If you survived the Holocaust, you haven’t truly experienced it.
It was the above paradox that struck me the hardest during yesterday’s seminar and, after reading the text, it wasn’t a surprise to me why Appelfeld couldn’t talk about what happened in WWII directly, even if he hadn’t “truly experienced it”. It was easy enough to assume there was a parallel between the Adolf in the story and how he behaved and the Adolf that went down in history for mass genocide and tyranny. It’s hard to believe that it was purely coincidence that the boy Adolf punched at school, named Ernst, for being annoying, was Jewish. This book holds a thick undertone of eerie foreshadowing of what would come in the years after this story takes place.
But what bothered me further on a more personal level was the topic of assimilation that was also brought up in seminar yesterday. It is a particularly predominant issue today, even if we don’t think of it as such in a country like Canada that promotes multiculturalism. I often find that my relatives in Asia are surprised when they find out I can speak Mandarin Chinese fluently, as if being Canadian automatically means that I am incapable of doing so; they’re pleased when I tell them I still hold many Chinese traditions close to heart; they’re almost offended that even though I believe in tradition, I still believe in modernism too (“Nose ring? Tattoo? What kind of young Chinese woman are you?” some of them have said [to my face]).
I know it’s worse in other parts of the world, and has been detrimental in the past for many groups of ethnic people. There are some who, in the 21st century, still feel that their culture is embarrassing, and some who are forced into believing that their culture is equivalent to shame. I don’t know what I would do if I were in Blanca’s shoes; my cultural identity is important to me and I’ve always believed that assimilation was not an option, but then again, Blanca and I live in vastly different worlds. Some describe assimilation as merely “washing out” culture; I believe it leans more towards “scrubbing a ‘stain’ clean”. In the text, assimilation goes beyond washing, scrubbing, scouring, bleaching, or any other related cleaning technique; in the text, to assimilate is to attempt to rewrite a history of peoples as if they never existed.