Monday, October 01, 2012


Here is an unsettling and thought-provoking story from Israel published in today's edition of the New York Times:
When Eli Sagir showed her grandfather, Yosef Diamant, the new tattoo on her left forearm, he bent his head to kiss it.

Mr. Diamant had the same tattoo, the number 157622, permanently inked on his own arm by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Nearly 70 years later, Ms. Sagir got hers at a hip tattoo parlor downtown after a high school trip to Poland. The next week, her mother and brother also had the six digits inscribed onto their forearms. This month, her uncle followed suit.

"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."

Mr. Diamant’s descendants are among a handful of children and grandchildren of Auschwitz survivors here who have taken the step of memorializing the darkest days of history on their own bodies. With the number of survivors here dropping to about 200,000 from 400,000 a decade ago, institutions and individuals are grappling with how best to remember the Holocaust — so integral to Israel’s founding and identity — after those who lived it are gone.

. . .

"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."

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.

"It’s shocking when you see the number on a very young girl’s hand," Ms. Sagir said. "It’s very shocking. You have to ask, Why?"
To read the rest, click here. Like Michael Berenbaum, I'm not sure that I like this "in-your-face" approach to honoring those who survived the Holocaust; then again, my perceptions may be colored by the fact that I dislike tattoos in general. As I've noted in a number of historical memory posts - most recently in April - something important happens when the last living witnesses to a major historical event pass from the scene. If nothing else, I hope that this unlikely discussion about tattoos will help to keep the memory of the Holocaust vivid when no survivors remain to tell their stories. AMDG.


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