Sunday, April 27, 2014

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day

Mordecai Ardon, Kristallnacht (Missa Dura Triptych),
Tate Gallery, London (© The Ardon Estate, by permission)

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is held on the Hebrew date 27th of Nisan, which this year begins in the evening of Sunday, April 27.

The six million Jews that perished, out of whom approximately one and a half million children are remembered in ceremonies and services held all over Israel, in schools and the media. At ten am on Yom HaShoah, a siren is sounded across the country, which comes to a complete standstill, in silent commemoration.

Living with Jung: "Enterviews"
with Jungian Analysts, Vol. 3
by Robert and Janis Henderson 

The following is an excerpt from the chapter "Silence is the Center of Feeling," in Living with Jung: "Enterviews" with Jungian Analysts, Vol. 3 , by Robert and Janis Henderson.

Robert Henderson: As a Jungian what are some of the important lessons or observations you have of the Holocaust or Shoah?

Erel Shalit: This is quite a big question – profound and to me personally meaningful.

I feel I have to anchor it in my personal background, but before that, a word on etymology: Holocaust is an ambiguous word. In the sense “everything has been burned,” it is an apt denomination of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis. However, considering its original meaning pertaining to religious sacrifice, as it was used prior to WW2, makes it a rather cynical term.

While I use both Holocaust and the Hebrew word, Shoah, I prefer the latter, which has no similar religious implications. It means catastrophe, destruction, to crash into ruins, to lay waste, to make desolate. It may possibly be connected to the Hebrew word for being amazed, to wonder, “to stand empty of thoughts.”

While many aspects of the Shoah have occupied my consciousness during much of my adult life, the repression and the silence about the Holocaust during my childhood is striking. The silence in the aftermath of the War was of course common among refugees and survivors, reflecting how the soul is at a loss dealing with catastrophe.

In contrast to less fortunate relatives – among them, my paternal grandmother who was gassed in Auschwitz – my parents found refuge in Sweden.

Silence about the war during those years was, I believe, a means to gain a foothold in an uprooted world, awareness that there were others so much worse off, and an effort at protecting the children. Only later did I hear for instance about the officer at a local Gestapo headquarters where my father had to report, who for some unknown reason told him quickly to get out and run away.

That is one of those big moments in life where something seemingly minor yet tremendously powerful, such as a friendly smile, or a smell of an unconscious memory, makes the wind of fate blow in an unexpected direction. I am forever grateful to that unknown Gestapo officer, and I often remind myself that he may be present in my greatest enemy. Just like evil resides in the soul of everyone of us, there may be light in the midst of darkness; where the shadows of horror cover the face of the earth, you may unexpectedly find the exceptional person.

My father, who came from a family of rabbis, had to set the spiritual and philosophical life aside, in order to gain a foothold and provide for his family in a surrounding that was not really his. I found it fascinating how the pile of books, with Goethe and Feuchtwanger and Heine on top, served as the fourth leg of his bed, finding relief from their prosaic task when my father occasionally pulled one of them out, perhaps trying to understand his own exile.

But as I said, what in retrospect has come to strike me most strongly is the silence. The Holocaust, which had broken the link to the immediate past, was not spoken about. There was a distant, Biblical past, and the efforts to secure an unknown future.

Silence served the repression of loss, and the sense of displacement. Silence was a barrier against memories that threatened to flood the island of survival, but it probably became as well an obstacle to live a full life; silence, like when you concentrate not to lose the grip of the rope you are hanging on to and fall into the abyss. A silence filled by the shadows of pain and fear that creep up just because you try to keep them away by not talking about them. A silence so oppressive that it threatens all the time to explode. This is the silence that holds both the fear and the instinctive warning, which Jung says we try to avoid by noise, since “Noise protects us from painful reflection, it scatters our anxious dreams.”

So at the center of my way of relating to the Holocaust is Silence.

There are different kinds of silence, from the meaningful silence, which gives birth to wisdom, to the freezing silence of trauma, both extremes of this duality pertain to the Holocaust, or the Shoah, for me filled with irresolvable duality.

But there is not only the silence of the victim. There is the silence of denial. As Elie Wiesel has said, what hurts the victim more than the cruelty of the oppressor is the silence of the bystander. We have rightly spent much effort to try understand the victim, as well as the psychology of the perpetrator. I believe there is much more that we need to learn about the bystander, because we are becoming a world of pseudo-involved bystanders. It is easy to identify a Holocaust-denier, but repression is more complicated – not being affected, not being touched, whereby we refrain from ascribing adequate meaning. To me, this is when we disconnect from the Self, the archetype of meaning. We are flooded by external, sometimes actively manipulated images (who looks carefully at a photograph these days, when hundreds can be produced digitally and you don’t need to develop a single one?), and we believe this is reality, while it is a map that often has only a weak or no relation any longer to reality. We believe that the flood of images and information makes us more knowledgable, but mostly it is a superficial preoccupation with stupidities, such as tracking what people you know are doing, finding out that they are tracking you tracking them, etc., as on Twitter.

And so we lose track of the meaningful images that by repression thrive underground. This is part of the “degenerative symptoms of urban civilization,” which Jung speaks about, and which produces all this babble-chatter, or noise in Jung’s words, which, he says, “stops the inner instinctive warning.” If we don not feel the tremor, we cannot identify what is boiling underground. This is where I feel we have not learned enough from the Shoah, and may fail the future, which may crash into ruins, become a desolate wasteland.

If to me silence is the center of feeling, or affect as regards the Shoah, duality is the axis that pertains to the aspect of thinking. Like any other totalitarian state of mind or movement, Nazism was based on splitting and projection. While consciousness is based on differentiation and separation, in its extreme, this becomes evil and diabolic (‘throwing apart’) – who shall live and who shall die, which race shall prevail and which shall perish. When the ego is in archetypal identification with Absolute Truth, the shadow is projected onto the Other, who “has to” be persecuted. We may easily see how this happened in the past, or how it appears in totalitarian regimes or fundamentalist thinking, but it is as nearby in today’s fragmented world, in which there is no longer one narrative, but anything is considered as truthful as everything else. Jung was so right when he said “man’s psyche should be studied, because we are the origin of all coming evil.”

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