Yom Ha’Shoah Post #4: Yellow Stars and Magen Davids

04.16.04

One year ago, Meryl posted a very appropriate Yom Ha’Shoah discussion, in which she pointed out that in 1933 in Germany, the Jews were encouraged not to draw attention to themselves so as to avoid being harassed:

From The Testimony of Lucille Eichengruen:

Interviewer: What happened after 1933?

Answer: In 1933 the climate changed. There were restrictions, there were ugly incidents – we walked to school, children would beat us up. Children would yell at us and make nasty remarks. We were told to be quiet on the streetcar. We were told not to draw attention to ourselves, and slowly and gradually people began to leave. Students, teachers – it was a very unsettled situation. It was constant turmoil and for a child it was not conducive to learning.

“We were told not to draw attention to ourselves.” It’s what Jews used to do. It’s what Jews had to do. It’s what the world was used to Jews doing. That’s why the German police told its Jewish population to stop wearing any outward signs of Judaism so they wouldn’t be attacked by thugs — last year. It’s one of the attitudes that got six million of us slaughtered then, and countless thousands more murdered over the centuries.

We don’t keep our heads down anymore. We won’t.

The Nazis didn’t want the Jews to draw any positive attention… but they encouraged negative attention. Which is why they imposed the yellow star armband or patch. They wanted the Jews to keep their heads down – but to be easily identifiable for humiliation and harassment.

The yellow star was a symbol of shame and fear. But the outward symbols of Judaism that many Jews wear today – kippot, magen david or “chai” necklaces or even souvenir t-shirts from Israel with IDF logos or Hebrew lettering – are anything but. They’re symbols of pride. They’re saying, you can’t label us because we’re proud to advertise who and what we are!

I wear my magen david necklace all the time. (These days I also wear an Israel flag pin on my jacket lapel.) But even I removed my necklace before going touring around Europe. I told myself it was because I didn’t want to risk breaking or losing it – same as the other jewellery I left at home. But if truth be told, I was also a little nervous about travelling with the star of david around my neck through the same countries that forced their Jews to wear yellow stars only a few short decades ago. I’m not proud of that. Far from it. But I didn’t want to ask for trouble either.

Now it’s two years later, and if I had to do it again I’d probably wear the star. Because I’ve learned that sometimes you have to wear your colours with pride, in order to let the world know that you will never again allow them to make you wear their colours with shame.

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