Bosque School English Teacher, Scott Melton, delivered a powerful speech during the Jewish Federation of New Mexico’s virtual commemoration of Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Memorial Day—on April 7. His words will also be published in The Jewish Link that will hit stands mid-May. Read his speech and get a sneak peek of the article below:
Yom HaShoah, the Myth of the Model Minority and a Future Generation by Scott Melton
I was asked to say a few words about the meaning of Yom HaShoah for future generations on the JFNM Yom HaShoah Zoom on Wednesday, April 7. The following are some thoughts and observations on what the Shoah means for us as a community, but also as individuals moving forward in a turbulent world.
Having spent a great deal of time on German language, culture and history, my perspective is mostly that of an historian. But it is also that of someone who is an Afro-German Queer Jew. I realize that my lens on history, and specifically the Holocaust, is possibly different from that of many.
I see the atrocities of the Holocaust not only in terms of Jewish lives that were eradicated, but also as yet another example of a set of people consolidating power by identifying, vilifying, dehumanizing, and ultimately erradicating those who are different. The myth of white superiority (or any other dominant population) creates a synthetic valid (appropriate for procreation, space, freedom, prosperity) and casts “others” as a threat to the existence, integrity, and homogeneity of that synthetic, imposed norm.
While we would like to think the Holocaust was an anomaly in the history of racist phenomena in human history. Sadly, it is not. There have been all too many instances, most notably since the expansion of European power across the world, of entire peoples, cultures, and languages that have been completely wiped off the face of the planet. Unfortunately, this behavior continues.
Address to the JFNM Yom HaShoah Commemoration on Zoom:
In a world that is so heavily divided, Yom HaShoah stands out as a reminder that the world as we know it can change in an instant. When we as Jews think of the Holocaust, we intentionally focus on the 6 million Jews who were exterminated in the camps.
We rarely discuss the 7 million Soviet civilians, 3 million Soviet POWs, 1.8 million non-Jewish Polish civilians, 312,000 Serb civilians, 250,000 people with disabilities, 250,000–500,000 Roma, 1,900 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and 70,000 criminal offenders and a-socials (communists, socialists, homosexuals). (USHolocaust Museum 2021)
As Jews, we take this opportunity to stop and remember who we are and where we came from. This day is a day of remembrance, a day of reflection, a day of sorrow, but also a day of something else.
Ours is a story of survival. From the destruction of two temples, foreign occupation, expulsion into the diaspora, expulsion from our adopted homes, inquisition, pogroms, demonization, blood libel, we have survived it all and we honor those who did not survive.
But let us also remember that WWII was but a moment ago in historical terms. The Holocaust is unique in history and in Jewish history. The Nazi party unabashedly sought the complete eradication of the Jewish people, and it did so meticulously. So proud were they of ridding the world of us, they kept impeccable records of the experiments, atrocities, internment, and ultimate Vernichtung or erasure of our existence.
And the irony is that it happened in a country where we had enjoyed citizenship, had fought alongside as fellow Germans in WWI. We not only enjoyed relative economic, academic and social freedom in Germany, we had made great contributions to German society, culture, economics, medicine, and science. We were fully integrated, assimilated, intermarried into a society, that for the most part, embraced us and our contributions and achievements…or so we thought.
We were the model minority. How much we enjoyed that status when we had it. How surprised were we when we learned how tenuous and fleeting that status became when the economic and social tides turned. Once again we became the scapegoat, the demon, the stranger, the unwelcome, the vermin. How could it happen so easily that the dignity and safety we had fought for and won was taken away overnight.
After the war, only a handful of Jews remained behind, most survivors left for anywhere but Germany. For Jews who came here, it was a fresh start. A new start. But we faced many of the same obstacles. Restricted communities: signs clearly stating, no Jews allowed.
But we are educated,
We are literate,
We are vocal.
And we remembered the Shoah, and we vowed never again. So we stood up for ourselves and we found allies. We excelled and tried to assimilate. But our status was always tenuous. We made it through the 50s and McCarthyism, but many a career was destroyed.
We heard the call during the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. We joined our African American brothers and sisters, holding hands and declaring we shall overcome.
the social justice warrior.
We made it through the social revolutions of the 70s and finally the signs that barred us began to fall. We assimilated. We intermarried. We moved out of the ghettos and into the suburbs. And where we weren’t welcome, we built our own.
kind of white,
kind of acceptable…for now.
We think we are okay with our model minority status. Some of us can even pass for white, until we walk into a synagogue and the unthinkable happens. And then we remember, we might be a model minority, but our status as a model minority is tenuous at best.
We continue to witness state sponsored ethnic, racial, national, and religious cleansing and genocide around the world. So what makes the Holocaust unique? What makes us as Jews unique?
We raise up our voices, as our brothers and sisters did in Warsaw. “Sag nie dass du den letzten Weg gehst!” Never say you walk the final road! We rebuild ourselves time and time again. And as American Jews, we stand with those who have also faced annihilation. And we walk with the oppressed as our brothers and sisters, because we know the words of Hillel all too well.
Im ein ani li mi li uchsheani l’atsmi ma ani
V’im lo achshav eimatai, im lo achshav eimatai
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?
So in remembering the Holocaust and the 6 million Jews who lost their lives. We honor them and the survivors and their children and the trauma we carry with us as a people. And we learn from that trauma and memory, that we are not alone. There are others today all over the world and yes, even here at home, who face the fear and trauma and memory of genocide.
Yom HaShoah is not just a remembrance of our past, but a reminder to us that it is our place to stand up and be the ally to oppressed people at home and abroad. For if any one group becomes the scapegoat or focus of ridicule, exile, blame, we, as Jews, know that none of us is free until all are free.
We remember the past in order to create a brighter future for all.