chapter  22
19 Pages

Witnessing the Death of Yiddish Language and Culture: Holes in the Doorposts: Arnold Richards


To bear witness to the Holocaust is to look both ways. We not only must acknowledge heartbreaking destruction and loss but must celebrate the enduring power of life. Not every individual witness is privy to both perspectives, however. Some witness only destruction; some are themselves destroyed. Some witnesses come so close to destruction that they can endure their experience only by separating as much as possible from what they have seen, keeping it to themselves and passing it on (if at all) as a tale told at a remove. Some manage to continue to grow even with traumatized roots; they put out new shoots and look to the future. Destruction and creation-witnessing includes both. So, when the editors asked me to contribute to this volume a personal view of what the Holocaust meant to Yiddish culture, I found myself contemplating that tension between absence and presence, death and life, destruction and creation. I grew up in a family that did not hide what was happening, which allowed me to be openly interested. At the same time, I saw the intensity of pain the events of the 1930s and 1940s caused in my family and my community, and I learned to appreciate why some people felt the need to separate themselves from it, and why others were disconnected from it by ƒat, because their parents could not bear to engage with their experience intimately enough to pass it on.