Hardly anyone would accuse members of the Jewish community of ignorance when it comes to the Holocaust — remembrance is such a large part of American Jewish life and education — but the same unfortunately cannot be said about our non-Jewish neighbors. Data provided by the Anti-Defamation League, in fact, indicates that just 54 percent of people worldwide are aware of the Holocaust, with only 48 percent of those younger than 35 conversant in the Nazi-perpetrated genocide that claimed 6 million Jewish lives.
Clearly more needs to be done in the realm of Holocaust awareness.
But while the data may indicate near-universal awareness of the Holocaust among Jews, historical memory has always been a continually degrading phenomenon. And although in the world at large, the challenge has been to make people aware, here in the Jewish community we must always be vigilant to ensure that our own youth are knowledgeable not just of the contours of the Holocaust, but in its specifics as well.
That’s why the family story of Lulo Reinhardt, who will perform at the Gordon Center’s International Guitar Night this weekend, is so important. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, Reinhardt lost hundreds of cousins he never met to the Holocaust, but he’s not Jewish. He’s the great-nephew of gypsy jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt.
Statistics are not readily available, but I’d venture that most people — and many Jews — are not fully aware of the variety of cultures identified by the Nazis for extermination. The Jews, of course, were at the top of the list, but there were 6 million others who died, for an estimated total of 12 million civilians who were murdered by the Nazis. Gypsies, otherwise known as the Roma, account for between 200,000 and 500,000 lives lost.
The cynics among us might say that some would use that fact as a way to characterize the Holocaust as a general threat to mankind, not a singular case of anti-Semitism of the grossest magnitude. So let’s be clear: The Holocaust was first and foremost a Nazi campaign of anti-Semitic hatred the likes of which had not and has not been seen in modern times. Remembrance of the tragedy thus serves to remind all of us of the danger of anti-Semitism and the ability of mankind to commit genocide.
But there’s a very specific lesson to be learned when it comes to the fate of non-Jews like the Roma who fell victim to Nazi hatred. Reinhardt’s story of survival is inspiring not because his grandfather made it out of the Holocaust alive, but because the music he plays is a testament to a culture that refused to be snuffed out.
Celebrating this fact should inspire us to embrace the true message of Holocaust awareness: Survival is not just about living. It’s about transmitting your culture to future generations. May we follow Reinhardt’s example.