Just One Sentence
This week, my assigned reading for Political Science 2 is “Cases in Comparative Science: Germany”.
I admit the foremost thought in my mind was how the textbook would present what for me is the only relevant piece of German political history – the holocaust. I attempted to approach it rationally. After all, this is a textbook about comparative politics. Germany is just one of fourteen countries described in the book. The Hitler regime lasted twelve years, of hundreds of years of history. This isn’t Eli Wiesel.
So I started to read about Napoleon, Otto Von Bismarck, the Weimar republic and finally the rise of Hitler. What I found at the end of the page and a half devoted to it was this:
“But before the Nazi war machine was ultimately defeated in 1945, it had exterminated some 6 million Jews and millions of other noncombatants on racial and ethnic grounds.”
Some 6 million Jews? I practically shouted. Some?
It’s an expression. It’s not belittling anything. I calmed myself.
Couldn’t they have written ‘more than 6 million Jews’? I asked, still rattled.
And that would have helped? I answered myself.
The textbook marched on, covering the post war and cold war and reunification periods before moving resolutely on to defining the current political system in Germany.
Still, my mind wheeled on. Couldn’t they have described the camps, Mein Kampf, the ghettos, the humiliation? Couldn’t they have described 60 years worth of lost faith and lost children or the mosaic of life rebuilt on still shuddering cracks? Couldn’t they have described my father’s deep isolation and distrust and frustration at being asked to forgive faster than he can heal?
I’m three generations and multiple countries away from the Hitler regime. My grandparents are Russian; they were witnesses, but not survivors of the holocaust. And yet, the holocaust is deeply seared into my identity. My understanding of forgiveness and healing, of multiculturalism and identity, of god and faith – have all been shaped by the “some 6 million Jews” that were killed, “on racial and ethnic grounds.”
How could a textbook possibly convey that?
It can’t, and I don’t expect it to. But mind and heart aren’t always in agreement, and my heart continues to rage that three generations of pain and hope, multiplied nationfold, can in any way be reduced to one sentence.