The imagery of a bare arm with a tattooed series of numbers (04 24 2017) was designed to get peoples’ attention, and its symbolism was unmistakable. It’s a stark reminder of how Jewish prisoners were recorded by the Nazis when entering the kingdom of death. They were branded with a number, which took away their lives by negating their identities, and marked for ultimate death in the gas chambers.
And yet, the tattoo in the picture published in many newspapers across Canada, and written about in the May 4 edition of The CJN, provided a related, but different, message. It reminded us that April 24, 2017 was the date on which we commemorated Yom Hashoah.
Sadly, in my view, this advertisement generated some fierce debate online.
Complaints ranged from disappointment to anger, from strong and passionate support, to comments from those who felt the ad was a denigration of the Shoah.
Personally, as a son of a Holocaust survivor and someone who was raised in the shadow of difficult and horrible memories, I believe anything that helps us collectively remember is both good for the soul and can act as a much-needed canary in the coal mine.
At a time when the ridiculous becomes the possible – when the Jewish Defence League could make common cause with the neo-Nazi Soldiers of Odin, when Jewish leadership, who understand what it means to be perennial victims of hatred and scorn, fail to support a simple parliamentary motion to condemn Islamophobia and other forms of religious and racial discrimination, at a time when the leader of the most important democratic nation on Earth can appoint a white nationalist as his chief advisor – we need all the help we can get to remember this terrible event.
In my last column, I wrote of a right-wing pundit who participated in a trip to Israel organized by Rebel Media – a media outlet a la Breitbart News that uses intimidation and racism to stoke public paranoia. While in Jerusalem, their group visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.
As I have already noted publicly, “It takes a special kind of person to walk out of a memorial dedicated to the barbaric slaughter of millions, walk a few blocks to a hotel room, position a small video camera and produce a clip mocking the butchery of innocents.”
While many very properly denounced the video as an attack on the veracity of the Holocaust, others, Jews included, gave the video some cover by claiming it was a terrible attempt at humour gone very wrong.
Need we be reminded that within our living memory, there was an attempt to murder all the Jews? There can never be anything funny about that.
In years past, our community would have been in an uproar over this form of Holocaust denial; the community’s leadership would have spoken out strongly against it. But that does not appear to be the case today (indeed, in years past, our neighbours to the south would never have tolerated an alt-right white nationalist working in the White House).
So a Holocaust ad campaign reminding us of our duty to recall should be lauded, not criticized. Similarly, we owe a debt of gratitude to producers like Steven Spielberg, who brought the Holocaust to a new audience, at a time when it was very much needed. And today, we need to further embrace any form of media or entertainment that reminds us of the Holocaust.
This week, a play put on by the Koffler Centre for the Arts in Toronto, Bad Jews, will begin a 10-performance run. It is predicated on a blistering argument between two cousins over a small pendant that belonged to their grandfather. The pendant was passed on through the generations and the grandfather kept it safe, even during his time in a Nazi concentration camp, where he kept it hidden under his tongue.
Theatre that speaks to millennials, ads that poke our memories to recall what horror can do – we all need these reminders at a time when memory seems to have forgotten.