Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On sticking it to Hitler

Can we please, please see a moratorium on referring to Jews' procreation as somehow 'sticking it to the Nazis'? Please? I noticed a reference to this in the NYT story about a Holocaust survivor who recently died leaving 2,000 descendants, which is apparently a lot even by Hasidic standards. Now I see that Jeffrey Goldberg not only agrees that this fruitfulness was to spite Hitler, but chooses this as the angle of the story to highlight.

I mean, I get it if someone who personally survived the Holocaust decided that having a kid would be a way to affirm continued Jewish existence. (There's an interesting academic paper on this topic - a DP camp baby boom - I could dig up if anyone's interested.) But in this case, it looks like religious faith, not populationist revenge, was the issue.

As for Jews today who are not members of particularly pro-natalist sects, it's not only dangerous but unnecessary to suggest that baby-making is the way to get the Nazis back. Simply continuing to live and breathe is, if you're Jewish, half-Jewish, of Jewish origin, sticking it to Hitler. And that's enough. True, Hitler didn't want Jews having babies, but the more significant thing to remember is that he didn't want already-existing people who happened to be Jews according to his definition to go on living, period. The loss of potential Jews and of a civilization, as tragic as both were, cannot be compared with the actual loss of millions of individuals who, proud or not, observant or not, counted as Jews at that time. The way to get revenge against* the Nazis, if you're Jewish and so inclined, is to just keep doing what you were doing already.

*Thanks, PG!


Russell said...

I'm going to disagree with you here. Yes, Hitler's actions involved murdering people whom he identified as Jewish, whether they were "half-Jewish [or] of Jewish origin" -- but his primary intent was to wipe out the Jewish people as a whole. Jews just "continuing to live and breathe" is not combating that, if they fail to have sufficient Jewish offspring to sustain the existence and relevance of the Jewish people.

Jews who intermarry or simply do not have children or do not give their children a Jewish identity are in effect completing Hitler's goal of wiping out the Jewish people -- just over a longer period of time. This woman (and presumably her husband, who seems to be missing from the story) have fought back rather effectively by doing their own part to ensure the continued existence of Jews as a people.

Phoebe said...


As you might have guessed, I couldn't disagree more. No one (reasonable) disputes that the Nazis were about ending the Jews as a people and not merely individually. However, their violence is in many ways better understood as against individuals than a people, since a) one can speak of the ends met by actual Jews in death camps; less so of theoretical offspring they might have had in 1950, or might not have had, or might have had and raised Episcopalian b) many the Nazis targeted as Jews did not identify as Jews or, even if they did, in any kind of organized way with the Jewish people, and so the violence of their deaths if anything began with their identities being decided for them.

"Jews who intermarry or simply do not have children or do not give their children a Jewish identity" are living out their lives as they see fit, in peace, which could not be more contrary to the Nazis desires. If anything, having 'half-Jewish' children, or fully ethnically Jewish children likely to 'pass' in mainstream society because they're not being raised particularly Jewishly, would have especially infuriated Hitler-types, whose great fear was not Hasids but rather assimilated Jews, the Jews of modernity, who, according to modern anti-Semitism, control the government and economy without anyone (except anti-Semites, of course) even noticing.

Anyway, this particular woman was a Hasidic Jew who, Hitler or no Hitler, was going to have a lot of babies if she could, for religious reasons. Even if her own personal motivation included avenging Hitler, it seems unlikely that the subsequent generations are thinking in those terms.

PG said...

I think "avenge" is something you do on behalf of someone you support, not against an opponent. I.e. you avenge the deaths of your family by revenging yourself on their enemies.

Phoebe said...


Very good point.