The Numbers of Empathy

By David Gole

It has been almost 70 years since the holocaust and the era of hearing a story from a survivor first hand is coming to an end. Where do we go from here? How do we remember this part of history and make sure that it never happens again? Several youthful descendents of survivors have started a trend to carry on the legacy of their ancestors, who had experienced a living hell—through permanently tattooing the numbers of a survivor on their body.

Uriel Sinai / Reportage Getty Images
Uriel Sinai / Reportage Getty Images

Tattoos in Jewish culture are very controversial. Jewish law states that a Jew should be buried the way they were born, preventing people with body piercings and tattoos from being buried in a Jewish Cemetery. Lately, Cemeteries have become more lenient, being considerate of survivors who still have the tattoo on their body.

In modern culture, many young adults have been getting tattoos to express themselves in a non-destructive manner. These tattoos have enabled some Jews to become closer to their relative and help create an unbreakable bond between them. Though some people have become accustomed to young people getting tattoos, many frown upon the idea of holocaust tattoos being sported by young Jews.

When people see someone out in public with holocaust numbers tattooed on their forearm, they might ask “Why do you wear these numbers on your arm?” or “What does it mean?”. Others might be more angry than curious about such a “sensitive” tattoo. Some may be ridiculed for being insensitive to the extermination of millions. In one instance, a police officer said “God created forgetfulness so we can forget.” If that is the case, the why do we say never forget? Yes there are other, probably better ways to remember the holocaust, but the one thing you have to admire about these young Jews is their empathy. It takes a lot of bravery for someone to stand up for what he or she believes in, no matter what anyone else may think about it.

What do you think about this? Should young Jews be tattooing a survivor’s number on them, or should they find another way to honor their memory?

2 thoughts on “The Numbers of Empathy

  1. I think the candle light should never be snuffed out on this evil act against humanity….. I think it is the duty of the generations to never forget…. in what ever way they choose… Tyranny is the sleeping dragon that can sneak up on us all…. Just turn on the TV we have a ring side seat……

  2. Great article and very informative. You are a terrific writer. We have ways of remembering by observing from Yom Hashoah, and by the lighting of candles on Yizkor four times a year for those that perished. We have ways of carrying on the message of the survivors through books, video’s (Yom Hashoah Foundation) and articles like the one you wrote about Heddy Orden. We have many Holocaust Studies Programs. We have Jewish museums and holocaust memorials. It is amazing to me to see young Israelis with tattoos since they are forbidden by Jewish law. However, if the child or grandchild or great grandchild of a survivor chooses to tattoo their loved ones number on their arm – I think it is a sign of their love, respect and connection to their loved one. I respect their decision. JG

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