“Proudly Bearing Elders’ Scars, Their Skin Says ‘Never Forget’,” published on October 2 in The New York Times, reports on young Israelis who have had their relatives’ Auschwitz numbers tattooed, as a deeply personal way to honor survivors.
As president of an organization that has served over 60,000 Holocaust survivors since 1999, it would be difficult not to be moved by the story – and dramatic photos – of the young heirs of Holocaust survivors who have taken the radical step of being tattooed with the same number as that branded on their elders by the Nazis at Auschwitz. But as a gesture it is both inappropriate and meaningless. Tattooing as a way to remember and honor survivors trivializes and demeans the enormous significance of the Holocaust. It diminishes the unique and abiding horrors experienced by Holocaust survivors.
To those who wish to honor their relatives who are Holocaust survivors, I say: do something meaningful. As your article notes, the population of survivors is dwindling. Those who are still living are aging and suffering from the consequences of poverty and poor health. Help them get the life-sustaining benefits that they need and deserve. Make a donation, or volunteer for one of the many non-profit organizations that exist to help Holocaust survivors with food, health care, housing and other services.
The Auschwitz tattoo, as a dark symbol of the suffering of the Holocaust, belongs to those who survived the Holocaust, and to the millions who did not. It can never belong to the rest of us.
Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge