Thursday, January 31, 2008

Commemorating Or Denigrating The Holocaust?

A friend emailed me this article from Reuters:
A Carnival float with a pile of model dead bodies commemorating the Holocaust is causing unease before the lavish parades in Rio de Janeiro this weekend.

The Viradouro samba organization, or school, plans to feature the grim display when it marches in the Sambadrome parade strip on Sunday, despite objections from a local Jewish group.

"Really, it makes no sense addressing this theme with drums and dancing girls," said Sergio Niskier, president of the Israelite Federation in Rio de Janeiro state, referring to the slaughter of Jews by Nazi Germany in World War Two.

"There are still survivors of that horror who have the marks of that tragedy on their skin," he said.

Rio's Carnival is famed for the parades by samba schools with glitzy floats and costumes and street parties where costumed revelers drink and dance all night.

...Viradouro's parade theme is "Shockers" and it includes floats depicting the shock of birth, the shock of horror and the shock of cold.
The Holocaust and samba--is this the only medium to introduce the Holocaust to the man in the street? Is there a float for 'the shock of bad taste'?

The same person who forwarded me this article, also forwarded this to me with the same complaint. What do you think?:
An ambitious campaign to collect 1.5 million unused crayons has been launched by members of the teenage youth group at Congregation Temple Israel in Creve Coeur, MO.

The crayons are to commerate the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust, according to Jennifer Patchin, co-advisor to the Temple Israel Federation of Temple Youth (TIFTY) group.

...The group has currently collected more than 400,000 crayons. Of these, 150, 000 will be used to create a permanent memorial at Temple Israel. In the memorial, one crayon will represent every 10 children who perished, Schultz explained. The remainder of the crayons will be distributed to area elementary schools, along with a coloring book promoting tolerance and diversity that the youth group members are designing.
Tolerance and diversity appear to be an important goal--
“I’m especially interested in the cultural awareness that this project will generate,” said 17-year-old Molly Finn, chair of the crayon campaign. “I hope it will serve as a reminder of what happened, but also as a reminder of what is going on now in places like Darfur. Promoting diversity is important, and people need to know that it’s not OK to hate.”
I don't know if this is another instance of trivializing the Holocaust--after all, this is for children. But here too, the Holocaust is being repackaged for the audience--in an age when hating evil, never mind waging war against it, is considered barbaric (if not downright Republican).

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Anonymous said...


I am one of the adult advisors of the group sponsoring the crayon campaign, and I am disturbed and confused by your post and by any who would say that this project denigrates the Shoah. The entire point of the project is to give people a way to visually see the number of children senselessly murdered and to create a permanet place to honor their memories, while bringing awareness and messages of tolerance to children of all faiths in our community. We are also working to combat future tragedies by working with children to teach about diversity and prevent senseless hate. This is a project being run by teens for children and other members of our community to present important and serious information in a powerful way. If someone could explain to me how this is disrepectful, I would very much appreciate it. We have received only positive feedback from our community and local survivors, and I am disturbed that someone would compare a memorial project aimed at raising awarenss, memorializing victims, and promoting tolerance to an oubviously tasteless display in a parade aimed at shock value alone.

I appreciate hearing your thoughts. If you desire, you can email me at

Daled Amos said...

I am posting this comment on behalf of Alex Grobman:

I wrote the email about trivializing the Holocaust through the use of crayons.I know the program was instituted with the best of intentions. Yet, you don't need the Holocaust to teach tolerance. This is not simply another example of " Man's Inhumanity To Man." If that is the purpose of teaching the Holocaust, then what the Russians and Chinese did are far better examples since they killed many more of their citizens than six million..

When I circulated the press release to colleagues who are educators in the Shoah, one asked if we should start collecting 400 Hershey Kisses for the 400 hundred years of slavery. Another asked if he should write a proposal for a float with a klezmer band to commemorate the Armenian Genocide.

The crayon project suggests a misreading of what the Holocaust was and what lessons are to be learned from the experience. Below is an essay I wrote that might clarify it for you. (Below that is my bio. I do have some background in the field.)

The Nazis sought to strip the Jews of their identity. This project continues the process. The Jews wanted to be remembered for the moral dilemmas they faced in the ghettos and camps. In Hidden in Thunder Esther Farbstein deals with these issues. Yad Vashem also has appropriate material for students to learn about the children and the issues they faced.

The enormity is important, but we should be careful in learning about this in a way that does not deprive them of their souls. They were not inanimate objects. This is not the way Jews remember our departed.If so, please give me some examples.

Alex Grobman


When we refer to the Holocaust, we mean the systematic bureaucratically administered destruction by the Nazis and their collaborators of six million Jews during the Second World War. The Jews were found "guilty" only because they were viewed inaccurately as a race. The Nazi state orchestrated the attempted mass murder of every person with at least three Jewish grandparents.

Millions of civilians and soldiers were killed as a consequence of war. Communists, political and religious leaders were eliminated because they were viewed as a potential threat to the Nazis. When the Nazis murdered approximately 10,000 Polish intelligentsia, in 1939-1940, and Polish Catholic priesthood in western Poland, for example, they were trying to prevent these groups from becoming a political and spiritual force that could unite the country against them. Similarly, when the Nazis murdered more than two and one-half million Soviet prisoners of war, they were killing a military force that had fought them on the field of battle.

European Jews, on the other hand, were the only people marked for complete destruction. To the Nazi leadership, the Jews were a satanic force that controlled both the East and the West and, posed a physical threat to the German nation. There was no way to stop this alleged international Jewish conspiracy from gaining total control of the world, the Nazis reasoned, except to physically destroy every Jewish man, woman, and child. Failure to do so, Hitler believed, "would not lead to a Versailles treaty but the final destruction, indeed, to the annihilation of the German people."

When the executioners questioned their superiors about the need to kill every Jewish woman and child, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, claimed that he would not have been "justified in getting rid of the men-in having them put to death, in other words—only to allow their children to grow up to avenge themselves on our sons and grandsons. We have to make up our minds, hard though it may be, that this race must be wiped off the face of the earth."

For a number of reasons, we do not know the exact number of Jews who were killed. German historian Wolfgang Benz posits that there were 6,269,027, which is more than earlier studies by Jewish scholars. Six Million is the most accurate term and acceptable.

The Nazis also annihilated a minimum of 300,000 Sinti and Roma from Germany, the Baltic region, Ukraine, Croatia and Serbia, although the precise number cannot be determined. Many thousands of others were also killed: the physically and mentally disabled, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, socialists, communists, trade unionists, and political and religious dissidents.

None of these groups, however, were the primary target of the Nazis—not the mentally disabled, who were killed in the euthanasia centers in Germany (here it is to be noted that the Nazis did not export this program to the civilian populations outside the Reich); not the homosexuals, who were regarded as social deviants but for whom the Nazis did not have a consistent policy (homosexuals were persecuted only in the Reich and in areas annexed to it but not in countries the Germans occupied); not the Gypsies, who were partly seen as "asocial" aliens and Aryans within society and therefore did not have to be annihilated completely; and not the Jehovah's Witnesses, who had refused to swear allegiance to Hitler and who declined to serve in the German army, but who were not marked for extinction; in fact, only a small number were incarcerated in the camps, and most of them were German nationals. The Nazis also did not single out every socialist, communist, trade unionist, or dissident—just those they perceived as a threat to the Reich. The Jews alone were the primary target of the Nazis.

One of the most common errors in describing the magnitude of the Shoah is the number of people who died. Figures range from 50 million to 11 million, a reflection of a fundamental misunderstanding of the uniqueness of this catastrophe. The use of 11 million is a particularly egregious historical distortion as it equates the destruction of the Jews of Europe with that of the others who were murdered.

We study the Shoah to understand what transpired, why it happened and what it tells us about the attitude of Western civilization toward Jews and other minorities living in the West. It is not a contest to see which group suffered the most or sustained the greatest numerical losses.

If we are to learn from history, we must be concerned about objective truth, with transmitting what actually ensued and not allowing those with their own particular agenda or ignorance to obscure our understanding of what occurred. Distinguishing between different historical events does not, and should not, lessen or demean the suffering of others. When we use 11 million or any other number than the Six Million to describe the Shoah, we are distorting the historical record. We trivialize the importance of this unprecedented event in modern history, minimize the experiences of all those who suffered and prevent a legitimate understanding of its causes and its universal implications for Western society.

The stakes are too high to misrepresent history for as Richard Rubenstein accurately noted, "Auschwitz has enlarged our conception of the state's capacity to do violence. A barrier has been overcome in what for millennia had been regarded as the permissible limits of political action.” Our continued interest and fascination with the Nazi period should keep us vigilant Jacob Talmon observed for "it is entirely possible that this is the end that awaits many races and nations -- maybe all of them. And the Jews will then prove to have been the first victim of this new experiment."