Passing Holocaust Tattoos from One Generation to the Next

Israeli grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are beginning to have their own arms tattooed with the same number that their grandparents had put on them in the concentration camps. This is an interesting way to memorialize what happened to their grandparents. I would guess that it also eases whatever remaining shame these Holocaust survivors may feel.

It seems especially poignant to me since we live in a time when whole sections of our population are being marginalized and reduced to non-human status. I am thinking specifically of the unborn, especially unborn children who have disabilities, and people who are feeble with age and injury whose lives we have begun to think of as so burdensome to the rest of us that they should be given the “right” to self-euthanize.

The article, which was published on the German website DW, says in part:

Soon, there will no longer be any living Holocaust survivors. But in Israel, some of their grandchildren are choosing to have themselves tattooed with the concentration camp ID numbers on their grandparents’ arms.
Holocaust survivors are disappearing and, with them, the memory of what they went through.
But some of their children and grandchildren have found a way to preserve the past – by tattooing on their arms the very numbers the Nazis inscribed on their victims. The crude mark that had been a concrete and painful reminder of the Holocaust has turned into a strong symbol of solidarity for some of the survivors’ family members.

Arik Diamant, a 33-year-old from the Israeli city of Herzliya, came up with the idea four years ago to duplicate his late grandfather Yosef Diamant’s Auschwitz identification number on his own arm.

“I went to my father and told him I wanted to tattoo my grandfather’s number,” Diamant told DW. “But I said I would do it after he passed away. My father told me right away that there was no reason to wait and that we could go and ask grandpa right now what he thought about it.”

Diamant didn’t wait. One Friday night, after the weekly dinner he and his family ate with his grandfather, he delicately brought up the idea.

“I told him that if it bothered him at all, I wouldn’t do it. At first, he was really shocked and asked me why I would want to do something like that,” remembered Diamant. “But then he stopped me and said, ‘When you have a grandchild and he asks you what it is, will you tell him about me?’”

Diamant’s story has been worked into a documentary film to be released soon: “Numbers,” produced by Uriel Sinai and Dana Doron.

Ayal Gelles’ arm on the right and his grandfather Avraham Nachshon’s on the left
Ideology of numbers

Diamant is one of a growing number of young Israeli Jews who are deciding to preserve their grandparents’ stories in this way. About three years ago, Ayal Gelles, a 28-year-old from Tel Aviv, tattooed the number of his grandfather, Avraham Nachshon, during a trip to South America. Gelles said he had thought it over for a while – but it was a cow that sealed his decision.

Gelles says that that the same day he got the tattoo he also became a vegan after reading a book by Charles Peterson, who writes that, for animals, every day is like a day in the Treblinka concentration camp. Gelles sees the story of the meat industry as a reflection of the Holocaust: a story of superiority and subordination, of one being above all else. And that triggered him to get the tattoo.(Read more here.)

  • Barry Hudock

    A moving, even stunning, expression of solidarity, especially in an era when it seems like the “generation gaps” fall at intervals of about every 5 years. That line, “When you have a grandchild and he asks you what it is…”, is so weighty and compelling.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      It seemed the same way to me. Very touching and powerful.

  • wayne

    Is my post showing up?

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Wayne, this is the only one I see. I checked in spam and it’s not there, either.

  • Bill S

    “It seems especially poignant to me since we live in a time when whole sections of our population are being marginalized and reduced to non-human status.”
    This argument comes up time and time again and I always feel the same way about it. What I feel is that it is insulting to the victims of a severe tragedy like 911 or the Holocaust (and even an insult to compare the Holocaust to 911 since it was much more horrendous than even 911). I don’t mean to belittle the cause, but a patient begging to die under palliative care has no counterpart in 1930s and 1940s Europe. Even the unborn cannot relate to the tearing apart of families and the snuffing out of people who are old enough to appreciate and treasure their lives and their loved ones.

    I’ve read the comparisons before along with comparing the HHS Mandate to the persecution of Christians in Asia and Africa. I would call the comparisons hyperbole.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I’m not going to debate which murder is worse and whose suffering is most acute. The point I was making refers to the practice of defining people as non-human and the practice of deciding that some lives are not work living.

    • Ted Seeber

      “I don’t mean to belittle the cause, but a patient begging to die under palliative care has no counterpart in 1930s and 1940s Europe.”

      Bill, you keep posting things as fact that simply aren’t fact:

      Euthanasia has quite the history in 1930s and 1940s Europe and England, as well as the United States.

      As does abortion and all the bigotry against the unfit.

      Margaret Sanger was a Eugenicist.

      When are you going to start owning the history of the philosophies that you support?

  • EMS

    Does anyone know if there is an actual registry of tatoo numbers and names of victims in Germany, Israel or any other place (such as the Holocaust museum in DC)? Along with a mini-bio of the victims (if known)? If there isn’t, there should be.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      The Holocaust Museum might be a good place to ask about what information is out there.

    • Ted Seeber

      I doubt there would be a mini-bio; after all the people creating the numbers didn’t think of their victims as having bios. But there should be a registry someplace, if the new order didn’t destroy it.

  • Elijah

    “…Do not mark your skin with tattoos….” Leviticus 19:28, The Holy Bible.

  • Sus

    This is the first time I ever considered a tattoo a good idea. I’d be so proud if my children did this.

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