By Yaakov Spraragen
Witty, articulate, and very personable. Would you believe me if I told you I was describing a piece of artificial intelligence? Through the Dimensions in Testimony exhibition, I had the unique opportunity to have a virtual conversation with Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter.
Before speaking with Pinchas, I expected generic pre-programmed responses like the ones I get from Siri on my iPhone. My expectations were quickly exceeded as Pinchas provided informative and impactful answers to my questions. My conversation covered topics ranging from the psychological impact of the Holocaust to the distortion of survival stories through adapted Holocaust films and books.
Below are some of my questions for Pinchas and his responses.
What are your thoughts on the persistence of antisemitism in contemporary society?
It is difficult to believe but there is antisemitism throughout the world. I believed and most Jewish people believed that antisemitism was on the way out. “The world must have learned what can happen from antisemitism,” we thought. But today it does not matter. Worldwide, this antisemitic ideology is being propagated in countries, for example, like Japan where it never existed before. But today, there are fascists who hate Jews in Japan and try to propagate antisemitism in the country.
What do you think about adapted films and books about the Holocaust?
It’s a very difficult question to answer whether books or films are important. But one has to be very careful what one reads and what one depicts. If you read books about actual Holocaust survivors’ experiences, I believe that is an important document for the future for studying and learning. But when you read research papers or scientific papers or films made about the Holocaust which try to depict what actually happened, one has to be extremely careful. Some of the books I have read and movies I have seen are extremely misleading. Some of them actually romanticize the Holocaust.
Do you feel any resentment towards Germany or the German people?
What I feel about the Germans today is different than what I felt about the Germans after the war. For many years, I felt very fearful. I was scared of having anything to do with Germany. I was repulsed because I felt that this nation that did these terrible things to my community, to my parents, to all the Jewish people who they tortured and terrorized. I felt that they were repulsive and ugly. That was my feeling for many years. So much so, that when I was offered reparations from the Germans after the war I said no. I did not want anything from the Germans. I didn’t want their blood money. When I started thinking and reading and applying my brain to my thoughts and emotions generally, I really feel extremely upset about the fact that most of the perpetrators have not been punished. But I have come to the conclusion a long time ago that you cannot blame the entire nation of Germans. There are good people and there are not such good people. Actually, many of the youngsters are against what their forefathers stood for. Things have changed in Germany since I have been going. Now my feelings are different.
Pinchas’ suggestion on how to prevent atrocities and genocides from happening again in the future was to “never forget.” Anyone who visits Dimensions in Testimony will certainly never forget the powerful lessons and insights that Pinchas has to offer.
Yaakov Spraragen is an intern in the Communications department.