcome to (as a historian friend of mine once put it) the real truth of history. Once everyone involved has died, it's all up for grabs, and often as not trivialized beyond measure.
posted by philip-random at 8:53 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also the end of the article is weird. They asked for a discount? Almost all tattoos are deeply personal and come with a heap of identity politics and emotion attached. It's always poor form to barter for tattoos.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:54 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Guh, ugly. Part of the same "us vs them" mentality that lead to the original tattoes.

If the "them" in this case is Nazis, I am joyously glad to continue to be one of the "us" who are versus them.

>> Showing pride in family...caused the holocaust?
> "Fatherland" and "Ein Volk" ring a bell?

You're kidding me, right? Do you also freak out at the idea of German apartments having living rooms, because, you know, Lebensraum?
posted by benito.strauss at 8:54 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I haven't froken out at anything. Just pointing that that "family pride had nothing to do with Nazi Germany" is not only false, but that they themselves would tell you the same.
posted by DU at 9:00 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there's any Godwinning happening in this thread, it's by overreaction. Discussing the dangers of tribalism is not the same as calling people Nazis. We can do this civilly.

I agree with you on the dangers of tribalism (though I disagree in this specific case), but you began your comments here with a Nazi reference. Where did you think it was going to go after that?
posted by Myca at 9:01 AM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Popular Ethics: "If there's any Godwinning happening in this thread, it's by overreaction. Discussing the dangers of tribalism is not the same as calling people Nazis. We can do this civilly."

Either I'm totally misreading you, or you're claiming that people choosing to honor a family member they are descended from or related to with a symbolic tattoo is the sort of mentality that leads directly to genocide.

You seem to be blaming the victims by implying what their descendents haven't learned from what they went through. And yes, you're making a direct link to what they're doing and the Nazi and Rwandan genocides.

So yes, I think you're over-reacting. There are degrees of tribalism, and remembering one's familial history is not an automatic gateways to genocide.
posted by zarq at 9:03 AM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Popular Ethics: If there's any Godwinning happening in this thread, it's by overreaction

I rarely use the term eponysterical but in this case ...
I really do think that you are commenting in good faith here but, in my opinion, your comments appear to be all but completely void of understanding of the emotional weight this subject has for so many people as well as the relative values involved. Comparing the descendents of a group of six million people who were murdered to their murders, however obliquely, is a really, really not good thing to do. I wish you would just take my word for this .
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 9:05 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been trying to decide why this act unnerves me more than other expressions of tribalism, or why I struggle to buy that it's just a way to honour an elder. I think it's because these kids are (literally) branding themselves as victims. I don't know their life story, but I can bet that they did not endure the suffering of the people who owned those numbers originally. It seems utterly distasteful to mark yourself as equally tortured. The "asking for a discount" line at the end of the article really spins it this way.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:12 AM on October 1, 2012 [9 favorites]



Also the end of the article is weird. They asked for a discount?


It doesn't say that; the artist said he was not so patriotic that he'd give a discount.

It was done in 15 minutes, for about $40. When the tattoo artist, a Russian immigrant, joked that he is “not so patriotic” to do it at a discount, Mr. Diamant quietly seethed.

I can bet that they did not endure the suffering of the people who owned those numbers originally

Nobody is saying that they have suffered. They're saying they don't want the fact that others suffered to be forgotten.
posted by dubold at 9:15 AM on October 1, 2012


Just pointing that that "family pride had nothing to do with Nazi Germany" is not only false, but that they themselves would tell you the same.

Knowing how to do things in moderation and knowing how to set ethical limits are really important in many aspects of life. The Nazis were very big on physical health and athleticism, but the same logic would make the Olympics and college football complicit in the Holocaust.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:17 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The same kind of thinking" doesn't equal "these people are as bad as." Anyhow, I can see beyond the silver lining around a cloud of remembrance here.

But I would rather discuss the motive of the person getting the tattoo than make an assumption about their reasons for wearing such an intense tattoo. This would be different from the kid who puts kanji on his neck, even though he doesn't speak Japanese. Even then, I realize my boundary here is limited to a moderate tongue clucking. No reasonable person can avoid realizing the horrors of WWII. I don't think it lessens one's outrage over what happened to Jews if you notice that nearly as many (if you count them by the million) Poles were exterminated as Jews, or notice any of the other countries that lost souls by the millions.

In any case it's not anti-Semetic to question a political stance taken by an Israeli. My sympathy goes to the descendant who wishes to honor the sacrifice of an ancestor by having his tatto replicated: maybe he will even have listened to that person's story, told first hand, or maybe that wasn't possible for any of a dozen horrific reasons. This seems to me to resemble (in a more intense way) the remembrance bracelets worn by some Americans who lost a relative in Vietnam, and the body wasn't recovered. The Holocast resonates, and evokes things more aweful that mere slaughter of individuals. Intense politics in that area use Holocast imagery to justify things that ought not to be justified, and certainly not by trading on the misery of the generation that suffered through those times. Therefore, my sympathy wouldn't extend to the young radical who wishes simply to make a political statement.

In my version of this, this same kind of thinking lets an individual hide behind chauvinism or theology as he displaces another from his ancestral home. This doesn't equate (even) a militant Israeli with a Nazi until you get to the part where this kind of thinking has distilled into tanks and guns and the wholesale slaughter of civilians.

Brings me back to my viewpoint, that the intent of the individual wearing the tattoo would be the meat of the issue, not the tattoo itself.
posted by mule98J at 9:18 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's because these kids are (literally) branding themselves as victims.

When gays and lesbians co-opted the word "Queer" from their oppressors were they branding themselves as victims? Same with Blacks and the 'N" word?

I don't know their life story, but I can bet that they did not endure the suffering of the people who owned those numbers originally

You are so out of your depth here you should just stop. Please stop. You have no idea how this sort of evil propagates it's way down through the generations. Speaking as the child of a Holocaust survivor, I can tell you that the effects of that experience did not make my father a better person and it affected all in my family. My father did have a favorite Yiddish saying it shound like "Chochma Schtika" which means , "Think before talking".
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 9:19 AM on October 1, 2012 [16 favorites]


because of these people. The Holocaust has become to Israel what 1777 and all that is to the US, a founding myth

Welcome to Metafilter, Mr. Ahmadenijad.

I see nothing wrong with these tattoos. As an atheist Jew, one thing I have in common with all other Jews, and many other of the world's people, is that at several points in history, terrible men tried to wipe my ancestors and their communities off the planet. That's a very powerful thing, and it transcends politics and religion. It's part of my identity, and if someone wants to have that tattooed on them, I can't say I find anything wrong with that.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:19 AM on October 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


“This is the reason he sits here, this tattoo and what this number represents,” Mr. Diamant said. “We got the country because of these people.”

There's still something weird about that whole exchange, as someone who has talked to plenty of tattoo artists and knows the kind of bullshit they have to put up with about, say, pricing ($40 is pretty standard, nu?). And that's speaking as someone who likes this idea and thinks it's a nice way to honor one's family.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:20 AM on October 1, 2012


Related AskMe: Would this tattoo be misconstrued?
posted by benzenedream at 9:21 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I saw one of these tattoos for the first time about 5-7 years ago while helping a nice old lady at the reference desk at the library I work at. Really shook me up.
posted by zzazazz at 9:22 AM on October 1, 2012


Showing pride in family...caused the holocaust?

"Fatherland" and "Ein Volk" ring a bell?


That is the weirdest and most intentionally deceptive way I have ever been (pseudo) quoted here. Leaving out the "and jewish history" obviously changes the meaning. There is something fantastically offensive in this repeated (and trollish) misframing of this as Nazism. I'll leave you to it; I'm even regretting taking the bait this much.
posted by Forktine at 9:23 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think it's because these kids are (literally) branding themselves as victims. I don't know their life story, but I can bet that they did not endure the suffering of the people who owned those numbers originally. It seems utterly distasteful to mark yourself as equally tortured. The "asking for a discount" line at the end of the article really spins it this way.

I also find it a little weird. (I think it is entirely unsurprising that it is GRANDchildren of survivors and not children of, too.)

But on the other hand, it's in a way saying: look, I'm Jewish, and I'm not going to hide it, I'm going to tattoo it somewhere that everyone can see. My family matters to me, and I am doing something to say I won't forget them and I won't forget their life stories.

I wouldn't do it (I couldn't, anyways: my mother's parents were in Canada, my father's father was in an internment camp in the UK somewhere, my father's mother got out of Austria after her sister slept with a Nazi to get them out), but I can understand why you would choose to do so.
posted by jeather at 9:24 AM on October 1, 2012


Some people chose to remember, others want to forget.

Yes - who remembers the Armenians and the Cherokee?
posted by rough ashlar at 9:39 AM on October 1, 2012


I think appropriation can be a powerful force for good, and I like the idea that the Nazis don't get to control what such number tattoos mean.
posted by prefpara at 9:45 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


In any case it's not anti-Semetic to question a political stance taken by an Israeli.

But such is the label you will get hung about the neck by others.

How much hand wringing would be had over a homosexual with a pink triangle tattoo?

How about a red triangle tattoo for Obama people on Fox news?

If one sees a black triangle tattoo - is the wearer from a group of gypsies or is the person who used to wear it just covering up an illumanti! tattoo?
posted by rough ashlar at 9:51 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's hard for me not to see this as retrofitting some respectability onto plain old hipsterism - it's got the right ingredients - taboo, making the old new again, the exclusivity of low tattoo numbers, the secret history of which camps did/not get tattoos.

Sure, I doubt the wearers are wearing them ironically in the sense we normally understand it, but there is an argument that says appropriation carries with it an implied set of quote marks round it.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:11 AM on October 1, 2012


How about a red triangle tattoo for Obama people on Fox news?

I'm not fooled; that's the tattoo for Bass Brewery.
posted by grubi at 10:12 AM on October 1, 2012


rough ashlar: " But such is the label you will get hung about the neck by others."

Perhaps, but it's worth noting that no one here is doing so. mule98J was the first person to mention antisemitism in this thread. And no one has attacked him (or her) for relating Israelis who say they're getting holocaust tattoos in honor of their ancestors to Israeli politics or the plight of the Palestinians.
posted by zarq at 10:16 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I kind of love it. There's something really wonderful about that number being repeated on new bodies, many new bodies, showing the line of people the holocaust would have destroyed, but could not. It reminds me of the long line of begats in the Hebrew bible, linking generations back to one person.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:21 AM on October 1, 2012 [21 favorites]


... and what happens if I, non-Jewish, decide to get such a tattoo because I happen to believe that the Holocaust is something that should NEVER be forgotten, as defining a moment in human history as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

lest we forget ...
posted by philip-random at 10:31 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds odd and grotesque, but then again so does cooking with eggplant.

I wonder whether it's a good thing to hang so fiercely to that horrible time and incident. People, and society, should move on at some point, but the trick is knowing when and how.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:34 AM on October 1, 2012


I have such mixed emotions about this. I grew up in Brooklyn and in Jewish communities. I have a friend who calls me his Rabbi. I adore the love and respect the later generations have in for their grandparents and parents. It's so wonderful to know that they will continue the story of what happened. At the same time, I feel hurt. I feel the hurt that such horrible things happened. And I feel hurt that they have chosen to deface their bodies to keep a reminder (though art isn't considered self mutilation as in "thou shall not mutilate thyself" is it?) It's a beautiful gesture, nonetheless and I happy that they want to honor their elders.
posted by Yellow at 10:34 AM on October 1, 2012


Well, if it works for them and their families, I guess. I mean, we've been telling the story of our survival for 4000 years.

I've never been to Israel so I have no sense of what the culture is surrounding remembrances like this are, but the parts of the diaspora I come into contact with would shudder at this. They want to preserve Jewish identity, yes, but not this way. My grandfather was a non-tattooed survivor, and, were he alive today, I'm pretty sure he would be so mortified that he would want me out of his sight. He had other ways of pushing me to remember: asking me to have my bar mitzvah, wanting me to get married by a rabbi. The sense I get from the Jews I talk to is that keeping the culture and traditions alive is more important then the memory.

My grandfather wanted his family to move forward, he wanted me to move forward. While his traditions aren't my traditions, I've found ways to honour his wishes while looking to the future.

Honestly, I'd chose writing a family haggadah with your own story of survival over this any time. But that's just me.
posted by dry white toast at 10:40 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think its deeply personal and its a way for younger people to show respect for what their parents/grandparents went though and saying that they are proud of their history and not to cover it up. In a much deeper way, it's like gay people taking the word "faggot" and making it their own, not derogatory anymore.
posted by aacheson at 10:48 AM on October 1, 2012


Guh, ugly. Part of the same "us vs them" mentality that lead to the original tattoes.

Glad someone already pointed this out:

How much hand wringing would be had over a homosexual with a pink triangle tattoo?

Does using the pink triangle as a rallying symbol contribute to an "us vs. them mentality," Popular Ethics? Please explain.
posted by hermitosis at 10:48 AM on October 1, 2012


I knew and did some work on the Holocaust with Mike Bernebaum, cited above, and since he was some years ago a rabbi at Wesleyan University I was a bit surprised he did not note this:

Are jews allowed to get tatoos?...



Leviticus 18:26 or 29 says thou shalt not make any permanent markings in your skin on your body. Therefore they dont get tattooes


If though a person chooses to bear this number as a mark of respect, memory, etc then so far as I am concerned, that is his or her own business...
posted by Postroad at 10:59 AM on October 1, 2012


Popular Ethics? Please explain.

Not sure if you're being sincere or trolling, but in either case I'll leave the answer to someone else. I've made my point as carefully as I can. I'm out.
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:00 AM on October 1, 2012


The story (I have been told) was that people were slashing/cutting their bodies in mourning and so to stop that, it was said that one should not mutilate one's body. I suppose it could be extended to plastic surgery...is that a form of mutilating one's body?
posted by Yellow at 11:06 AM on October 1, 2012


Brandon Blatcher: " I wonder whether it's a good thing to hang so fiercely to that horrible time and incident. People, and society, should move on at some point, but the trick is knowing when and how."

More easily said than done. However, many Jews, including myself, do struggle with the culture of victimhood that has become such an intense part of the Jewish experience over the last 60 years. Generational differences help. So does being removed from what happened by decades.

But yes, it's difficult for many Jews to move past. Especially so, if you were immersed as a child in stories of your relatives who were murdered in Nazi concentration camps. Because those stories aren't just about a relative who died. They're part of a larger narrative, discussing the way that relative's neighbors and fellow citizens turned on them, robbed them of their belongings and actively helped put them in the camps where they were slaughtered. All because they were Jews.

Such things shape one's world view. 'Never forget: we were murdered by the millions. You can't trust anyone, not even your friends and neighbors. Jews are hated. It could happen again. It could happen here.'

This isn't a new concept to Jews. There's an old joke which says that all Jewish holidays can be summarized as "They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat." The Hagaddah includes a passage which states: "In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands" So it's been a part of Jewish myth and culture for a long time. So it's baked into the religion and culture, so to speak.

It's not a question of "knowing when and how." It's a question of how long it will take for people to absorb the lessons of the past, put them in proper perspective, and move forward.
posted by zarq at 11:08 AM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Leviticus 18:26 or 29 says thou shalt not make any permanent markings in your skin on your body. Therefore they dont get tattooes

The list of things that Jews are forbidden to do by the Torah, but still do, is pretty extensive. Not every restriction or tradition is still meaningful to modern non-Orthodox Jews, and those things get flatly ignored. When accused of picking and choosing which parts of the tradition I like and don't like, my reply is a cheerful "Yup! That's pretty much what we're up to. Care for some latkes?"
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:08 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm going to get a tattoo that says "Leviticus 19:28".
posted by grubi at 11:16 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tattoos aren't necessarily permanent anymore, anyway. They have that new ink you can request that makes them far easier to remove.
posted by hermitosis at 11:19 AM on October 1, 2012


I have a friend who tattooed the Shema around his torso. Other Jewish friends of mine (who have tattoos themselves!) think he went too far.

Taboos are fascinating. :)
posted by zarq at 11:22 AM on October 1, 2012


I dislike being so "dark" about this subject, but if a tatoo was an insult to a Jew in a prison camp because of the the religious laws, so, too, cremation was forbidden...such regulations did not stop[ the Nazis from their project.
posted by Postroad at 11:30 AM on October 1, 2012


If you find this a sign of being unable to move one, how do you feel about crucifixes?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:42 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Interesting thoughts from Chabad-Lubavitch movement website.
posted by discopolo at 11:47 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


zarq: There's an old joke which says that all Jewish holidays can be summarized as "They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat."

It's even a song.

ObDisclosure: Rob Tannenbaum, the singer, officiated at my wedding
posted by hanov3r at 11:53 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My late father was a holocaust survivor, but for reasons I have forgotten/suppressed he never got tattooed. I'm really glad, because as an 18-year old jerk kid I probably would have done this just for the shock value.

I'm not sure what he thought of all my other tattoos because we had a difficult relationship and didn't talk much, but he had lost enough of his faith by then that I don't think he would have cared about the Leviticus part much. I am 100% positive that this kind of tattoo would broken his heart.

Gah. So many thoughts, but this post is messing with my head in a big way.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:56 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find it very disturbing that several comments here equate using symbols that memorialize the Holocaust with being part of a Nazi-like hate group. The people in the article are attempting to keep alive the actual history of their actual family. It is not a "myth" or a "story". The experiences of these people actually happened and the fact that pretty recent history is being referred to in these terms shows how necessary it is to keep the history not only preserved in an archival sense, but preserved in the thoughts of people living today and people in the future. Remembering the Holocaust is a powerful caution against allowing a similar event to happen in the future. As ridiculous as most comparisons to Hitler or Nazis are (for examples, see some previous comments), they at least prove what a powerful statement it can be to say that something resembles the events that lead to the Holocaust. The recognition that seemingly small things can be part of a broader sequence of events that can lead to the most horrible things imaginable is an incredibly important cognitive process. I believe that it can allow future genocides to be prevented. It's also a caution to Jews specifically that we can never really be safe anywhere. Any society or country could decide again to turn on the Jews, as has happened many times before.

My own grandmother and some of her family escaped from Germany, while others in the family stayed too late and were killed. Many people believed until it was too late that such a thing as the Holocaust could never happen, yet it did. For me, and likely to others as well, the lesson is to pay attention to cultural shifts and know when to escape; that there is no limit to the things people could be willing to do to you, even people you know now. If I had been in my family's position at the time of the Holocaust, would I have been paying enough attention to sense that I should flee before it was too late? Probably not, most didn't, and so I will pay more attention now, in the hopes that I might survive if the worst were to happen.

My personal memorial action, like a previous commenter, has been restoration of German citizenship, which was stripped from my grandmother, and I hope to eventually move to Germany. Like the people in the article, this action was disturbing for my grandmother. It was not easy at first for my grandmother to think of her children and grandchildren becoming Germans, as she has always had a knee-jerk fear of Germans and things associated with Germany. In a way, it is an opposite action to those in the article. They are performing actions which identify them with their family member's identities as victims (here I am not condemning this, it is presumably an important component of identity for survivors), while my personal action identifies me with my family's pre-Holocaust identities, ie normal Germans like any others. But in a way, they accomplish the same thing; a visible tattoo or a Jewish Canadian/American in Germany provoke thought and conversation, and most importantly memory.
posted by starfishprime at 11:57 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Could tattoos like this be an occasion to renew one's commitment to fight against oppression and for human rights? Yes.

Could tattoos like this be an occasion to hold up past grievances and use them to justify present atrocities? Yes.

Is it the tattoo that makes the difference? No.
posted by straight at 12:00 PM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Seeing one of these would cause me to think of the person as narcissistic, as do most the tattoos I see.
posted by joseppi7 at 12:08 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel that way about people who comb their hair and wear anything other than a boiler suit. The preening fops.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:17 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


'Never forget: we were murdered by the millions. You can't trust anyone, not even your friends and neighbors. Jews are hated. It could happen again. It could happen here.'

My interpretation of "Never Forget" always was "Never forget such things are possible, evil can exist inside any of us. Don't let such things be possible."

Regarding the passover story, maybe it was just me but I always go the message that freedom is something that we not only have to fight for but must actively extend to others (not just Jews) as well"
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 12:19 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


So much of Jewish culture is about memorializing. I'm named for my great great grandfather, two great grandmothers, and a great grandfather because I was the first kid born in the family after their deaths. We light candles. We put stones on graves. We sing songs and make the kugel grandma made and cook brisket like Aunt Frieda and use the menorah my great grandfather made from a copper pipe and the prayer books that were brought through Ellis Island and every Passover Grandpa Irving reminds us about his beautiful aunt Bella and her sisters who were too stubborn to leave Ukraine and were shot in a ditch and buried in lime and dirt in a field that was probably cleared to plant potatoes in. This is a way someone connects to their mother, their grandfather, tangibly holds onto a piece of the past and the piece of us that survived when it was supposed to disappear. I don't remember in that way, but I can understand and sympathize with the intention.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:22 PM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


think of the person as narcissistic, as do most the tattoos I see.

Seems to me you don't understand the meaning of the word.
posted by grubi at 12:22 PM on October 1, 2012


Welcome to Metafilter, Mr. Ahmadenijad.

Holy crap. You're aware that "myth" has different meanings, right?
posted by downing street memo at 12:34 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


This just feels deeply wrong to me. If they want to remember their family members this way, they should wear the actual names as tattoos. The Holocaust wasn't an abstract event, it was an atrocity done to specific people, and it's the names and stories of those people that should be remembered, not trivia like the ID numbers the Nazis happened to assign to them. No doubt the tattoos are about appropriating the symbols of the past and assigning new meaning to them, but in the process they risk turning their actual relatives into nothing more than a number passed down between generations.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:46 PM on October 1, 2012


The recognition that seemingly small things can be part of a broader sequence of events that can lead to the most horrible things imaginable is an incredibly important cognitive process. I believe that it can allow future genocides to be prevented. It's also a caution to Jews specifically that we can never really be safe anywhere. Any society or country could decide again to turn on the Jews, as has happened many times before.
posted by starfishprime at 11:57 AM on October 1

Beautifully stated. Thank-you.
posted by docpops at 12:49 PM on October 1, 2012


“I dream every night about it,” Mr. Nachshon said as he told his Holocaust story, which includes several months at Birkenau, where his mother and sister were killed in the gas chambers. “Many times we’re running away from the Germans. Sometimes the whole night I was running. Maybe this time they won’t catch me.”

This is so utterly heartbreaking.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 12:53 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


“All my generation knows nothing about the Holocaust,” said Ms. Sagir, 21, who has had the tattoo for four years. “You talk with people and they think it’s like the Exodus from Egypt, ancient history. I decided to do it to remind my generation: I want to tell them my grandfather’s story and the Holocaust story.”

I found this to be the real jaw-dropper. We're talking Poland here, where officially at least they appear to be on board the education train. Curious as to how true it is. Anyone?
posted by IndigoJones at 1:01 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


In defence of Popular Ethics, Krishnamurti said:
To love anything beautiful in a country is normal and natural, but when that love is used by exploiters in their own interest it is called nationalism. Nationalism is fanned into imperialism, and then the stronger people divide and exploit the weaker, with the Bible in one hand and a bayonet in the other. The world is dominated by the spirit of cunning, ruthless exploitation, from which war must ensue. This spirit of nationalism is the greatest stupidity.
Every individual should be free to live fully, completely. As long as one tries to liberate one's own particular country and not man, there must be racial hatreds, the divisions of people and classes. The problems of man must be solved as a whole, not as confined to countries or peoples.
I once commented on metafilter about tribalism that:
All genocides are human tragedies that belong to everyone, and the principle culprit is neither the victim nor the oppressor, but the human failure of having seen things out of focus — simplistically believing that there's an us and them.

The question is: how you make the oppressor recognize your humanity? My intuition is that we should not accept anything dehumanizing — like segregated toilets and gold stars. Nor should we band together to menace our oppressor and justify his oppression.

It's wiser, I think to ally with those who are against these "identity injustices". In this way, you stand a chance of transforming your oppressor— because instead of reinforcing his racial dichotomy, you are introducing a new, more accurate dichotomy whereby they are on the side of selfishly (or stupidly) oppressing the individual and you are not.

In the long run, a "tribe" is never as good an ally as the Truth.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:44 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


> There's something really wonderful about that number being repeated on new bodies, many new bodies, showing the line of people the holocaust would have destroyed, but could not

That's an interesting way of looking at it, and is helping be be a little more charitable in how I think of the people getting the tattoos.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:00 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Godwin's law abounds...

No. Talking about Nazis in a thread about the holocaust does not mean you have lost the argument and ended reasonable conversation. To do that in this thread, you'd have to start talking about Stalinists, or Scientologists, or Stalintologists.

What originally prompted Godwin's law was the following argument:
- I don't like something in this thread
- Everything I don't like is like the Nazis
- Therefore the thing I don't like in this thread is like the Nazis!

However, we're seeing a lot of non-Nazi Godwinization right now in American politics. President Obama is a Satanist! and an Atheist! and a Muslim! He's a Satanathuslim! It doesn't matter that those things are mutually contradictory. They're all eeeeevil therefore identical.

(of course, classic Godwinning fits right in with this new trend. see Fred Clark's Rise of the Planet of the Satanazis)

What we need right now is a Grand Godwin Unification Theory. I propose the following:

In any thread on the internet someone will inevitably draw a comparison to something they consider to be entirely evil on the basis of a very weak analogy. Because this Manichean analogy is extremely weak the analogizer will convince no one, but because this person now believes that she is battling absolute evil by posting on the thread he/she will not shut up about it or reconsider. This ends reasonable discussion, and it does not reflect well on the analogizer.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:21 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm all for this. I would even support everyone getting a name and number from the archives and learning all about the person who died in the camps and getting their number. Maybe everyone should get one of these numbers from the victims tattooed, just so we keep the memory of what we might lose again.
posted by humanfont at 6:03 PM on October 1, 2012


one of the people i feel most honored to have met in life is a survivor and a sweet, grand old man. he has to be one of the most present individuals i've ever experienced, like a yogi, and full of smiles that seem always about to turn into tears from the depth of his emotion. he now tells his stories of what happened to anyone who will listen because i think he's afraid that we will all forget after his generation is gone. i'm always amazed at his ability to have not only gone on with life, but to have had such a rich and full life in spite of what happened. to have lost everyone, not just his whole family but his whole village, and to still be able to smile is to me beyond humbling and life affirming. to me that's what we should all remember most about those who did survive, that they lost everything and were somehow able to live on and laugh again and love.

if this had happened to my own grandparents i might do the same, to have that intimate link, not to the utter indignity and human debasement they suffered, but to the people they were able to go on and become afterward. for anyone to suffer so horrendously and then to have the will to be a parent and then a grandparent and to participate in all the love that implies is incredible and seems to be the spirit in which the people in the article got their tattoos.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 6:37 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would ever care what someone else put on their body.

This does not concern you. This does not concern us.
posted by broadway bill at 6:45 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's an interesting idea humanfont but I think in aggregate it teaches a poor lesson. Namely that the Holocaust was in some way special and unique never before and (hopefully) never again to happen. And of course it's just not extra ordinary as evidenced by the lesser known large genocides like the one under the Khymer Rouge or Rwanda.
posted by Mitheral at 6:53 PM on October 1, 2012


I've been trying to decide why this act unnerves me more than other expressions of tribalism, or why I struggle to buy that it's just a way to honour an elder. I think it's because these kids are (literally) branding themselves as victims. I don't know their life story, but I can bet that they did not endure the suffering of the people who owned those numbers originally. It seems utterly distasteful to mark yourself as equally tortured.

I don't want to overreach, here. I have no experience that's within orders of magnitude of comparable to that of either the Holocaust survivors or their descendants. I'm not even Jewish. But I can imagine that it *could* be a huge comfort, and a very touching gesture, for *some* people whose family of origin was nearly or completely extinguished in the camps to have children and grandchildren visibly mark themselves with the number. "I am yours. We are one. Let us claim this number that cannot be erased from your skin as the mark of who we are as family. I will never forget that this was done to you, and I cannot change it, but I can share it, and even after we die we will share this mark."

I can also imagine it could be horrifying for some survivors to see their descendants choose the very mark that was forced on them. This seems likely to be a very personal decision for every survivor, every descendant, every family. It's pretty arrogant to judge or criticize motivations that are likely to be so complex and so far removed from one's own experience.
posted by gingerest at 8:54 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


When gays and lesbians co-opted the word "Queer" from their oppressors were they branding themselves as victims?
what if it's like "outlaws" instead, is that ok
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:06 PM on October 1, 2012


My first thought about this is that it shows a lack of maturity. I wasn't in a concentration camp as such, nor was I marked with a tattoo, but I lived through similar things. The relationship between what I experienced as a young Bosnian Muslim girl isn't all that different to what Jews throughout most of Europe experienced during WWII - a nationalism-inspired attempt at the genocide of an entire people. The scale is different, sure - but that's no comfort to any of the victims.

Bosnia was, in my lifetime, a very secular place. Many marriages were mixed. Muslims drank as much as followers of Orthodox Christianity or Catholics. We attended each other's holiday events and shared the little differences in our cultures as friends and neighbors. I was heartbroken on my first and only return to Bosnia to see women covering themselves (that never really happened before), and the increasing influence of Saudi Wahhabism in place of our centuries-old tradition of Sufist mysticism and a more philosophical and debate-oriented approach to Islam. I don't see it as anything other than a horrid reaction to a more horrid action, and I'm ashamed of the people who've fallen for its polarizing and negative effects. It's a small world; we need to get along. Let's work on that.

This isn't to say that the lessons and tragedies of history shouldn't be remembered and taught. They should be. But I don't think they should be commemorated in a way that creates a new cycle of distortion, a sort of reverse fascism of victimhood.

I would ask my theoretical children or grandchildren why they'd wasted $100 or so on a tattoo that was, at best, unbearably pretentious and hipsteresque . . . and how they could in good conscience attempt to portray themselves - however metaphorically - with an event that they didn't witness or survive, when right at this moment there are many peoples in the world going through holocausts of their own. Fuck, give the money to them and carry the lesson in your heart. Don't they have their own survival stories, or our their lives so carefree they need to appropriate those of others?

I've been fortunate to have met many Holocaust survivors. Almost to a person, I liked them a lot, because they understood my experiences (and vice-versa) in a way that's hard for most people to do. They understood my relentless need to work and achieve in a new country and my desperate attempt to create a feeling of security for myself that I may never really find. They seemed relieved to share similar details of their own lives with a young person for a change; I always felt that it was hard to talk about these things with loved ones who'd never experienced it.

The tattoo thing to me is like hearing Serbs or Hungarians or Romanians complain that their nations don't get any respect, despite their ancestors having defended the whole of Europe against marauding savages. (The British writer Bruce Chatwin remembered two elderly aunts saying more or less the same thing about Napoleon!) I don't conflate the Jewish people with Israel too readily, but I see the ugly ghost of a fascist and bigoted mindset take place amongst some factions there - despite Israel's great promise and blessing of educated and skilled people from around the world. The irredentism of victimhood leads to bad, bad things. My point is, historically most peoples and nations have been victims and that personalizing this fact to one's cultural or religious or ethnic identity is ultimately a bigger problem for the world than simply getting on with things would have been.

I don't feel that the awful things that happened directly to me make me special in any way. I don't want to be a victim; I've worked hard not to be. For someone to mark themselves in such a way as to commemorate my survival (and their survival of my people) through an historical event helps reduce me to that event. I'm more than that. I reckon most elderly Holocaust survivors would feel the same.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:38 PM on October 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


Most of the people who are criticizing these tattoos point out that it's unhealthy to not move past what has happened to one's tribe, or ethnic group, or religious group. They all seem to skip past the fact that it happened to these people's grandparents.

So preach the wider lesson, but before you critique these people I'd just ask you to imagine your own grandfather, and stick him in a camp for at least six months, next to the furnace where they are going to burn him. I'll gladly listen to whatever you have to say after that.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:47 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't see it as much different (other than the permanence) than shaving your head in solidarity with a family member undergoing chemotherapy and I don't think either reduces the survivor to a singular event in their life.

I imagine, if someone asked your theoretical children or grandchildren about you, out of the blue or because of a tattoo commemorating your life, they might use your experiences in Bosnia as a jumping off point before talking at length about the next sixty or seventy terrific years of your life as the person they knew and loved. I can't recall ever having a conversation where someone reduced their life, or the life of a loved one, to a single event. I'm not sure people do that. I don't know, maybe some do.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 10:53 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Namely that the Holocaust was in some way special and unique never before and (hopefully) never again to happen.

the Holocaust?

Winston Churchill described the massacres of Armenians as an "administrative holocaust" .

The manner of the deaths of the Armenians is acknowledged to have been one of the first modern genocides, as scholars point to the organized manner in which the killings were carried out to eliminate the Armenians

The word 'holocaust' is not unique as it was used during the time of the War to end all Wars to describe a contemporaneous event.

I will leave it to the far more learned members of Metafilter to now step forward and use the word* that is unique to stand in for the treatment under the meth-fueled killing of only one set of the "undesirables" of the 'selected by the people' post WWI citizens of Germany. A set of 'leaders' who were going to cure the money woes brought about by previous administrators of the Nation.

*I want to say "Shoah", but I'm only Jewish on my mother's side so WTF do I know?
posted by rough ashlar at 2:48 AM on October 2, 2012


I'd just ask you to imagine your own grandfather, and stick him in a camp for at least six months, next to the furnace where they are going to burn him.

And if your genetic history was a person who died on the Trail of Tears?

How about correcting someone who says 'that's so gay'? The correction is only allowed if the person offering up the correction is gay?

How about someone describing something fast as faster than 'a raped ape'? Or describing a kludge as 'nigger rigged'? Or a price reduction as 'being Jew'd down'? Are the only ones who can claim a 'right to comment' are those who were directly effected?
posted by rough ashlar at 2:55 AM on October 2, 2012


Gosh, what a load of self-righteous claptrap. This is absolutely nobodies business but those getting the tattoo and their relatives, despite all of your angst ridden faux moral outrage.
posted by walrus at 6:52 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dee Xtrovert: " I don't feel that the awful things that happened directly to me make me special in any way. I don't want to be a victim; I've worked hard not to be. For someone to mark themselves in such a way as to commemorate my survival (and their survival of my people) through an historical event helps reduce me to that event. I'm more than that. I reckon most elderly Holocaust survivors would feel the same."

Dee, it's good to see you. You've been missed.

I absolutely do not mean to diminish the value of the knowledgeable perspective you offer.

But with sincere and deep respect for your life experiences, I'm not sure it's wise to assume that we know how the majority of Holocaust survivors would feel about something so personal as their descendents marking themselves with their Nazi concentration camp identification tattoos. I'm not convinced that most would assume it 'reduced them to an event.' Especially since over the last 6 decades Jews (and especially American and Israeli Jews) have been aggressively marketed to by campaigns that urged us not only to "Never Forget," but to support Israel and Zionism because our survival was at stake. Many survivors have taken an active role in those campaigns and presented themselves as living examples.

I've also met and spoken with dozens of Holocaust survivors over the last 20 years. My mom used to teach classes to health care workers about the unique needs and psychological issues that might arise when caring for survivors. There are ways in which survivors tend to be similar -- especially in private. But how they might feel about those experiences or present themselves to the public (as opposed to how they might act around family) varies drastically between individuals.

I agree with you that the culture of victimhood which has become a part of the Jewish religious and secular experience is poisonous and potentially very dangerous. Whether deliberate or inadvertent, the actions of many Holocaust survivors have helped perpetuate that, not diminish it.
posted by zarq at 8:26 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]



> I'd just ask you to imagine your own grandfather, ...


Are the only ones who can claim a 'right to comment' are those who were directly effected?
posted by rough ashlar


rough ashlar, I usually try to respond when someone quotes a comment I've made, but I don't see how your questions relate to what I wrote.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:49 AM on October 2, 2012


I've seen a lot of people with barb wire tattoos. Must be the same idea.
posted by joseppi7 at 1:00 PM on October 2, 2012


chief among these issues is an incredible obtuseness that the average educated person has about Judaism, to the point that still to this day my peers don't think they have ever met a Jew because the person didn't have black bushy hair and a big nose<>

I overheard some tourists talking about how much they'd enjoyed their visit to New York and how they hadn't even had to see any Jews."

This was in Manhattan. I'm sure I was not the only Jew standing close enough to overhear. It was weird.

posted by Salamandrous at 5:32 AM on October 3, 2012


Dee Extrovert,

You can say whatever you like to your descendants, may you live to 120, but ultimately they will decide how to make meaning of their and your history. As someone above said, it's not surprising that we're seeing grandchildren rather than children doing this. With all respect, the survivors themselves may not be the best ones to decide for all time how all people (or even their descendents) should relate to the thing that they survived. In addition to the necessarily limited perspective, there is also the fact that not all survivors will hold one view.

I am also a grandchild of survivors. They were not at Auschwitz but different camps so none had tattoos.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:42 AM on October 3, 2012


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