I was weaned on infamous Holocaust epics like “The Sorrow and the Pity” or movies like “Night and Fog” which contained gruesome footage of bulldozers shoving emaciated, naked bodies into mass graves. My mother, the survivor and my father, the Holocaust scholar saw no harm in a young child watching movie after movie of Nazi atrocities. In fact, the more realistic the depiction, the more compelled we were to watch it. Their rationale went something like this; children lived the experience, why shouldn’t children watch the experience.
As I got older I obsessed over every news account of the Holocaust. I took the course in college. I imagined what it was like to be in a ghetto or a concentration camp and I agonized over their suffering, which, but for the grace of God, was mine. I read every book and saw every movie on the topic and felt enormous guilt if I missed one. For God’s sake, I even married another child of survivors.
The last time my mom visited with me she insisted on watching a movie called “Der Letzte Zug,” (The Last Train) and she insisted I watch it with her. I sat through every tortuous second of people dying in a cattle car on the way to Auschwitz. When the movie ended my mother exclaimed, “So well done.” “That’s it.” I responded bitterly. “I can’t do this anymore.” “Don’ be silly.” she said. “You have to. How do you think the people who were there felt?” ” Well, here’s the thing, mom, I can’t change it for them. That’s the problem. I can never, ever, not once, change the ending, not for one damned person.” Mom shrugged, clearly disgusted with my weakness.
My middle son came home the other day from a teen program during which he was presented with a slew of worthy community programs that needed funding. He was asked to choose and advocate on behalf of the one program that spoke to him the loudest. It is a given that all of the programs are worthy. When he got home he was very animated. He said, “Omi (his paternal survivor grandmother) and Nana (my mother) would have been be so proud of me. When the other kids wanted to abandon it, I argued for funding for a program where survivors tell kids about their Holocaust experiences. It’s really important mom because the survivors are dying out. Their time is running out and we need to hear their stories while we still can.”
Middle son, I asked, “Have you ever seen “The Sorrow and the Pity? We have it in the basement. Go get it. Let’s watch it, together.”