Hello. Hi. A strange thing happened – totally coincidentally, I started writing a piece about Judaism, and the complexities of modern Jewish identity, and my personal internal conflict about how it pertains to my race and ethnicity, and I then realised that it was going to be published on Holocaust Memorial Day. Quite funny, really. My (Jewish) grandma loves a coincidence. Here is one such example:
What I was going to write about was my recent preoccupation with Jewishness and whiteness. I was going to talk about how the other day, a friend of mine called me ‘completely white’, which I am not. I was going to, very charmingly, cite David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count, and his concept of Schroedinger’s Whites, which I would have paraphrased as a phenomenon where someone will class Jewish people either as white or not white depending on the specific agenda that they are pushing. I was going to talk about how I somehow feel more comfortable pinning my non-whiteness on my Dad’s side of the family, part British and part Mauritian-Indian, instead of my Mum’s, which is fully Jewish. I was going to discuss the unease I feel categorising antisemitism alongside other varieties of racism, despite the fact that I can logically understand that a hierarchy of oppression serves no-one and is something I am fundamentally against, and the fact that I would be offended and upset by any goy* who argued otherwise. I would have then admitted that even that very sentence, putting antisemites broadly on the same level as other racists, made me feel like I was making a fuss about nothing and would quite possibly be accused of belittling other forms of racism that are generally considered to be ‘worse’. But a hierarchy of racism is inherently flawed. I would have battled with this a bit. You get the picture.
But I think the framework of HaShoah** and this day of commemoration puts a new spin on this. When my Great Grandma Lilly was my age in 1938, she had just come to England on one of the last kindertransports to leave what was then Czechoslovakia. She was born in Berlin in 1920 to a Jewish family who, fearing for their safety, left Germany in the mid 1930s and, when choosing between London and Prague, fatefully chose Prague. When the Nazis invaded in 1938, the situation was dire, and whilst Lilly was able to get out, the rest of her family was not. They were killed at Bergen-Belsen. Years later, she named her first son Ivo Krug, planning on going back to live in Germany, and her second son Andrew Crewe, realising she never would.
This is dark. This was not the tone of the original piece. The original piece had emojis in it. But in understanding why my Jewish identity means so much to me, and why it is such a complicated and confusing aspect of my self-perception, I think it’s quite crucial. Whilst I have the privilege of being ‘Jew-ish’ and ‘struggling’ with my identity and only ever getting called antisemtitic slurs by my own sister, who literally just thinks it’s funny, Lilly was one stroke of bad luck away from being killed for her Judaism, and the rest of her family was killed for their Judaism.
I appreciate that I’ve jumped around a bit here, and that it’s quite tricky to come away from reading this feeling anything but a bit bleak. I guess what I’m saying is that my Jewish identity, complicated and conflicting and confusing as I may find it, is forever tied to my Great Grandma Lilly – and that is not a tie that I wish to cut.
*’goy’ means non-Jewish person, but if you’re a goy don’t use it, not so much because it would be offensive, more that it would be super odd
**”HaShoah” is a phrase that a lot of Jewish people prefer to use in describing what’s commonly known as The Holocaust. The etymology of “holocaust” ties it to an idea of a sacrifice or burnt offering (yikes). HaShoah literally translates to ‘the catastrophe’.