More children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are getting tattoos identical to those forcibly placed on their loved ones while they were in concentration or death camps. Family members find themselves at odds over the tattoos. Some view them as a sacrifice to honor or as an enduring act of remembrance while others express concern that Judaism forbids tattooing, quoting Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves.”
The trend that started in Israel is being documented in a film called Numbered. The film follows Hanna Rabinovitz, a middle-aged woman who puts her father’s number on her ankle after his death, and tells the story of Ayal Gelles, a 28-year-old computer programmer, and his grandfather, Avraham Nachshon, 86, both of whom bear the number A-15510 on their arms.
Artist and DHM/CET board member Julie Meetal Berman was thoughtful as she considered this trend. “At first it seems like a wonderful thing to do in memory of that survivor. But the more I thought about it the more it began to bother me. First, I have always told my children that tattooing was against Jewish law. Second, the Nazis tried to dehumanize us by tattooing numbers on us and taking our names away. I would imagine that the survivors would rather see future generations thriving and living life to its fullest.”
Board member and second generation Holocaust survivor, Marsha Gaswirth had a similar reaction. “Honoring the memory of a loved by recounting their lives is what makes them human and not a number,” she said.
Holocaust survivor Max Glauben speaks regularly to young students visiting the DHM/CET and also serves on the museum’s board. His verdict on this trend was powerful.
“We were branded in order to humiliate us, to add salt to the wound and be treated as animals that belonged to someone else. Why in a free society would we allow this to be done to our children and grandchildren?” Max’s tattoo can be seen in the picture above.