I finished reading Maus by Art Spiegelman, which is a moving retelling of a survivor of the holocaust in the form of a graphic novel. I just read this story today of another legacy. I can only guess at reasons why a mother would deny her son. However, euphemisms used throughout the article are lies of omission meant mask the brutal, and possibly embarrassing realities the woman likely faced as a Jew in post World War II Europe. From the article, we can see he was born July 9th, 1946, in Munich, Germany and became separated days later, which means he was conceived after V-E day (May 8th, 1945).
Saying they were separated, while technically true, is not the whole truth. The reasons why they were separated is equally important. I will admit that I’m curious to the real reasons. But, on the other hand, it is just a passing curiosity for myself, and surely a tragic, painful experience for the woman.
This lying through admission is also at play in Maus also. I don’t feel it is the fault of the author. But, it becomes obvious through the course of the book that Vladek might color his actions in his narratives to mask some harsher realities of what took place or his role. I’m in no position to judge Vladek or any holocaust survivor in their ordeal. Vladek made compromises as I’m sure every survivor must have, but such compromises were necessary in order to survive.
I sincerely believe that we must learn from the holocaust. There is no atonement that will mean anything to those that died. Everlasting guilt is not productive. What is needed is reflection. How did the holocaust happen? What can we do to prevent it in the future? Although, the great horror has to be the lines that were artificially drawn between Jews and Aryans, and the subsequent industrial and systematic extermination along that boundary.
I think one of the psychological factors that allowed for the persecution by the perpetrators was by no longer believing the Jews were “human.” That they didn’t deserve the same rights and privileges as their peers even if such benefits were justly earned. In that view, the persecution of the Jews is no different than slavery in America, and some of the same logic permeates both subjects: superiority complexes, distortions of history and eugenics, to name a few.
In that respect, I wish “humanism” was put on a stronger base. That people felt that they couldn’t do what ever they pleased to animals around them. I can’t help but cringe at the vindictive actions towards innocent creatures like Al Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath” were he goes out of his way to kill a rabbit instead of trying to avoid it. I think if everyone had a stronger base and a basic respect towards life then it would be harder for them to be manipulated into turning-off their “human” switch, in which morality no longer seems to apply. I am not saying that we’d necessarily become vegetarians as such. But, there would be more thought, debate and questioning to how those lives are being spent and used.
In that respect, I don’t believe we can build some memorial, museum, or machine or write a book that will prevent something like the holocaust from ever happening again. No thing can prevent it, because it isn’t a product of what we have, it is a product of who we are. In that respect, the holocaust is too specific, because it isn’t just about the Germans and the Jews. It is about all oppressors and the oppressed. In short, people have to think about morality and often. This isn’t a perfect prescriptive measure, since many times people seemed to think about morality and came to radical conclusions that included more violence, but it seems to be as good a defense as we’ve ever had. The holocaust is one of those moments that we must reflect on, but the important thing isn’t that the victims were Jews murdered by Germans. It was that the victims lives were equally as valuable as anybody else’s and they suffered in ways that no living thing should have; the perpetrators didn’t see it that way.