Another media-inflamed controversy, in the town where I live. According to news reports "several dozen" attended a ceremony in the German cemetery in Viljandi to commemorate the July 8, 1941 "liberation" of Estonia from Soviet rule by Nazi German forces.
It was condemned.
Ala Jacobsen, chairwoman of the Estonian Jewish community, said, "The usual attempt to portray people who collaborated with the Nazi occupational regime as 'warriors against Bolshevism,' and furthermore on the day when the mass murder of the citizens of Viljandi and Estonia who belonged to the 'wrong' ethnicity began [...] appears completely idiotic."
The news of the small gathering of several dozen in Viljandi also reached the Holy Land. From his offices in Jerusalem, Wiesenthal Center's Israel director Efraim Zuroff was moved to speak, "No one is disputing that the Estonian population suffered under the Soviet Union. But to celebrate the Nazi invasion, in which 99.3 percent of Estonia's Jews ended up being murdered, is unacceptable."
A small gathering of several dozen draws a reaction from two individuals, and then ensnares the rest of us. Bolshevism. Nazism. What a joy it is to be a denizen of the post-war world. We talk and argue and talk, and never really get anywhere. My particular favorite is the tenuous link between these several dozen and the rest of the Estonian population. From this several dozen, a whole larger mass of individuals can be smeared.
Per one comment on ERR, "I think one should say straightforward what Estonian people are doing here: They are trivializing the holocaust crimes and other human rights violations committed under the Nazi-regime."
Shame on you, Estonians. Shame on me. I live here and did nothing to stop the ceremony. I didn't even know it took place. It seems that none of my friends or acquaintances did either. It hasn't been mentioned in any conversation. It would have just slipped by if it wasn't for all the media coverage.
But now it's on my mind and it's a good thing too because I had nearly forgotten about it. Oh, Holocaust, it's been too long. How I have missed you. In sixth grade, it was The Diary of Anne Frank. In eight grade, it was Night by Elie Wiesel, and the mandatory viewing of Schindler's List. In tenth grade, we were summoned to the auditorium to view old film reels of emaciated bodies being bulldozed into mass graves. We were each given a yellow sticker. On it, the Star of David, the number 6,000,000, and the slogan, "Never forget." I took it home and placed it somberly above my desk.
Holocaust. We used to have such an intimate relationship, and yet I have become desensitized to you, detached from you over the years. We've grown apart. All the other death, all the other suffering. The massacre at Mai Lai. The carnage of Chechnya. It's all just a blur, really, a long, red river of nightmares. Forgive me Holocaust for forgetting about you. It's nothing personal. You understand me, don't you?
A warm night in the Old Town. A conversation with a middle-aged German and a middle-aged Estonian. I'm the third corner of the triangle, the clumsy not-so-young youth. Summer in Tallinn. Three glasses of Chardonnay and torment.
"My father's generation was tormented," said the German. "That generation was taught to give orders and follow out orders, give orders and follow out orders. They were all tormented, so tormented."
"All the Germans, they carry around with them this huge guilt," said the Estonian. "But we Estonians, we are proud of it." The Estonian tapped her shoulder. She was being ironic.
"Why do some people still admire Hitler?" I asked the German. "Not only did he murder millions of people and destroy his country, but he lost. He was a loser. Why do people admire a loser?"
The German seemed perplexed. "I hate that man with every bone in my body," he said.
I wondered if I hated Hitler. Really hated him. It all seemed so distant. Far, far away. Nearly all my relatives who were adults at that time are dead. This German was born a decade after the war. He only knew his parents' inner torment second hand. His guilt is acquired.
"I've become desensitized to it," I confessed to the German. "I've heard about it so many times."
"Ever been to Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen?" He countered with a raised eyebrow. The German leaned in especially close to me, so I could hear him utter the ugly names, smell the torment on his breath.
"No," I answered.
"You should go," he nodded, knowingly. "Everyone should go."
Should we? To be honest, it's not high on my list. "Hey, honey, let's take the kids to Auschwitz this summer! They'll love it." I'm sure that would go over well. Why would I purposefully go to a place of such profound suffering? To feel more guilty? To feel more tormented?
Once we drove from Paldiski to Tallinn and stopped at the Klooga camp memorial. It was a peaceful place, and I allowed myself a modicum of quiet reflection at the suffering of others. My children were there, and I had no idea how to even explain the significance of the Holocaust to them. They're too young anyway. Why torment them with history?
I can begin to see how the post-war generation is haunted by it though. For my generation of Americans, it is Vietnam that was the tormenting conflict. It still feels close to me after all these years, breathing down my neck. Vietnam. I am always thinking about it in some corner of my mind. We are all scarred by it. It is a deep scar, a blot on our souls. The German has his Auschwitz and Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. I have my Mai Lai and Agent Orange and Punji Sticks. A nightmare, a recurring nightmare. The ghosts of Southeast Asia never rest.
I admit that I really fell in love with Anne Frank when I read her diary. Ah, those Jewish girls, with their dark eyes and their unleavened cakes. And I felt as if I knew that girl. I felt as if I lived in the Annex, that I knew Peter and Margot and Lies Goosens. It seemed so incomprehensible to me at the time how such a young person could die. It didn't make any sense. None of it does. All of the death, all of the suffering, all of the torment and blurry nightmares, and in the end, the only thing that can still reach me, that can breach my insensitivity, that I can remember, is the voice of someone who was once very much alive.