On Breslaw–and Me
The first Tablet response with the promise of another
As you may have seen, we recently published a story that has generated a great deal of controversy. In it, Anna Breslaw, a young Jewish writer, grapples with her understanding of the Holocaust as the granddaughter of survivors. The piece explores how the personal character of survivors has remained incomprehensible to her considering experiences that defy both imagination and description.
I’ve never met Anna Breslaw, and I don’t find her essay particularly elucidating as a work of cultural allegory or a meditation on the flintier side of the human spirit. However, I do understand its nature. As a means of honestly processing the complicated, damning, and even self-indicting impulses for Jews who are now generations removed from the Shoah, I see how she arrives where she does, though I strongly disagree with what she concludes. More importantly, though, I don’t deny her the right to go there. It takes a lot to do that.
For those following closely, this is my first week at The Scroll. I am writing this entry far from the Tablet HQ in New York; I’m actually in a neighborhood in northeast Berlin, a city that in my thirty years, I’d never been able to visit before I arrived on Sunday. If you’ll allow me to explain, what prompted this trip was a similar need for confrontation to that of Ms. Breslaw.
Despite an impact on my family that defies articulation, talk of World War II was absent, if not verboten in a subterranean kind of way throughout my childhood. My grandfather, whom I never met, escaped Berlin only to be crushed by the futility of trying to recreate the inimitable and buoyant life he had here. From what I’ve gathered, this failure reduced his post-Berlin life into something of a formality and any faith he had in the idea of home was discredited and ultimately passed down. Almost 80 years later, in the absence of understanding, I am here to try and make sense of things so that I may restore something that was lost.
I say this not to endorse what Ms. Breslaw has written, but to endorse these self-investigations, even if they turn up feelings — in us, in family, in the broader Jewish community — that at first (or may always) seem ugly or coarse. What’s underneath is the try, which for many is difficult enough.