An important seasonal message for the (self-)righteous among nations


Ahem. Courtesy of my good friend, Brenda Lewis, on her Facebook page:

In recent weeks and days, I have once again noticed that ‘tis the season to be judgmental for some folks. Both on Facebook and even seeping into my private ‘regular’ email box via those supposedly well-meaning cc’s. Apparently, some folks who read the bible think that they are morally superior to those of us who don’t – and those of us who don’t … let’s see, that would be: Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Wiccans, North American Indigenous Peoples, Kwanzaa, Bahai, Agnostic, Humanist, Atheist, etc. I have seen posts of everything from “if children read the bible in school, they wouldn’t end up in prisons as adults”, to that annoying post claiming to quote Ben Stein (when half of the quote was made up by someone else. Google it), to having someone of similar ethnic background from me refuse to accept my Hanukah greetings because they did not fit this person’s rigid view of what that holiday might mean (ok, that was just plain rude). What I’m saying here is that instead of creating more divisions, how easy would it be to instead just accept our differences in beliefs – and give each other a pat on the back for the good things that we do for each other, our brother and sister humans – and all that lives on our tiny blue planet? Be good for goodness sake, people.

Okay, some backgrounder is in order. Brenda’s Hanukkah greeting was from a Humanistic Jewish viewpoint, and this offended someone who apparently believes that the only real Jews are the orthodox (or ultra-orthodox) kind. And it seems that this same offended party, in her haste to condemn “forced assimilation”, forgot the lesson of the miracle of the holy light that burned for eight days, outlasting a siege for long enough that fresh oil could come into the temple. This person seems to think that the real point of Hanukkah is not to celebrate the light of human brotherhood, but to curse the darkness of “forced assimilation” in strict Old Testament fashion.

Talk about missing the point.

Now, Brenda knows all about my being a Bad German. She knows about my grandpa who was drafted into the Waffen-SS. She also knows about my other grandpa, who openly complained about Hitler in the street, saying he didn’t vote for that Austrian bastard, and he didn’t know anyone else who did either, and how you couldn’t get proper shoes in Germany anymore since that little shit came to power. She knows about how my grandpa got called up on the carpet by the Gestapo for that, and how the fascist officer threatened him into silence with an unfinished sentence: “Herr Becker, Sie haben vier Kinder…” (Herr Becker, you have four children…) She probably knows, too, about how my grandma with the four children got a Mother’s Cross of the Reich for that glorious achievement; that sort of thing is public knowledge.

And I think she knows, too, about my mom’s 11-month-old baby sister, who died of malnutrition and dysentery in a refugee camp, and was buried under a swastika flag. Hitler’s war made refugees of my mother’s family, ethnic Germans from the Vojvodina province of Yugoslavia. They were “called back” to a “homeland” that treated them as second-class citizens because they were born abroad. And her father, my grandfather, was “offered” the “honor” of joining the SS, even though he was not a Nazi, not blond, not blue-eyed…and not the least bit warlike. But he was tall, and he had done mandatory service in the Yugoslavian army, and he spoke Serbo-Croatian and Hungarian, so he was deemed to be an asset. And besides, he had three daughters and a wife, and they were all refugees. As you can guess, the “honor” was no honor, and he had no choice but to accept it. (Well, okay, he did have SOME choice. It was either that, or be shot…and watch his family be shot first.)

So what has this to do with Brenda’s Hanukkah greeting? Oh, just this:

Hitler clearly thought some Germans were better than others. More German, if you will. And he was willing to wipe out those he deemed insufficiently German…to end “forced assimilation” of Germans by un-German unpersons. So much so that he declared war both within and outside Germany’s borders to exterminate them. Those who couldn’t flee in time, had to hide. Those who were found, were dragged off to camps where they either starved and were worked to death, or were gassed outright on arrival and cremated en masse. He also tried to set up a breeding program so that those whose looks and Germanic pedigree met his approval could be induced to churn out more of the same. (Hence that whole Mother’s Cross nonsense, where only some mothers get rewarded for doing what all mothers do.) It was a human-rights violation so atrocious that to this day, it is the gold standard of the evil that people are capable of when they decide that some of us are superior to the rest.

You would think that some people could draw a lesson from that.

Well, some of them can’t. And one of them kvetched out Brenda for her lack of ethno-ideological purity. Brenda is, it seems, not Jewish enough.

Since when are some Jews more Jewish than others?

I don’t know, but apparently it’s a thing. And Hanukkah is, apparently, the season when this particularly ironic brand of self-righteousness asserts itself.

Just as Christmas is when certain militantly orthodox Christians all decide to assert that theirs is the One True Way and Light. You know, those same that have been killing Jews for twenty centuries for the imaginary crime of killing Jesus?

Yeah. Those people.

Being a pagan myself, I can only smile wryly and shake my head at all that. And being a humanist, socialist, feminist, and all that, I reject those attitudes that say I must define myself by condemning all the things I am not. I reject racism, sexism, xenophobia, and religious bigotry. I may be a Bad German, but for that very reason, I am determined not to repeat the stupidities that nearly killed my ancestors.

The fact that either branch of my family survived that genocidal war is a bit of lucky-unlucky irony that would make Kurt Vonnegut smile wryly if he knew. I think about it every time I read Slaughterhouse-Five. (I hereby resolve also to think of it the next time I have one of my 3 a.m. existential crises, when I wake up in the middle of the night for no reason, only to wonder why I am here and what the hell my purpose in life is.)

My friends accept the awful history that went into the making of me. And they love me in spite of the things my parents and grandparents had to do to survive and bring me into this world. That’s the best gift I could have, at this time of year or any other.

And if I have to “celebrate” this season by reaffirming some kind of imaginary superiority over those-who-are-not-just-like-me, I say FUCK IT.

Heathen’s greetings to all, and to all a good night.

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One Response to An important seasonal message for the (self-)righteous among nations

  1. Brenda Lewis says:

    Heathens’ Greetings my dear friend!
    My goodness, no – I did not know your family’s whole story before reading this blog. And now that I do – being the child of a Kindertransport Holocaust survivor – I would not hold any of it against you. Because you are not from that generation. We both have lessons to learn from generations past in our families. My lesson learned is to pay it forward for my father’s being saved by the Kindertransport – and to never, EVER consider my “tribe” to be more important than any other group of people on this earth. To fight for the underdog; that’s what my parents always taught me. Otherwise, what would I have learned from my family’s heartbreaking history? Absolutely nothing.
    For you and I, it is our job to carry on using these family experience to inform how we live our own lives, in a way that positively affects others. Thank you for including my gentle rant in one of your always astute blogs. It is indeed an honour to be blogified in such a manner! Blessed Be, Sabina 🙂

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