Holocaust Tips For Kids

At age ten, I went through my Holocaust phase.

This is a period in a child's life--more common for children raised as Jews, but many non-Jewish children go through a Holocaust phase as well--in which one becomes fascinated with the Holocaust, devouring books, movies, poetry, and diaries, visiting Holocaust museums, and interrogating one's parents and grandparents about where they were and what they did during the war. (My grandparents on both sides of the family were living in the U.S. at the time, and both of my grandfathers served in the U.S. military, one as an infantryman, the other as a radar engineer for the Navy.)

For some, this is just innocent childhood curiosity, and the phase eventually passes as the child loses interest after exhausting the subject matter. For others, though, especially those who are strongly (and inappropriately) encouraged by their parents and teachers to pursue this interest as far as it leads, this can become an unhealthy, psychologically debilitating obsession with long term, deleterious effects reaching far into adulthood.

And the trouble is, this abnormal psychology is not only encouraged but forcibly indoctrinated upon young Jewish children as a way of understanding their own identity, how non-Jews view them, and their relationship with secular/gentile society at large. The exaggerations, distortions, and outright lies are especially severe and explcit in the Orthodox Jewish community, for among the Orthodox there is an additional incentive to keep separate from the rest of society and avoid assimilation. (This incentive is simply what makes the Orthodox community Orthodox - their strategy of seclusion and isolation.)

Shalom Auslander, a recovering Orthodox Jew from Monsey, New York (although still a theist, Auslander is no longer observant of Jewish law), has devoted his literary career to poking fun at the illogic, dysfunction, and depression-inducing aspects of religious fundamentalism in general, Orthodox Judaism in particular, and the unhealthy, inappropriate childhood indoctrination of historical suffering, genocide, and oppression imbedded and central to all of Jewish history and every Jewish holiday ("They tried to kill us. They failed. Let's eat."), with the Holocaust being the most recent, extreme, and thus overplayed example.

In his collection of short stories, Beware of God, Auslander captures this distasteful, juvenile victim-mentality perfectly in "Holocaust Tips For Kids," about a boy who understandably mistakes Holocaust Remembrance Day as Emergency Preparedness Training for the future. Told from the perspective of a 10-year-old obsessed with Bruce Lee movies, Harry Houdini, a Jewish classmate crush named Deena, and a non-Jewish neighborhood playmate named Kevin, we see how his parents and school teachers have psychologically abused him into believing that behind every apparently polite and friendly gentile is a closet Nazi, and guilt-tripped him into thinking that even the smallest violation of religious doctrine - even the slightest movement toward assimilation and integration into secular society - is a recipe for ethnic disaster, to be punished by a hateful, vengeful, jealous God. Only a fascination with 70s martial arts movies, home-made nunchucks, tennis ball hand grenades, and always - ALWAYS - having an escape plan (Smokey Bear fire-safety style) for when the Nazis inevitably show up rap-rap-rapping on the front door will save the narrator and Deena from a horrible fate.

My favorite part, hitting way too close to home (as much of Auslander's writing tends to do):

These are some of the things in your house you could use as weapons: pens, pencils, scissors, a handsaw, screwdrivers, a baseball bat, a rolling pin from the kitchen, salt for throwing in Nazi's eyes, knives, forks, a hammer, toothpicks for stabbing, a blowtorch, lightbulbs for throwing, the hard end of a toothbrush, a pointy-handled comb, an ice pick, the ax, a sledgehammer, the lighter fluid from behind the barbecue that you could spray on them and then throw a match at, a shovel, the pick, a trowel, the cultivator rake, nails, screws, razor blades, sewing needles, safety pins, chisels, and knitting needles.

Jews were expelled from England in 1290, France in 1306, Hungary in 1349, France again in 1394, Austria in 1421, Lithuania in 1445, Spain in 1492, Portugal in 1497, and Moravia in 1744.

Some ballpoint pens have replaceable ink cartridges. If you take the cartridge out and put a sewing needle in, you can shoot it out like a Ninja blowgun.

Rabbi Brier says that the Holocaust happened because the Jews assimilated.

That's also why Hashem made the Jews slaves in Egypt. And why He let the Holy Temple be destroyed by the Romans.

King Solomon built the first Holy Temple. Then the Babylonians destroyed it and deported all the Jews. Seventy years later, a second temple was built. Then the Romans destroyed it and deported all the Jews.

There was no third temple.

Assimilating is when you stop being Jewish, like Woody Allen.

My mother says Woody Allen is a self-hating Jew.

This logic encapsulates Richard Dawkin's explanation of religion as meme transmission. What better way to ensure the continued procreation and separateness of an ethno-religious culture than scaring the living fuck out of children, pounding away, again and again--through every classroom lesson, biblical exegesis, field trip, religious holiday--that God will have you killed if you give up the faith; that the rest of the world despises you, so that even if you try to abandon your birth culture, "they" will never fully accept you; that thousands of years of history bears this all out; that to disagree with any of this is to be worse than a traitor to one's own people. And in many respects, this analysis is entirely accurate, for it is a self-fulfilling prophecy: by refusing to integrate and embrace the rest of society, we come across as a holier-than-though "chosen" people, not to be trusted, always with ulterior motives, and therefore deserving of suspicion and rebuke, a convenient scapegoat in times of economic and social upheaval. It's no wonder the Jewish people have survived as a distinct group for thousands of years, nor is there any mystery to the origins of neurotic Jewish humor; if you can't laugh at the insanity of the meme, all that is left is tearful, suicidal depression.

I told my grandmother recently that I may very likely intermarry outside the faith, which is perhaps the worst possible thing a modern Jew can do. Many Orthodox Jewish families disown their children for intermarriage, performing all of the same rituals of mourning the death of a child, and refusing to ever speak to or visit the intermarried child again. My grandmother, who immigrated to Israel from Philadelphia in 1969, and lives in a very religious, Ultra-Orthdox community, responded with, and I am not making this up:

If you marry a non-Jew, you will be finishing Hitler's work.

Yup. I think I'll get off this train-wreck of a meme right here, thanks.

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actually when i took modern

actually when i took modern european history, i had an idea something along these lines too. namely, that the jews by acting the way they do, do deserve to be sanctioned by the state. it is just that executing them is rather excessive. but would be all right with like fines or something mild like that. dislike their refusal to mix. but since nowadays they have their own country, not much of an issue anymore?

I suspect memetics is a

I suspect memetics is a crackpot idea, but nonetheless, good for you. I suppose the Christian equivalent of this kind of family strife, at least for me, is having my mom think I'm going to Hell. Technically, that means I've got to deal with infinite disutility, whereas all you've got to deal with is continuing the Holocaust--bad, but does it compare to eternal hellfire? Anyway, the point is, I win. Again.  You keep trying, Ghertner.

Thanks Micah for this

Thanks Micah for this intriguing post. As somebody who grew up in Utah, Idaho, and Montana, I only new one, very secular, Jew growing up. Of course when I came to the Ivy League I met many more and it is certainly a very singular and fascinating culture/meme-set. I listen to the guy in the room next to mind be harangued by his mother and it blows my mind. Cultural evolution has clearly carefully honed a set of practices and beliefs designed for perpetuating itself through the ages--with all the good and bad baggage that comes along with that. I'd like to learn more so I could compare it to the Mormon culture I grew up in out here in the Jello Belt.

Possible explanation

Persecution of the jews has selected for paranoia (culturally and/or biologically).

In defense of your grandmother

Pretty harsh comment from her, yeah. But I'd like to defend the mindset that led to that harsh comment. She sees herself as part of a struggle encompassing not just her lifetime, but one stretching back a couple thousand years. After all the suffering, the triumphs, the creation of Israel, etc, her grandson exits the struggle, and she's probably thinking to herself, "What's the point?"

This is similar to what a friend of mine who's the child of immigrants is going through. He's probably going to marry outside his culture. His parents, with good reason, believe, "Why did we come to America, work our asses off, struggle to fit in, and take those risks if our children leave the culture?"

I'm not arguing what you should or shouldn't do, just that I can empathize with her.

Oh, I completely understand

Oh, I completely understand where she's coming from; hell, I used to hold the same beliefs myself. I don't blame her as a person for holding that view; many Jews, and most Orthodox do.

Still, it's pretty amazing to me to see people I know and love place greater value on their commitment to an abstract ideal of group solidarity and continuity at the expense of the feelings of and relationships with flesh and blood family members.

Sounds like racism

"She sees herself as part of a struggle encompassing not just her lifetime, but one stretching back a couple thousand years. After all the suffering, the triumphs, the creation of Israel, etc, her grandson exits the struggle, and she's probably thinking to herself, 'What's the point?'"

Sound sort of like racism.   After 100,000 years of struggle adapting to a particular sunlight challenged climate and he gave it all up by marrying one of "them".

Got sick of it

Sound sort of like racism.

The term "racism" is flung around so easily that as a barb it is at risk of becoming thoroughly dulled from overuse. In my eyes it lost its sting years ago.

It doesn't just sound like

It doesn't just sound like racism. It is racism. It's an inherent problem in any exclusive, non-universalizable religious system that relies on (mostly) genetic as opposed to purely ideological transmission to sustain itself over time. Apologists will respond that there is an escape valve of conversion to rebut the racism charge, but this is small beans. Conversion to Judaism is at best tolerated, usually discouraged, and certainly not actively sought through proselytization.

Now, on the other hand, not all forms of racism are equally objectionable. Black Nationalism may be objectionable as racist, but it is no where near as objectionable as White Nationalism. When a historically persecuted minority responds to the racism of the majority with racism of its own, through isolation, seclusion, and self-sufficient autarky, it is an unfortunate, unwise reaction, but it is understandable in a way that majority, power-holding racism is not.

I think it's unfortunate when people like Constant dismiss the entire concept of racism, though I think I understand why this done. The problem is lack of gradations and distinctions between different levels of racism. The charge of racism should sting, but we should be careful to not equivocate between the truly horrendous forms and the merely ignorant or unwise forms.

Not the same thing

I think it's unfortunate when people like Constant dismiss the entire
concept of racism, though I think I understand why this done.

Not the same thing. There are a lot of concepts I am not stung by. Doesn't mean I dismiss them. Balloons. Aluminum. Zebras.

The charge of racism should sting,

Not my problem, but I'll give you free advice: if you use it against your grandmother, you, not me, will be eroding its edge.

but we should be careful to not
equivocate between the truly horrendous forms and the merely ignorant
or unwise forms.

The racism witch hunt, like earth worship, has overreached. Now it's going after Jewish grandmothers.


So how incompatible is orthodox Judaism with what you want out of life? My former boss was an orthodox Jew who was the head of his section in a big department in a well known hospital. He fit in, was well-liked, had a great sense of humor, and ran the section well. The only thing I noticed that was different about him was his dietary habits and the fact that he'd go home early on Fridays in the winter. Lots of people have dietary requirements these - vegetarians, Muslims, hippies, etc - and do fine. And going home early on Fridays sounds like a plus to me. He wasn't mistrustful, obsessed, etc.

Point of all this: Isn't it possible to take the best parts of orthodox Judaism, filter out the rest, and live in the modern world?

What baby?

Why should Micha want to compromise in the first place and follow jewish cults ? What best part" of orthodox judaism can't you get without eating kosher and  following shabbat ? I do think there are great things in jewish culture, but I doubt they cannot be enjoyed while eating prosciutto at work on a saturday.

The only reason I see would be to please his grandma, and frankly speaking, if my grandma used this kind of moral terrorism with me, I'd fake a gay coming out  just to piss her even more.

I do think there are great

I do think there are great things in jewish culture, but I doubt they
cannot be enjoyed while eating prosciutto at work on a saturday.

I used to think this too, a few months ago, until I had a long discussion with my brother-in-law. There are many benefits that go along with living in an Orthodox Jewish community (those familiar with Putnam's "Bowling Alone" should be able to guess what some of these benefits are) that cannot be enjoyed (or at least there are no close substitutes that I am aware of) without accepting the "package deal." To explain what I mean by this deserves a post of its own, which I hope to write in the near future, but not tonight.

Of course, someting you can

Of course, someting you can gain that way is acceptance in a community. However, think about it for a minute. Why on earth would you desire to be accepted by a community that does so only because you follow a set of pointless rules? I used to have an atheist / catholic girlfriend who would try to go to church every sunday to "fit in", it drove me nuts. There's also the opposite view, what do you think  the community would feel should they know that you respect the rules not out of genuine faith but to fit in? I know there is aweird adherence to the letter rather than the spirit of the law, so they might actually not care, but still... doesn't it strike you as dishonest? If people require that you follow kashrut to befriend you, and accept you in their inner circle, screw them.


It might be possible, but it

It might be possible, but it is tremendously difficult, especially for someone interested in philosophy. This is essentially the strategy taken by the Modern Orthodox/Young Israel movement; adherence to Halacha (Jewish law) along with a (mostly) positive view of the Enlightenment, and a willingness to live (somewhat) integrated lives in secular society. It's a sensitive balancing act, and I don't think it will succeed in the long term; I strongly suspect that, for a variety of reasons (which I may blog about in the future; it's a topic I think and read about alot), it will unravel towards the extremes: either towards Ultra-Orthodox, Charedi, isolated autarky on the one hand, or secular liberal Judaism on the other.

Kosher dietary and Sabbath laws are far, far down on the list of problems Orthodox (and even Conservative) Judaism has in its relation with the secular world. The bigger issues are the role of women in religious society, homosexuality, intermarriage, evolution, circumcision, and the study of philosophy and "dangerous texts", to name but a few. Even Conservative Judaism (a much more liberal denomination than Orthodoxy, but with an authentic claim to adherence to Halacha, at least in comparison to Reform and Reconstructionist wings, which explicitly reject Halacha as authoritative), which has made its peace with most of these issues, is presently engaged in a soul-defining debate over homosexuality, with the very odd and very shaky resolution that homosexuality is okay as long as men don't engage in anal sex with other men. Color me biased, but I don't expect that compromise to last over a long period of time, during which it will be exposed to reason and common sense.

So to get back to your original question again, yes, it may be possible to both remain an Orthodox Jew and live happily in the modern world, but it takes an incredible amount of mental jugglery, willful ignorance, and feigned disinterest in logical (and emotional) inconsistencies to do so. And for what? After enough cognitive dissonance, eventually people ask themselves if its still worth it. For some it is. Shalom Auslander, for example, had it much worse than I ever did, and his hatred for fundamentalism is therefore much stronger than mine, and yet he still can't shake his believe in some sort of God. Perhaps I just lack whatever gene most people seem to have coded for religious longing and spirituality. But the trend of secularization in both the U.S. and Europe indicates that I'm probably not that unique. Perhaps more curious and more willing to buck cultural expectations and social stigmas than the average Joe, but it's only a matter of time before the costs stack up high enough to make the Shaloms and Michas of the world not the exception but the rule.

Judaism relies on family.

Judaism relies on family. How many people do you know who grew up going to synagogue and eating matzoh on Passover, only to "not have time" for that when they went off to college? Your grandmother recognizes that if you marry a non-Jew, you won't bother to keep kosher. Or go to shul. Or give your children any kind of Jewish identity or awareness of their ancestors' history. It won't be the worst thing in the world, but it will add to the gradual disappearance of Jewry altogether. If you don't think that's a bad thing... so be it. Shalom Auslander pretends to hate Jewishness, but he (and Woody Allen) are in fact almost romantically obsessed with their heritage.

I was a lot like you -- obsessed with the Holocaust at an early age, wanting to ride a time machine into the Warsaw ghetto and join the uprising, then later virulently opposed to the Jewcentricity and self-righteous morality of religious Jews. At this point, I have no religious faith but rather a grudging respect for the non-violent nerdiness of Jews throughout history. Mingling quite a lot with people of other cultures has convinced me that we Jews have unspoken and hard-to-define commonalities (just as other races and cultures do) that would make intermarriage, on my part, a really bad move.

Plus, I want my kids to be Jewish.

Yup, I agree: intermarriage

Yup, I agree: intermarriage does add to the gradual disappearance of Jewry. Not only do I not think that's a bad thing; I think it's a good thing. Judaism had the right goal - being a light unto the nations - but it went about achieving this goal in the wrong way. Well, to be fair, maybe it was the best way at the time, but it isn't the best way in 21st Century America. Leading by example is a great thing - the example being "Justice, justice shall you pursue"- but there is no need to lead by example through exclusive genetic/ethnic sequestering. We have reason and persuasion to do that for us. Socrates, Aristotle, the Greeks in general, and the European Enlightenment take a lot of flack from fundamentalist Jews (and fundamentalist Christians and Muslims too), but they were right and Judaism wrong. It's long past time to own up to their discoveries.

Don't worry, Magram, I'll still marry you and you can have my babies, as long as you're cool with me having a little something-something on the side every now and then. :P

Form a support group?

I just thought it would be interesting to form a support group of German and Jewish Holocaust traumatized kids. I can imagine that such a suggestion is going to launch disbelief, in particular the idea of a German holocaust traumatised kid.

It is a fact that the Holocaust is an integral part of a post-war German identity; I was born in 1974, and the Holocaust was a recurring topic of classroom projects for years at school - and I embraced it. At school, we first dealed with it when I was about 11 in history class - but that was not the first time I heard about the Holocaust - you simply "know" as a German youth (I went to an academic secondary school from when I turned 10 - I can imagine that things were different at other school types, where typically more marginalized or intellectually challenged pupils attend).

Anne Frank's diary, other novels in particular about kids and teenagers and their families who were brutally killed - we started reading these in our German lessons from when I was 13 to 14. When I was 15, we read Eugen Kogons "Der SS-Staat" http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugen_Kogon - a huge tome, basically a logistic report of how people were destroyed in the concentration camps with a particular interest in documenting details such as how the latrines were cleaned (you don' want to know) and we had to do presentations on this for four weeks.

We all took this very seriously - the few idiots in our class (who soon dropped out) that tried to poke fun occasionally were attacked (verbally) severely by the rest of the class. It's not like I felt it was forced upon me - rather like it was my responsibility to have a look at this part of German history (although I, like most German intellectuals, neither then nor today feel the least of pride for being German - the soccer World Cup 2006 was the first occasion that I could bear the public display of the German flag).

Parents and teachers also encouraged us to show such behaviour. After having read Kogon, we finally we went to see the historical site of a concentration camp near Weimar with our Sociology class - a typical thing to do for a German class at one point in secondary school. I''ll never forget the sight of the killing machinery. Our teacher, nonetheless, wasn't pleased with us. Not a single joke was allowed during that day - but put 25 15-year-olds of both sexes on a bus tour for a day, do you think they'll be able to keep it down at all times?

And then finally when I was 18, we repeated the whole curriculum in our final year of history lessons.

I have now moved from Germany to Vienna, Austria, which is a curious experience for me because this is the first time now that I meet German-speaking Jews - at the moment mainly in the form of immigrants from Eastern Europe to the 2nd district, but still it is thrilling as 'Jew' previously equated "An extinct people my ancestors have killed" (I've probably met English-speaking Jews before, but they did not expose their religion). Yet I haven't been able to strike up a conversation yet.

Coming back to the initial idea: Maybe a transcultural exchange/support group to discuss our second-hand Holocaust experience would really be interesting? You've got my mail.

You have an interesting

You have an interesting perspective, anaj, and it probably would be useful to have such a group (I wouldn't be surprised if groups like this already exist), but I don't think I'd be a good candidate for it. I feel like I've already sufficiently dealt with my own issues independently, and I'm way past the age that it's central to the fiber of my being. I think it would be more useful for younger adults who still have the issue fresh in their minds; maybe a pen-pal program between Jewish and German high-school students would be a neat implementation of this idea.

Honestly, though, I think part of the problem is that we already pay way more attention to the issue than it deserves; we are talking about tragedies that occured multiple generations ago; the people directly involved are my grandparents' age and older; for today's younger students, we're talking great-grandparents already. It's tough to see how giving the issue more attention would be worthwhile when the central problem is too much attention in the first place.

The Holocaust should be taught to children in school, in their history and social studies courses, at an appropriate age, along with topics (from my American perspective) such as the experience of the American Indians in relation to European colonists, the African slave trade, and so forth. I think the Holocaust is just given way too much attention in Jewish education, and the same is probably also true for native Germans.

For what it's worth, I wrote a semi-related article a few years ago that may be of interest to you: Jews, Jesus, and German Cars.

I agree

I also thought of such a "support group" catering mainly for older children and teenagers, i.e. people who are in the Holocaust phase. That'd make it meaningful. At the moment, the two traumas - although stemming from the same incident - are centred around different things. German school kids learn next to nothing about what it means to be Jewish in the world, throughout history and now.

I still believe that one cannot devote enough attention to the Holocaust (but that might be a German reflex), but I guess I am coming from a different perspective. For me, it is the most atrocious crime that could happen to mankind, and the German people have a responsibility to keep the memory alive because it was their forefathers who inflicted it upon mankind. From a Jewish perspective (I suppose), it is probably less perceived as the most horrendous crime on humanity, but own Judaity(?) - quite a difference.

Another anecdote on the side: My mum (like quite a number of Germans - she's born 1951) loves reading novels by Jewish authors, and sometimes fantasizes about us having Jewish ancestors because my grandfather was from Poland and nobody knows who his father was... I guess that is subdued guilt emerging, like in some US Americans who embrace the idea that they might be descendants from a native American tribe... subconscious attempt at reconciliation with the past.

Thanks for the link to Jews and German cars:-)

From a Jewish perspective

From a Jewish perspective (I suppose), it is probably less perceived as the most horrendous crime on humanity

No, I just happen to be a strange outlier. I think Jews in general do considerate it unique and ultimate, although I personally don't see much value in ranking genocides and other tragedies.