Wouldn't you just know it; something like this was bound to happen. After more than 50 years of post-Holocaust trauma and failed speculations about an atrocity that continues to mystify and defy human comprehension comes the following absurdity: A group of Israeli teens traveling through Poland on a pilgrimage to major concentration camps spent the night after visiting Auschwitz in their hotel rooms being entertained by Polish strippers--both male and female. Reports throughout Israel were swift and alarmist. The behavior of these kibbutz teens reflected the wider moral decline of Israeli society. No longer a nation of puritanism and self-sacrifice, the Wall in Jerusalem now wails not because of a fallen temple, but because of Wall Street's corrupting influences in turning Israelis into consumers of pornography and victims of rising crime.
There were other theories offered to explain this embarrassing event. Some argued that this had nothing to do with dishonoring the Holocaust and everything to do with celebrating the hormones. Teenagers so far away from home are bound to have flesh on their minds. Even a visit to Auschwitz isn't going to turn that off. Indeed, it might have had quite the opposite effect. After all, the camp itself had once been a place where stripping--not for entertainment purposes but as a prelude to death--took place throughout the day with factory precision. Auschwitz may have put an idea into the heads of these teens.
Still others blamed the overbearing presence of the Holocaust itself on a nation that owes its moral survival to the annihilation of European Jewry. The youth of Israel have no doubt become bored and numb with the repetitiveness and dominance of the Shoah in their lives. With slogans like "Never Again" having been rammed down their throats for so long, and Masada complexes burned into their psyches, the Holocaust no longer has emotional resonance for them, whereas Polish strippers, which so few Israeli teenagers have experienced, do.
Others were more sympathetic. Perhaps given all the symbols of mass murder that they had seen in Poland, an entirely different kind of emotional outlet was required in order to deal with such profound feelings of collective loss and grief.
Given the ongoing trivialization and desecration of the Holocaust that has been taking place recently in the broader culture, not just in Israel but all throughout the world--from the film "Life Is Beautiful" to false survivor testimonies to Peter Novick's book where the Holocaust is less an act of atrocity and more an occasion for cynicism and manipulation--perhaps it was inevitable that the camps themselves would eventually become places where the memory of carnage now gives way to carnal desires. A visit to Auschwitz becomes a warm-up act to a strip-tease show--paid for by Jews and performed by Poles.
But I don't know. Maybe what had happened makes all the sense in the world. The appropriate response to the irrational act should perhaps be more of the irrational. One must face the grotesque on its own terms.
More than anything else, Auschwitz was a place of sin. The Israeli teens were not all that original in their defilement; the Nazis had already beaten them to it. The Third Reich forever raised the bar on sacrilege, so that all future obscene gestures have far to go in registering any significant shock value. Yes, it would have been better if the emotion that had lingered in the minds of these Israelis after their visit was silence and awe rather than sex. But the Nazis rewrote the rules on offensiveness, and redefined for eternity what is barbaric and grotesque.
The camps may be holy places, but unlike Mt. Sinai, the fire that was revealed there was not a revelation from a god, but from a monster. When in the presence of monstrous deeds, maybe it's appropriate not to be on one's best behavior.