Holocaust Remembrance Day and Us

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel: As LGBT people, Holocaust Remembrance Day is a special day where we commemorate and remember the heavy cost of hatred, violence and discrimination. Israeli website Gogay published an op-ed for this day from a member of the LGBT community, who tries to figure out how do we have to remember this day as LGBT people.

As Israelis, our memory of the Holocaust has three circles: the first is the personal circle. There are still many survivors among us, and there are also those who immigrated to Israel while their families remained in Europe and were murdered. For them and their families, the Holocaust is first and foremost a private pain. The second circle is the national circle that manifests in Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies and in Yad Vashem, as well as in our national memory, as we see every day in politics, in art and even in sports. The third circle is the universal circle. The absolute resistance to the idea of what the Nazis did, and the evil that resulted.

But which of these patterns should we, as the LGBT community in Israel, adopt in relation to the gay and lesbian people who were murdered in the Holocaust? And how?

As an LGBT community, the first circle does not exist for us. We have no personal relation to homosexuals who were sent to camps wearing pink triangles, and almost none of us personally knows these survivors. On the other hand, the third circle is certainly relevant for us, if anything because we’re human. But as LGBT people we have to focus on the second circle of remembrance, the national circle. What’s good in it, what’s wrong with it, what should be adopted, and what should be rejected?

The national memory of the Holocaust plays two important roles that are related to the other two circles: related to the first circle – because we have to embrace the people for whom the memory of the Holocaust is a private matter, give them a feeling that there is someone who listens to their pain and help them shout what they swore to shout to the world if they survived. Related to the third circle – it’s important to remind humanity over and over again what happened, and place a hazard sign: “Something like that happened to us when one of the world’s most cultured countries deteriorated to an animal barbarism, and tomorrow it could happen to you. It could happen to you as victims, or worse – as criminals. The relation to the first position is unparalleled for queer people in Israel, but in the second position – the translation is direct.

The national dimension, however, also exists by itself. The Holocaust didn’t harm many Jews by accident. It happened because the Nazis wanted to erase the Jewish people. They also wanted to eradicate homosexuality. In both cases we have to deal with the knowledge that there were those who wanted to destroy us as a community. We have to deal with it because it’s something that can’t be ignored. You can’t close your eyes as if it didn’t happen.

But you can’t let it overwhelm you completely. As Israelis, we often see how this is happening to us. Sometimes it seems as if the only historical comparison we can make is to World War II. Suddenly every attack is described as ”walking like sheep to the slaughter”, and any security threat is a threat for a “second Holocaust”. Part of this is natural behavior, and although we should try to avoid it, it is done in innocence. We use the Holocaust as justification for our actions as a country. In such a traumatized nation we have a greater need for security than normal. But it can also be very dangerous. It’s a way of thinking that leads to loss of proportions: we might ignore the wrongs that we’ve done, because they don’t compare to the ultimate injustice that was done to us.

So this is the place to ask ourselves what way should the LGBT community go when it comes to this circle of communal memory of the Holocaust? Should it try to mimic the way of the State of Israel? We live in a world where being a victim is automatically equivalent to being right. Jews were victims of the Holocaust, so they are the good guys, and whatever they do is justified. Today the Palestinians are victims of the occupation; so today they are right according to the rest of the world. So why don’t we (LGBT) just prove that we have suffered in the Holocaust, adopt the pink triangle as a symbol, and share the variety of infinite justice we have inherited from the victims. The temptation to follow this is huge. This is the easiest solution.

Easy but wrong, and ultimately dangerous. Wrong, because committing crime doesn’t have any moral statement for the victims – only for the criminals. The Nazis were evil. But that doesn’t mean all the Jews, or Gypsies, or homosexuals were “pure souls”. It’s dangerous – because if we base our justice not on basic ideological principles but on the fact that we were victims, then when there are victims more miserable than we were, we’ll no longer be in the right.

Therefore, as an LGBT community in Israel, we must be careful not to cross the fine line between a discussion of the significance of the murder of homosexuals during the Holocaust, and using it for evil. It’s the line between supporting a film such as “Section 175” that tells the world about the gay victims of the Holocaust, and using Yad Vashem as a backdrop to one of the events of Pride Month. It’s to mention and don’t let anyone forget that there was a pink triangle, but not to use it as a symbol of the community.