Dear Mr. Finkelstein,
I saw your post which said that today was the centenary of your mother’s birth. I would like to mention something which I think could be important for you. I hope you have the time to read through this.
Every year my high school would invite a holocaust survivor to come and give a talk to all the students about their experience. In my final year of school, I along with a few other history students, were even given the opportunity to talk privately with one of these survivors and ask him some questions. Despite all this, I don’t remember the content of these speeches or of the private discussion I had. The one thing that I remember was a survivor talking about how, by the time he was being deported by the Nazis, he had become sufficiently brutalised that he wished death upon other Jews so that the trains wouldn’t be so unbearably overcrowded.
For some reason though, the story of your mother touched me. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the way you talked about her story with such vigour and passion? Maybe it was the way her experiences shaped the way she reacted to the other evils in the world? Maybe it was the way she, along with your father, lived with their ordeal until their death?. I think it was most probably a combination of these things. Understanding how the holocaust had affected a small family in New York brought the realities of the holocaust much closer to me. Before, the holocaust was something tragic but abstract and distant. Learning about the experiences of your mother and her household suddenly made it something more concrete and important to remember.
In your book ‘The Holocaust Industry’ I think you mentioned how the moral instead of the physical dimension of the holocaust should be enlarged. I think your mother has helped do this. I’m involved (albeit nowhere near sufficiently) in raising awareness of the UK’s role in the conflict in Yemen. Being a university student studying Zoology at UCL, it has been hard to find the time to dedicate myself as much as I’ve wanted to. Additionally, seeing the world plunge further into insanity has made me at times give up and become nihilistic. This was the position I found myself a few weeks ago when the activist group I’m a part of was contacted by a young Yemeni of my age (20 years old) who wanted us to help him find a way to study in the UK. He said we were his last hope since other organisations had not got back to him. But we were mere students so what could we do? Because of this and my general hopelessness, I initially ignored his messages. After a few days he stopped trying to contact us. I thought that would be that. But then I remembered what your mother said. ‘You never know where you will be tomorrow’. Suddenly I felt a great moral compulsion to respond to him and do my best to help him so I messaged him back. Alas, in the end we couldn’t help him as much we would’ve liked but we were able to point him to some websites that helped him understand the next steps he needed to take. He was thankful that at least we tried to help. This is one of many examples where your mother has prevented me from falling into complete apathy. I suspect it won’t be the last.
Why do I say this? Well, in your post you write…
‘My Mother once sadly said, “I will be forgotten.” Not so. The entirety of my life has been a tribute to and vindication of my parents’ martyrdom. So long as I live, they, too, live.’
This I think is, in part, mistaken. Your parents do not only live through you. I am convinced there are many, like me, who have been inspired by your parents’ martyrdom both directly, through their story, or indirectly, through your life which has been shaped by their experience. So as your parents live through you, a part of them also lives through us – the many thousands of people that they have inspired. And as they live through us they will also live through our kids (well I don’t have any but you get my point) and so on. I think Bertrand Russell puts it nicely…
Those who live nobly, even if in their day they live obscurely, need not fear that they will have lived in vain. Something radiates from their lives, some light that shows the way to their friends, their neighbours—perhaps to long future ages. I find many men nowadays oppressed with a sense of impotence, with the feeling that in the vastness of modern societies there is nothing of importance that the individual can do. This is a mistake. The individual, if he is filled with love of mankind, with breadth of vision, with courage and with endurance, can do a great deal.