Forgive But Never Forget

Forgive But Never Forget

When I was growing up, one of the running jokes in my family was how annoying it is that Germans make good cars.

As an Israeli-Ashkenazi, three generations removed from the Holocaust, it was obvious to me that buying a German car was not an option, and that it doesn't really matters who wins the World Cup in soccer — as long as it's not Germany. 

In Israel, on every Holocaust Memorial Day the main television channel shows movies like “Schindler’s List” and broadcasts interviews with Holocaust survivors.  Other television channels would just show a photo of a memorial candle, followed by the phrase "We Will Never Forget and Never Forgive."

My experience with Holocaust Memorial Day has evolved over the years. As a little kid I was scared, and sometimes I would refuse to shower because I imagined that gas would come out of the faucet instead of water. In high school I used to rush home from school to watch as many documentaries as possible. My friends have told me I have a "Holocaust complex," and I may have proved them right when my now fiancée asked for a book recommendation when we just started dating. I suggested “I Was Doctor Mengele’s Assistant,” a memoir from Auschwitz.

This week the world marks the 20-year anniversary of Kwibuka, the genocide in Rwanda in which at least 800,000 Tutsis were murdered by Hutus in only a hundred days. Over the weekend I read a number of articles about the Rwandan genocide, and I noticed two main themes. The first theme was a discussion about the lack of international response to the genocide. The second theme was reconciliation. After the genocide there was a great push by both the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, and from various organizations within Rwanda for reconciliation through the apologies of perpetrators and the forgiveness of survivors. After the Holocaust, we, the survivors, the Jewish people, decided not to live among the perpetrators anymore, so we never received our apology nor had the chance to forgive.

 When reading articles about reconciliation in Rwanda, one of the things that has resonated with me the most is the sense of empowerment that the survivors received from giving forgiveness. Many of the survivors who were interviewed describe the injustice of the genocide. Neither time in prison nor compensation would bring their loved ones back, or repair the damage that the genocide caused, and many expressed the sense that their destiny was taken from their own hands. But in forgiveness there is agency. It seems to me that for many of the survivors, the moment they chose to forgive was the moment they regained control after the genocide.

 In many ways international Jewry and Israel at large forgave Germany awhile back. Yes, my grandfather refused to receive compensation from the Germans, but the busses that he took to work were Volkswagens, and Berlin has an affinity to young people all over the world, and some Israelis even cheer for German teams in soccer. So why once a year do we vow to never forgive?

We should never, ever forget the Holocaust, but maybe it is time to allow forgiveness. Not for the sake of those who apologize, but for us, as a celebration of our strength as people. Remembrance and forgiveness should not be intertwined, and the young Israeli who is traveling in Berlin should not feel as if in his choices he is hurting the remembrance of the Holocaust. He should have the option to forgive, and promise to never forget.

Abraham Gutman is an Israeli currently pursuing a dual BA/MA in economics from Hunter College in NYC. 

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