Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Holocaust and Guns

I just finished a stint as a teaching assistant for a Holocaust history class this semester. It was a fascinating class with a brilliant professor but, naturally, it was horrible. I've purposefully kept away from the topic all my life, not because I'm trying to ignore or hide the facts, but because a little bit of emotional dread goes a long way with me (and my family). I lost many relatives; I'm named after two brothers of my grandfather who were murdered; but I have tried to avoid the soul-crushing intensity that a dive into the holocaust waters would bring.

Well, there went that plan out the window. The class met for an hour three times a week, which meant I was depressed for most of the time. True story: I got the last word in class - the last day we have a class-wide discussion and I explained to the mass of undergraduates, many of whom were born the year when I was a college freshman, that studying the Holocaust is different when you're a able-bodied single adult than when you're a married parent. As a 20 year old, you can imagine being in the resistance, escaping a ghetto, hiding out in the woods etc. As a parent, all you imagine is your children being murdered. Again, it was horrible.

One natural response of a study of the Holocaust is Zionism, but it's a bit more complicated than that. One disturbing realization of the history is that while the mass murder started in Western Europe, aided by a culture of anti-semitism that reacted to the gains of liberal Jews in Weimar Germany, for the most part the assimilated Jews of the Western countries managed to escape. E.g. 50% of German Jews escaped, and many more would have survived if they had decided to identify as Jews (and thus flee) and not as loyal Germans (and thus stay, wearing their WWI uniforms).

Who were the overwhelming victims? Orthodox Jews who were estranged from their home countrymen (Poland, Lithuania, Belarus) - and the estrangement led to a mutual hatred. One way to see it is that the assimilated Jews of Germany angered the Western European murderers who took over the backward Slavic nations and slaughtered the unassimilated Jews. One lesson I take from this is another support for Modern Orthodoxy, but the whole subject is too dreary for clean lessons.

A question I do ask is why Jews in the diaspora don't own more guns. Zionism is a natural response to the Holocaust, but Zionism isn't limited to the land of Israel. This is a large topic - the debate between political vs. cultural Zionism - but you don't need to go as crazy as the JDL to wonder why Jews don't have a gun in the tool-shed for protection against our crazy neighbors.

My quick answer is that (a) Jews in the US are primarily urban and the anti-gun laws are severe in cities, and the response time of police is quick (especially since Jews, as prima-facie middle-class Caucasians, are preferred clients of law enforcement); (b) Jews are pro-natalist (i.e. we have many kids) and guns and kids don't mix; (c) Jewish law forbids hunting, and eating food shot to death, so it's not in the culture that way; (d) it's tough to be a Jew in the military and that's where gun familiarization occurs.

Those are at least most of the reasons why I haven't already purchased a load of weapons after a semester of being scared out of my mind with Holocaust horror.

1 comment:

shanna said...

As a 20 year old, you can imagine being in the resistance, escaping a ghetto, hiding out in the woods etc. As a parent, all you imagine is your children being murdered.

So. True.