This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Arrived in Innsbruck, on the outskirts, surrounded by mountains. So amazing, the mountains, especially for someone who grew up around water and who once again lives there. Both times I’ve been here is in the summer. Winter must be amazing. The falling snow, mountains right outside your window.
Dawn. The first light appearing is different in the mountains than by the ocean. Defining place by how the first light appears. Home is first light.
My flight was uneventful, except for the food service. As a vegetarian, I usually find the food adequate to quite good, though the vegetarian food served is sometimes difficult to identify. It seems that for food services, vegetarians eat vegetables slapped together with some sauce and – voila! – it’s finished. I complained about dinner and after breakfast was served I complained again. It seems that the airline industrial chefs think that vegetarians eat broccoli for breakfast.
On the plane I sat next to a young German who had just finished a business internship in Ocala, Florida. She liked the people but found Ocala provincial. She’s quite taken with America, especially its innovative product placements. She told me of her visit to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Arkansas and its innovative business techniques. Among the products featured were Easter egg packets which she loved. In Ocala, she breakfast every morning at Panera. She hails from Berlin, the city of her dreams but will miss Panera.
Missing Panera and Wal-Mart – Berlin. Easter eggs will never be the same in her mind. And no she wasn’t interested in her Catholic Church’s complicity in the Holocaust. I didn’t even broach it.
That was about it on the discussion front. I started in on my Lufthansa history lesson and found her uninterested. We joked about the airplane meal situation. She told me her family eats Italian style. Old fashioned German food is way too heavy.
It turns out that the Rwanda genocide report I gave a few days ago was true enough – truer than true it turns out – and worse. Our intrepid Victoria Fontan was visiting genocide commemoration sites outside of Kigali. Mostly they are housed in churches where thousands of Rwandans were slaughtered. The exhibits are simple and chilling. Skulls everywhere, bodies exhumed and clothes representing the dead on church pews. I have to get a fuller picture to be sure but it seems that Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, is involved as an advising institution in these memorials, as no doubt the Holocaust museum in Washington is.
It’s not surprising, then, that the Rwandan government fashions itself as the new Israel or, rather, the Israel of Africa, and is using genocide commemorations to buttress its own interventionist policies. Those policies include its presence in the Congo as a way of assuring that Rwanda will – never again – experience another genocide.
Never again. Sound familiar? Most Jewish thought and action is based around what might be called Second Holocaust Prevention. Who can question policies whose express purpose is to prevent a repetition of a second Holocaust/genocide. Even if it places others in harm’s way or places the Holocaust/genocide heirs in dangerous situations either immediately or in the near future.
Second Holocaust/genocide Prevention policies are forever and entangled. Empire wherever you are located on the map is essential. Such programs can never end, by definition.
Meanwhile those countries that were complicit in Holocaust/genocide have such difficulty admitting it that the Austrians and even the French still can’t fess up almost seventy years later. They continue to play the victim of Hitler’s “forced” entry into their lives. After arriving, this was the first discussion I had with one of the Austrian program organizers.
Thoughts about exporting the Holocaust as I begin teaching today. Strange, before I even present the “exporting” argument I have to argue that the Holocaust is relevant to consider. That’s how far the exporting theme has gone, unnamed of course. Now, with the Rwanda commemoration situation coming to my attention in a new way, I think of how we’ve colonized the Holocaust. How we need to decolonize the Holocaust. And what colonizing and decolonizing the Holocaust actually mean.
Can Wal-Mart help in my thinking here? The proverbial Easter egg hunt is being ramped up and exported around the world. I’m surprised that Wal-Mart hasn’t packaged the Holocaust. I wouldn’t be surprised if it now comes to my attention that they have. Or, at least, tried. Would the Wal-Mart clientele be interested?
Introducing the Holocaust. Do I make it immediately relevant to the students by saying its key to how Jews view Israel? Do I have to export the Holocaust before I begin my deconstruction on how it is used by Jews and others in the proliferating Second Holocaust/genocide Prevention (political) programs?
Have you noticed that I capitalize Holocaust and don’t capitalize genocide? I just noticed it myself. A colonial statement?
I’ve already told you that the Holocaust was different. At least I think it was. Prejudice? Has to be, I think. Still want to be upfront about it. Can I confess this to the students without blowing my Jew of Conscience cover?
Treading carefully, a Jew abroad. It isn’t easy for me or them. On all fronts. Jewish has never been easy. Isn’t now. If we think and act carefully about it.
When the Other hears a Jewish voice – on the Holocaust, on Israel – what do they hear? When I speak in a Jewish voice – on the Holocaust, on Israel – what do I hear? When Jews hear a Jewish voice – on the Holocaust, on Israel – what do they hear?
Part of the problem, even in BDS, Jews speaking, others hearing. Others speaking, Jews hearing. Same words, heard differently?
A long history of Jews speaking and Jews being spoken about. Mostly Jews and non-Jews were on different pages. Now that Jews and non-Jews are on the same page, we hear the same words the same way, right?
I doubt it.
A (new mutual) solidarity isn’t above history.
The question is how the past (un)hearing is used in the present. As a way of distancing and unaccountability or as a challenge to probe the gaps and to walk forward with the dissonance.
Whites and Blacks, male and female, gay and straight, do they hear each other’s voice in perfect harmony?
On this Jews and Christians have a lot to learn and have also advanced in many directions. I think we can say the same about Jews and Palestinians – at least in some circles.
The movement toward justice is also about speaking and being heard.
Strange, when we had less power, Jews were great listeners – and interpreters. The more power the less we hear and understand.
Wal-Mart to be of help? They’re full service. Perhaps in the future they’ll branch out into translation. Of justice. When the suffering assume power.