WHEN asked by his students what would happen when there were no survivors left to tell the story, Elie Wiesel replied, “Just think, perhaps you are the only hope I have. Fulfil it.”And in the face of the rampant misuse and trivialisation of the Holocaust, he urged us not only to study history’s darkest chapter, but to do the following, “Listen to the survivors and respect their wounded sensibility. Open yourselves to their scarred memory, and mingle your tears with theirs. Stop insulting the dead.”
For 30 years, I have been carrying this pledge in my heart, fighting the anti-Semites and deniers, and trying to safeguard the dignity of the victims and the legacy of the heroes who endured.
So yes, I am overly sensitive when it comes to the unfathomable tragedy of the Shoah. Yes, I will take on anyone who dares to debase and to manipulate the Holocaust for their own purpose or for shock value.
On this issue, I will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the survivors. Yes, I think it’s absolutely wrong to joke about the killing centres and to make fun at the expense of the dead and those who survived.
And I don’t care if its in the name of edgy, transgressive, provocative comedy trying to push the limits of humour.
To me, the atrocities of the Holocaust are off limits and must never be used as material for sickening punchlines or gags.
There never was, and never will be anything funny or laughable about Hitler, Auschwitz, the gas chambers, the crematorium, the mounds of shoes and glasses, or the millions of men, women and children that were brutally slaughtered.
There are people amongst us who each and every day feel the raw pain of their inexpressible past, who are tormented by their profound loss, whose dreams are haunted by the indescribable terrors. The last thing we should ever do is hurt them just to generate giggles.
No wonder then that I shuddered when I saw the execrable clip in which Larry David, on Saturday Night Live, opened the show with a monologue about the list of men accused of sexual misconduct since the allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to light. But then, reflecting about own his lust and libido, he wondered how would go about seducing women in the concentration camps, offering stomach-churning pick-up lines that would make any decent person want to throw up. It was the act of barbarian— mean-spirited, insensitive, and lacking in any basic humanity.
Larry David’s disturbing, indefensible and vulgar routine rightly shocked the conscience of people around the world. It was nothing short of public bullying, played out in front of millions of viewers, mocking and beating up on those who do not have the power to mock back. In his cocooned, clueless world, ‘Never Again’ is an empty cliché, and the survivors and those who perished are fair game for exploitation and defilement.
There was nothing courageous about his stupid, morally bankrupt publicity stunt and grab for ratings. All he did was to trample on the wounds of the vulnerable, further compounding the desensitisation and abuse of the Holocaust so prevalent today.
By the way, being Jewish doesn’t give anyone a free pass to behave this way.
That it did not cross the mind of any of the SNL producers that making light of the victims of genocide and playing down the crimes of the Nazis crosses a red line speaks volumes about the cultural low we’ve hit. What have we become as a society when the horrendous pain and suffering of so many is now packaged as cheap, disgusting entertainment?
I have spoken to enough Holocaust survivors to know that all they want is for their trauma, for the actual horrors and for the truth to be acknowledged, respected and accurately represented.
Even Charlie Chaplin admitted in 1964, “Had I known of the actual horrors of the German concentration camps, I could not have made The Great Dictator.”
My fear is not only that future generations will forget the Holocaust, but that they will remember and understand this catastrophe as fodder for one-liners and wisecracks.
As someone said, the danger is that the lessons and truth of the Holocaust will not be passed down to future generations, but instead, will pass away. And for those who still believe that the Holocaust is a subject for stand-up comedy, close your eyes and think of your children, parents, siblings, spouse — the people you love most in the world.
Then imagine them rounded up and forced onto sealed railway cars, stripped naked, heads shaved, numbers tattooed on their arms, starved, humiliated, experimented on, and then murdered, their naked bodies turned to ashes. Heaven help us if these images don’t convince you.
Dvir Abramovich is the Israel Kipen Director of Jewish Studies at The University of Melbourne. He is also Chairman of the ADC.