Though not a fan of tattoos in general, I was starting to come around to accepting the fact that many young (and not so young) Jews are permanently inking themselves in the name of Jewish pride. But I have my limits.
The main reason I am opposed to Jews tattooing themselves is because the Nazis tattooed us against our will, as a means of dehumanizing us. I realize that Jews today get tattoos davka for this reason – as a way of using something that was meant to dehumanize us as a way of empowering ourselves. It’s that irony that hipsters thrive on.
So, if someone wants to permanently mark their skin with Hebrew words or Jewish symbols – gey gezunterheyt. But I draw the line at tattooing your arm exactly in the way that the Nazis tattooed Jews’ arms in the camps…which is exactly what a young Israeli man and his uncle did, supposedly as a way of honoring and connecting with their grandmother and mother who is a survivor of Auschwitz.
I am not this young man’s grandmother, but I can tell you that if I were, I would be far from pleased to see my grandson branded with my Auschwitz number. I can think of many other (less shockingly offensive) ways for him to make his savta proud. And if he is so keen on keeping his grandmother with him everywhere he goes, may I suggest his wearing a chain with a locket with her picture inside it? Or maybe one of those charms imprinted with a photograph?
Better yet, he could simply savor every moment he still has with his beloved grandmother, and then keep her alive by remembering her and telling his children about her after she is gone.
© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.
Update: This post inspired Leah Berkenwald of the Jewish Women’s Archive to write her own thoughtful, well-crafted and very personal reflection on Holocaust remembrance tattoos. Click here to read her post, titled “The Loaded Tattoo,” on the JWA blog, Jewesses With Attitude.