The question is supposed to be: what do I want to write about? But that’s too easy. I knew the answer as soon as I heard the assignment. I am Jewish. I have brown hair and brown eyes. I am not the Nazi ideal, and if I had lived during that time I am very well aware of what my fate would’ve been. These are all things that weigh on me, that come up in small little ways from day to day in my life: when someone makes a Jewish joke, when a Volkswagen rumbles down the street beside me… when I introduce myself to some who is from Germany. There is and always will be that voice in my head that thinks, “Did your ancestors slaughter mine?” “Did a car like that transport a general to a concentration camp where he ordered the death of one of my distant relatives?” And so my subject is broad and easy: I want to examine the lives of people in concentration camps, on my own terms, in my own words. I’ve taken classes on the Holocaust before, learned about the mentality of Nazi Germany, the atrocities in the camps. I can recite the series of laws that made it possible for the Nazis to round up and slaughter the Jews. But I have never had the chance to delve inside that connection between this past event and myself in order to understand why I feel so linked to the deaths of millions of strangers before me. I am not religious, I have never undergone any traumatic event, and my grandparents and great grandparents escaped from Europe before the killing could begin; and yet the Holocaust has marked my thoughts and opinions, my very self.
Taking all of this into account, the real question becomes apparent: Why do I want to write about this? Are my reasons justified, worthy of the event that my writing (if I am successful) will portray with such unblinking honesty? My explorations into these places, these people’s lives, will not be for any benefit other than my own. The Holocaust is over; its survivors are dying and leaving behind children who lead successful, if affected lives. Its perpetrators have mended their ways and sworn it will never happen again, and anti-Semitism has almost disappeared, at least in America. There are hundreds of detailed accounts of what happened in the camps, entire museums dedicated to the subject alone. So I will not be shedding light on some hidden hardship; I will be trampling around in an area that has already been well explored by many before me, people with much more expertise in the subject and skill at dissecting information for facts. My only claim to this idea is that I am Jewish; that I can’t wrap my head around the idea that millions of people were put to death for believing in something different, and so need to find a way to come to terms with it. Is this enough? Is this enough of a reason for me to go back and awaken the suffering of those who rest in the mass graves of Europe?
Another question is of my clear-sightedness. Typing “concentration camp” into Google images yields hundreds of pictures of human beings lying white and surely cold, their bones making tents of their sunken skins. Will I be able to defeat the lure of the atrocious when trying to accurately depict the lives of camp residents? Will I be able to portray them as individuals, not defined by their involvement in the Holocaust? This is my goal, and the only way to find out if I can do it is by trying. I will have to capture that delicate balance of horror and humanity that made up life in the camps. I will need to incorporate the pasts of my subjects, their previous hopes and dreams, the small details of their lives that make them who they are. And I will have to break the bounds of grammar in order to do this: It may prove a task too trying to capture the mash of impressions and experiences that comes from life in the camps within the bounds of grammar.
3 thoughts on “Think Piece”
Your think piece is beautifully written, and I am anxious to read and interpret your incites and the shocking and intensely emotional descriptions, bits, and pieces of the Holocaust and its victimized individuals. The questions you are asking I feel may fall into place, like when someone lays out plans to build a new house, starting from the ground up; adding rooms, stair cases, and other necessities that will define and hopefully mimic the dream house that one so desires. The question that I am curious and moved by is how you will individualize the people behind the photographs of white, stone-cold remnants of skin and bones. The answers lay within how you bring to life these Jewish people, and it would be interesting to use diaries or secondary sources from loved ones and relatives. Good luck, and I hope you feel even more connected and come to an understanding of the victims of the Holocaust, and come to terms with their suffering and how strong and resolute these people, your people, must have been, and will continue to be.
I think that you should expand on how the Holocaust relates to your everyday life further. You could detail the feelings you described in the early paragraphs of your think piece. I think it will make your work more effective if it has that personal connection and connection to modern life. You could also include some of those images you described in your set of photos. You could juxtapose images of the actual Holocaust with images that remind you of it in everyday life. This is a great start, and exploring your personal ties will make it a more meaningful piece.
It’s great that a topic idea came so easily to you. It is even better that it is one that already interests you, and as you said, will provide you with an opportunity to discover more about life for Holocaust victims in a new perspective. I recommend thinking on a deeper level about what you would like to achieve. As you mentioned, there are classes and also books that teach about this horrific event, so you will need to find an original way to express your topic. You will also have an abundance of material to sift through, so it would be beneficial to focus your idea before you begin to research via Google.