This is a story from PCV Zach Borenstein from the latest issue of El Clima. We thank El Clima staff, namely editor Rich Castello and Zach for sharing these stories with us.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that my host brothers, 8 and 16, like movies, so I decided, in my over- zealous quest to have education play a bigger role in their lives, that we might as well try to watch movies that are informative. There was not a moment of hesitation before the first film came to mind: Schindler’s List.
Being that Peace Corps’ second goal is, verbatim, “Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served,” I might have been lying to myself by claiming I was “working,” or upholding this goal when I got a crack copy of the holocaust movie in Guayaquil for fifty cents and sat down to watch it with the 16-year-old. After all, it’s not even a remotely an American story.
But then again, with our massive economy–and film industry–we can basically buy any story and make it (feel like it’s) ours. This may be more of an American Jew experience, but as one, growing up, I can certainly say that the holocaust felt like it was our story.
I feel that way because I was bombarded with American literature on the subject as a child (willingly–I found the subject fascinating); admittedly, the fact that my grandparents were refugees sprinkles in a pinch of justifi- cation, but it was the same for other kids at my synagogue whose families arrived even a century earlier.
Alright, this is probably true for Jewish children around the world, making this more of a “Jewish” than “American” cultural phenomenon. Perhaps the fact that we talk about it was exemplified best by holocaust survivor and philosopher Emil Fackenheim, who insisted that not giving Hitler a posthumous victory was the 614th (11th) commandment. He was Canadian.
(As a quick aside, does anyone else feel a bit icky that we say “American” when referring to only ourselves, despite the fact that we’re living in a country in the Ameri- cas?)
So, what it comes down to is that we Jews are big into remembering. About the holocaust, we constantly are telling each other to “never forget.” But why?
In addition to “never forget,” I’ve often heard the phrase “never again,” which is a bit unfortunate if you consider that there have been a considerable number of racially based genocides since 1945, so it’s not entirely clear what we’re saying and to whom.
And if we’re talking about why I, personally, felt the need to force the holocaust into my host brother’s life, there was some selfishness at play that is all too ironic. I think part of me wanted to say, “Look at what my people have been through.” If only he had said to me, “Look at where you’re living right now.”
But, perhaps the not terrible part of me was trying to say, “Never forget,” not about the holocaust specifically, but about the past in general. “Promoting a better under- standing” means education, and a popular component of education is history, which aids us with understanding where we are today.
For example, many people in my site talk about how the politicians don’t do anything. Regardless of whether
there’s any truth to that, I do speculate that people are frustrated that their environment isn’t “developing” faster, especially now that there are so many available mediums– movies being one–that put much higher standards of dis- play right in front of them.
Historical education isn’t an exact science, but it can at least give us an idea of why things are the way they are. An Ecuadorian could learn about the centuries of ex- ploitation and possibly feel more dignified about certain discrepancies between here and the United States.
Many adults in my site, though, seem to have left school before the sixth grade, so it’s quite possible that many have no idea of any possible reason that people in movies have so many more amenities than themselves. Without any connection to the past, the discrepancies may just seem like accidents or luck.
Living without any understanding of where we we came from, I imagine, could be much like living in an abyss. It’s no wonder that central components of many religions are their explanations for the universe.
So, what I’m getting at is that for me, “second- goaling it” is about forming connections, whether it be between people who are currently on this planet or not. I will educate people about the American people of the United States, but only because it’s part of a larger goal that is more important to myself. This is why I watched Schindler’s List with my brother.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my host brother did the farthest thing from say, “Look at where you’re liv- ing right now.” He watched attentively, eyes glued to the screen, cringing but not turning his head from Amon Goe- th’s terrible offenses, with what I detected to be an im- mense interest in the world around him. He sat with me by the computer after the film so I could show him endless photos of the real life atrocities. Unwavering in his pa- tience, he sat by me until I said I was ready to go to sleep, at which point he told me it was a beautiful movie, one he’d never forget.