Monday, January 25, 2021

We Need Trigger Warnings for the Holocaust

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It’s my first year of university. I’m sitting in my first lecture for the semester, watching my professor sell a career in Journalism with a slideshow. Suddenly, piles of dead Jews flash onto the screen. I see my own eyes reflected in theirs. My family’s faces replace their indistinguishable ones, which have molded into one unanimous cry of pain. I suddenly find myself in my grandma’s living room, sitting on her cream carpet, which is discolored and damp from decades of tears. She was crying again. She was crying for her family. She was crying for the six million dead. My cheeks are stained with her tears — they’re the only thing I have left of her.

We need trigger warnings for the Holocaust.

I’d understand a lack of trigger warning if my professor had never used them before — and if my course specifically dealt with the Holocaust. However, I major in journalism, and in the same lecture, my professor had used trigger warnings for war and suicide. It seemed that my professor, like many in the non-Jewish world, was apathetic to the suffering of Jews. She didn’t understand why I would need a trigger warning for a genocide that I didn’t experience and that happened over seventy years ago. She was unaware of the effects of intergenerational trauma. She was unaware that the Holocaust, for some of us, is never-ending.

So I told her.

I told my professor how the memory of my grandma’s tears are seared into my brain and how I drown in them every night. How her frail frame wracked with a hurricane of sobs at any and every mention of the Shoah. I told her the pain my grandma experienced shedding her Jewish surname in 1940 — just as her family had changed their name when escaping anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe a generation before.

I told her about my father, whose drawers are bursting full of old birthday cards, newspapers, and bills, each of which, he treats with the carefulness one does with water in a drought. How for him, throwing away a possession is a betrayal to those who came to Britain before him with nothing but their Judaism. I told her about the boxes of Judaica from family long gone which he still can’t bear to look at. How he flinches at being called a Jew, and how he leaves the room when the Holocaust is mentioned.

I told my professor about my room. How it has nothing but a mattress on the floor and a clothes rack because I don’t know when I’ll have to run — because I’ve run before. I told her about my dreams. How, after reading the Diary of Anne Frank in sixth grade, I was trapped with her in the annex every night for weeks.

I told her how an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor became a grandmother figure to me after I escaped child abuse. Every Friday evening, as I walked her home from synagogue, she told me the horrors of her childhood — and every Friday night I would join her horrors in my dreams. I told my professor that I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night. But I can remember that Treblinka was burning 12,000 bodies at a time, with only 50 survivors out of 897,000. A kill rate of 99.9%.

Every Friday evening, as I walked her home from synagogue, she told me the horrors of her childhood, and every Friday night, I would join her horrors in my dreams.

I told her about how I was assaulted last year on my walk home and how I laid motionless. Just as my ancestors had laid motionless. A generational relationship with the dirt beneath our feet. I told her that I was beaten for the same thing my grandfather was beaten for, and the same thing his grandfather was beaten for, and the same thing his grandfather was beaten for — the crime of being a Jew. After that assault, I knew any post-Holocaust ‘glow’ was over, and I had to run.

One consequence of universalizing the Holocaust over the past seventy years is that the non-Jewish world hasbecome desensitized towards the greatest disaster in modern Jewish history. As the living memory of the Holocaust fades and as the post-Holocaust guilt age comes to a close, apathy towards the Holocaust increases. Anti-Semitism becomes normalized.

My lecturer used a trigger warning the next time she spoke about the Holocaust. Others should, too.

Eliyahu Lann is a British-Australian Media and Communications student. Follow him: @eliyahulann

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