Photos by Uriel Sinai.
Yesterday's The New York Times featured the article "Proudly Bearing Elders' Scars, Their Skin Says 'Never Forget'", which talks about Holocaust survivor families getting tattoos of the numbers etched into the chests and forearms of their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who were prisoners at the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps. The families do so as a way to honor their elders and also to remind others of the atrocities. This method of doing so has caused some of controversy.
The Times article is inspired by the documentary "Numbered," directed by photojournalist Uriel Sinai and Dana Doron (a doctor and daughter of a survivor) who interviewed 50 tattooed survivors. These survivors discuss their horrific experiences and what they carry with them, beyond the numbers in their skin. Their descendants who seek to keep their stories alive through their memorial tattoos face strong reactions, particularly by those who feel that wearing a "scar" or a mark that dehumanized people should not be a form of Holocaust remembrance.
The article describes the experience of 21-year-old Eli Sagir who got her grandfather's number on her forearm:
Ms. Sagir, a cashier at a minimarket in the heart of touristy Jerusalem, said she is asked about the number 10 times a day. There was one man who called her "pathetic," saying of her grandfather, "You're trying to be him and take his suffering." And there was a police officer who said, "God creates the forgetfulness so we can forget," Ms. Sagir recalled. "I told her, 'Because of people like you who want to forget this, we will have it again.'"Another reaction is the misconception that one cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery if tattooed. [Read Craig Dershowitz's post on tattoos and Judaism here.] Then there are those who just find it "tacky," as I read in comments on the article.
What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section to this post on our Needles & Sins Syndicate group page.
"Numbered" premiers in the US at the Chicago International Film Festival next month. Here's a clip below.
Yom Hashoah means the "Day of Devastation." It is the powerful and all too literal name by which the Holocaust is remembered in Israel and elsewhere within the Jewish Diaspora.
Regardless of the many ways that the Jewish community has chosen to deal with this personal devastation and the even more ways by which the world has attempted to understand it, it always returns to a very intimate understanding, a scar upon the psyche.
Which makes it appropriate that tattooing has, recently, become an important facet of this conversation. As is well-known, many Jews who were victimized by the Holocaust had identification numbers tattooed (branded, actually) onto their forearms.
Today, many descendants of these victims are considering and, in rare cases, actually getting their parents and grandparents numbers tattooed on their own arm. The reasons vary.
For some, it is similar to a Christian wearing a cross around their neck, taking upon themselves a piece of the burden administered by Jesus. For others, it is simply a reflex of memory. With Holocaust revisionist history gaining popularity and the witnesses to the Devastation passing away, it is a skin-based documentary of a time we wish not to remember but should never forget. Of course, with all things tattoo, the reasons, the logic behind the reasons and the quality with which those reasons are displayed are of subjective value and worth. What is unquestionable, however, is the growing popularity.
First reported in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, in 2008, this article on a son tattooing his father's Auschwitz numbers on his own arm encouraged debate and shock. Since then, the story has been met by many others, and today, the phenomenon is far less shocking, albeit still equally debatable. As the original article says, a Holocaust remembrance tattoo, particular one that mimics the identification numbers, is a delicate interplay between the sensibilities and sensitivities of the victims, those who seek to honor them and the religious community.
It is outside my realm to discuss the actions, motivations and judgments of my peers. Instead, allow me to share my personal story. When I was 19 and, at the time, only sporting one other tattoo, I decided that the weight of the Holocaust was too much to bear internally. I had no outlet for the emotion I suffered. I wrote poetry but none read it. With youthful anger, I could have killed a Nazi with my bare hands, but such an angry fantasy was just that, a fantasy waiting for a Quentin Tarantino movie to give it boundaries. I knew not how to quench my anger nor salve my pain other than to place it somewhere outside of myself.
At the time, I was editing a Holocaust survivor's book and I told the author, Alex Levin, of my idea for a Holocaust memorial tattoo. He was thoughtful and considerate. And, resolute. "Absolutely not," he demanded. "We need no other reminders of that time and place. No." For that day, our interview was over. He became quiet, bowed by knowing that his suffering had found its way, if only minimally, into my own heart. And, perhaps, angry at my heart for being so weak and selfish.
I vowed that day to never get one of these tattoos. Not because I knew it would hurt the living or harm the memory of the dead. But because I did not understand its power and, I know enough to leave alone that which I do not understand.
Tattoo by Jondix of LTW Tattoo in Barcelona, Spain -- one of the many featured artists in my upcoming book on blackwork tattooing due out this Fall. More black tattoo photos to come.
I'm just getting over the food and ouzo orgy that was this past weekend's Greek Easter celebration, a Brooklyn backyard bacchanal where chasing around unsuspecting guests with a lamb tongue on BBQ tongs is not only encouraged but specifically laid out in the Bible, right next to promoting "opposite marriage." [See the gory Greeky pix on Facebook.]
Lucky for me, the news was not as juicy as our giblets, so I didn't have too many headlines to trawl through, but I did catch a few tasty treats on the net. Here goes:
More people are getting medic alert tattoos, prompting the medical community to address the legal and ethical issues behind them. Over the years, I've seen A LOT of Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) tattoos, particularly on people over 70 -- like this fiesty Kiwi who sparked debate worldwide last year over the enforceability of DNR ink. In the US, a mere DNR tattoo generally won't cut it. You need to back up your wishes with a valid DNR Order. Better use of those tattoos would be alerts of serious allergies, pre-existing conditions and even blood type, but hell, the jewelry has been doing a good job at that, so save ya skin for art.
In a reminder of how tattoos were once put to horrific use, Auschwitz camp survivors were reunited Sunday at Israel's Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem. The AP reports:
As terrified teenagers 65 years ago, Menachem Sholowicz and Anshel Sieradzki stood in line together in Auschwitz, having serial numbers tattooed on their arms. Sholowicz was B-14594; Sieradzki was B-14595.
This AP photo of the men has also been widely circulating around the Internet.
The small numbers needled in Auschwitz have been some of the greatest modern day symbols, not only serving as reminders of the genocide but also of survival and unity, as shown in the article.
Auschwitz tattoos have also had an impact on modern Jewish culture in relation to young Jews wishing to get artful ink, with the dark stigma carried over (beyond biblical texts on body markings).
For the best discussion on Jews and tattoos, read Craig Dershowitz's interview with Rabbi Henry Harris.
In more news on culture and tattoos, the Isle of Man's Manx Heritage Foundation is photographing people with Manx tattoos for a new promo campaign. The most popular tattoo is the "Three Legs of Man" symbol, which Wikipedia says originates in the legend that the Celtic god Manannan defeated invaders by transforming into the three legs and rolling down the hill.
If only there was as good a story behind the San Jose Shark Man.