Today is the Day of Remembrance of the holocaust and the heroism in Israel, and there are all kind of related stories in the papers. One Auschwitz survivor has "given" his tattoed number in the forearm to his son, as some kind of family jewel, like a family name or a ducal title that passes from father to son till the family exists. My mother, as well most of my family, carry their numbers tattoed on their skins at Asuchwitz train station's "reception desk". Is this a good idea?
At first look, it is not. Tattoes are traditionally the sign of slavery and posession, or a criminal past. In Lancaster Prison we saw an iron artifact where the accused had to introduce his right hand, to show if in its inside there was the sign (done with a red-white iron) of a convicted criminal. That is the reason that in Anglosaxon countries people swear with the left hand on the Bible and the right hand in the air, to show that they are not convicted criminals. If they were, that meant immediate death sentence.
Now, I always was of the opinion that the holocaust was a terrible defeat for the Jewish people in general, and for my family in particular. They could have easily left Hungary when it was still possible, which in Hungary was even in the years when the assessination of three million Polish Jews was already a crime of the past and the details more or less known in Hungary.
While one should not feel shame for such an error and defeat, as most survivors do, I also see no reason to proud of it. When a child, I thought that one must have some mystic quality to be among the 30,000 survivors of the 3,000,000 inmates, but nowadays I think that it was mostly a question of being of the right age and good health, arriving in a lucky day (most shipments were sent directly to the gas chambers), staying near friends and family, and large quantities of luck, luck after luck in an improbable stream of lucky events and decisions. So I will not take up the number but let it go into eternal dissolution under the earth following my Mother's death (may she live to 120 years old). The pic does not show my Mother or anyone I know.
PS: My wife's Jew-hating Hebrew fishwrap, HaAretz, following the thesis "write nine times some small truth so the tenth, people will believe the big lie", brings the story in a credible way:
One day Dr. Ron Folman walked into a tattoo studio accompanied by his parents, Professor Yeshayahu and Dr. Ahuva Folman. He asked his father to bare his left forearm, and told the tattooist: "I want an exact copy of that tattoo." The original inscription, B1367, was seared into the arm of the 10-year-old child Yeshayahu Folman in June 1944, on the day he was brought to Auschwitz.
Yeshayahu Folman was appalled by the idea and tried to prevent his son from doing it, but eventually cooperated. "It was an act of solidarity with me," he says. "Of course I was moved, but I was not in favor of it. I still believe that he is burdening himself with a weight he will carry for life. That is unnecessary as far as he and his children are concerned. It pains me to feel that I'm transferring it to him." He refuses to bare his arm for a joint photograph with his son. "I was a victim against my will. I don't have to display my coercion, especially since I was so young. You," he addresses his son, "since you chose it, don't convey wretchedness. Good or bad, it's your choice."
Ron Folman, a quantum physics expert and lecturer at Ben-Gurion University, says "I've always had a strong need for hard facts. Beyond all the feelings around the Holocaust and the talks with my father, I had a need for something factual. The number on the arm was the only factual thing we had left from the Holocaust. I asked for an exact copy, but he blew it. He used different fonts. The Germans made the digit 3 with a round font, but this tattooist made a 3 with a flat top. The 3 irritated me."
Yeshayahu Folman says he has never thought of having the number removed. "I've heard of people who do that; I don't believe in escaping, especially not from history. It happened, the people who lived through it have no choice, they must bear it as best they can, but why pass the personal emotional burden on to the next generation?"